My current complete rack of climbing gear (minus my Evolv Shamans shoes, which I forgot to include).

Rock Climbing Gear Tales

Nuts, Cams & Hexes: 2 Decades of Climbing Doodad Stories

Today, dozens of my friends, mentors, and climbing partners gather in Carbondale, Colo., to celebrate the life and mourn the death of a fellow climber. I feel sad to not be there to support the community and people I love. But, I attend in spirit. I publish this today to pay homage to HK and to that which lives on in climbing–gear and stories. Yes, gear is trivial compared to human life, but stories are not. Stories inspire and motivate us to push boundaries, seek ever greater adventures, and to, hopefully, become better, kinder human beings. HK’s stories will inspire thousands of climbers for decades to come. And if any future climber actually finds and booties a piece of HK’s gear … well lucky her/him. That cam, nut, or biner will be extra special because it represents a small, but relevant and inspirational piece of HK’s vision of first ascents and adventure. #haydenkennedyforever

Rock climbing gear

No matter that it’s lightweight and I color-code my biners to match my cams, most people shy away from rock climbing with my gear. I have no complete sets of anything. No two draw is alike. But if you really want to get to know me, check out my rack.

Two-dozen years of stories live in my brass and aluminum cams, nuts, T-blocks, ATCs and other miscellaneous rock climbing doodads. I’ve forgotten most of the tales, but some remain fresh like this morning’s coffee. My favorite pieces, always with me, remind me of the alpine sun shining hot on my face as I belay a good friend up a difficult pitch I just sent. Or maybe they’re just the best, most practical, lightest pieces I’ve used. Others don’t come out often, except when I really need them; they ache of a broken heart with the name of an ex-lover inscribed in the tattered, peeling electrical tape or the faded name inked in the webbing.

My first REI biners and others I acquired somehow.

My first REI biners and others I acquired somehow.

My first gear—a rack of DMM Walnuts, loudly clanking hexes and old golden-gate D-shaped REI carabiners—was the least expensive I could find. I climbed through the 5.7s in Little Cottonwood Canyon with it. Eventually I spent my junior year college book money on a set of BD Cams—.5 through #3—the ones with the two-stem triggers. I told my professors I couldn’t afford my books. Too poor, I didn’t work because I climbed every day, obsessively.

My first full set of TCUs appeared when I embarked on my maiden expedition. I told the folks at Metolius I’d give them my Ford Escort as a company rally car if they’d give me gear for my big wall trip to Pakistan. Totally green, I had no high altitude experience and had just climbed El Cap a few times. But the allure of a rally car was too enticing for Jim Karn. So despite my obvious naiveté, he wrote: “If you drive it up to Oregon, I’ll give you whatever you need.” I called him the next day, and a few months later dropped off the car and went back to Yosemite with some of the most cutting-edge, “light,” black wire-gate biners of the 2000s (I still have four of them). Without their generosity, I would have been woefully under-geared for the adventure. I was already pitifully unprepared for climbing giant alpine walls in the Karakoram. However, I quickly lost my big wall virginity.

Mauro "Bubu" Bole gave me this ultralight harness at the Shipton Spire basecamp. He had it especially designed for ultralight free climbing.

Mauro “Bubu” Bole gave me this ultralight harness at the Shipton Spire basecamp. He had it especially designed for ultralight free climbing.

Gear has come and gone from my life like a string of lovers. I’ve been mostly totally enamored with the shiny newness of them, but then eventually frustrated, angry, disappointed. I’ve struggled when my triggers have frayed, rusted or frozen when I most needed them. And I cursed that damn blue TCU when it pulled out and I hit the ground in Little Cottonwood Canyon, though it was entirely my fault because I placed it poorly. Luckily I only bruised my butt. And the gear I’ve lost… well, I don’t want to talk about that. I’m still bitter.

But mostly I adore my equipment, playing lovingly and absentmindedly with whatever biner or cam is at hand. It’s almost as if I leave them around—in that bowl, in a drawer, my glove box, hanging from a backpack, or in my underwear drawer—just so I can cop a feel whenever I’m missing the insides of rough sandstone cracks rubbing skin off the back of my hands or the sensation of my palm slapping a granite sloper with just enough of a shallow dish to barely hold on.

Rock climbing gear

Pre organizing… When I moved (3 times in the last year), I just threw all my gear in bins. I spent a rainy day organizing it.

At least one-third of my rack is booty—much of it found on Magical Chrome Plated Enema Syringe, a 5.6 on the Pear, Lumpy Ridge, or any number of 5.6 to 5.8s that I’ve lapped with my best climbing buddy of the last 15 years, “Hemmes”. Gear litters these routes after Colorado’s frequent summer rainstorms. I never intended to gather the gear of retreating newbies, but Hemmes and I ended every day on “Lumpy” doing a lap on our favorite 5.7, White Whale. And back in the day there was no MountainProject.com on which to advertise lost and found gear. So what was one to do except put a new piece of electrical tape on it?

My favorite bootied pieces of gear are my green and blue Aliens and 3 of my Camalots. I saw the green Alien sticking out of the very start of the Bastille in Eldorado Canyon. It was the end of a hot summer day, the lines of climbers had disappeared, and dark was falling. But we could do just one more route, I told my partner. Not long after, I found the blue Alien half way up the neighboring route. Those well-loved pieces are all the more appreciated because I knew I had scooped all the other Eldo regulars.

I spied my #4 Camalot from afar, sticking out of a crack on the Bookend, 20 feet directly climber’s left from the crack Hemmes and I climbed. Before he arrived to the belay, I called…

“I saw it first!”

“Damn!” He replied.

Pieces of my rack I acquired within the first few years of climbing. I found the #2.5 rigid stemmed Friend. It was a favorite until a boyfriend dropped it about 10 years ago. He bought me a new one, but it just wasn't the same climbing with it.

Pieces of my rack I acquired within the first few years of rock climbing. I found the #2.5 rigid stemmed Friend. It was a favorite until a boyfriend dropped it about 10 years ago. He bought me a new one, but it just wasn’t the same climbing with it.

I don’t actually use my favorite rock climbing booty. I simply admire it. I easily pulled my 40-year Chouinard Lost Arrow out of a crack while rappelling down the Diamond of Longs Peak. Banged up and smashed, you can just see the “C” stamp by the eye. It lives on my mantle, a reminder of all my Diamond days—when I’ve been hailed and rained on, when I’ve sent pitches made harder by the altitude, and the day I stood alone with my partner on the summit, when the entire world disappeared in a sea of clouds leaving us the only people in Colorado in the blazing sun.

Rubbing the rough iron of my precious piton, I remember when I pined away watching others climb the “Big D.” It wasn’t until I turned 26 that I convinced a new boyfriend to climb it with me. Little did he know. That morning we woke up to wind blowing hard enough to convince all the other aspiring Diamond climbers that day to return to the parking lot.

“Shouldn’t we go back?” Scotty asked me.

“Not a chance!”

I never had trouble finding partners after that. And I never stopped climbing the Diamond. The day I pulled my cherished piton out of the wall, my friend John and I had avoided certain death by lightening storm. We had just finished the Obelisk, when the storm raged in faster than we could out-rappel it. We sat far from gear that we had ditched 20 feet away, under an overhang, drinking the beer we had carried up to honor a fallen comrade. As we sipped the brew, the storm parted like the Red Sea, and went around the Diamond in two frightening curtains of flashing gray. We lived.

And then there’s my old-style .5 Camalot… the story is shorter and the area we climbed in one I visited only once. I found my prized camming device on pitch 13 or 14 of the South Howser Minaret, on the new free route that Heidi and I put up in the Bugaboos. I found it where we crossed someone’s aid line. I found it when I knew success was inevitable. I found it near the top of the wall, early on day two. The highlight of my entire climbing career, I see those two perfect sunny days of some of the best crack climbing of my life in that little, manky, rusty, cherished “purple.”

I’ve been lucky to get all the gear I’ve ever needed, mostly for free. Though never officially sponsored, industry people who believed in my women’s expeditions have generously shared their company’s gear with me for two decades now. I abandoned much of the bequeathed hardware as rappel anchors, leaving them behind like integral parts of a story that just didn’t make the editor’s final cut. But I still have miscellaneous pieces. Pieced together, they weave a jumbled, irregular tale of successes, challenges and some tragedies in my rock climbing life.

Rock climbing gear

There are stories behind each of these pieces of gear. The blue locking carabiner is from a HERA Climb for Life event, organized by one of my mentors, Hera Foundation founder Sean Patrick; I easily slid the Lost Arrow piton out of a crack on the Diamond; I found the GriGri at the base of a wall in Eldo 20 years ago; I used to hate the Edelrid MicroJul, untill I was forced to use it after having lost all my other pieces (in that big pile)… now it’s my favorite belay device ever because it’s super light and handy; the black wire gate biners are from the Metolius bounty I had for my trip up Shipton Spire; the pink-webbing hex is from my dear friend and early climbing mentor Doug Snively; I found the blue BD Cam on Lumpy Ridge; and I acquired the #4, rarely used BD cam, from a fund raiser for Bean Bowers.

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Places I’ve Published Recently

Hey y’all,

Though I’m now working as the marketing manager for Alpacka Raft here in Mancos, Colo., I’m also continuing to write for a couple websites, including Green Goo and GearJunkie. As well, I’m doing more regular work along with Steve “Doom” Fassbinder for Green Goo’s Instagram and Twitter Pages. Check them out!

Oh yea, and we’re trying to hone in on what people want to see on Green Goo’s Instagram page and blog. Check out the latest Instagram post and comment for a chance to win 🙂

My GJ articles include:

  1. One of my absolute favorite feature articles I’ve written in years! The Legend of the Woody: Todd Skinner’s Climbing Wall
  2. First Look: Black Diamond’s Beefy Mid-Range Rope for All Climbers
  3. Big Wall Warmth: Arc’teryx Proton AR Hoody Review
  4. Super Friction: Edelrid ‘Mega Jul’ Belay Device Review
  5. Black Diamond Camalot Ultralight: Ultimate, Essential Climbing Pro
  6. Reviews to come… Grivel Helmet, CAMP USA helmet, BD lightweight alpine pants, lots of quickdraw and carabiners, Metolius foot holds, and more. FUN.

I also regularly blog for Green Goo by Sierra Sage. You can check out my blog posts by visiting the Green Goo Blog.

Photo by Steve Fassbinder.

 

 

 

Lizzy Scully, the author, writes about Glamping for the company, Green Goo.

Other Outdoor Adventure Articles & Blog Posts Written by Lizzy Scully…

I write outdoor adventure articles and blog posts for a variety of other publications, including blog posts for Green Goo, a company that makes high-quality, organic salves, and reviews and, in the near future, more feature-type articles for GearJunkie.com, a really sweet online publication that covers all things outdoor adventure. Most of the photos that accompany my articles are by Steve Fassbinder (aka Republic Of Doom — website coming soon).

About Green Goo: I love this company, and the owner, Jodi Allison Scott. She’s an amazing, beautiful, positive woman! And the product is awesome. I stand by it 100% because I use it every day. Here’s a bit more about them: “We are a women-owned and family operated business. All our products are made in the USA with 100% all natural herbs and oils.  We started small, making products for friends, family, and the local farmers market.  We have now grown into a thriving, value driven company.”

As far as my articles, I’m currently writing a series called “The Glampeur’s Guide,” which covers how to stay clean, have good sex, make good food, be comfortable, etc while “glamping” or hanging out in the backcountry.

I’m also currently working on a piece for Rock & Ice magazine, as well as a piece for The Alpinist.

My latest blog post featuring the lovely Ashley Hill, a perpetually positive and amazing professional outdoor adventurer. It’s called, “The Glampeur’s Guide to Skin & Hair Care, Part 1.

You can read the first in the series here: “The Glampeur’s Guide to Skin & Hair Care, Part 2.”

You can also read…

 

The author on Shipton Spire. Photo credit Nan Darkis

My First Time: The West Face of the Leaning Tower

Losing My Big Wall Virginity

This is a modified (i.e. edited by me with 13 years more experience in journalism) version of a story I wrote for She Sends, a mag for women climbers that I started in 2004. The story is about my first real big wall climb on the West Face of the Leaning Tower, (Grade V, 5.7, A2+), Yosemite National Park. 

The author on her first El Cap route, The Shield, 1994. Photo courtesy William Mebane. cropped

The author on her first El Cap route, The Shield, 1994. Photo courtesy William Mebane.

Still 40 feet from the belay, I felt warm drops of urine trickle down my leg, over painfully swollen welts from 17 recent yellow jacket stings. After four hours, I couldn’t hold it in any longer.

“I’ve gotta go!” I screamed miserably. My partner, directly below, muttered, “Oh shit.”

“I hate this!” I shouted at the top of my lungs as I tried to figure out how to relieve myself while hanging off a Fish Doubloon precariously perched on a headless rivet. I stood in borrowed aiders, wedged in a barely-padded Black Diamond Bod Harness and laden down with enough metal to sink a small boat, and I’d never gone to the bathroom on a multi-pitch route before, let alone an aid route.

I’d wanted to reach the ledge a couple pitches above before I peed. Bad idea. In fact, climbing a big wall with no experience was a bad idea. But, like the rest of my life, I jumped into the endeavor without thinking. Why not? What could possibly go wrong…

******

At 22, I had almost zero experience aid climbing, and I wasn’t planning on gaining more. I had just barely started leading 5.9s, and infrequently at that. But I wanted to go to Yosemite National park. I had heard and read stories about the giant walls of America’s crown jewel and Mecca for rock climbers. But, I never imagined what I saw as I arrived to the Valley on YARTS, the public transit from Merced to Yosemite. I could barely contain myself as we passed under the Leaning Tower, the Captain, the Sentinel…

“OH my gawd,” I thought repeatedly as I hopped from one side of the bus to the other, ogling everything. OMG.

The bus dropped me off at Camp 4, and I immediately dumped my stuff and ran down the road to the Meadow. From there, I spied two guys gearing up to do something at the base of El Cap, under what I would soon learn was the route, The Zodiac. But what? As I approached, I saw they had two giant vinyl bags, a bunch of duct-taped water bottles, a couple long tubes and more gear than I’d ever seen a person try to carry.

“What are you doing!??” I exclaimed, breathless, practically tripping over myself to find out.

“We’re climbing a big wall,” one said, emphasizing the last two words with pride.

“A big wall?” I asked, trying the phrase out for the first time. I sensed the air of importance surrounding those words, but I had barely been climbing two years, and the words meant about as much to me as “old age.”

“Wow!” was all I could muster. I thought for sure I would never do anything like that!

*******

A few days later I met Tim—the aid climber from Seattle. He sat in the Camp 4 parking lot on a blue tarp, drinking a Full Sail Nut Brown Ale out of a bottle. Strands of scrappy long curls stuck out of a ponytail that fell half way down his back. With aluminum oxide glazed fingers, he created organized rows of pitons, cams, biners and cans of fruit in sugary syrup.

“What ‘cha doin’?” I asked him cheerfully.

“Getting ready to climb the Leaning Tower,” he answered.

I bugged him for awhile, and then continued on my mission to gather a garbage bag full of cans, which I would return to the recycle center for a nickel each. I used that money to buy peanut butter and bread.

A few days later I found Tim again in the Camp 4 parking lot, this time smashed and grumbling. “My partner bailed after the first pitch,” he said. “Something about his wife… kids.”

“No way! Bummer dude. Hey, I’ll climb a wall with you. I’m psyched. I’ve never been on a wall, but I’m sure I’ll do fine. I’ve done some multi-pitch routes.” I said breathlessly, without thought. After all, I’d done my longest route ever just the day before—the 5.8 classic, the Nutcracker. I even led the crux pitch!

I didn’t have any cash, but he had plenty of extra canned goods and psyche. So, later that day he gave me my first lesson jugging and leading bolt ladders. And that evening we rounded up the gear and other stuff I needed, so we could take off the following morning. Oh yeah! I was ready to take that next step into the “real” world of adventure climbing.

******

I’d never carried anything so heavy before in my life that day we headed up to the base of the Leaning Tower. We planned for an overnight on the wall, which meant bringing a few gallons of water, enough gear for four parties to go cragging for a day, various ropes, sleeping bags (not the ultralight kind), music, a stove, lots of cans of food, and who knows what else. Then half way up the talus field, I stepped on a rotten log, unleashing a storm of yellow jackets.

“Lose the bag!” Tim yelled, as I tripped and stumbled over boulders trying to get away, to no avail.

Despite feeling sick from the numerous stings, I decided to continue to the base of the wall. Five hours later, after leading the last pitch of the day with sticky, urine-covered, throbbing legs, I changed my mind about wanting to climb a big wall. But, Tim suggested we reevaluate after drinking a few beers at the pizza deck. It worked—or the three beers did—and we hiked back up that evening to sleep at the base of the wall.

******

The next day passed languorously, smoothly, and by dusk we sat on Ahwahnee Ledge, looking up at the dark, towering wall above and the Merced River stretching into the distance below. Eating baked beans with our nut tools and settling comfortably in our warm sleeping bags, I felt calm watching the cliff swallows do their dive bomb dance as the sun set. I absolutely loved being high off the ground. I loved the shadows that appeared as darkness fell, revealing contours and corners of the wall I hadn’t noticed in the bright sunlight. As granite turned from gray to black, I fell into a deep, happy sleep.

******

Tim started our third day on the wall handily leading pitch 5.

“We should finish tonight!” he said, happily.

But then I started to lead again, and somehow night fell by the time I finished pitch 6. Tim arrived saying, “I guess we sleep here for the night!” I hung in my very uncomfortable harness and watched him make himself at home in a belay seat. My bloody, chafed hips burned.

“Where’s the next ledge? I can’t possibly sleep hanging in this harness.”

“Well, you’ll have to climb at least two more pitches, past the Evil Tree,” he explained.

“WTF? I’m going to keep going,” I said, as I began rummaging around in the haul bag for my headlamp. I turned it on, and then promptly dropped it. It spun like a shooting start down the wall, bouncing off a few ledges before it winked out forever.

With Tim’s headlamp, I led and hauled through the moonless night. Ten, eleven… who knows hours later, I reached the bivy. Slapping my hands onto a butt-sized shelf of stone, I found it stinking and not exactly wet, but definitely not dry. Had I looked at the topo before embarking on the route I would have known about the “sloping ledge.” Because people rarely slept at the top of pitch 8, they didn’t think twice about relieving themselves all over the belay, on the ledge. After setting up the line for Tim to jug and hauling the bags, I sat miserably sucking on a Gob Stopper to make the sandy feeling in my throat go away. My mouth tasted like urine.

The author sleeping on a small, snowy ledge half way up the Ogre's Thumb. Photo by Heidi Wirtz.

The author sleeping on a small, snowy ledge half way up the Ogre’s Thumb. Photo by Heidi Wirtz.

******

The next morning, I woke up with my legs hanging off the ledge, and my neck aching from being wedged between the haul bag and Tim’s knees. When feeling finally came back to my body, I felt the stickiness of wall crotch, but something else, worse. My period had started two weeks early. Blood seeped through my pants onto my harness and into my borrowed sleeping bag.

Tim handed me a gauze pad before setting off to do the final pitch.

Three hours later I finally stood on the summit. The sun shone brightly and the air sparkled like a clean glass of seltzer. But I barely noticed because I was trying desperately to rub the Charlie horses out of my severely dehydrated legs. We had run out of food and water the previous day.

The sun disappeared entirely by the time we reached the ground. Dumping the haul bags, we began to the slow trek back to Camp 4. A quarter mile away from my sleeping bag, I heard Tim yell, “Watch out!” just as I fell, face first into a ditch.

“I’ve sprained my ankle,” I mumbled into the dirt, my right arm bent in a painful, 90-degree angle. Pine needles poked me in the face, and I didn’t want to get up. I thought I should cry, but I was too tired. Tim hauled me to my feet.

Hours later I hobbled into my campsite, making a beeline for my tent. The searing pain in my ankle smeared a grimace on my face, but in the darkness no one could see. My neighbors congratulated me with offers of beer and hollers, but I couldn’t respond. I felt into my tent and into the deepest sleep of my life.

I don’t really have an ending for this story, nor do I have a moral. Despite the hardships, I’d still recommend all climbers do at least one big wall in their lives. It’s an extraordinary experience. In fact, though I swore off multi-day aid climbing (and especially hauling) years ago, it appears I will be climbing a wall this spring as my sweetie wants to spend the night on El Capitan. I’m guessing it will not be as epic for him as the Leaning Tower was for me.

*****

Thanks to Nan Darkis, Heidi Wirtz and Will Mebane for the photos. I don’t have photos from the West Face of the Leaning Tower, but the cover shot is from our ascent of Inshallah on Shipton Spire in Pakistan. Heidi took the shot of me sleeping on the Ogre’s Thumb. And Will snapped the pic of me laughing while holding onto a haul bag. It was from my first El Cap route, the Shield, which he and I did a year or so after I did the Leaning Tower, I think in 1997. 

Note: My favorite issue of She Sends, #5, focused on big wall climbing and was full of excellent stories, including: an interview with Steph Davis by Emily Stifler; various short stories by Heidi Wirtz, Bonnie de Bruijn, Jasmin Caton and Mary Laurence-Bevington; gorgeous portraits by Dean Fidelman; a hilarious article, “Big Wall Deliverance,” by Majka Burhardt; the informative and entertaining “Walls Without Balls, The Herstory of Women Climbers in Yosemite,” by Molly Loomis; and a great piece, “Love in the Dead Zone,” by Pete Takeda. Pete also helped edit the entire issue, which made it extra special to me, as I really looked up to him for both his climbing and writing abilities. Perhaps he’ll let me reprint his article? Perhaps some of the ladies will also let me republish theirs? Man, the stories are so good! This issue was also super special because it was the first climbing mag publishing an illustration by Jeremy Collins. The painting of two women on a portaledge on the side of El Capitan is now framed on my wall, and is my favorite piece of artwork.

Another funny anecdote about this issue was that people absolutely freaked out because I wrote about having my period in the mag. One guy even said, angrily, “Lizzy, you just did that on purpose to make a feminist statement and to piss people off!” I actually just wrote about having my period on the wall because it happened. It didn’t seem all that drastic to me because I actually have my period every month. I thought it was quite funny that it irked so many people. 🙂 

Lizzy and Mark on Cloud Tower

Lizzy’s 50 Classic Climbs (aka the Climbing Wish List)

Over the past 20 years I have climbed hundreds of super classic routes, and in the next 20 years I hope to climb many more. This 50 Classic Climbs list is made up of four parts: routes I plan to do, climbs I’ve done but have to do again because I either fell or I want to lead all the pitches, routes I wishfully dream about doing and things that I’ve ticked off my climbing “to do” list.

My question for anyone reading this, is what else needs to go on this list?!

  1. Wunches Dihedral, South Platt (5.11+)
  2. Positive Vibrations, the Incredible Hulk (5.11a)
  3. Sunspot Dihedral, the Incredible Hulk (5.11b)
  4. Rainbow Wall, Red Rocks (5.12-) MARK HUDON April 2017!
  5. Astrodog, The Black Canyon (5.11+)
  6. Direct or Original Beckey, Elephant’s Perch (5.11b or 5.11+)
  7. The Fine Line, Elephants Perch (5.11c)
  8. Monkey Finger, Zion (5.12-)
  9. Shune’s Buttress, Zion (5.11-)
  10. Sunshine Crack, Snowpatch Spire, Bugaboos (5.11-)
  11. Beckey-Chouinard, South Howser Tower, Bugaboos (5.10)
  12. Ariana, The Diamond (5.12-)
  13. Crack-a-Go-Go, Yosemite (5.11c)
  14. Crack of Fear, Lumpy Ridge (5.10+ BS)
  15. The Prow, Cathedral Ledges (5.12-)
  16. Romantic Warrior, The Needles (5.12b)
  17. Screaming Yellow Zonkers, Woodchuck Ledge, NH (5.11c)

Must Repeats (because I fell or because I want to lead the alternate pitches):

  1. Leave it to Jesus, New River Gorge (5.11c)
  2. Women in Love, Cathedral Ledge (5.12-)
  3. Budapest, Cathedral Ledge, NH (5.11+)
  4. Cloud Tower, Red Rocks (5.12-)
  5. Pony Express, Eldorado Canyon (5.11c)
  6. The Obelisk, The Diamond (5.11-)
  7. The Yellow Wall, The Diamond (5.11)
  8. D1, The Diamond (5.11+)
  9. Astroman, Yosemite (5.11)
  10. Dead Boy Direct, Lumpy Ridge (5.11+)
  11. Between the Sheets, Lumpy Ridge (5.11+)
  12. Butterballs, Yosemite (5.11c)

Lizzy’s Wish(full thinking) List:

  1. Moonlight Buttress, Zion (5.12+)
  2. Jules Verne, Eldorado Canyon (5.11b R)
  3. El Sendero Luminoso, El Potrero Chico (5.12+)

Lizzy on StormRoutes I’ve ticked that are most classic to me:

  1. The Rostrum, Yosemite (5.11c)
  2. Red Zinger, Yosemite (5.11+)
  3. Bad Hair Day, South Howser Minaret, Bugaboos (FA 5.12-)
  4. Morning Luxury, the Breakfast Spire, South Greenland (FA 5.11a)
  5. West Face of El Capitan, Yosemite (5.11c)
  6. Northeast Buttress of Higher Cathedral, Yosemite (5.9)
  7. White Whale, Lumpy Ridge (5.7)
  8. Fine Jade, Rectory, Castle Valley, UT (5.11-)
  9. North Face of Castleton Tower, Castle Valley, UT (5.11c)
  10. The Nose, El Capitan, Yosemite (A1)
  11. Japanese Gardens, Index Rocks, WA (5.11+ hardest ever)
  12. The Stoned Oven, Black Canyon (5.11+ even harder that JG)
  13. Scenic Cruise & the Cruise, Black Canyon (5.10 & 5.10+)
  14. Habanero, The Outrage Wall, El Potrero Chico (my first 5.12. 5.12b)
  15. Satan’s Corner, Little Cottonwood Canyon (my first 5.8 lead)
  16. Country Club Crack, Boulder Canyon (5.11c)
  17. Animal Magnetism, Boulder Canyon (5.11c)
  18. Southeast Buttress of Mount Moran, Grand Tetons (5.11-)
Lee Cossey heading into the Harding Slot.

Lee Cossey heading into the Harding Slot. Check out my story and some other pics from Astroman.

The featured photo in this post is of me and Mark Hudon at the top of Cloud Tower spring 2016. I fell on the last pitch and want to lead the crux, so I must return this spring, April, for a repeat with Mark!

Playing with colors and lines at the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. Thanks to photographer Steve Fassbinder (aka Doom) for taking these photos of me at the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve.

Photos & Self Promotion: Is That OK?

Lizzy sand dunesI’ve only grudgingly accepted the professional photographers in my semi-professional climbing life, specifically of them actively taking photos of me. I shied away from being the center of attention, encouraging them to focus on the other people on the alpine granite adventures I’ve embarked on. I used to consider myself a content creator, story teller, etc, rather than someone who puts herself in the limelight — a writer behind the scenes. No cameras in my face, please. I’m the one who plans the trips to Pakistan, Greenland, India… I’d find the sponsors, get the gear and drive the grant-writing process. And then I’d write about the amazing people with whom I adventured (who I always perceived as stronger, better athletes than I) and the incredible things I saw and cultures I experienced. And I told myself I would somehow do this from a third-person perspective—leaving me out of the “picture.”

Plus, I told myself I wouldn’t sell myself, my soul or my body to the anyone; I’d make my way through the outdoor industry differently. Somehow. But what a bunch of BS. I sold my personal story, experience, stoke and skills every time I applied for a grant or approached a sponsor requesting hardware, technical clothing or cash that would allow me to climb a big wall in a foreign country. I sold “my important cause” every time I asked for swag for a fundraiser Heidi Wirtz and I organized for the nonprofit we founded, Girls Education International (Donate Now to support our girls in Pakistan: http://bit.ly/DonatetoGirlsEd ;). And for every grant that I applied for, especially the awesome Copp-Dash Inspire Award which paid for a chunk of my trip to Greenland, I promised to tell and widely share an in-depth multimedia story. And, those stories always include photos. Lots of them. Including photos of me.

So now, I’m embracing the photos (or at least I’m trying). And I’m acknowledging the reality that I’m a self promoter. I put myself out there with every article I write, with every post I publish on Facebook, with every adventure I share. I get negative feedback, sure. Being an opinionated female journalist and climber guarantees that. But that’s okay. Overwhelmingly people love my stories, whether in the Alpinist or Rock & Ice or on my blog or social media pages. And they enjoy following my adventures, commenting on my posts and engaging with me. And in turn, I love engaging with people. I’ve made so many friends on social media, at events or through articles I’ve written. In fact, I got to know my newest friend, Steve “Doom” Fassbinder (the amazing photographer who took all these pics), via text, email and social media over the last two years.

I still feel funny in front of the camera. But photos accentuate the tales I tell in beautiful ways, they tell a fuller story and they allow me to share the gratitude I feel for being alive. How lucky I am to have been able to visit so many of the most beautiful places in the world, to climb some of the world’s biggest walls, to meet and develop lifelong friendships with many many interesting and accomplished people, and, especially, to be supported for nearly two decades by such a radically cool, tight-knit group of climbers and outdoors people and businesses. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. This smile is for you.

Special thanks to my closest amigos at Evolv, CAMP USA, Julbo USAEdelrid for their ongoing rock solid support and awesomeness, but also to every outdoor industry business and individual that has ever supported one of my adventures or fundraisers. There are too many to name. HUGS to y’all.

Offwidths: How to Deal With Cracks of Fear (or not)

Doom climbing the offwidth pitch.

Doom sending the offwidth pitch.

“Every climber who experiences an offwidth will encounter a certain amount of pain.” -Tom Randall

Rappelling into the Cruise Gully. Photo by Steve "Doom" Fassbinder

Rappelling into the Cruise Gully. Photo: Doom

By Lizzy Scully. Photos by Steve “Doom” Fassbinder

As I rappelled into the Cruise Gulley I could feel my breakfast of last night’s leftover sausage roil in my belly. I stumbled down the talus and and felt increasingly terrible as we weaved our way through poison ivy and prickers. My new adventure buddy, the Durango-based Steve “Doom” Fassbinder and I planned to climb the 1700-foot SE face of North Chasm View Wall, via the “Cruise,” a route I saw 20 years ago on my first trip into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. My then boyfriend, Brad, and I were climbing the neighboring, easier (?) route, the now uber classic–the Scenic Cruise. And as we traversed off to the right, he pointed up and left at the Cruise’s alternative pitches and said simply, “people don’t do that route as often because of that offwidth pitch.” It gaped above, wide and threatening. MountainProject says to “be prepared for strenuous climbing on the offwidth and the two pitches following… and start as early as you can because you’ll probably finish at or near dark…”

And it’s true. Not as many people climb it—at least not the half dozen friends I called for beta. “Have you done the Cruise? How’s that offwidth?” They’d all done the Scenic Cruise. I became increasingly fearful of that one looming pitch. All I could think of was Crack of Fear on Lumpy Ridge, a 10+ OW (i.e. the same grade), a route that reduced me to a bloody, crying pile of weakness 15 years ago. I have lived in fear of wide cracks ever since. My big cams still shine like I just got ‘em from REI.

Doom finishing the OW pitch.

Doom finishing the OW pitch.

I’m not, in fact, inspired in the least by offwidth climbing. When I see Pamela Pack’s latest photos of her upside down, thirty feet out from her last #6 or Big Bro, I actually feel ill. Jeff Achey’s stories of first ascents of yawning vertical chasms on Utah’s desert towers give me nightmares. Those two climbers inspire me personally, but the routes they have done… no f’n thank you. Offwidths are not fun, they wreck my entire body and I end up looking like a skinned rat when I do climb them.

On the other hand, there are few big worthy routes in the world that don’t have wide pitches—Astroman has the Harding Slot, the Rostrum has that awful 10a OW, the Obelisk is one of the finest routes on the Diamond despite its 5.11, #5-eating maw, and even my very own first ascent, Bad Hair Day, in the Bugs, had a 5.10 OW that reduced both Heidi and I to tears on our second day on the wall; we thought it would be the end of our free ascent. After falling out of it three times I cried. Then Heidi cried. Luckily I found some tiny, crimpy cracks inside that finally allowed passage.

It’s just a fact; offwidths must be done.

The permit board at the North Rim Ranger Station. Photo by Steve "Doom" Fassbinder.

The permit board at the North Rim Ranger Station. Photo: Doom

And so I knew we had to do the Cruise. I had already done the Scenic Cruise, two decades ago. And on a scale of difficulty for the “Black,” the Cruise is not that hard. I mean Earl Wiggins and Jimmy Dunn freed it in six hours in the friggin 70s. Right?

And I had finally received some beta the night before, at 8p.m., when we showed up to the North Rim ranger station. Some climbers, having spent the day on, you guessed it, The Scenic Cruise, told me not to worry about it. “Cruiser,” Z said. “You don’t even need the #5,” Joe stated. “You’re a Yosemite Climber, you’ll send!” Jeff exclaimed.

“Sweet, no #5!” I told Doom. “We can’t carry that shit all the way up the wall. Too heavy!” I felt confident after getting beta. Awesome, in fact. I would own this thing.

We racked up, ate dinner and fell blissfully asleep to a flashing show of lights; a thunderstorm raged, illuminating the pitch black forest around us in bursts of white. It felt eerie and beautiful, dark and abyssal–like the wide chasm of streaked, smoky walls that fell 2000 feet not a few hundred yards away from the campground.

But then 4:30a.m. arrived. And though all the clouds had totally disappeared and stars twinkled benignly, I sat up, all of a sudden frantic. Waking Doom, I asked, “Where’s your #5?? OMG we have to bring it!”

And then less than an hour later, we were descending into the canyon in the darkness. Why don’t we just do the damn Scenic Cruise?  I thought to myself repeatedly as I became increasingly nauseous. Then I got sick at the base. Yea, really. That’s what offwidths do to me. I barf. And then it took me 15 minutes just to get off the ground. My legs shook, my arms flamed out on something surely easier than 5.9, and I’m guessing Doom was worried. He’d never been to the Black before, and I was far from the experienced Black Canyon partner he might have expected.

But he said nothing, patiently waiting for me to get my nerves under control.

And I finally did, telling myself, “Lizzy, get your shit together. You’ve been climbing 5.10 cracks for decades. Get OVER it and climb.” Because no matter how freaked out I am and no matter how much I shake and whine, my body actually knows exactly what to do when I start ascending granite.

At the top, the #5 still hanging...

Sumitting with the #5… Photo: Doom

And after all that… sorry to say my story ends totally anticlimactically. The offwidth turned out to be nothing like Crack of Fear. In fact, though there were a few necessary arm bars and some thrutching and grunting, it was mostly cruiser 5.10+ face climbing on the outside of a 5-inch crack. As well, I walked the #5 for 100 feet and so was basically on TR the whole time. Yes, I’m a big wuss. But at least I sent. And though it was the biggest route Doom had ever done, and we definitely didn’t have enough water (leaving Doom talking like he had cotton in his mouth all day), and it rained on us for the last 200 feet of the route and I was in pitiful cardio shape, we still finished well before dark.

So what’s the moral of this story? Did overcoming my fears and climbing this route make me more comfortable in general with offwidth climbing? Uh-uh. Did it inspire me to start following Pamela Pack around the desert? Definitely not. Will I be busting out the #4 more often? Very unlikely. But, f’n hell gawd damn it, it is probably about time for me to get back on Crack of Fear.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National park.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National park.

The Incredible Hulk

Gearing Up Ultralight for the Incredible Hulk

I wanted to climb the Incredible Hulk the first time I saw a photo of it striking a jagged and gigantic  white pose against the Sierra skyline. “Perfect splitter cracks,” said a friend who had just climbed it. “Pure, white granite, stable weather. The best alpine wall in America.” It took ten years and a new perspective on backcountry gear and travel to make it happen. 

Photo by Brian Threlkeld.

Photo of the Incredible Hulk by Brian Threlkeld.

I never though much about equipment before I started working at Hyperlite Mountain Gear. I’m not one to geek out over excel spreadsheets or weigh everything before I head into the backcountry. The only reason I have my lightweight rock climbing systems dialed in now is because I’ve brought the wrong, way-to-heavy things too many times. My close friend and climbing partner Heidi Wirtz still rightfully complains about the beefy hiking boots I carried up and over the South Howser Minaret; they probably weighed five pounds. And I feel absolute dread recalling the exhaustion I suffered carrying four-liters of water, two extra puffies, food, etc up D7 on the Diamond of Longs Peak (my partner absolutely insisted).

It was an eye opener the day I heading into Rocky Mountain National Park with Patience Gribble.

“We’re carrying a single rack with a few extras,” she told me.

“What?!” I responded, aghast. I had always carried at least two sets of everything, everywhere. But climbing with her, I soon realized that was totally unnecessary. Awesome.

Soon after, advised by my late amigo Johnny Copp, I started wearing lightweight tennies in the mountains, even over glaciers (“Strap on lightweight crampons if you have to!” he said). I’ve not only had far fewer ankle rolling incidents since, but I also hike faster and more efficiently. I eventually also traded out heavier biners for lighter ones, carried skinnier ropes, and streamlined my food and extra clothes. I did all these things because it made sense. I get older; I carry less weight. Simple as that; it’s better for my body and for my overall enthusiasm.

On the other hand, because of my aversion for heavy bags, I’ve also avoided spending multiple nights in the backcountry, unless it was absolutely necessary for an expedition. Recollections of my first backpacking experience stuck unpleasantly in the forefront of my brain. I remembered one thing; pain. Adding to those unpleasant memories, I aided some big walls early on in my climbing career, carrying haul bags full of what felt like cement blocks up and down El Cap and various walls around the world. At a buck thirty, 80-pound bags destroyed my ankles, knees and hips for months. Basically, as soon as I could free climb well enough I stopped that nonsense. I haven’t spent a night on a wall in ten years, opting for sub-24 hour ascents whenever possible. And I certainly haven’t gone backpacking unless forced.

Getting ready for the Hulk at the Hostel California. Photo by Brian Threlkeld.

Getting ready for the Hulk at the Hostel California. Photo by Brian Threlkeld.

However, now I’m equipped with a bunch of super, mega ultralight Hyperlite Mountain Gear stuff and other super lightweight things, such as sub-one-pound stoves, NeoAir sleeping pads and itty-bitty titanium pots. Plus, I’ve learned a lot from the people with whom I work. Going lightweight isn’t super hard if you constantly refine your gear and get rid of things you don’t need. Extra clothes are a big one; you don’t need more than one shirt and a couple pairs of underware. Carbon fiber poles weigh a lot less than those BD cross-country ski poles I found ten years ago. And, I don’t need books, cards, bottles of shampoo, etc, etc, etc.

So even carrying my friend Angelo’s hideously heavy 80m rope up to the Incredible Hulk, my pack weighed just 36 pounds, including food and water. This new method of backcountry travel opens up a lot of doors for me, and it gets me stoked to spend more nights in the backcountry. I gave up overnight adventures for years, but now the lightweight sky’s the limit. I can’t wait to get back into the Sierras; I have a date with “Positive Vibrations.”

Below is the list of gear I carried on my trip to the Sierras. A few things I’d definitely include next time are dried coconut milk, dehydrated eggs and bouillon cubes (thanks Angela Van Wiemeersch, my partner in crime on the “Red Dihedral,” for sharing what she brought along).

Angela Van Wiemeersch and Lizzy Scully.

Angela Van Wiemeersch and I after our super fun ascent of the “Red Dihedral”. Photo by Brian Threlkeld.

  1. Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Porter Pack, size small. This was the perfect perfect for alpine rock climbing. I added a Porter Stuff Pocket and a Porter Water Bottle Holder for extra carrying capacity. I slung the rope over the top, my Neo Air Xlite rolled up on the side, and I carried snacks, my phone (for its camera), lip balm, and other things I wanted immediate access to in the hip pockets and stuff pocket. I crammed the shelter system in the bottom of the pack, and I layered the sleeping bag next, nestled my Titanium pot (which held my toiletries in a stuff sack inside), in the middle of the pack, and then crammed the rest of the items in such a way as to have a pack with no space in the inside. It was full to the brim, but super streamlined.
  2. Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2.
  3. Montbell Down sleeping bag (I can’t remember the specific style, but it’s fairly light and still super warm though ten years old).
  4. Stonewear Designs Rockin Shorts. I dig these shorts because they have a sweet thigh pocket, but next time I’ll go with something lighter and more breathable.
  5. Outdoor Research Women’s Aria Vest, which I love, but which has now lost its loft after numerous washings. I recently acquired a very warm Feathered Friends Hyperion Vest that I’m super stoked to start using in the alpine.
  6. The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer puffy. This is the most badass, super lightweight jacket I’ve ever owned.
  7. An Arc’teryx Beta LT (which I didn’t end up using, though it would have been good in a rainstorm).
  8. A super ultra light Rab windbreaker (no idea the style; it was a hand-me-down). It just barely fits into a Hyperlite Mountain Gear DCF8 Nano Stuff Sack.
  9. An old pair of Rab alpine pants with deep thigh pockets. They are a bit too big for me. I’ll go with a pair of Arc’teryx Gamma AR Pants.
  10. Inov-8 Roclite off road shoe. These are super rad shoes. I got them for my AT hike in May, and I’ve been wearing them ever since. For how light they are, they sure hold up well.
  11. Patagonia R1 Hoodie (really sweet layer).
  12. A stupid 80-meter rope that we didn’t even use (it was the heaviest thing I carried; it made me grumpy, but I no longer have a 70m rope, and my 60m wouldn’t do because we only wanted to carry one rope up the wall).
  13. Pair of Helly Hansen light long underwear (that I’ve had since 2000).
  14. 3 pairs socks (2 shorties, and one long pair) + 3 pairs underwear.
  15. 1 Cotton shirt to sleep/hike in.
  16. Montbell windproof hat (which I’ve had since 2006 or so; it’s badass. I love it).
  17. A synthetic T-shirt that has no branding that I’ve had for 20 years. It’s the best synthetic T I’ve ever owned because it is super long, and subsequently easy to tuck into pants and under a harness.
  18. An old style Petzl harness, 3 lockers, daisy chain, short cordalette, nut tool, Evolv lace-up Geshidos, an old style (orange) CAMP Speed 2.0 helmet.
  19. Small (weak, old) Petzl headlamp (that was once awesome).
  20. Superlight CAMP USA Backcountry Carbon trekking poles, which I totally dig and which we used for one of the UltaMid Tents that we brought.  I had brought the poles to Greenland; one finally broke while we hiked out from the Hulk. I wrap a bunch of duct tape around the poles for emergencies.
  21. Food: 8 Lara bars, 3 packets Justin’s Almond Butter, 2 additional small Tupperware containers of almond butter, 4 packs tuna (I only ate 2, and I cut off the excess packaging), 12 or so tea bags (which I took out of the extra packaging), 6 or 7 stevia packets, 2 sausages cut up into pieces, 16oz cheese, a couple Nuun rehydrating tabs.
  22. Montbell 1.9L Titanium cooker (had this for years; it rocks).
  23. Gravity water filter and one water bladder, 4L.
  24. Cheap, plastic water bottle on which I rigged a bit of cordelette, thinking I might carry it up the route. We ended up taking a 3L water bladder, which was a good idea since we were on the route much longer than I planned.
  25. Cheap, light flip flop camp shoes.
  26. Tooth brush cut in half, 3oz bottle Dr. Bronners, 10 baby wipes in a plastic bag, 20+ Ibuprofen, bandana, 4 stuff sacks of various sized (for toiletries, food, 2 for clothes, 1 small for extras), Julbo sunglasses, contact lenses & a half a small bottle of solution and a baseball hat.