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China Doll (5.14a R trad): Heather Weidner Interview
Posted on: June 21, 2016
October 2015: Heather Weidner attempting China Doll. [Photo] Courtesy of Jon Glassberg of Louder Than Eleven
June 15, 2016: When Heather Weidner clipped the top anchors on China Doll, a route in Boulder Canyon, Colorado— after eschewing the lead bolts—she joined a small group of women to have climbed at the elusive grade of 5.14 trad.
"I'm guessing 70 or so tries [over] maybe 50 days?" she posted on the international climbing forum 8a.nu.
Weidner's ascent of the 130-foot gently overhanging, leaning bolted crack marks the route's first female traditional redpoint (placing gear on lead). "I did the two pitches as one 40-meter pitch all on gear, using one fixed pin and one fixed nut.... I first climbed the 13c on bolts, then toproped the extension clean, figured out the finicky gear on TR, and lastly sent the whole rig placing my own protection," she reports on 8a.nu.
Bolted in the 1990s by Bob Horan, China Doll received its first gear-only ascent (including an extension) when Mike Patz free climbed the route, without clipping the bolts, on July 5, 2007. The route received a second gear-only ascent by Matt Segal on April 23, 2008.
[To learn more about the history of China Doll, read the NewsWire Segal Extols Traditional Ethics in Boulder Canyon from April 2008. To get lost in "China Doll ethics," visit: mountainproject.com—Ed.]
Alpinist caught up with Weidner the day after she completed her gear-only redpoint ascent of China Doll.
Alpinist: We've been following your progress on this climb for some time. Congratulations on your ascent.
Heather Weidner: I feel like I'm in dreamland. I can't believe it. I'm on Cloud Nine now.
January 2015: Heather Weidner likely making (unconfirmed) the first female ascent of The Great Red Roof (5.13), Red Rock, Nevada all on gear [Photo] Courtesy of Jon Glassberg of Louder Than Eleven
Alpinist: When did you start working China Doll?
HW: It's been just over a year. I started working on it the last week of May. Last spring. I worked on it all of June, took a month off and then worked on it until November until it was covered with ice and too cold (laughs). It's definitely the most time I've ever put into a climb. I've done a 5.14b sport climb but this was much harder for me.
Alpinist: How does this route compare to your other projects?
HW: This route for me was different from anything I tried before. I'd only done three or four granite routes before. My first trad project was [Eldorado Canyon, Colorado's] Must'a Been High (5.13c R, 60', Eric DeCaria), and then came the Great Red Roof (5.13b, Tom Moulin) in Vegas, and then this. Trad adds such a different element. It's so much more involved. And since Chris [Heather's husband] wanted to do it too, that was great. He helped me out a lot.
The first time I got on China Doll I could barely do any of the moves. I was completely lost. There are no holds, no feet—what do you do (laughing)?
Alpinist: We heard at one point you fell and pulled gear. Can you tell us what happened?
HW: My very first lead attempt on it, after practicing placing gear on it on toprope, I placed the two smallest Metolius offset cams and a 000 cam below that. The [foot holds] are hard there and I went for it and I ripped the two offset cams and I fell on the 000. I never ripped gear up to that point. I had a few more pieces below that, but I would have [been hurt] if that [cam] pulled. I still hit a ledge, but wasn't hurt. After that I got my gear more dialed in, but I was too scared to fall there again after that. It gave me a lot of anxiety.
Alpinist: How did you work through your fear of pulling gear?
May 2015: Heather Weidner making a rare repeat of Die Reeperbahn (13b) in Boulder Canyon, Colorado. [Photo] Courtesy of Jon Glassberg of Louder Than Eleven
HW: The morning before many of my attempts, I'd wake up sweating and couldn't eat. I was often over gripping and wasn't making gains. I had to work through that. I was getting so anxious about it that I thought it was unhealthy. It was making rock climbing not fun. I had to let go of all expectations and focus on the moves. It's a hard process and I had to go through it. Whenever you're working in a new zone, you have this intimidation factor. I think it's necessary sometimes and once the anxiety is down you can make progress. Then I learned to relax on the route and enjoy the climbing.
Alpinist: Tell us about the climbing.
HW: The opening bulge is really hard to protect, and some people clip copperheads, but I don't use those. I soloed into the start doing a 5.8 variation for 40 feet instead of doing the 5.10d no-pro start. Up high on the route is runout, but it's a safe fall—luckily I never took that big, big fall (laughs).
Alpinist: We've been seeing photos of your attempts on Facebook, via Jon Glassberg of LT11, off and on for a while now. How did announcing your attempts to climb the route to the world affect your mental state?
HW: I have never been a pre-spray person; it puts more pressure on me. [However] It made me a part of a bigger community. I got a lot of congratulations. It's unbelievable, and I feel really lucky to be in this sport and this community.
Alpinist: We heard you went climbing today, even though you completed the route yesterday. Why?
HW: After I did my climb yesterday, I went for a hike with two women, 72 and 90, and we had cheap champagne. And today I went for a climb with a 74-year-old in Boulder Canyon. He's been climbing for 55 years. Climbing with him wasn't like going to work, like it was working on China Doll. It was just nice to not have any pressure and to just enjoy rock climbing again with an interesting person in a beautiful landscape. It was good for the soul.
Weidner is likely the fourth woman in the world to climb 5.14 trad. The other four include Lynn Hill for her first free ascent of the Nose in 1993 (5.14a, 3,000'; she climbed the route free, in a day in 1994) on Yosemite's El Capitan. Beth Rodden freed the Nose in 2005. Rodden completed the first ascent of Meltdown (5.14c), also in Yosemite, in February 2008. In March 2014 Barbara Zangerl climbed Prinzip Hoffnug (5.14a) [The Principle of Hope—Ed.], in Vorarlberg, Austria.
Using preplaced gear, Mayan Smith-Gobat climbed China Doll to the first anchor, 5.13c, in 2012.
[In 2014 British climber Hazel Findlay climbed Once Upon a Time in the South West (E9 6c), in the UK. And, in 2015, Emma Twyford climbed Rare Lichen (E9 6c), with preplaced gear, at Clogwyn y Tarw, UK. E9 roughly equates to 5.13d/5.14a—Ed.]
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