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Quinn Brett makes probable first female free ascent of Spaceshot (5.13a) in Zion

Posted on: May 24, 2017


Max Barlerin and Quinn Brett celebrate on top of the Leaning Wall in Zion after Brett's free ascent of Spaceshot (IV 5.13a) on May 2. [Photo] Max BarlerinMax Barlerin and Quinn Brett celebrate on top of the Leaning Wall in Zion after Brett's free ascent of Spaceshot (IV 5.13a) on May 2. [Photo] Max Barlerin

Quinn Brett made what is likely the first female free ascent of Spaceshot (IV 5.13a, 9 pitches) on the Leaning Wall in Zion National Park, Utah, on May 1-2. She led all the pitches with Max Barlerin in support.

Only a handful of men are known to have free climbed the route so far. Some of the standout free ascents include Mark and Mike Anderson's first free ascent in 2005; Alex Honnold and Chris Weidner's one-day linkup with Moonlight Buttress (IV 5.12+) in 2008; and Honnold and Tommy Caldwell's four-wall linkup that included Moonlight Buttress, Sheer Lunacy (IV 5.13b) and Touchstone Wall (IV 5.13b) in 2013.

Brett's friend Libby Sauter was climbing across the canyon on Moonlight Buttress during Brett's free ascent of Spaceshot. Sauter took this photo of Brett—circled in red—sending Spaceshot's crux fourth pitch. [Photo] Libby SauterBrett's friend Libby Sauter was climbing across the canyon on Moonlight Buttress during Brett's free ascent of Spaceshot. Sauter took this photo of Brett—circled in red—sending Spaceshot's crux fourth pitch. [Photo] Libby Sauter

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Brett wrote in an email:

I had my eye on freeing Spaceshot for a few years. It wasn't until last spring that Max and I actually put in some effort. We swung around on the 5.13 and 5.12 (Pitches 4 and 5)—the 5.13 felt ridiculously hard. I definitely did not climb it clean. We spent two or three days on this effort before our road trip persuaded us elsewhere. This spring we returned with similar tactics and a little over a week to dedicate. We fixed a line on Pitch 4 and took turns climbing with a Mini Traxion. We spent a total of three days with two to three tries per day. The sun would illuminate the wall about 11:30 a.m., after which we promptly would bail to the soothing Virgin River. Our plan was to leave two days as possible "go" days: Wednesday, April 12, and Friday, April 14. We both gave two to three lead burns on the crux on Wednesday [without success]. Friday we returned and alternated attempts again. I sent on my third go, climbing just after the sun showered us. I lowered back down to support Max for a fourth go. Climbing in full sun, he messed up some beta and succumbed to gravity. I jugged back up and we half-heartedly continued up Pitch 5, both falling, both exhausted from so many lead efforts and not enough water. That was it for the season, or so I thought. Work started up 8 a.m. Sunday, April 16, for me back in Colorado [as a climbing ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park], but a quick whim of a window opened two weeks later. I bought a cheap ticket to Vegas, Max picked me up and we darted back to Zion for my two-day weekend attempt.

On the evening of May 1, Max and I soloed up the first three pitches, tagging a rope each. We also hauled a light sleeping kit. I climbed Pitch 4, the 5.13 pitch, that evening. Early the following morning we jugged fixed lines to the top of the crux pitch. Our plan was to get as far as we could as fast as we could. Temps were forecasted to be in the 80s and Spaceshot is a south-facing solar oven. I proceeded to lead the rest of the pitches on May 2.

Barlerin had just completed another big wall free ascent with another partner and was too bushed to attempt Spaceshot as a free climb with Brett.

"Quinn put in a tremendous effort to climb the route," he said. "Having completed the crux pitch [in April], Quinn was eager to finish it up. Our original plan was to swap leads for a team free ascent, but upon seeing me in my trashed state, she opted to lead every pitch, while I jugged behind her.... Quinn was incredibly motivated during the two days we spent on route and managed to redpoint every pitch, trying some of the 5.12 pitches multiple times before she sent."

Brett topropes one of Spaceshot's pitches during an earlier reconnaissance of the route's difficulties. [Photo] Max BarlerinBrett topropes one of Spaceshot's pitches during an earlier reconnaissance of the route's difficulties. [Photo] Max Barlerin

"I fell on my first attempt to lead the 5.12 finger crack [on Pitch 5]," Brett said. "I lowered, pulling gear while whining to Max that I wasn't sure if I had the energy to lead it again, flash pumped. I pulled the rope and started up again. I fell when I was almost at the belay. A little anger initially fueled the third attempt."

Brett said it is definitely the hardest big wall free climb she's done.

"Projecting is also a new thing for me in the last couple of years," she said. "I have free-climbed individual pitches of this grade. I have also climbed routes of similar proportion but of a lower grade. I previously trended towards swapping leads with my partner. Leading every pitch was an incredible challenge but great for my head."

She described the route in more detail:

Every pitch is different. The first three are moderate, fun crack climbing and scrambling. The 5.13 pitch starts bolted. It is a steep, wandering (double ropes used), thin, kinda reachy boulder problem with fun moderate climbing in the middle. The last two bolts protect a thrutchy foot stab boulder problem off thin crimps. You then traverse hard left, with a techy down-step, which leads you back to the aid route and some 5.11 R pin-scar climbing. The fifth pitch is a 5.12 Indian Creek-style finger crack with dispersed hand jams. Pitch 6 begins as a variation to the aid line, a short sandy offwidth to a runout face traverse back to the original route. Pitch 7 and 8 are hands and fingers for 200 feet, glorious! Pitch 9 is ridiculous, crazy, intimidating 5.12 climbing with your ass hanging over the void. It eases for a moment and steps left again from the aid line, mandatory fragile rock mantel/brush crawl finishes the adventure.

Brett shines when it comes to tests of endurance. Last October she completed a linkup of seven Yosemite big walls in seven days with Josie McKee, which they called the "Tour de Ditch."

Brett boils water on the banks of the Virgin River with the Leaning Wall in the background. Spaceshot's crack system parallels the left side of the huge dihedral's arete. [Photo] Max BarlerinBrett boils water on the banks of the Virgin River with the Leaning Wall in the background. Spaceshot's crack system parallels the left side of the huge dihedral's arete. [Photo] Max Barlerin

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