Daniel Woods. Photo by Renan Ozturk
Alex Honnold proposed an expedition idea to go traditional climbing down the Green River in Utah. The terrain was mostly virgin, so the objective was to establish new routes in a remote area. Matt Segal hinted that I should join in and try something new (I had never trad climbed before). I was intrigued by the idea, so I decided to go. The crew consisted of Alex, Matt, Renan Ozturk, Taylor Reese, John Dickey, and Celin Serbo. I had a feeling this was going to be a good adventure into the unknown.
We all gathered in Moab, UT to prepare our gear needed for the trip. The climbing is only accessible via rafts and canoes, so packing for 10 days was going to be tricky. We had one main raft and 3 canoes. After preparation, we all went to dinner at Milts (best burger and shake I have had), then passed out to be ready for our early morning departure.
The first day was dedicated to rowing. The length of the trip was 25 miles in the blazing sun. It was a peaceful experience to just float and eye up the amazing sandstone buttresses surrounding us. I felt secluded from reality, which made the experience meditative. After a full days worth of rowing, we made it to our first camp: The Green River Buttresses. Our team quickly transported our equipment from water to land, we set up camp, then prepared that night for our first day of climbing. I had no idea what to expect. I had never placed gear or read a crack before… this should be interesting.
Alex, Matt, and I went for a walk to scope out potential new lines. We found some established ones, along with some killer looking projects. Alex went to work prepping his vision. This line was going to be 3 pitches with an intro 5.13- bolted pitch. The next pitch involved 5.12d fingers (splitter), finishing with a chossy 12- pitch. The line looked sick! Matt and I had our sights set on another project to the left of Alex’s proj. The climbing ranged from face to hand jams, and was going to require many different skills. For my first day, I thought it would be a good idea to practice hand jamming and placing cams, before jumping straight into an unknown project. There was a nice splitter hand crack on the next buttress over, offering textbook placements. I went up on top rope once to see how the cams would go in. After this was figured, I went for the lead. Woah, leading is way different despite difficulty. I had never fallen on gear before, so the picture of potential ground fall entered my mind. I quickly learned to block those thoughts out and focus on the present situation. I soon found myself at the anchors. I was stoked to have learned/ completed something new. To the left of this route was a 10- corner layback. Matt showed me how it was done, then I followed suit. This climb had fewer and smaller gear placements. I definitely found myself shaking a couple times. The fear of falling still loomed in the back of my mind. I knew this was going to be an issue and falling on my gear was the only way to get over it. We wrapped up the day with Matt explaining some techniques to me, then we were off to make dinner.
The next day, Alex finished cleaning his project and began trying the sections. Matt went up the left project to clean it up and check out some of the moves. It looked pretty difficult and intimidating. The line started off with a v6 dyno from an undercling slot to a jug hueco (protected by 3 lowballs), and went straight into 11d face climbing (protected by 00 and 000 TCU’s). At the end of the face climbing began the finger crack. This was the crux of the pitch. The remainder of the climb was a 5.10 corner leading straight into a splitter, depositing you to the anchors. This line had every style to it, creating an obsession to climb it. I tried on top rope and figured out all the moves. I was hesitant though if I could lead this one or if it was over my head. The next go up, I practiced placing the cams. I sent the route on top rope while placing. All that was left was the lead.
Photo by Renan Ozturk
The next day was our last day before departing to another area. Alex just sent his project calling it The Green Dragon (13-R) and dispatched the line that Matt and I were working on as well. Matt was psyched to see Honnold on the project we were working. We later gave him the nickname “no crack stands a chance Honnold,” due to how effortless he climbed cracks. He called the project 50 Shades of Green (13-R). Matt soon did it after Honnold. It was motivating to observe Alex and Matt in their element and see their confidence while climbing. I knew it would take numbing my mind to send. The evening session came into play. I knew this was my chance to send. I racked up then studied the climb. I felt nauseous before my first lead attempt. “I could fall on the intro boulder and hit the ground or fall in the crux and potentially hit the deck.” These were not positive sending thoughts. Leaving the ground, I felt psyched and committed. I made it up to the crux and placed my 2 saving cams. I entered the crux, but froze above my gear. I took the fall and huge relief hit me as the gear caught. I lowered and tried again. This time I made it to the end of the crux and whipped on a 00 TCU. This planted confidence that my gear will hold if placed correctly. The sun started setting behind the mountain. I rested briefly before my final go. I felt my mind go numb and I climbed the moves in control as if I were soloing. All that remained was the final corner to hand crack. My adrenaline was high, but I kept my pump under control. I clipped the chains in the dark for 50 Shades of Green. An eternal emotion was let out in pure excitement. This was the coolest feat of climbing I had completed so far. I could not of done it without the support from Matt, Alex, John, Renan, Taylor, and Celin. I conquered my mental game, and that is what I wanted to accomplish.
The next day we set sail for the Witches Tower (10 miles down river from the Green River Buttresses).This area had a few already established pitches, along with some undone lines. We landed in camp and completed the same process of transporting our equipment from water to land. This combined with rowing consumed all of our time for the day.
The next day, Alex continued his rampage by sending the Weidner (fingers into a number 6 cam) and a few of the already established lines. My goal was to fill in my pyramid, so I started with a couple of 5.10 onsights. I then managed an 11- hands to number 4 cam splitter, then finished the day off with an amazing 12-. I began to feel comfortable with leading and focused on the climbing rather than the consequences. I learned that if you place good gear, it is like having a bolt for protection. Sometimes the gear is not so good, and that is when you need to be cautious. I was psyched to sample some of the other lines and get a better feel for placing.
This trip was the ultimate experience. I was a beginner again, entering the unknown. I had to accept failure regardless of difficulty and learn the traditional techniques. Having Alex and Matt as teachers was the best situation for me. They really took the time to teach me and were patient with my progress. Alex and Matt killed it, giving me inspiration to try hard and not give up. This was a life changing experience that I will always remember.
Photos by : Renan Ozturk 2013