Alaska Highway, free solo, TR


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Trad climber
Bishop, Ca
Topic Author's Original Post - Dec 16, 2012 - 03:20pm PT


He sits at the base of the wall lacing up his shoes. The burl-fest of the second pitch looms above blotting out the sun. All summer he’d been climbing fast and light, alone. He had no patience left for partners, their complaints or concerns or scheduling conflicts. He hadn’t touched the rope or rack that littered his van in weeks. Worthless dreck he often thought of throwing into the sea.

Snubbing out a cigarette, he pulls a small bag of ashes from his pocket dumping the contents into his chalk bag. Turning the bag inside out he rubs the residue onto his face like war paint. The last remnants of Ben, his closest friend and the fourth to die in the past year.

“This one could kill you,” a small voice whispers in his mind.
“Not if you stay focused.” another shouts back.

Sweating up the trail, he’d allowed himself the sweet agony of memory. Earl flying his plane into the side of a canyon he had had no business being in, in the wimpy Cessna; a week later Cameron slipping on a patch of ice and falling from Broadway Ledge. He still wondered what Lyzz might have been thinking, soloing the hand crack in Indian Creek then slipping off the face moves at the end. Then, that spring, Ben falling from terrain they’d never dream of roping up for. Each time the news struck him like the invisible fist of god. He thought of the doomed relationship, the promises he’d made with no intention of living up to. And of course the upcoming trial, just over a week away. The charges of which he was certainly guilty yet morally vindicated. He thought of the likelihood of spending the next year in a cage. Would he do it again? Of course. Sometimes to remain silent is to lie, to do nothing is to conspire. They can have my body, he thought, but never, never my obedience.

He leaves behind the luxury of pain with the ground. His body and mind merge into a perfectly synchronized machine. Soon he is immersed, balanced on the razor-sharp edge of the electric now. Time falls away.

The first pitch feels smooth, trivial. He slots his fist at the lip of a roof, cuts his feet lose and pulls. Fists, then fingers, wet but only 5.10.

Now the business, laybacking the double overhanging flake, mantel, rest. He stands at the rest looking at the meat of the route. He knows many good climbers who quail at the thought of this pitch. A week before a friend drunkenly boasted of bleeding and thrutching his way up, throwing up twice on lead, then clipping into the anchor before passing out for ten minutes but onsighting none the less.

He smiles to himself, it seems as if the gods and glaciers who’d carved out this route 10,000 years ago had him in mind, knew he’d be coming. ’Focus’ the voice in his mind urges. ’Don’t think, focus.’ He begins to move, knee baring and stemming up and out the grove.

He is struck by the sheer audacity of what he is doing. The old growth forest swims hundreds of feet below him as he takes in the view. The words of Netzche swim through his mind, ‘When you look too long into the void, the void looks back into you.”

“Focus,” the voice whispers. He sinks a fist he could bivy on. He’s in the zone now. Nothing matters. The Now is its own eternity. He feels himself expanding, becoming larger than himself. The sun tracks across the sky but time can’t touch him here.

Breath. Relax. Focus. Pull.

He doesn’t so much climb the third pitch as watch it pass beneath him: thin hands, steep, into an off-width. Throw in a knee, chalk up. He draws power from the bag. Up the O-W around a corner, stemming and plugging fingers into a bulging crack. He passes the belay without a pause in a blur of white granite peppered with orange lichens. He hears voices on a distant route. He’s been spotted. They call to him yet their words mean no more than the chirping of birds.

He passes another hand crack and moves into a chimney. The rock is darker here, somewhat loose and decomposed. He wedges his body and rests.

He has a choice here: step left onto a face and balance up an aręte; or undercling up a crack, harder but more secure. He starts up the crack. A few moves up his fingers sink into a black slime. The crack is wet. He down climbs to the chimney and wipes the ooze from his fingers, looks left to the aręte. His heart races. ’Fear is the mind killer,’ the words come from the forgotten depths of his past. He studies the face in microscopic detail, breaths, steps left. Once the aręte is gained its over, a move, two. His left hand grasps the edge as his hips start to swing. His right hand flails out, searching desperately for a crimp, anything to check the swing. He gets it but there’s something else. He can never be sure if it was just imagination or the ghost of a hand that cancels the lethal momentum. He scrambles to a spacious ledge. The next bit is thin, a tips layback. He’s sure he can stick the ledge. A few hard pulls, the exposure returns, then its over, a fifty foot jug haul to the top.

He smokes, digs a small hole and empties the remainder of the chalk bag into it. He knows it was his last climb with Ben.

The walk down is weird, dream-like but intensely focused. He gorges himself of wild berries, drinks from a spring. Something is different but he can’t wrap his mind around it. As he nears the road he feels himself slipping back into time again.

That night he goes to the pub. A few people want to shake his hand, to be seen near him. Most give him a wide berth. News travels fast he thinks. Later that night Pete comes up to him, his closest friend and only connection to his world back in the States. “Your lawyer called today, they dropped the charges. You can stay.”

He nods, apparently apathetic.

Pete looks at him, “Why did you do that today? You could have died.”

“I guess,” he begins, surprised at the emotion in his voice. “I guess it was the only way I could think of to clean the gunk out of my soul.” He pauses, “Do you want to go sport climbing tomorrow?”

They smile at each other over the table and finish their beers in silence.

Thank you, Steve Seats


Dec 16, 2012 - 03:29pm PT
Nicely worked. Fits with the quiet mood and whiskey I'm nursing.

He doesn’t so much climb the third pitch as watch it pass beneath him

We're lucky when we experience this once in a while.


Trad climber
Dec 16, 2012 - 05:13pm PT
Beautiful. A perfect mood for a foggy sunday here in Fresno. I'm watchin my Green Bay Packers right now and you made me press pause while I read this. I never pause a Green Bay game.

You've got a great set of writing skills to convey what runs deeply through all of us. Thanks for sharing.


Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Dec 16, 2012 - 05:24pm PT
Very nicely written Steve.....please, grace us with more.

Trad climber
Oaksterdam, CA
Dec 16, 2012 - 05:35pm PT
Thank you
Big Mike

Trad climber
Dec 16, 2012 - 05:35pm PT
Wow Steve. Awesome writing thanks.

Based on a true story?

Trad climber
Dec 16, 2012 - 05:51pm PT
Fiction or real or a combination of the matter......but I have to ask, is Alaskan Highway a real route here in the Sierra? If so, any photos of the route/wall? I'd love to have an image to go with the story. If its fiction, then I'll just keep the cool image I already have in my head.

Trad climber
Oaksterdam, CA
Dec 16, 2012 - 05:55pm PT
It's a route in Squamish
Big Mike

Trad climber
Dec 16, 2012 - 06:01pm PT
Micro- here's a tr I googled.

Edit just found your post on the solo thread. Wow. Balls. Nice work. Did you ever consider linking it into the calling for northern lights? Honnold pulled that one off last season..

Trad climber
Bishop, Ca
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 16, 2012 - 06:06pm PT
Thanks, true story, all drawn from my life, for better or worse.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Dec 16, 2012 - 07:12pm PT
Great writing and a proud solo to match!

Dec 16, 2012 - 07:33pm PT
Very good read Roadie, thanks. I always enjoy your TRs, they don't need photos. That route is burl. Maybe Chief will chime in about his time up there.

Somewhere out there
Dec 16, 2012 - 07:50pm PT
Great read.

Sorry for the year of loss.


The Desert Oven
Dec 16, 2012 - 08:01pm PT
Thank you for sharing that. It really moved me.

Trad climber
San Jose, CA
Dec 16, 2012 - 09:14pm PT
some route description and photos can help. At least it was useful for me to understand better:

Dec 16, 2012 - 10:55pm PT
Captain...or Skully

Dec 16, 2012 - 11:26pm PT
Right on, Steve. I could see it.

from out where the anecdotes roam
Dec 17, 2012 - 06:45am PT
now, if that don't clear all. stay tenacious, for our sake ... well, for goodness sake

Dec 17, 2012 - 07:32am PT
Wow. The "Sweating up the trail" paragraph is powerful. It is where I realized this was not just a creative writing post, but also because the writing is creative...creating in my stomach a terrible knot. Great story, super impressive solo. And, I still have that knot in my stomach. I can't decide if I'm inspired, saddened, concerned, or some mix. No judgement. I am not, and never will be, mentally or physically able to do something like that. Just want to be transparent about the mix of emotions your catharsis raises for me. Looking forward to more of your writing!

Trad climber
100% Canadian
Dec 17, 2012 - 03:58pm PT
respect ...

Mountain climber
Dec 17, 2012 - 04:21pm PT
Palms sweating.

The NW edge of The Hudson Bay
Dec 17, 2012 - 04:27pm PT
The second pitch is a textbook example of the benefit of Jerry Lewis footwork and Wormdrive body positioning, techniques I've long employed in conjunction with what Croft described as "baffling footwork". I originally graded the second pitch 10d/11a. Goes to show how off the mark gradings can be.

There was a brief period in time when I'd been doing a lot of third classing and feeling relatively fit that I speculated about climbing the Highway unroped. The climbing seemed reasonable enough but I just couldn't wrap my head around the unroped part.

Steve turned all our heads when he pulled that one off!
Alex blew my mind when he did the whole Northern Lights combo, Sick!
Will's solo of the Highway seemed only natural....for him.

Nice work Steve!
Rite of passage?

Social climber
Dec 17, 2012 - 04:45pm PT
hey there say, roadie...

thanks for the neat write-up share, :)

god bless... :)

Trad climber
Mountain View
Aug 23, 2013 - 01:59pm PT
Some photos (from the interwebz):

Great Writing!


Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
Aug 23, 2013 - 04:39pm PT
Packs a punch for sure. Primal.

right here, right now
Jan 29, 2014 - 11:50am PT

Jan 29, 2014 - 12:30pm PT
Wow! Powerful writing! Thanks for bumping this Roy.

I have felt that ghost-hand when I thought I was a goner.

Reading that part brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for the reminder.

Trad climber
Bishop, Ca
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 21, 2014 - 01:02am PT
great piece of writing. Life is difficult and beautiful.

Oh, Younghe just wrote that on my account. Didn't mean to blow my own horn.

Feb 21, 2014 - 04:40am PT
Thanks for the added words Perry & for the photos Luke.

Really rounds out this awesome thread. Even better the second time.

Can't wait to get on this route, only dif is that I hope to have at least a dozen cams & a cord lol.

Jun 18, 2018 - 02:44pm PT
Thanks for the great afternoon read.
Gnome Ofthe Diabase

Out Of Bed
Jun 18, 2018 - 02:48pm PT

Also not bad pix, but how'd I'd miss this/?

Just livin' the dream
Jun 18, 2018 - 07:47pm PT
I loved everything about this piece.

Thank you.

Trad climber
Jun 18, 2018 - 11:51pm PT
Very enjoyable. Thanks.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Jun 19, 2018 - 08:47am PT

Jun 19, 2018 - 01:24pm PT
probably the fourth time i’ve read this over the years... and every time there’s been enough time since the last time that i get to read it mostly for the first time...

and each time it’s been more than worth my time. :)

thanks as always mr. seats.
Messages 1 - 35 of total 35 in this topic
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