December 18, 2009
In November, Erik succeeded on one of his most difficult climbs yet! Sure, climbing Everest and the rest of the Seven Summits wasn't easy. And the Nose on Yosemite's El Capitan wasn't a walk in the park either. But from the standpoint of technical difficulty, the Naked Edge in Colorado's Eldorado Canyon is one of the most challenging.
Erik teamed up with Brady Robinson, the Executive Director of the Access Fund, who led most of the route. Also along was Charley Mace, a longtime partner and Everest teammate who climbed above, shouting directions to vital holds Erik would need to find with his scanning hands. This spectacular route follows the sharp vertical prow of the 700-foot Redgarden Wall.
Photo: Kris Gorney
The Naked Edge was first climbed in 1962 by the legendary Layton Kor and Bob Culp - at the time a major achievement in North American climbing. It took nearly a decade for two climbers, Jim Erickson and Duncan Ferguson, to ascend the route completely free (just using the rock). Since then, it has become an icon in the climbing world, and the "Edge" remains a test of skill, technique, and endurance.
According to Erik, "When Brady asked me if I wanted to climb it with him, I felt that familiar knot in my stomach from nervous anticipation. The Naked Edge is something I have dreamed about for a long time. It's just up the road from my house and is definitely on the list for any serious climber. There has always been a part of me that has felt I wasn't ready, that I wasn't in good enough shape, but, some day you just have to reach out and take the challenge."
The excitement begins on the first pitch of the Naked Edge; a classic 5.11a finger crack in a shallow corner. Brady reported, "Erik climbed the lower part without any problem. At the crux, he struggled to find the tricky footholds on the face and finger holds in the crack, so he eventually just leaned back and punched it for the anchors. He only fell right at the top of the finger crack. Impressive!!"
Photo: Cedar Wright
The fourth pitch is where things really start to heat up. Almost immediately it requires 5.10c moves and then it progresses into four or five very technical moves to a challenging "bomb-bay" chimney, which is narrow at the top and widens at the bottom to a huge void, making climbers feel as if they are being dropped out. Brady belayed from above and Charley belayed from below to prevent Erik from swinging into space. According to Brady, "Erik DID NOT climb it the easiest way. His holding power is pretty impressive and, since he can't suss things out like a sighted climber, there comes a point where he just decides to go for it. Erik did incredibly well on this pitch, given its intricate nature."
It's the infamous fifth pitch that strikes fear into the hearts of climbers. Starting out with intricate moves which traverse directly right, a fall here swings you far into space. Climbers are soon faced with a burly crack, testing their endurance and nerves as they climb above the most exposed section of the face. Brady commented, "Erik climbed the glassy corner crux without falling. Wow! It's really hard! He came all the way around the weird steparound and then got into the handcrack. This was the hardest part for Erik because it isn't totally straightforward so he had to hang on the rope a couple of times to rest. That said, he did really well"
Photo: Cedar Wright
With the hardest climbing out of the way, Erik took over the "sharp end of the rope" and led the final pitch to the summit. As Erik puts it, "Leading is the most difficult and dangerous part of climbing, where a fall means more serious consequences. As nerve wracking as it is climbing high above your anchors, 700 feet off the ground with a river roaring far below, there is the true sense of adventure that has always excited me."
The entire eight pitches of climbing and then rappelling back to the ground took less than 7 hours, including delays for filming. As any climber will tell you, that's an excellent time for a party of three on such a long, demanding route.
Erik, Charley Mace and Brady Robinson at the top of the Naked Edge
Photo: Charley Mace
Erik's ascent has left the climbing community awestruck. After the video made by Cedar Wright was posted on the Internet, online forums such as Rockclimbing.com and SuperTopo.com were filled with comments of congratulations. Veteran climbers who have done the Naked Edge have been greatly impressed that a blind person made the ascent. Well-known writer Dougald MacDonald labeled the ascent a contender for "Rock Climbing Feat of the Year."
Check out the fantastic video of the climb:
So far, the video has been viewed almost 10,000 times in just a couple of weeks. The story was even picked up by the Huffington Post. As word continues to spread of this remarkable achievement, climbers and non-climbers alike are inspired by how one person can overcome obstacles that many would consider insurmountable.
Equally amazing is the fact that this climb was nearly destroyed only a few years after its first free ascent. In the late 1970's the owners of Eldorado Canyon were on the verge of selling the entire valley to a gravel company that hoped to turn it into a quarry. A community uproar led to the purchase of the land and the creation of Eldorado Canyon State Park.
One goal of Erik's Naked Edge ascent was to bring attention to the Access Fund, a grassroots non-profit organization dedicated to preserving climbing areas around the nation. Supported entirely by memberships and donations, they purchase land, build trails, and restore habitat so climbers and nature lovers can continue to enjoy our national treasures. "I think it's the responsibility of every climber to become a member," Erik said at the top of the climb. We hope you will watch the dramatic video of the ascent and get inspired to become a member of the Access Fund. This is Erik's challenge to everyone who loves our open spaces.
Happy Holidays from Erik and the HighSights Team!