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Jesse Huey and Maury Birdwell free 'Original Sin' (V 5.12+, 1,800') on Wyoming's Mt. Hooker

Posted on: October 6, 2017


The north face of Mt. Hooker in Wyoming's Wind River Range. [Photo] Austin SiadakThe north face of Mt. Hooker in Wyoming's Wind River Range. [Photo] Austin Siadak

Located in Wyoming's Wind River Range, with a 15-mile approach and a 1,800-foot north face, Mt. Hooker (12,504') has continued to provide a full-value alpine objective ever since Royal Robbins, Richard K. McCracken and Charlie Raymond's first ascent of the Original Route (VI 5.10 A4) in 1964, which was also the country's first Grade VI climb outside of Yosemite. Since then, other prominent climbers—such as Todd Skinner, Paul Piana, Josh Wharton, Whit Magro, Nik Berry, David Allfrey and Mason Earle, to name a few—have established high-end free routes from 5.12 to 5.13+ on the mountain's steep, cold north face.

After Tommy Caldwell and Adam Stack made the first car-to-car ascent of Jaded Lady (V 5.12a) in 2016, Caldwell told Alpinist Associate Editor Paula Wright that Hooker was "way bigger, way more remote, and way more impressive" than he had expected.

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In Alpinist 55, Wright noted that "Piana recalled the cold on the north face being 'bitter and painful,' even in August."

On August 10-21, Jesse Huey and Maury Birdwell joined the distinguished list of names when they completed a free variation to the original Robbins route that they named Original Sin (V 5.12+). The crux, Pitch 4, was led entirely on pre-placed beaks.

"Freeing an old Robbins route from 1964 ground up is certainly a lifetime achievement for both Jesse and me, add in that it was the first backcountry Grade VI in Yosemite style, and it gets even better," Birdwell said.

The yellow line shows the Original Route and the red lines mark the free variations of Original Sin. A route description and topo can be found here on MountainProject.com. [Image] Maury BirdwellThe yellow line shows the Original Route and the red lines mark the free variations of Original Sin. A route description and topo can be found here on MountainProject.com. [Image] Maury Birdwell

It was Birdwell's first visit to the Winds. Huey had climbed Hooker before—via the classic Jaded Lady, which is another free variation to the Robbins route. He told Alpinist in an email that Hooker was not at the top of the agenda when they were first planning the trip:

Maury and I were tossing around many ideas before we committed to Hooker. We wanted to try to do something new, something big, and something hopefully really challenging for ourselves. We originally wanted to go to Northern Canada, but both of our careers limited the amount of time we could leave home. I was [inclined] to stay away from Hooker, mostly because I thought the route looked very likely too difficult to free climb for our abilities. I also was leaning on going somewhere else, as I try not to recreate experiences I already have had, especially in the mountains. Ultimately, it was the proximity of the area to our homes, the likelihood of there not being many people in the area, the size of the wall, and our limited timeframe that made us decide to go into Hooker.

Like so many others, they were not disappointed in their decision, and after some initial doubt, they both sent the route on August 20.

Maury Birdwell belays Jesse Huey at the start of Pitch 4 of their new free route Original Sin (V 5.12+, 1,800'). [Photo] Austin SiadakMaury Birdwell belays Jesse Huey at the start of Pitch 4 of their new free route Original Sin (V 5.12+, 1,800'). [Photo] Austin Siadak

Huey recounted his first experience on the mountain:

In 2015 I went to Hooker with Mike Pennings to try and free climb as much as possible.... At the time I really didn't have much info about the free routes out there, as really there wasn't much you could find without going down a Google rabbit hole searching American Alpine Journals and blogs, etc. We couldn't find a topo for the Jaded Lady (the first free route on Mt. Hooker) but had Whit Magro there who had climbed the route the year before to show us at least where it started. With poor information as to where the route went, we used our first day to climb the bottom half of the Jaded Lady. It took us a full day to sort out where the route actually went as there was very little fixed gear, no chalk at all, and plenty of features that could draw you off course without a proper topo. As we climbed the Jaded Lady I kept looking over at the steep features to our left, (the original route) and figured it was a perfect candidate for a new free route (if it hadn't already been free climbed by a local crusher.)

They maintained the traditional ground-up ethic, and aided some pitches to reach the top before cleaning sections of the route and working moves on toprope. A couple of unlikely, hard-to-find holds proved to be the keys for a free ascent.

"We thought it very important to proceed in that style as the '64 ascent is really—in my opinion—important to the history of North American big wall climbing," Huey said.

Huey on Pitch 4. [Photo] Austin SiadakHuey on Pitch 4. [Photo] Austin Siadak

In a blog for Arc'Teryx, Huey wrote:

...We had 300 feet of a very steep wall ahead of us, and the features weren't lining up as we had hoped. It all came down to a roof encounter that I thought at first wasn't going to link. Demoralized and broken from a 10-hour day of leading, I felt a sloping hand hold that the eye couldn't even see. Out of almost divine intervention, all of the pieces came together and we had ourselves a bottom-to-top free route.

Huey on Pitch 4. [Photo] Austin SiadakHuey on Pitch 4. [Photo] Austin Siadak

Huey noted that one of the route's stemming cruxes felt similar to El Capitan's Freerider (VI 5.12d/13a). Recounting the day they sent, Huey wrote in the Arc'Teryx blog:

...Having clipped six beaks and a stopper, I was staring at the crux of the route. My mind didn't even consider the nature of the fixed gear and whether it would hold a fall or not. My mind went into stillness as I was wholly committed to freeing the pitch. Several screams, desperate foot smears, and difficult pulls later, I was at the belay with the pitch that once seemed impossible, free climbed below me.

Birdwell leads Pitch 5. [Photo] Austin SiadakBirdwell leads Pitch 5. [Photo] Austin Siadak

Jaded Lady is considered the original free variation to the Robbins route. In 1990, Annie Whitehouse, Stuart Richie and Mark Rolofson established the route and freed all except for 50 feet of it. Days later, they gave Skinner and Piana a topo of their route. Together with Tim Toula, who lead the former 50-foot stretch of aid, they completed the first free ascent.

Mt. Hooker and the Wind Rivers were featured in a Mountain Profile by Paula Wright in Alpinist 55, which included an essay by Robbins titled "Wyoming's Range of Light." The opening lines read: "The Wind River Range of Wyoming is the closest mountain landscape I have yet found to my first love, the Sierra Nevada."

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