Yosemite Big Wall (Obscurity) First Ascents with Kevin DeWeese
DeWeese started climbing to quiet the voices in his head soon after his sister died in a car accident. Today, 17 years later—especially as he’s mid-pitch and strung out above a string of tipped-out bird beaks on a big wall—all is silent.
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“Mondays are always weird after a weekend in the valley,” Kevin DeWeese texts from Stanford Federal Credit Union, where he works as a training manager. “I’m sitting here in corporate dress and tie… wasn’t it just yesterday I was jugging 1,000 feet of rope and bleeding out of wounds I didn’t remember getting?”
Nearly every Friday night, after a 40- to 60-hour workweek, DeWeese, 40, drives from his home in Oakland to Yosemite to climb big wall first ascents. He’s a dedicated climber of 17 years.
He also has his quirks: he lives off one meal a day, preferably a steak, drinks NOS energy drinks, and during the week, sleeps in a closet. But on the weekends, he’s hiking loads to his latest project, fixing pitches, and sometimes finishing a new line (other times bailing). For most of these outings, he teams up with big-wall veteran and former partner of the late Warren Harding, Steve Bosque. Bosque, 64, works as a nurse at The Edgewood Center for Children and Families in San Francisco.
“Bosque is the perennial positive guy,” DeWeese says. “The best part about climbing with him is that he tells me about more new routes to do. He has the second-most big wall first ascents of anyone in the Valley. It goes Eric Kohl, Steve Bosque, and then Jim Bridwell. He has something on just about every formation.”
Read more about Bosque here.
DeWeese, who made a 12-day solo ascent of El Cap’s Tribal Rite (VI 5.5 A3+) in 2013, says big adventures like that, the harder and grittier ones, are some of the best days of his life. However, he prefers first ascents. One of his draws to FA’s is that he doesn’t have to clip manky old fixed gear like rotting copperheads or aged webbing poking out from mystery metal buried in the rock. Placing his own hardware, whether it be micro heads up a shallow seam or shaky pins, makes him focused, relaxed.
Video: DeWeese lets the pigs fly during a 12-day solo ascent of Tribal Rite.
“It’s always been about quieting the voices in my head,” he says, which began when his sister, Kaeli, died in a car accident in 2002 while helping with a church group early one morning. “Being on the wall, or even free climbing, there is this sense that everything becomes silent.”
DeWeese, raised in Vallejo, California, has one surviving sibling. He started climbing while working as an instructor at a summer camp after earning a degree in creative writing from San Francisco State University. At the camp, he learned to belay by catching a backpack full of rocks. Then he studied Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills.
“I’ve been shitty at every sport. I’m scrawny and skinny. I’m also short, 5’7” and a half,” he says. “But climbing is the first sport I was good at besides bowling, but that doesn’t count. My body type and willingness to do what others won’t actually pays off.”
When many climbers are grinding up walls established in previous decades, DeWeese and Bosque exclusively do new routes that require them to dig dirt out of cracks and drill the occasional rivet, as they slowly make their way up virgin terrain.
To date, whether alone or with Bosque, DeWeese has put up eight big walls, all on formations few climbers have heard of and even fewer have visited. These include the direct start (Horns of Jericho; A2+) to the Jericho Wall (solo; V A2+) located left of Glacier Point Apron; Blood and Coin (V 5.5 A3-) on Lost Brother; Blue Collar (V A3) on the Hourglass Wall (near Ribbon Falls Amphitheater); Munge and Honey (V A3+) on the Jericho Wall; Spaghetti Western (V 5.6 A3) on Ribbon Falls; Generation Gap (V 5.9 A3) on Higher Cathedral Rock, and Hail to the Chief (V 5.9 A3 R) on Lower Cathedral Spire.
Additionally, DeWeese says, “I have three or four random free climbing FA’s in the Pinnacles and a bunch of trad alpine routes in the Sierra Buttes.” Pinnacles National Park is near Salinas Valley in Central California and the Sierra Buttes are two hours north of Lake Tahoe.
DeWeese’s most notable FA’s are Blood and Coin and Hail to the Chief. Stand out pitches on Blood and Coin are P3, a 180-foot beak crack—“it’s so beautiful!”—and the final two pitches, which follow the right side of a big white flake that is visible from the East Face of El Cap. When DeWeese climbed El Cap’s Zodiac (VI 5.7 A2) ten years ago, he couldn’t stop staring at the flake on Blood and Coin. For Hail to the Chief, his favorite section, two-thirds up the wall, is the Trump Flake (named before Trump took office). The Obamas were in Yosemite when DeWeese and Bosque established the route and they watched the presidential motorcade driving through the Valley. “The Trump Flake looked fun from the ground, but when we nailed across the feature it began to shake loose.”
Bosque says, “He can do things with beaks that I can’t do. Partly because he’s lighter than me, but he also has a go-for-it attitude. Not a lot of people like [obscure] aid these days, but he enjoys it. And he takes up the slack very subtly. But I see what he’s doing; he’s doing extra work. And I appreciate it. It’s been a great partnership and I hope it will continue going on for a long time.”