I am not a speed climber by any means. Any partner of mine can attest to that. But, years ago, I read an article in Climbing recalling thirty pitches of 5.10 in a day by Ben Carlson. Thirty pitches in a day seemed reasonable. “We could do that!” I exclaimed. We wouldn’t be fast, but we could do it under twenty-four hours, I was sure of it.
Inspired, I rallied a partner and we set out in November of 2013 at 5:30 a.m. with a goal in mind. Unfortunately, I had no idea what I was getting into. I’d never climbed alpine style, I had no idea what bonking was, and when 9:00 hit, we were over at the McCarthy Wall (more famously known as the Mac Wall) and I successfully climbed in a circle (no, really) somewhere between Graveyard Shift (5.10d) and Star Action (5.10b). We bailed somewhere around the fifteenth pitch and went into town for pizza. It was a stoic effort, but I was determined to go back and try again. A year or so later, I returned with Jesse Lynch with a new approach. We started at Sleepy Hollow and worked our way to the Yellow Wall. Wanting to link up and do The Winter Direct (5.10+), I took a mega fall on the roof of Spring. My .3 was fine, but I’d slammed my toe into the wall pretty badly. Jesse led the next pitch and I followed and cleaned in an approach shoe, but we had to call it after that.
This past spring, I moved back to the east coast. Kurt and I have plans to be here until the end of December, and who knows where we’ll be come January. Knowing that my time in the northeast is limited, a fire was lit underneath me. So, I asked Evan Raines, silent crusher from Atlanta, to come up for a weekend and help me with the mega enduro project. His girlfriend, Alma Baste, text messaged me that he had been hitting up the gym and the Red on weekends, training and building endurance. Meanwhile, I didn’t climb at the gym, ate a lot of sandwiches, and planned out the logistics of the day. Throughout October, I rehearsed several 10s, constantly revising the list to set us up for success.
“Your feet are going to be fucked!” Kurt told me the night before. I threw a pillow over my head and groaned, “Noooo, don’t tell me that!”
Truthfully, climbing thirty pitches of 5.10 in a day might actually be harder than something like the Nose in a day. Instead of continuous climbing, we were constantly having to pack up and move over and over again. Unlike 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell, every pitch needed to be cleaned at the top. And to top it off, while I’d the chance to rehearse most of the pitches, every single one of them would be an onsight attempt for Evan. But I knew I’d picked the perfect partner for this project. While some people might shy away from the grade, Evan was absolutely pumped to try and onsight his fifteen pitches. In all of my years of climbing, he remains one of the most stoked human beings–which is directly correlated to how strong he has become.
I distinctly recalled climbing at the Tennessee Wall last year with Evan. He was already coiling the rope before it had even dropped from the anchor, ready to move onto the next pitch. “This is where you lose the most amount of time,” he said matter-of-factly. He was right and I knew that between his time-efficient decisions, strength, and tenacity, we could get it done.
Here is a recap of our day:
Sunrise isn’t until 7:23 a.m., and so we set an alarm for 6:00. We drove up from NYC much later than we’d hoped, still having to make grocery and dog-drop-off stops along the way and we were happy to get an extra few hours of sleep. Unfortunately, we didn’t take into account first light and by the time we reached the top of the Stairmaster, fresh light spilled onto the road and through the trees.
We didn’t let that discourage us and walked down the carriage road, keeping a quick pace. Nor did we let the fact that, in my sleepy stupor, I let Evan jump on April Showers (5.11b) instead of Falled on Account of Strain (5.10b). Little things were bound to go sideways, but ultimately we were still feeling optimistic about the day.
Evan took the first pitch of the day, scampering up Tennish Anyone (5.10c). I climbed the delicate starting moves on Wegetables I’ve Never Seen (5.10a), and then we went over to Dick’s Prick. Hidden behind it was 10,000 Restless Virgins (5.10d), which Evan successfully onsighted with no trouble. I, however, fell at the roof and there was no way to get back on the route. Not a good start, I thought to myself as I cleaned the anchor and lowered down. We were finished by 8:30 a.m. and headed over to the Slime Wall.
We dropped our rope at the base of Frustration Syndrome (5.10c). Not feeling entirely warmed up, I eventually convinced myself that the corner crux would feel a thousand times easier than it did last summer with Kurt. We moved to Falled on Account of Strain (5.10b) after I accidentally put Evan on April Showers (5.11b). (What? I need like five cups of coffee in the morning and five more throughout the course of the day to function like a human person and everybody knows it.) We lost at least thirty-five minutes because I am a junk show in the morning, but Evan floated Falled and brought us to pitch six by 9:30 a.m.
We were soon at pitch eight after I dashed up Simple Suff (5.10a) and made quick work of Last Frontier (5.10a). Evan styled the first pitch of The Winter (5.10d). Almost to the crux, he asked me the letter grade. “D!” I said, paying him out slack as he clipped a piece. “Ten d, ‘d’ as in ‘dick hard’!”
We gulped down some water and a bar and made haste to the High E trail. Evan was feeling good, so he took the first climb on the right–Doubleissima (5.10c). Having struggled while following it years ago, I somehow convinced myself that Ridiculissima (5.10d) was the easier of the two. I took the first lead fall of the day on an alien offset, having switched up my hands and messing up my beta from the week before. I boinked up and told myself I’d come back to redpoint it soon. I shook it out and fired it on the second go. Evan and I simul-rapped the High E rappels both times, scarfed half of a Trader Joe’s sandwich wrap, and ran over to Erect Direction (5.10d).
We did have to climb an extra pitch of 5.8 to get to the ledge, but we didn’t lose much time. Evan belayed me to the ledge and I led the second pitch, which I have done so many times at this point, I feel confident I can do it in my sleep. Not many 5.10s in the Gunks feel this way to me, so I was excited that it was on the list. He offered me the third pitch, but I was concerned about rope drag. I belayed Evan from the corner gear anchor, and he onsighted the roof.
We simul-rapped back down to the ledge and then again on somebody else’s rope. “You’re looking awfully sporty!” one of the gentleman said to me. Exhausted, it took me a minute to realize it was because I had ditched my shirt and was wearing a sports bra. Starting to feel the pressure of time, I didn’t react as I hurriedly asked if we could cut them. We zipped down and I decided that we shouldn’t do any more multi-pitch climbs, since we were losing so much time on the rappels.
This was fine, because when we got to the base of Feast of Fools (5.10b), Evan pointed out what looked like a small swarm of hornets. It’s entirely possible that they were just ladybugs and we were delirious, but I didn’t want to waste any time. Evan took the lead on Welcome to the Gunks (5.10c) and I blasted up Beatle Brow Bulge (5.10a).
We were halfway through and now at the Mac Wall but steadily losing light. This is where I had bailed my first attempt, but this time, we continued on. We were starting to feel it in our hands and feet, especially. Evan led Try Again (5.10c) and I took a winger on Coexistence (5.10d). King MF (5.10a) and Men at Arms (5.10b) brought us to pitch nineteen and the large group of people at the Mac Wall slowly started to disperse.
Now with the Mac Wall to ourselves, I led MF Direct (5.10aR) in the dark, the first pitch climbed by headlamp. By the time Evan had completed Mother’s Day Party (5.10b), I was feeling okay about climbing in the dark. It was as if once the sun had finally gone down and we were committed to finishing without it, we had nothing to worry about. The apprehension of dark settling in was gone.
I led Interstice (5.10d), which having avoided for so long, turned out to be one of my favorite pitches. Evan led Still Crazy After All These Years (5.10b) and took it to the ledge where he then fired out the Dangler (5.10a) in perfect style. We rapped down, finally in the home stretch.
I led P38 (5.10b) years ago and didn’t have too much trouble with it, but at this point in the night, everything felt absurdly hard. I somehow managed to stumble to the top without falling and lowered off. Stirrup Trouble (5.10c) was next and Evan hesitated momentarily at the moves off the deck. Not too much longer, he was at the top after having done a variation (Stirrup Lite, a 5.10b that skips the final three cruxes).
To make up for 10,000 Restless Virgins, I quickly led Low Exposure (5.10d) off of the carriage road. We ran around the corner and fought the painful tight hands crack on the opposite side of the Mental Block, Sonja (5.10b). We scampered off of the top out and I mustered some strength to lead Red Cabbage Right (5.10b).
We finished off the night (although, by this point, it was early morning) with Nosedive and Retribution (both 5.10b). Even though he was exhausted, Evan beamed with delight about the last two pitches we’d led, and I’m glad we saved them for last. It was now 4:30 and we had been climbing consecutively for twenty-one hours and eighteen minutes. It was done.
We trudged back to the car and ate a celebratory cookie, brushed our teeth, and crashed hard. The next morning, my tips were so raw I couldn’t even connect the gas to my stove to make coffee. Friends asked me how the day went and I joked, saying now I would never have to attempt another big wall day in the Gunks again. Funny enough, as I write this, all I can think is, how can I accomplish this faster and better?
A few people have since reached out to me to inquire about our list. I certainly threw in a few favorites just because, but ultimately optimized it to include routes I knew well and felt comfortable on and could get to the top of (even it was fifteen hours of climbing and I was thrashed). Some of the list had been revised because a few of the climbs’ grades had been upgraded, or I had tried it weeks prior and did not feel super confident on.
I am not a speed climber. In the climbing world, I am a moderately good climber with some try-hard in me. I’m not setting the speed record on El Cap, and I don’t have any intention to. Part of why it took so long (aside from my obvious blunders) was the sole fact that neither one of us was willing to risky safety to reach the goal. But looking back on the entire day, I can start to process what it is we accomplished and see where we can do better, next time. And, as extraordinary as it feels to have succeeded, I think that the thing that matters most is keeping an “it can always be better” frame of mind. By no means does it take away from the worth of what we accomplished, but instead, reminds us that there is so much more out there to be achieved.
That’s how limits are pushed. That’s how the first woman in history sent 5.15. It’s how the new nose speed record was set with an earth-shattering time of 2:19:44. It’s how we improve in areas in our lives, whether it’s climbing or handling finances or mastering a new skill at a job–continually striving to be better implies that you are not the best at something, which ultimately keeps you humble and encourages you to try even harder the next time. (And while failure will still happen even though you’ve tried your dang hardest, keep in mind that sometimes success happens, too.)
Cover photograph courtesy of Debra Beattie, a woman I have never met.