Musings on perfect moves and memorable routes

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Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Topic Author's Original Post - Nov 4, 2009 - 02:27pm PT
I was trying to think of a way to respond to the positive comments that have been made about my thread on the first ascent of Hoodwink. Some folks complimented me, but it seems a little odd to be accepting compliments for climbing a rock in 70s just because the features make for a cool route. It is fair enough that the first ascent party gets kudos, but Hoodwink is not in the category of a new standard that a climber is responsible for creating: it is an accident of nature that the route is good.

But I did start thinking about why some routes seem to capture the imagination of climbers. There are always routes on Big Stone that are must-do routes because they are on Big Stone. These are mostly big walls aid routes, but all-free routes such as Astroman and the Rostrum are probably in that category offering lots of great climbing at some elevated level of difficulty. The Regular route on Fairview, Regular route on Half Dome, and the Steck Salathe are examples in my mind of moderate routes in that category. The DNB probably used to be in that category. It seems that many of these routes don’t offer a particular pitch or set of memorable moves, just good climbing without any bad climbing in a great place.

Sometimes extreme difficulty sets a route apart, but usually only in combination with something else: a unique set of moves, or a pure width crack, or some cool feature that you have to get around. This category seems to change since what is considered in style or difficult changes.

Sometimes a route’s location and some measure of its improbability set it apart, but again only in combination with good general climbing and no bad pitches. The Third Pillar offers a unique arête with just the right amount of features to make for a must-do route.

Summits don’t seem to play much into current ideas about what makes for a cool route. The Spires in the Valley don’t show up much anymore. Exceptions might be Cathedral Peak and the Lost Arrow.

When I though about Hoodwink, it occurred to me that it comes down to three holds in perfect relation to each other that just puts a smile on everyone’s face: the perfect handhold under the roof and the big flat step to push against, followed by the perfect hold at the back of the ledge that allows for a secure pull over and mantel. I am sure everyone pretty much does it the same way since these three holds are the only choices and they have the right individual features—perfect hand feel—and perfect relationship to one another. The rest of the climbing on the route is all pretty good, but not any different than probably a hundred other routes in the Meadows.

For Hoodwink, I think it comes down to the improbability that the barest minimum of really good holds could get one over the roof at a moderate difficulty. I don’t think it would be popular if the route were really hard.

So what are other routes have that characteristic of the best combinations of holds and features that somehow just define a route’s must-do status?
Rhodo-Router

Gym climber
obsessively minitracking all winter at Knob Hill
Nov 4, 2009 - 02:45pm PT
Golly, those long splitters on Sons of Yesterday come to mind. One runs out and whattya know, another one is starting right there.

I have a dim recollection of a sinker pocket on the warmup boulder at Hueco Tanks that always welcomed my hand like it was meant to be there.

The Jaws arete at Sandrock, Alabama has great holds, a bit far apart but reachable if you want'em, and a perfect, sandy-floored landing. It's about 25 feet high, so by the time you pull up a few times your desire is equal to the reach.

Those crossover flake moves on p.1 of Outer Limits have a way of turning the repetive rhythm of the long handcrack into a sudden explosion of joyous liberation. Swinging through there always makes me feel like I'm getting away with something.

Great idea, Roger!
Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 4, 2009 - 03:00pm PT
I remember the rock solid hand pulls on the flakes of "Outer Limits." It does make you feel like you are getting away with something--good choice of words.
426

climber
Buzzard Point, TN
Nov 4, 2009 - 07:04pm PT
waterfalls...

climbing behind them is surreal and most of my "to dos" feature them in some sense...

Cleopatra's Clit, like rhodo sez...they changed the name but the moves remain..
hooblie

climber
"i used to care, but things have changed"
Nov 4, 2009 - 07:32pm PT
i'm currently stuck on the image of sorting out the field of possibilties on a big wide open face. out on the sharp end, head scanning more than the field of view, because nothing says the route won't include a step down to progress upward. when visual acuity fails to provide the cues, there you are, resorting to something akin to water witching. it can be excruciating in the best sense of the term.

ok, you beat it out of me. my epiphany came on freewheeling. i was a crack climber that had a shake up coming. it literally opened my eyes. and to enhance the spell, the fa boys were up higher up the apron on mother earth, making the traverse into the big corner.

there is a thread on this site called looking up. it's my two cents worth that there's no looking up like the looking up that takes place
sorting out the subtle differences between a line of thin edges, that might suck you into the dubious joy of off route climbing,
or just might be the way...

let's let the bolts be sparse. leave the chalk in the sack till you're sure it's worth mucking things up for others to save your own skin,
and let's immerse ourselves in the mystery and angst that brought out the best kind of exercise
for that sixth sense that route finders relish. sussing out the way
is a very high form of the game
neebee

Social climber
calif/texas
Nov 4, 2009 - 07:46pm PT
hey there roger, say, very well done share, and all very nicely said... and also, as to this quote of yours:
Some folks complimented me, but it seems a little odd to be accepting compliments for climbing a rock in 70s just because the features make for a cool route. It is fair enough that the first ascent party gets kudos, but it is not in the category of a new standard that a climber is responsible for creating: it is an accident of nature that the route is good.

funny---it made me think of this:

wow, you know, concert pianist, and such, who PLAY other folks work, kind of get that feeling too, leastwise it make me think thus, due to this:

if it were not for the "solid foundation" laid before one, of the very music wrote, why the ol' player (climber of the music notes) would surely not be really doing this wonderful "PIECE OF WORK" ....

having played a few really choice pieces at one time, that folks really loved, i always got that awsome feeling that it was not me "ascending" it, it was the "route" that was so wonderful, in true fact...

though--humbly, yes, we can surely at least try to do it justice, from our humble part in it all...

:)

thanks for the nice stuff here, that you posted and displayed so very well... :)
bluering

Trad climber
Santa Clara, Ca.
Nov 4, 2009 - 08:01pm PT
the Bishop's Terrace intro to Yosemite cracks. Beautiful moves.
Inner City

Trad climber
East Bay
Nov 4, 2009 - 08:06pm PT
Hobbit Book for those incut ledges amidst that gold polished wall...with the one bolt...ah, if only I hadn't slipped so far...
atchafalaya

climber
Babylon
Nov 4, 2009 - 08:13pm PT
"So what are other routes have that characteristic of the best combinations of holds and features that somehow just define a route’s must-do status?"

Hairraiser Buttress. Beautiful. Alone. And the bolts don' get in the way of the climbing.
Credit: atchafalaya

Second choice, the Buttermilk Stem?
mooser

Trad climber
seattle
Nov 4, 2009 - 08:31pm PT
I know this sounds mundane and trade-routish to some, but I still love pitch 5 of E. Buttress of Middle. Cool combo of face, traverse, lieback, undercling with a blind reach, etc.
Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 5, 2009 - 11:20am PT
Hooblie, I spent a lot of time climbing on Middle when I was in the Valley. I liked your comment “…resorting to something akin to water witching” in describing the puzzling out of route finding on the face routes. On most of the routes there are so many ways to use the holds that I have a hard time pointing to a particular section or pitch in which everything hung on just a few holds. On the Northeast face, between Stoners and the DNB, wandering around was always very satisfying. Initially it held a promise of the surprise that the routes would go, but you can pretty much go anywhere if you were willing to run it out. Routes on the left side that follow cracks, CPoF, Bircheff Williams, Kor Beck, have the ability to create that giddy feeling of just being on really great rock. I would say that the second pitch of CPoF fits that bill. I never climbed the Bircheff Williams but I always thought it must have been very cool to stem up that silver corner on the lower pitches.

The Northwest Apron, with its smoother rock and the sharp little edges, has a different feel; you really have to pick a specific set of moves to link them together. It was fun to just set out on the first ascent of “Freewheeling” with George and Kevin. It was so whimsical to just pick the middle of the face to start and see where it led. Since it was the first route on the Apron, we didn’t know what sort of climbing it would entail, and were very happy that it had a completely different feel compared to the Northeast Face. I remember all of us participating in trying to figure out the general directions that we took to try to link up the features and small corners. Once there was a more or less defined target, there would be very long periods of staring at the rock and mentally working out how to piece the specific moves together to get there. There are long stretches of rock to cover. I also know that we spent a lot of time figuring out where to place bolts--it is really easy to screw up a new route by bad choices for bolts. You have to think about what a future party is going to wish you had done, all the while working hard to not get killed yourself.

I have some very nice b/w pictures of the three of us. I have scanned a few of them, but I need to do some Photoshop work on them to bring out the cooler aspects. Here are two:

Me leading off on the second pitch.

Breedlove on FA of Freewheeling 1973, 2nd Pitch
Breedlove on FA of Freewheeling 1973, 2nd Pitch
Credit: Roger Breedlove

Kevin and me freezing in butts bags on the belay as George was leading.

Worrell &#40;standing&#41; and Breedlove on 2nd pitch FA Freewheeling, 1973
Worrell (standing) and Breedlove on 2nd pitch FA Freewheeling, 1973
Credit: Roger Breedlove

I don't think we had chalk in those days. I will have to study the pictures. I think this was the fall of 1973. I would guess that having all the holds marked with chalk would really change the experience.

I never did any of the other Apron climbs that were put up after “Freewheeling” but I have heard that they all have that same feel.

Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 5, 2009 - 11:22am PT
I just thought of another climb that has the "thief in the night" sense of improbability. In 1979 or 1980, Ed Drummond and I climbed a new route on the left side of the Gold Wall. It has some okay climbing on it but the really special pitch is the traverse out of the upper (dirt filled) corner to the straight in cracks that take you to the top. I had been up there the previous year with Dave Bircheff, I think, and we had been turned back by the dirt in the corner. I studied the face and decided that it might be possible to traverse on the big diorite intrusion that cuts across the face. Ed led that pitch on the FA. He was very skeptical since you cannot see the face from inside the corner. I coaxed him out of the corner and onto the face from the belay. I have a picture of him with this enormous smile after he got out there. It is pretty steep and doesn't have any main features until you get the straight in cracks, but the dike has huge pockets with very secure holds. It is probably 5.4. Just out in the middle of no where. It is too bad that the rest of the climbing is not so interesting.
hooblie

climber
"i used to care, but things have changed"
Nov 5, 2009 - 11:29am PT
talk about blundering into a gold strike. thanks roger, there's more to this subtle channel thing than i imagined. if i had done my homework, i might have paused, relunctant to appear to be pandering.
Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 5, 2009 - 12:01pm PT
neebee, interesting connection to playing music and the sense of outside our selves.

I have just started to replay my classical guitar. I have not played in years, but I have managed to get my nails in shape and my guitar restrung and found my old music books. I always loved Roussel Op 29 partly because of the music and partly becusae the way the the left hand moves and lays on the frets. Since I have not played in a long while, I am having to retrain my hands to go where the music goes. It is slow going. I practice very slowing and watch every movement. The physical movements and how they link together are pretty cool. I still sound very rough, but that will come back eventually. I think that this link to Youtube shows Julian Bream playing the piece. I cannot access Youtube from my work computer. (I could have the IT department give me access, but it is not worth the backchatter.)

Julian Bream playing Roussel Op 29
Pate

Trad climber
?
Nov 5, 2009 - 12:05pm PT
The reach up and over the bulge on The Wave at Groom Creek.

I can feel the hold now as a write this from 2000 miles away.
Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 5, 2009 - 12:07pm PT
Hooblie, I didn't think you were pandering. I just figured it was a fluke. In any case, we had the same experience. When did you climb "Freewheeling?" You mention the FA of "Mother Earth." That was in about 1975 wasn't it?

BTW, you're gonna need more duck tape (said in the cadence of the line from "Jaws" about a bigger boat). Cool picture. Cute kid.
Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 5, 2009 - 12:13pm PT
Hey Mooser, I have some photos of Mike Briedenback "Fig" following that pitch (I think). I will have to dig them out and post them. The picure I now use for my id is from the bolt ladder pitch on the East Buttress, taken from the same roll. Mike snapped it. I think it is a very cool spot with the Spires behind and El Cap across the way.
East Buttress of Middle Catherdal Rock.  Free climbing the bolt ladder...
East Buttress of Middle Catherdal Rock. Free climbing the bolt ladder. Early 1970s.
Credit: Roger Breedlove

Pate, where is Groom Creek? Got any pictures of The Wave? I can imagine with the name and your comment it must be a cool feature.
hooblie

climber
"i used to care, but things have changed"
Nov 5, 2009 - 12:34pm PT
'75 seems a year or two early. pretty sure i was partnered up with cashner.
by epiphany i meant that feeling you have when you realize you've been playing checkers in the world of chess players.

i also think that route sparked my interest in pioneering because it fostered a taste for worlds without ready answers. what fun it must have been to approach that place the way you did. i can almost feel the spine tingle
Rhodo-Router

Gym climber
obsessively minitracking all winter at Knob Hill
Nov 5, 2009 - 12:46pm PT
Groom Creek is near Prescott, AZ.
Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 5, 2009 - 02:39pm PT
Ed's spreadsheet shows "Mother Earth" being completed in 1975 with George Meyers, John Long, Kevin Worrall, Mark Chapman and Ron Kauk. But its history is so complicated that I cannot keep track of it. I know that George started it soon after we did "Freewheeling", and by the time of my history of Middle article in Mountain, probably in 1974 or 75, he had gone through eight partners.

It is interesting how difficult it is to get outside one's self and realize that there are new routes to be done. I don’t know why. We had the good fortune to have been trained and encouraged by Bridwell to do first ascents, and we also had the good fortune to have lots of new things to try in the Valley. But for some reason it is not so easy to see old things in a new light. We would walk by something for years and then be sort of dumbstruck when someone would see it as a route possibility. Of course not all possibilities end up being good routes. And lots of cool looking possibilities were too hard and had to wait for better climbers.

I have no idea why no one had ever put up a route on the North face apron. Sacherer had put up the "Flakes" that starts past "Mother Earth." (Good 5.8 route, by the way.) Lots of new routes had been done on Glacier Point Apron. Kevin and George and I just decided that we would go look for something new to do. We went to Middle and started walking from near the CPoF towards the West. I suggested that we walk along the north face. I think that we walked all the way over to “The Flakes.” I think that George had climbed the fist pitch of part of the first pitch of what would become “Mother Earth” (he didn’t have a concept of the route going beyond that point at the time.) Without more than a clear desire, we just decided to climb the middle of the North face Apron. I gauged the distances from left and right and looked up at the whole face and declared the starting point of “Freewheeling” the middle. George asked me why I didn’t start up the obvious little corner about 100 feet to the left. My response: “That is too obvious a place to start a route.” That corner became the start of the second route on the Apron, “Quicksilver.”

Those new routes on the North Face Apron seemed to open up new possibilities for face climbing on steeper rock in the Valley. I had never thought about this aspect until I read a comment by John Long in his new "Stonemasters" book when he mentioned that importance of face climbing to the "Stonemasters" generation. I do know that those face routes on Middle set the 70s generation apart from the 60s.

I know that it is not really fair to say this, but there is a whole new world and a new perspective on climbing when any climber starts thinking in terms of first ascents. I used to try to get younger climbers to lead pitches as if they were the first ones there. But, I don’t think it really works unless you have actually led a pitch on a first ascent, actually held the water witching stick on the sharp end.
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