“This is so exciting,” Randy Puro said. A half dozen climbers threw themselves at an undone boulder problem near the Merced River. They could barely get off the ground until someone discovered a match and wild hamhock maneuver. They climbed higher until a hold broke. They stayed with it despite the setback. They all wanted the first ascent of the giant granite boulder.
Touchstone athlete Joey Kinder works Maquina Muerte 5.14+. Kinder bolted the route a few years ago and then spent this winter sending the route
One of the best parts of rock climbing is the ability to do a first ascent. Finding a path up a mountain, a cliff or a boulder requires a mixture of athleticism, creativity and tenacity. There only gets to be one first ascent, which makes it special. Finding an unclimbed route can be difficult in popular areas. Unclimbed rock often requires an adventurous spirit. There’s always a reason the route hasn’t been done yet.
“FA’s are harder because they require a lot more work (cleaning a boulder, bolting a sport climb, trundling choss in the alpine…) and because they require a lot more belief in the possibility of the challenge,” said Ethan Pringle, who has established new boulder problems in Vegas, new sport routes in China and made first ascents of Yosemite Walls. “Once you know something’s been done, it’s a lot easier to do it yourself. Monkey see, monkey do.”
Paul Barraza attempts to repeat his boulder problem Post Send Depression on the B1 Boulder at the Sentinel
“With the expedition FA’s there was also a bit of that apprehension of the question of whether or not it was possible,” said Pringle of his expeditions in Greenland and China, “but also just the shear amount of work that went into getting to, and then up those walls in style (onsight FAing 5.11 or 12 terrain on sometimes dirty and crumbly rock with minimal pro, getting to a stance at the top of the pitch and having to drill one or sometimes two bolts by hand, making sure everything was super safe the whole time…)
In 2013, Nik Berry and I established The Final Frontier, a 900 foot 5.13b route on Fifi Buttress in Yosemite. When I first climbed on the aid route, it was questionably whether it would go free. The route required an exhaustive amount of brushing, cleaning and bolting. Then there was the actual climbing, which required work as well. Deciphering the moves became more problematic than the cleaning for me.
Eric Bissel helps to refine the beta on the 5.13a traverse pitch on the Final Frontier
“I really like the problem solving part,” said Beth Rodden of doing first ascents. Rodden’s established first free ascents of El Capitan, 5.14 trad routes and difficult boulder problems in Yosemite. “I think it makes climbing super fun and unique, rather than just the physical part of sending.”
“Also, the feeling of luck that comes with getting to be the first one to climb a perfect piece of rock that seemed to have been made to climb,” said Pringle in regards to his first ascent of a 5.14d at White Mountain in China. “With the Spicy Dumpling, it was something I’d fantasized about for months and months before trying, so it was a dream come true to go through all the motions of struggling with the concept that it was even possible for me, then after I’d realized it was, battling with it and trying to finish it off before I had to leave.
James Lucas makes the first ascent of Stanley’s Arete at Happy Isles
A week later, Puro returned and made the first ascent of the Leevee’s Break, adding another great boulder problem to Yosemite Valley. The possibilities of first ascents exist across California. You just need the spirit of adventure.