This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of our print edition.
Climbers: Caroline Ciavaldini and James Pearson
Location: El Nido, Palawan, Philippines
With 7,107 individual islands in the Philippines, there’s endless rock towering over water, and Caroline Ciavaldini and James Pearson had exactly that in mind when they targeted that part of the world for a climbing trip. Pearson says, “We came with the intention of discovering new deep water solos, but we got way more than we bargained for with hundreds of craggy islands jutting directly out of the deep, crystal-clear water.” When putting the trip together, the couple dreamed of kayaking from island to island, climbing all day, and sleeping on beaches at night. What they quickly found was that a full kayaking adventure didn’t lead to the best climbing adventure. Chalk, shoes, and skin never fully dried out, they were both completely exhausted and fatigued from kayaking several hours a day, and unstable kayaks didn’t provide the best means to film a climbing expedition. Luckily, they were able to rent a boat that would carry them and their gear around, which not only meant more climbing in a day, but it also allowed them to explore more and farther-flung areas. (Find beta and topos at Once Upon a Climb.) Although DWS was the main goal, there were a few places where the water was not deep enough, so they climbed the routes anyway using trad gear. Pearson describes the two contrasting styles by saying, “Perhaps the overriding beauty of these two very different approaches is how they both leave no trace.”
Climber: Jorg Verhoeven
Route: The Nose (5.14a)
Location: El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, California
SuperTopo describes it best: “Long, sustained, and flawless, the Nose may be the best rock climb in the world; it is certainly the best known.” Another way to describe it might be elusive—while many parties aid climb this iconic line every year, there were only three free ascents (Lynn Hill, Scott Burke, and the duo Tommy Caldwell and Beth Rodden) until early November 2014, when 29-year-old Dutch climber Jorg Verhoeven topped out after three days of working the route. Verhoeven, who now lives in Austria, is an all-around crusher with 5.14d ascents and multiple World Cup podium finishes. He, his partner Mark Amann, and photographer Jon Glassberg spent three days camping on top of El Cap so he could rap in and jug out while working the two crux pitches: The Great Roof (pitch 24) and Changing Corners (pitch 28). Glassberg called the event “a massive undertaking.” He says, “500 meters of fixed lines, food, water, and camera gear packed in and out each day. Jorg spent equal time working the moves on each pitch, but he had significantly more trouble with Changing Corners.” After witnessing the preparations, hard work, and success of the send, Glassberg gleaned some insight as to why there have been so few free ascents of this behemoth:
"1) It’s incredibly hard to work since the cruxes are at pitches 24 and 28. It’s a huge pain to get there and project those sections.
2) The Great Roof is often wet.
3) Changing Corners is an intricate and delicate dance with crazy scumming, smearing, and body positioning that take a long time to work out. It goes into the sun at 11 a.m., which makes it too hot and pretty much impossible.
4) There are a ton of people climbing the route every day, and you have to wait for parties to pass while working it.
5) The weather is unpredictable—we had 50 mph gusts for 10 hours on our first day on the wall.
6) Finding a partner that wants to belay for four days is not easy.
7) It’s 32 pitches long!”
Climber: Anne Peick
Route: Gimps and Wimps (5.10)
Location: Labyrinth Canyon, Utah
Over the course of a week in April 2013, a group of seven climbers from Bishop, California, and Lander, Wyoming, teamed up to float the Green River through Labyrinth Canyon and put up new routes. All told, they floated 45 miles and ticked a few dozen first ascents, including this stellar 5.10, so-named because of the multiple injuries and mental hang-ups had by the team before the start of the trip (elbow tendonitis, an ACL injury, a sprained ankle, and an aversion to crack climbing, just to name a few). Although a few well-known groups had traveled down this canyon previously, most notably our own Andrew Burr, Rob Pizem, Peter Vintoniv, and Orin Salah in 2009, this expedition added several more river miles and routes. Party member Jared Spaulding summed the experience up well in a trip report: “We float down river. We look at cracks, and we get inspired. Boating straight is hard when constantly spinning, turning, looking up, and using binoculars.”
Climber: Tommy Rigby
Route: The Big Guy (V3)
Location: Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
Only a few steps from Little Cottonwood Canyon Road, this aptly named problem towers 30 feet over the creek with laser-cut features and an airy topout that could give even veteran highballers sweaty palms. Speculation is that this granite boulder and its uncharacteristic pockmark holds are the result of past roadwork demolition or quarrying, but regardless, it lends itself to fun climbing on good holds. Although the bouldering might rank behind the numerous and more well-known trad, sport, and even ice climbing this canyon has to offer, the smaller blocks are really high-quality with outstanding rock, usually flat landings, and plentiful tall lines to keep things spicy. Due to the extremely smooth nature of the area’s granite, the movement tends to be more smeary and delicate, with few actual holds to pull down on. Local climber Tommy Rigby has helped to popularize Little Cottonwood Canyon with two videos that showcase some of the superb problems. In one video, Rigby takes a 30-foot digger from the topout of Blue Steel (V8), a technical, insecure dance on a featureless arête to an intricate mantel. Photographer Ryan Wedemeyer says, “The clip where Tommy falls—without a spotter—from high on the crux, then gets back on and sends, is legendary.”