Posted on: September 1, 2008

cosmos In 1972 the race was on to be the first to solo a new route on El Cap. Royal Robbins was trying the line that would become Tangerine Trip, Charlie Porter had begun an unprecedented big-wall binge that would culminate that November in the solo first ascent of Zodiac, and Jim Bridwell had been checking out an unclimbed crack system left of the Salathe. But amongst the big names eyeing the prize was a hyper-talented, hyper-energized twenty-three-year old from Colorado. Jimmy Dunn, too, had been studying Bridwell's line. There was only one problem: rumor had it Bridwell would break the arms and legs of anyone who tried it.

At first, Dunn went up with Billy Westbay. As the Colorado outsiders climbed, locals shouted at them, "Go down or we'll shoot you!" and "We're going to meet you on top and throw you off!" When Westbay took a fifteen-foot fall, the onlookers cheered.

After Westbay bailed, Dunn went up with partners three more times, working progressively higher on each attempt. On the third try, Doug Snively pulled off a block and crushed a finger. Who should they encounter back on the trail but Bridwell, who was supposed to be in Zion. "How you guys doing?" Bridwell asked, eying them closely. "My friend broke his finger," Dunn stammered, and moved away as fast as he could.

Dunn tried once more only to have his partner, Gordy Snaill, experience two bad falls, the second directly onto a marginal belay. Down again. As they descended, Dunn's frustration reached a climax: he'd go back alone and finish the climb no matter what.

The next day, he started up the route for the fifth time. Over nine days he fought through A4 heads, expanding flakes and 5.9 free climbing until, exhausted, he stumbled off the summit and back to Camp 4. The first person he met was again Bridwell, who strode up to the (much smaller) Dunn... and stuck out his hand. "I'm impressed," he said to the rattled young climber. "Let me cook you supper."

Over dinner, Bridwell asked, "What are you going to name it?

"I hadn't thought about it," Dunn said. Maybe Bridwell wasn't going to break his limbs after all. "What do you think?"

"Well, I was going to call it Cosmos if I climbed it."

"Well, why don't we call it that, then?" a relieved Dunn replied.

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