Wired

Posted on: March 1, 2008


Matt Maddaloni on the McTech Arete (III 5.10), Crescent Spire, Bugaboos, British Columbia, Canada, on August 15, 2007, during his fifteen-and-a-half-hour solo enchainment of fifty pitches on five distinct summits. In addition to McTech Arete, Maddaloni climbed the Northeast Ridge (IV 5.7) on Bugaboo Spire, the West Ridge (II 5.4) on Pigeon Spire, the Beckey-Chouinard (V 5.10a) on South Howser Tower and the Kraus-McCarthy (IV 5.8+) on the west face of Snowpatch. Four days earlier, on August 11, with Paul Cordy following, Maddaloni led Seasoned in the Sun (5.10), University Wall (5.12a) to the Roman Chimneys (5.11a), Northern Lights (5.12a) and Freeway (5.11c)—thirty-seven pitches on three summits of Squamish's Stawamus Chief. For more information on these and other climbs, see our NewsWire reports at www.alpinist.com. [Photo] Paul Bride

MIDWAY THROUGH HIS LAST CRUX on The Squamish Chief, Matt Maddaloni locked his fingers in a crack and rested his head against the wall. Each time he thought about moving again, he pictured himself peeling off into the abyss. The problem wasn't the twenty-foot roof above him or the several-hundred-foot void below him or the painful jams that lay ahead—he'd done this route, Freeway, many times before. It was all the other routes and cruxes and hours behind him, the overwhelming momentum that had borne him along on waves of stress and hope and that now seemed about to break.

With Paul Cordy, Maddaloni had already jogged the approach in the early-morning dark, warmed up on Seasoned in the Sun, redpointed University Wall by headlamp, added on Roman Chimneys, ran to the summit of the Chief and down the trail, biked and hiked up to Zodiac Wall, sweated up The Northern Lights as the day grew humid, dashed to the summit of Zodiac, descended the trail again, raced up to the Dihedrals, started on Freeway—and found himself, right near the end, suddenly and completely worked.

Maddaloni was attempting to repeat, with the addition of Roman Chimneys, a legendary 1996 exploit: Sig Isaac's Triple Crown—a fourteen-and-a-half-hour combination of technical difficulty and sheer endurance that still awed top Squamish climbers, more than a decade later. In 2004 Maddaloni's friend Sonnie Trotter, along with Tommy Caldwell, had composed his own enchainment with difficulties up to 13b, climbing The Grand Wall, The Shadow and Freeway in twelve hours and calling it "The Grand Slam." Two years later, Trotter had linked The Grand Wall, The Shadow and The Black Dyke (also 5.13b)—but "Sig still holds the belt," he declared in his report.

"There will always be someone better," Maddaloni told himself as he rallied. By the time he forced his aching fingers through the last crux, he still hadn't fallen, and he says, "my whole body trembled in sobs of relief, jubilation and amazement. The process was over."

Except it wasn't. As Maddaloni now puts it, "If you were a surfer and you could ride that perfect wave forever, without your body giving out, you'd do it, right?" Four days later, he found himself in the Bugaboos, riding that same wave through a fifteen-and-a-half-hour solo enchainment of five multipitch routes on five summits: the McTech Arete on Crescent Spire, the Northeast Ridge on Bugaboo Spire, the West Ridge on Pigeon Spire, the Beckey-Chouinard Route on South Howser Tower and the Kraus-McCarthy on the West Face of Snowpatch. Heightened by the speed and intensity of soloing, the flashes of lightning and exposure, and the increasing alpine exhaustion, his sense of "flow" rose until after some fifty pitches he reached the last summit and the perfect wave finally crested. Maddaloni, for the time being, felt satiated.

Andre Ike in July 2003 on the traverse of the Cats Ears and Witches Tits of the Devils Thumb Group, Stikine Wilderness, Alaska. Ike and Jon Walsh attempted a complete traverse of the Witches Tits, Cats Ears and Devils Thumb spires, managing both Tits and both Ears before rockfall chopped their rope on the west buttress of the Devils Thumb, forcing their descent. (They returned to climb the East Ridge of the Devils Thumb, becoming the first climbers to tick the Thumb and all its satellite peaks.) In 2005, in the Bugaboos, Walsh and Jeff Relph enchained the Northeast Ridge of Bugaboo Spire, the Beckey-Chouinard on South Howser Tower, the Kraus-McCarthy on Snowpatch Spire and the Cooper-Kor (IV 5.10+) on Pigeon Spire's east face in twenty-four and a half hours. Walsh proposes that in the future, such a drive to link as many features as possible will result in enchainments of summits such as Latok II (7108m), Latok I (7145m) and Latok III (6949m) in Pakistan's Karakoram. [Photo] Jon Walsh

AFTER HIS LINKUPS GARNERED HEADLINES in the climbing media, several members of the community noted that Maddaloni's marathon days weren't really all that new—in the Bugs, he'd essentially contributed one short, mostly fourth-class route, the West Ridge, to an enchainment Peter Croft had made in about fourteen hours, twenty years earlier. In 2001 Aaron Martin had connected another similar combination—all except the McTech Arete—in around twelve hours. And in 2005 Canadians Jon Walsh and Jeff Relph enchained the Northeast Ridge, the Beckey-Chouniard and the Kraus-McCarthy, adding the long, committing Cooper-Kor on Pigeon Spire's East Face. Indeed, throughout western Canada, locals and visitors have been experimenting with linkups for years.

One precedent-setting exploit came to light in July 1994, when Alpine Club of Canada staff members found a German alpinist, Frank Jourdan, sleeping in his car outside their Canmore hut. According to Dave Dornian's Calgary Mountain Club news report, they bought Jourdan some coffee and, despite his broken English, managed to learn that he'd just soloed three routes on Mt. Andromeda: a direct variation to the Skyladder Direct, followed by The Shooting Gallery and the Andromeda Strain, returning to his car forty-five hours later. Jourdan's two-week summer vacation comprised an ample list of ascents and attempts on other serious objectives, as well, but the point had already been made: individual Canadian Rockies testpieces could be welded into one super-line. In the past few years, others, including Rolando Garibotti, Walsh, Caroline Ware, Will Gadd, Raphael Slawinski and Scott Semple, have taken note, jogging up and down multiple climbs along the Icefields Parkway to make Grade V WI6 just part of a day's outing.

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This same approach has taken wildly varying forms around the world. Christophe Profit’s 1987 enchainment, in less than two days, of the north faces of the Matterhorn, Eiger and Grandes Jorasses in winter, and Alain Ghersen's 1990 enchainment of the American Direct, the Walker and the Intégrale de Peuterey in sixty-six hours remain among the benchmarks for Alpine linkups. Tommy Caldwell's 2005 ascents of the Free Nose and Freerider, the first enchainment of two El Capitan free routes in under twenty-four hours, set the current standard for hard, technical rock. But every discipline has its own. Bouldering "circuits," joining multiple problems to create the illusion and training potential of a longer ascent, date back to the early days of Fontainbleau. Sometimes the concepts underlying these connections may be as aesthetically simple as Peter Croft’s "one clear line, one continuous idea" of an unbroken ridge, expressed in his High Sierra traverses; other times, they may be more fragmented and conceptual, like Gadd and Slawinski's "classic" Rockies' spring day (the North Face of Athabasca, Polar Circus and Yamnuska's Direttissima, with car shuttles in between). Garibotti and Croft divide enchainments into the "natural" versus the "arbitrary" or the "contrived," but in the end, they both conclude, so long as climbers are honest about their methods, it comes down to each person's private ideal.

As top climbers get stronger and faster, as their gear grows lighter and their styles become more minimalistic, they will inevitably come up against a diminishing amount of unexplored terrain. Enchainments let them create their own chimerical "peaks," like Ines Papert and Audrey Gariepy's kilometer-long "dreamfall," made up of multiple shorter ice climbs (up to WI6) in Kaldakinn, Iceland (see Issue 22), which formed, Papert wrote, "the height of my dreams." Ultimately linkups are less about the grades, the distances, the times, than they are about freeing the imagination and the body to explore the infinite within the finite, in whatever form your fancy takes. The Free Nose and the Salathe Wall? proposes Caldwell. How about the Patagonian skyline? asks Garibotti (who, with Hans Johnstone, as we go to press, linked three of these peaks with much of the north face of Cerro Torre—the farthest anyone has reached on the coveted traverse thus far). Or something even bigger, like one of those endless Karakoram ridges that "a satellite can see from outer space"? counters Croft. You can always shuffle up old combinations, compose new ones, tack on another route, try another discipline, take the game to a more remote location or to a higher altitude. Walsh laments that "the hard part is finding partners for the really off-the-wall ideas," like the fantasy of traversing the Latoks I, II and III. "Climbing even one of them is so hard and the failure rate is so high! Once you're on the summit ridge, however, it looks like it goes..." Any takers?

In the end, the purest form of all may resemble an insomniac's mad passion: as Croft describes it, those never-explained moments when you wake up at one in the morning, wide-eyed with lucid dreams, put together a spontaneous list as you drink your coffee, then head out the door into the irreducible, oceanic unknown.



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