Imagine climbing at your limit. Now picture soloing a crumbling slab. For many climbers, these are just dreams. Or more accurately, nightmares. For Touchstone Route Setter Jeremy Ho this was a reality.
On Tuesday, January 15th, Berkeley climber, Jeremy Ho made a coveted ascent of Evilution, a 60 foot V11 highball on the Grandpa Peabody boulder in the Buttermilk Boulders of Bishop, California.
“I think Evilution is a hard boulder problem to get to the base of a freesolo,” said Ho of his ascent. To break the V11 problem down further, Ho described it as “V10 to the lip, Hard V4/easy V5 over the lip then I guess 5.11a slab.” The top remained a crux for him though. “I haven’t climbed much slab so i’m not great at judging the grade,” he added. “It felt 5.SCARY to me.”
Over an extended trip during New Years, Ho climbed Evilution to the lip. Many climbers drop off from the lip unwilling to pull the V5 lip moves and climb the crumbling 5.11 slab.
“It seemed too risky,” Ho said about summitting the boulder. “When I got back to the bay I watched a few videos of the direct line and it just looked so freaking cool.”
A week of obsession brought Ho back to the base of the problem. He planned to drop a rope and rehearse the top section of the problem. Arriving at the base, Ho joined a young German climber who was attempting the problem from the ground.
“It was really cold that day. The rock felt great and there was a sea of pads,” said Ho. “I decided to go for it.”
Ho crushed the difficult first move and made it to the lip but the moves above bouted him. The pads dissipated. The 27 degree temperatures worried him. He feared numb fingers on the slab section above the lip.
The following day brought warmer temps but Ho fell all over his normal warm ups. His girlfriend, Alison Bagby convinced him to at least drive to the problem despite his reservations.
Upon arriving at the base, Ho found Kevin Jorgenson and a crew of other climbers on the problem. Ho jumped in, made the difficult first move, and climbed to the lip. Determined to make the moves above, he grabbed the first crimp, then the next, then matched it. Then he got scared.
“I freaked out,” said Ho. “I was greasing off. I reversed one move and took the punishment for dropping off from up there.”
Jorgenson and his crew had a rope set up. The first move bouted Ho so he jumared up to the lip and examined the finish. “Since the rope was there and I felt greasy on the moves over the lip, I decided to jug up and brush the holds. During the process, I got really into the ground up idea and chose not to test any moves, only brush the holds. I still wouldn’t call it a ground up ascent but close.”
The sunset and the call of beer ended the day. At Whiskey Creek, Ho and Alison ran into Jorgenson and crew. They made tentative plans to try the problem again the next day.
On the last day of his trip, Ho warmed up slowly on the Sunshine Slab. Ho brought all the pads he could find, borrow, and steal to the base of the enormous problem. Then he cracked a Tecate and stared the rock down. Ho ran though the moves in his head, made a warm up attempt to the lip, and then committed.
“At that point it was completely a mental game. I cracked another Tecate and sat and stared again,” said Ho.
Ho climbed the bottom quickly to save energy for the hard moves over the lip. Suddenly, he was over it. “Honestly I didn’t really expect to get very far and when I found myself full extension, star fished standing on the lip I started to get scared, but at that point reversing moves seemed worse then going up so that’s what I did, slowly, and terrified.”
The climbing proved easier than the moves below but the rock above tends to crumble. The slabby nature provides a less than secure style of climbing. Ho palmed and smeared his feet. Just below the summit, the angle eases and Ho ran to the top screaming.
“Standing at the top of that boulder was exhilarating! I’ve never been scared like that before, it was really a great feeling to survive it and conquer that fear.”
Ho’s resume includes 6 other V11s- Xavier’s Roof in the Buttermilks, Kill On Sight in the Happies, Beefy Gecko in the Sads, Schwerer Gustov and Dark Age in Hueco, and Stake Your Claim in the Sierra Buttes. He also climbed Hueco’s Barefoot on Sacred Ground into See Spot Run. “I have never done anything like Evilution,” Ho said of the extreme highball. Ho plans to climb Bishop’s Golden Shower and Luminance next.