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Tommy Caldwell onsights Mt. Hooker in car-to-car ascent with Adam Stack

Posted on: September 2, 2016


On August 24, Tommy Caldwell and Adam Stack completed the first known car-to-car ascent of Mt. Hooker. The duo covered fifteen miles of trail before ascending Hooker's north face via Jaded Lady (VI 5.12a, 1,800') and hiking back to their car in 19 hours and 39 minutes.

Adam Stack on the hike in to the base of Mt. Hooker (12,504'). [Photo] Tommy Caldwell Adam Stack on the hike in to the base of Mt. Hooker (12,504'). [Photo] Tommy Caldwell

Caldwell and Stack left the trailhead at 2:30 am and reached the base of Mt. Hooker around 7:30. A hand-drawn topo provided by a friend neglected to indicate where the climb began and the first two pitches. An hour after arriving at the base, the duo began to make their way up the rock, simulclimbing five pitches in blocks of about 400 feet each. Caldwell onsighted each pitch.

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Caldwell notes that the "slow, wandering" nature of the route made the wall feel even bigger than the description lead them to believe. Their topo also didn't indicate the route's crux, leading the duo to wonder whether they had traveled off route.

For Stack, the highlight of the climb was observing Caldwell's composure and commitment to the onsight on the crux. "That's why Tommy is such an awesome partner," Stack explains. "If he [showed] too much concern, that would put more stress on me."

Tommy Caldwell heads to the start of the route. [Photo] Adam Stack Tommy Caldwell heads to the start of the route. [Photo] Adam Stack

For both Caldwell and Stack, this trip marked their first venture into the Wind River Range. The two climbers had heard about the area from climbing legend Todd Skinner around fifteen years ago.

As Caldwell recounts over the phone, Skinner had told him that everything in the Winds, from the climbing opportunities to the scenery, was worthwhile. Caldwell adds, "I never believed him. Turns out, he was right!"

Mt. Hooker, Caldwell says, was "way bigger, way more remote, and way more impressive" than he had expected.

Stack knew that a short trip would be more feasible for his climbing partner, who has recently been busy writing a book. Stack's motivation for the car-to-car challenge, he explains, was to have the opportunity "to spend a day outside with a buddy."

But, he adds, "I don't think we would have tried to do it in a day if...we knew what the hike was like."

Caldwell mid-way up Jaded Lady (VI 5.12a). [Photo] Adam Stack Caldwell mid-way up Jaded Lady (VI 5.12a). [Photo] Adam Stack

Mt. Hooker's "free climbing renaissance"

A few years ago, a spate of climbs began what Josh Wharton refers to as a "free-climbing renaissance" on the north face of Mt. Hooker. In August 2013, Wharton and Whit Magro completed the first one-day free ascent of Jaded Lady. In 2014 Anne Gilbert Chase and Kate Rutherford repeated their feat.

Royal Robbins, Richard K. McCracken and Charlie Raymond were the first to ascend Mt. Hooker's north face. In 1964, they mixed free and aid climbing on their four-day ascent of the wall. A photo of Robbins in a hanging belay over the cool, marbled granite would become an icon, luring later climbers to attempt big walls in the relatively unknown Wyoming wilderness area.

In an interview with Alpinist earlier this year, Paul Piana noted that this photo was what first drew him and Todd Skinner to dream of making the first free ascent of Mt. Hooker. Piana and Skinner, along with Galen Rowell and Tim Toula, completed the first full free ascent of Jaded Lady in 1990. Their climb followed the line of the Robbins route and included a six-pitch variation that the team of Annie Whitehouse, Stuart Ritchie and Mark Rolofson had crafted just days earlier. (Fifty feet of aid at the crux had prevented the Whitehouse team from claiming the north face's first free ascent.)

Piana recalled the cold on the north face being "bitter and painful," even in August. The route stays in the shade most all of the day.

Luckily Caldwell and Stack were prepared. "I owe Kate Rutherford...huge," Stack says. Rutherford advised Stack to climb in a down jacket. Conditions were "full-on alpine," he notes.

"The contrasts [in the Winds] struck me more then most places I have climbed," Stack says. "The valleys were very lush, inviting and beautiful. [But] as [we] climbed...the peaks around us became barren, brown [and] harsh...almost intimidating. It did not feel like a place you belonged."

I asked Caldwell if he thought he would go back to the Winds. "Some day," he says. "It is a beautiful place."

On the hike back to the trailhead. [Photo] Adam Stack On the hike back to the trailhead. [Photo] Adam Stack

[For more on the history of Mt. Hooker and the Wind River Range, check out the Mountain Profile in Issue 55.—Ed]

Sources: Tommy Caldwell, Adam Stack, Paul Piana

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