I have had my sights set on climbing 5.14 one day for a long time. And more importantly, I knew the route I wanted as my first 5.14: Dr. Evil. Along this journey I have received various encouragement and discouragement. Some would say why not try something ‘easier?’ And then there were the remarks about how grade doesn’t matter and not to set goals like this. Well, to all those nay sayers, here is why it had to be Dr. Evil and why I’m excited and not overblown about my send.
When I started rock climbing, 20 years ago this year, I never thought about a 5.14. Indeed, not many rock climbers at that time had either. In fact, I was in awe of anyone who claimed they could climb 5.12 and for perspective, those were the days when not everyone could climb 5.12. I was the recreational, hard 11 sport climber, dreaming to break into the 12’s but too scared to take the sharp end and actually lead something that challenging. I never followed the media or compared myself to any other climber. Climbing is what I did for fun, to ease the stress of a hard day, to forget about a day, to enjoy the outdoors and the challenges I encountered when on the rock. I knew I had more potential in the sport and one day I took the sharp end and committed to finding out what it was.
It was in 1995 that I moved from Ohio, where I first started climbing, to Seattle where I have claimed a home base (more or less) since. That was the year I found myself in an REI for the first time, wandering around the rock climbing section looking for information on local climbing areas. A young man approached me and laughed when I asked if there was any rock climbing in the area. His laughter demonstrated something I did not understand until I moved: there is a lot of rock climbing in the area and Seattlites don’t ‘just climb,’ they climb, and bike, and hike, and blah, blah, blah! Well, climbing was what I did and that was what I wanted to continue to explore. And, that is how I discovered and fell in love with my all-time favorite rock climbing destination: Smith Rocks (you thought I was going to say Little Si, didn’t you?). J
This young REI man took me out rock climbing and encouraged me to lead a climb. I will not forget my first lead climb. The walls in the west were TALL…much taller than anything I’d seen out East and I was super intimidated. But, he was supportive and encouraging and I did my first lead climb out at Little Si, WA. Now, for context, the only reason I wasn’t leading is that I didn’t know how. Back in Ohio, the routes were super short and they were all top roped. Therefore, except for the occasional trip to Seneca Rocks or the New River Gorge, I never had to learn. Besides, I was still too new to climbing to dare, and on those trips, there was always someone who would put up a rope for me. J
Fast forward to avoid a long drawn out ‘how I got here’ back story; Dr. Evil became the idea for me as a signature and milestone route that would bring it all together for me. My first lead climb at Little Si, my first 5.12 at Little Si, what about my first 5.14 at Little Si, too! Not any 5.14 at Little Si would do because there are link ups that I could have done to ‘just get the grade,’ but rather a proper line with a proper crux and a proper mental challenge. Dr. Evil had it all. Thin initial section with big moves between small holds. A powerful roof sequence that sustains until the crux is over. It even has a decent shake before the final climbing leading to the chains.
I puzzled over nearly every move up to that rest. The most cryptic part of the climb was how to get setup into the crux. Jonathan Siegrist had good beta with an undercling gaston move that solved the first part of how to get into the crux, but it took some creativity on my part to figure out how to move off of that to get my feet up so I could continue through the crux. And, the crux sustains 10 big moves before an opportunity to clip, which was heady for me and brought on the mental challenge of the route. Doing this particular route brought more satisfaction for myself, not because of the grade, but because of what it meant to me to achieve something this difficult and challenging for myself, at my home crag. Props to Eric Kubiak for his vision and FA back in 1999.
On one of my last attempts of Dr. Evil, one of the local bad asses, Ben Gilkenson, remarked that I should go for Extended Evil, next. I seriously hadn’t thought what to tackle next and since I had the lower part of Dr. Evil wired, it seemed fitting to at least try the extension while the beta of the route was still fresh in my mind. My time in Seattle is closing fast and I wasn’t sure I’d have enough time to actually take the Extended version down as well, but I figured I might as well try!
Extended Evil (8c/5.14b) runs through most of the crux of Dr. Evil but instead of trending out right and up the pure line, Ext. Evil adds another boulder problem and exits up and left to meet up with Extended Illness (a 5.13c that branches up high and right off the classic Chronic 5.13b line). You punch through the Evil cruxes and get an ok shake before taking on the upper crux of Extended Illness. For me, the temps were not ideal (too hot! and a little humid) and I thought I would slime off at any moment, but somehow I stuck the crux moves (some, barely!) and then finished on long moves and pumpy climbing through moderate boulder problems. There are two distinct place where I could have fallen and did fall, high on the route. I thought the redpoint crux would be the 2nd to last boulder problem, but I managed it both times I found myself there. It turned out the last move to the chains caused me the most trouble. The feet disappeared, I was super pumped and I had to throw to a good hold. Despite the good hold at the chains, the first time I was there, I found myself too low and unable to sort out how to get my feet up (on the fly) before my arms blew out. I tried to back climb one move to re-set and I started falling away from the wall just a bit and that’s all it took to have me flying in the air. That was a heartbreak moment when I knew I was only 1 move away from the send. It was dark so another attempt would have to wait until the following day. Except the next day, my climbing partner bailed on me last minute due to a stomach flu. L I desperately called everyone I could think of and luckily found a new climbing partner to go out there. Despite the weather conditions and the uncertainty of a new belayer, I managed to pull it off, first go that day. Dr. Evil was hard, but I found Ext. Evil more challenging.
This has been quite the Seattle visit for me, not just because I was able to tackle this climb I have had my eye on for awhile and it’s extension, but because I managed to meet a lot of new people and make some new friends along the way. A huge shout out to all of the people who have supported me this summer, encouraging me to try hard and above all for taking the time to share the experience with me. You’re the best! Now, it’s time for me to wrap up this Seattle life and move on to my next chapter. I’ll see you on the East coast soon!!