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Friends complete Hayden Kennedy's vision on Mt. Hooker: Gambling in the Winds (V 5.12+)

Posted on: August 30, 2019


Mt. Hooker with Gambling in the Winds (V 5.12+, 2,000') drawn in red. [Photo] Austin SiadakMt. Hooker with Gambling in the Winds (V 5.12+, 2,000') drawn in red. [Photo] Austin Siadak

In 2015, Hayden Kennedy and Whit Magro spent a week in Wyoming's Wind River Range establishing a route over new terrain over halfway up the northeast face of Mt. Hooker. On the last day of their trip, they free climbed to Der Minor Ledge, 800 feet from the top of the wall, where they traversed right and finished on the Boissonneault-Larson. They dubbed their route Gambling in the Winds (5.12).

"A direct finish would be a spectacular way to end the route and would probably add at least one more 5.12 pitch," Kennedy wrote in the 2016 American Alpine Journal.

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In the aftermath of Kennedy's death in October 2017, his friends Jesse Huey and Maury Birdwell, along with Jason Thompson and Magro, have carried Kennedy's vision forward by returning to Mt. Hooker over the last two seasons. Huey and Birdwell completed Gambling in the Winds early this August.

"Hayden always expressed to me how badly he wanted to continue up the steep blank wall above their high point and to one day finish Gambling in the Winds," Huey wrote in an August 13 Instagram post. "Despite our best efforts in August 2018, Maury, Jason Thompson, Whit and I spent 12 days collectively trying to push the route to the top. Utterly defeated by terrible wet and cold weather, we made it only two-and-a-half pitches higher than Whit and Hayden's high point in 2015."

This year Huey and Birdwell managed to free the new route all the way to the top, spending two days on the wall, August 9-10.

"We wanted to take in the experience and give ourselves plenty of time to free the route," Huey told Alpinist in an email.

[Photo] Maury Birdwell/Jesse Huey collection[Photo] Courtesy Maury Birdwell and Jesse Huey

Magro announced on Instagram on August 28 that he and Harrison Teuber "made a blitz mission into the Winds for Mt. Hooker last weekend [August 24-25]. The result was the first one-day, team free ascent.... More importantly it marked the end of a four-year project that #HK and I started back in [2015]. Due to timeline and commitments I could not join [Huey and Birdwell] for the push to the top. Thanks for leaving me the one day, gents. It's all I needed. The line is a true gem. Everyone should do it."

Magro later clarified some details for Alpinist. He said they climbed the route in about 10 hours on August 24. He and Teuber swung leads, with both leader and follower freeing each pitch, and they pulled the rope to repoint a pitch in two places.

Huey described the climbing to Alpinist in an email:

The lower half of the route features wild, unlikely face climbing through many seemingly blank features and incipient crack systems, showcasing the bold and visionary style of Kennedy and Magro. The top half features boulder problems, steep corners, and splitter crack climbing through multiple horizontal roofs. According to the area's tradition, the route was completed entirely ground up, involving approximately 25 to 30 days of effort split between Hayden, Whit, Jason Thompson, Maury and myself over three years.

"Gambling" features many 5.12 pitches and is very sustained at adventurous 5.11. Both Maury and I agreed that Gambling in the Winds has some of the most beautiful rock that the climbers have experienced on Mt. Hooker and hope that routes like this gain attention over Mt. Hooker's standard route the Jaded Lady.

[Photo] Maury Birdwell/Jesse Huey collection[Photo] Courtesy Maury Birdwell and Jesse Huey

Topo of Gambling in the Winds. [Photo] Maury Birdwell/Jesse Huey collectionTopo of Gambling in the Winds. [Photo] Courtesy Maury Birdwell and Jesse Huey

Mt. Hooker was featured in Alpinist 55 (2016) as part of a Mountain Profile on the Wind River Range by Paula Wright. Kennedy described his experiences to Wright in a May 2016 email interview:

For me the Wind River Range is a very special place and has somewhat of a mysterious [aura]....

In May of 2015 I went to a very unknown and unspoken granite gorge somewhere in WY or Montana, I forget:) I met my good buddy Whit Magro to get the locals tour. We discussed our summer plans and ended up committing to a trip into Mt. Hooker in August. I went back to Colorado and worked for the rest of the summer with Hooker on my mind. We invited our good friends Jesse Huey and the "Iron" Mike Pennings to join. Our main goal was to have a fun group of friends and as much red meat and whiskey as possible. We ended up packing nearly 50 pounds of meat into Costco freezer bags and seven bottles whiskey! This is where we learned about the Tatina Rainy Day cocktails from Mike, who had experience mixing this drink. We used horses to get us to the base of Hailey Pass and then we spent two days packing the rest off our gear over the pass to our base camp.

Mike and Jesse lapped Hooker a few times on that trip, climbing both the Jaded Lady [V 5.12-] and Hook Line and Sinker [V 5.12].

The first day, Whit and I tried Sendero Luminoso [VI 5.13+], which was truly spectacular. We hiked back to camp and chatted about our motivations. Trying to free the Sendero would take the rest of our trip, and there would be a good chance we wouldn't do it, but this is the beauty of these lines. We ultimately wanted a fresh experience, a new approach with new pitches and the journey of putting up a new line. The next day we clocked into work and spent the next five days establishing Gambling in the Winds. We left camp at 9 and returned at 5, a standard workweek. We climbed completely ground up on the whole route.

We drilled bolts off stances, hooks and beaks. I remember on one pitch, once the drill bit was deep enough into the rock, I grabbed the upper part of the bit like a hold so that I could shake out my pumped legs. Our best friends on the route where the rack of beaks—we climbed almost entire pitches only placing beaks. Later, we would add a few bolts to make the experience safer. Everyday was exciting and pushing the ropes up the wall was slow. There were a few unknowns for free climbing. I aided a roof low on the route and discovered the Rifle Pitch*, which featured steep and dynamic movement. Whit and I spent a whole day aid climbing a thin seam that ended in no man's land. Once we had the rope up, we swung around trying to find free climbable features. Finally, we found the Good Hand Pitch, which was a hidden 5.12 finger crack with a blank face below. We found enough crimps to link the pitch. The route went free! We pushed our ropes higher into the Jaded Face, which was a 70-meter pitch of green marble.

[*The Rifle Pitch is named for the steep and physical style of climbing that is commonly encountered at Colorado's Rifle Mountain Park, a world-famous sport crag where Kennedy often climbed.—Ed.]

After our workweek, we finally had the chance to climb the route in its entirety. Again, my mind wanders back to our time on Haystack [another peak in the Wind River Range] and the feelings we had climbing that route after all the work. Whit and I swung leads up our pitches without the burden of bolting, cleaning or aid climbing—we moved free and light, and topped out Gambling in the Winds (5.12).

To me the climbing isn't as important as the friendships we create in these places. The moments that we have on the wall with our partners can be translated to our everyday lives. The lessons we learn from climbing shouldn't just stay on the rock but be carried throughout our lives. Whit is a truly special guy who has an incredible balance in his life. He was the perfect partner and he has always shown me a true spirit.

In honor of Kennedy's memory, Huey and Birdwell scattered some of his ashes during their ascent.

"[It] marked the closing of an important chapter in my grief process," Huey wrote on Instagram. "Electing to enjoy our time, we spent the night on the wall, from which we cast Hayden's ashes over his route and off the summit into the endless sky of the Wind River Range."

Scattering Kennedy's ashes from the portaledge. [Photo] Maury Birdwell/Jesse Huey collectionScattering Kennedy's ashes from the portaledge. [Photo] Courtesy Maury Birdwell and Jesse Huey

A blog by Whit Magro about the 2015 trip can be found here. Essays from the Alpinist 55 Mountain Profile of the Wind River Range can be found here.

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