Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cheating Reality

Yesterday I completed a project that I'd been working on all fall. This is the one I mentioned in the previous post.

This line is amazing! I'm so psyched to have completed the first ascent.

The route climbs the North Face of the Devil's Thumb in the Boulder Flatirons. For those of you familiar with the Flatirons, this is the incredible overhanging face that is visible from most places in town. The Devil's Thumb feature protrudes from the ridge at an angle creating a dramatic big overhanging face on the uphill side. The route had been done partially as an aid route many years ago. There was some fixed gear leading to two old 1/4 inch bolts about 2/3 up the wall. Nothing else on this overhang has even been attempted.

Devil's Thumb
(my route is just around the corner from the left arete)

The route involves face climbing to a obtuse technical corner with a thin seam. This seam ends at the old aid anchor. From here there is a blank bulging wall that leads to a slightly overhanging headwall. The bulge has one crimp that is used to generate an improbable leftward dyno to a sloper at the top of the bulge. Stuck in an iron cross compression between the sloper and the crimp, I have to swing my feet up high and left to hook a jug that allows me to pull my body farther left to grab better holds. There is a decent rest here and then a final powerful and crimpy boulder problem section. In classic form, the route ends with a mantle onto the slab that leads to the summit of the formation.

Though the route had some fixed gear, I decided to lead it completely on natural protection. This made the route a bit scarier, but also more clean. The first section (up to the end of the aid route) requires some 5.12a R (maybe R/X) climbing in the first 40ft. Then the gear gets better. The route's crux move is well protected by two adjacent pieces. After the crux you get some gear before embarking on the headwall but it's a bit marginal. The final headwall crux (which is about V7) is done with your feet about 5ft above the marginal gear which is about 7ft above the good gear --- definitely a bit scary. Because of the inherent danger, I decided to take a headpointing approach to this route. Prior to my ascent I did it twice on TR and did it in overlapping sections other times. I also had one lead attempt where I fell at the crux because a foot hold crumbled a bit.

I decided to call the route "Cheating Reality" for several reasons. First, I knew that any play on "Devil's Thumb" would inevitably be cheesy. Second, the crux dyno move seems impossible at first and when you finally stick it for the first time, you feel like you've cheated reality. Third, the gear was a bit scary and by not falling on the route, you are cheating reality. And finally because I feel like I have cheated reality by getting to do the first ascent of this amazing feature right outside of Boulder, the climbing capital of the US.

As for the grade, I'm suggesting 5.14a R. It's difficult to rate a route like this because it's bouldery and heady, so it'll be nice to get other opinions down the line. The climbing stacks up like this. 5.12a R climbing to a good jug rest. Then a 10ft. technical 12b/c section leads to good jugs but bad feet. This position is good enough to stop for a while to place gear and compose yourself, but is taxing enough that you can't treat it as the kind of rest you camp out at (at least I can't with my endurance). Then you launch into the crux which is really a five move sequence. As a boulder problem this feels like V10. After the crux you get a decent rest where you can relax a bit and prepare for the end section, though again, you can't stay there for ever. The final moves take you to a big undercling and then a small right hand crimp. From this crimp you have to dyno left to the slopey arete/lip of the wall. You climb up a few moves and then mantle over. This final headwall is probably about V7 (maybe V8) with most of the difficulty focussed on the move to the lip.

The rock quality on this route is for the most part really good and the climbing is varied (intricate, technical corner moves mixed with thuggy dynos on crimps and slopers). The location of the Thumb is extraordinary and the bottom of the route has a perfect flat rock to chill at. All in all this is a world class route. The bouldery nature of the climb appeals to me though others who prefer more consistent routes will probably find it a fault. I think it will be a Front Range classic for sure and I'm hoping that others will go out and try it. Don't let the 1h 15min hike deter you --- it is totally worth it.

For this ascent I had a webbing anchor hanging from gear at the top of the route. I'm planning to put in an application to replace the existing anchor (including moving it to the top of the route). I'm also planning to remove the fixed gear on the route which I feel is unecessary including: 1 head, one knifeblade, two old 1/4 inch bolts, and one 1/4 bolt without a hanger. If anyone knows who put this gear in and how to get in touch with them, I'd like that info. It would be nice to get his/her opinion before changing the route. Though removing this gear will make the route more dangerous, it will also make it more pure. The route can be done without any fixed gear so it seems to me that it should always be done that way. Ultimately, the real difficulty in the route comes above the old aid anchors where the only choice was natural gear (given the current Flatirons bolting restrictions). Since that is the style up there, I think it should also be the style down below. Finally, it's my impression that the former aid route has had very little attention over the years and so very few people will be affected by the change. In fact, it will still be aidable though perhaps a bit more spicy.

Here are some photos that Andy Mann shot of me on the route. These are outtakes. Hopefully you'll see some of the best images in print somewhere. I'm also hoping to capture some video of the route soon. I think video will truly do the line and the feature justice.

Working the crux on TR
(this view doesn't show the angle of the wall well)

The rest just after the crux

Climbing the seam in the corner


  1. Nice Job, Matt! Looks killer, and I like your style! Erik Wolfe

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  3. A tip-o-the-hat, Matt. Looks like a beautiful line.

  4. soooo sick man, I'm drooling and my palms are sweating. Can't wait to go try it out