The last A5


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Trad climber
Santa Cruz, California
Topic Author's Original Post - Jul 17, 2014 - 10:07pm PT
Reticent was recently referred to as A4+...

Does an A5 still exist?


Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
Jul 17, 2014 - 10:34pm PT
Go take it to!


Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Jul 17, 2014 - 11:12pm PT

Why not stay right here with folks that have actually done A5 pitches?

There are a few pitches on El Cap that are still A5 in the original meaning that a fall where a fall is likely would result in a fifty footer or longer.

This means tearing out about three body lengths of placements which still exists on the Competitive Edge (aka Real Nose) after one repeat and a few other spots.

If this bums you out, Take Heart Laddie and YOU can be the First to do C5 in your group of friends! This way you are always looking for the next C5 rather than lamenting the last of the last A5.

These A5 routes are a subtle dream when they go up but it doesn't last...

Social climber
Dalian, Liaoning
Jul 17, 2014 - 11:22pm PT
I imagine A6 must still exist on the mud towers.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, California
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 17, 2014 - 11:24pm PT
A4: Serious aid: lots of danger. 60 to 100 foot fall potentials common, with uncertain landings far below. Examples: pitches on the Kaliyuga on Half Dome and the Radiator on Abraham in Zion.

A4+: More serious than A4. these leads generally take many hours to complete and require the climber to endure long periods of uncertainty and fear, often requiring a ballet-like efficiency of movement in order not to upset the tenuous integrity of marginal placements. Examples: the "Welcome to Wyoming" pitch (formerly the"Psycho Killer" pitch) on the Wyoming Sheep Ranch on El Cap, requiring 50 feet of climbing through a loose, broken, and rotten Diorite roof with very marginal, scary placements like stoppers wedged in between two loose, shifting, rope-slicing slivers of rock, all this over a big jagged loose ledge which would surely break and maim bones. The pitch is then followed by 100 feet of hooking interspersed with a few rivets to the belay.

A5: Extreme aid. Nothing really trustworthy of catching a fall for the entire pitch. Rating should be reserved only for pitches with no bolts or rivets (holes) for the entire pitch. Examples: pitches on the Jolly Roger and the Wyoming Sheep Ranch on El Cap, Jim Beyer routes in Arches National Park and the Fisher Towers.

A6: (Theoretical grade) A5 climbing with marginal belays which will not hold a fall.

Ok Munge, I found this and reference to 3 A5 routes on El Cap Jolly Rodger, Wyoming Sheep Ranch and Sea of Dreams. All were A5. My question is What IS still A5?

Ice climber
Jul 18, 2014 - 05:01am PT
Doesn't Nightmare on California Street have groundfall potential from 300+ feet up?

Surely that's real A5.

Hobart, Australia
Jul 18, 2014 - 06:27am PT
Imagine bottles lined up on a plank spanning a wide and deep chasm with sharp bone-crunching boulders far below. I imagine the ensuing bottle walk similar to A5 aid, though not as interesting, as all the "placements" are the same.

Hobart, Australia
Jul 18, 2014 - 06:30am PT
Watched this film from Ivo this morning:

This looks like solid A5 as well.

Jul 18, 2014 - 06:32am PT
It seems to me that if it's really "you fall, you die" you may as well leave the rope behind. After all, it's just more weight on those marginal pieces, no?

Hobart, Australia
Jul 18, 2014 - 06:36am PT
Since we're in the mode of describing A5 to non-initiates, perhaps an appropriate thread hijack would be from those who believe they've experienced A5 climbing to chime in with other imagined or otherwise realms of intensity.

To me, A5 is both a state of mind but also highly dependent on the skill level of the participant; in other words, the feeling of A5 might be encountered by someone climbing the Nose for the first time (ok, well maybe not the Nose), but it's not really A5 unless the technical aspects based on the participant's state-of-the-art skill are also being applied.

(maybe I should have waited posting this until I had my second cup of jo).


Big Wall climber
Jul 18, 2014 - 06:54am PT
i like this thread soo far!

Mountain climber
Clackamas, Oregon
Jul 18, 2014 - 07:53am PT
Aid rating definitions have shifted greatly. With no sanctioning body, it's hard to say what is what. And the difficulty of climbs change due to use and abuse, almost always becoming much easier.

A5: Extreme aid. Nothing really trustworthy of catching a fall for the entire pitch. Examples, ... Jim Beyer routes in ... the Fisher Towers.
Turns out that wasn't true.

Trad climber
CA Central Coast
Jul 18, 2014 - 08:08am PT


'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
Jul 18, 2014 - 08:42am PT
So maybe you've been standing in your aiders for six hours, or eight hours, maybe even longer. But you don't know how long it's been, because it's not about time, it's not about position, it isn't about anything else except where you are, and what's in front of you. For the simple reason that you cannot afford to focus on anything else EXCEPT the rock directly in front of you, and within your reach.

The placements are puzzling and inobvious, almost every one requiring incredible fiddle-farting around to get something to stick that will actually hold your weight. Some of them require a lot of thought, most require a lot of time, and some of them require a lot of reach. You end up standing in your top steps or your top rings a lot. If you are lucky, the pitch is overhanging - more strenuous, but at least you might not hit anyhing if you blow it. But often, beneath you there is a ledge or an edge or something that is grinning at you, licking greedy lips in anticipation of you crashing down onto it, or across it with your rope.

You are constantly puzzled, and wondering how to proceed. You get stumped time and time again, but then you think, "What did the guy before me do?" The pitch certainly hasn't been climbed very many times prior to you being on it, but it has still been climbed. But you try not to think too much about who climbed it before, because invariably he was a much better climber than you are. He probably weighed less than you, too. Certainly he is or was a Master of the Craft, and most probably more than a bit psycho - so psycho he is probably either dead or retired. Think of some of the talented/crazy aid climber people who show up on this forum from time to time, and you will get the idea. So knowing that someone like this established the pitch or climbed it before you offers you little or no comfort, so maybe it's better not to think about the who, but rather to know that he did find somehow find a way to move through this section that is stopping you, so it is indeed possible to climb it.

The problem with these hard pitches - which remain hard only because they have been climbed so infrequently - is that sometimes things go missing, pieces of rock that used to be there have fallen off, and the way the last person climbed it may no longer be possible. This is always a risk with repeats of hard aid pitches, you hope that everything is still there enough to climb, without resorting to any form of cheating.

But you can't cheat, because in the back of your mind you know there is some old fart with a can of beer standing down on the bridge below you, watching every move you make through his telescope, which records every scrape on the rock with your skyhook, and every brown spot in your pants as you sh|t yourself in fear. And should he even mention in fun some offhand remark about "drilling for oil" you can expect the internet forums to light up with people jumping all over you, while only a few actually waiit to find out what really happened.

You are in one of the most stunningly beautiful situations on the planet, yawning exposure beneath you in all directions and breathtaking views, but you don't dare focus more than the one-metre-diameter circle in front of your face. You place your piece, and then you think about how to test it. You're already on a pretty crappy piece, and you don't want to jiggle the crappy piece you're on while testing the one above! You also have to know just how hard to test the piece above - sometimes you can bounce it with all your force, which can generate up to nearly a thousand pounds, which tells you the piece might even hold a fall. But lots of times you're afraid to test it too much.

John Yates is your best friend. You have a "third arm" adjustable daisy on you so you're connected usually to two pieces while testing the third, and you have made judicious use of his Yates Screamers and Scream-Aids, which you buy by the pigload. You love Black Diamond peckers even though they have crappy cables, and Tomahawks too. Maybe these inventions have made climbing certain hard pitches easier, maybe a lot easier.

You know you're an aid climber when you get a good hook on a ledge, and you think, "Whew! Bomber!" And when you're scared enough, you'll duct tape it down and use it for pro. Although it's easier if you're soloing, because you can reverse Klemheist it against the tension in your lead rope.

You are afraid, constantly afraid, always fearing for your life, always worried about the "fall of a lifetime" that you know you can take at any moment and without warning but pray you never do. But even though you are scared, you can never reveal your fear to yourself. Because to do so could give way to panic, rushing, and your fear of dying could actually cause you to die!

[Aside: If you are either getting bored of reading all of this, or your hands are not sweating now, you have no business climbing hard aid]

You are deep in the DFU Zone, 100% committed with no viable way down, only up. You don't even dare to look down, because what you will see below you doesn't inspire much confidence. You have used it, you have trusted it, you have committed to it, now you have to forget about it, because it's ancient history. The thought of falling onto it is unfathomable, and it is inconceivable to even imagine zippering the pitch. So you don't think about it. You can't.

But you do. Of course you do. You can't help it. It definitely crosses your mind, especially if you are about to Cross The Line. Crossing The Line occurs when you give real consideration to the fact that you are so deep into the DFU zone, that if you do in fact FU, it may be the last thing you live to do.

Perhaps you have read about Crazy Men, men who basically "write themselves off" before they head into the mountains. Check out some back issues of Mountain Magazine for examples. I have never been quite this crazy, because I am basically a chickensh|t and I really do want to live to see another day, and another wall. No mountain or wall is worth dying for. So I have never "written myself off" before a climb. But there have been times where partway up a pitch, the notion has crossed my mind that I might be Crossing The Line.

I rarely feel Anger. Because I did, in fact, choose the course of action that I am following. However I am frequently Deep in de Nile - well over my head - and so deep in denial that I can't believe it could ever happen to me. This may be the safest mindset of all, and I would recommend it to aspiring hard aid climbers. Bargaining occasionally can enter the picture, and if you believe in a Higher Power, then this could be a viable course of action for you. Example: "Dear Mother Goddess of the Earth, if you only let me make it to the belay anchors, I promise never to ... ever again." These thoughts cross my mind from time to time, but they usually involve blondes, along with the occasional brunette and redhead. But as a practising Christian, I only believe in one God - the Dude who is who He is - so there is a certain amount of pre-ordainment involved anyway. Besides, I'm already forgiven anyway - by faith, not by works - so bargaining for me is effectively pointless. Thank God, because I could never give up those things anyway. Depression can certainly be present, as evidenced by blubbering, tear stains mingling with the blood on the head placements, and other emotional outbursts covering the spectrum from vulgar to pathetic.

But you have always be an optimist, never a pessimist. You have to believe that the next placement will be better, that surely something will appear as if by miracle that will make you feel safe, and "reset the clock" on the pitch. Maybe this will be a rivet, which winks at you from above for hours until you finally reach it and clip it - whew! But your relief is short-lived because it's a crappy old 5/16" machine bolt that the first ascensionist pounded in maybe thirty years ago - this pitch gets repeated so seldom - and you really don't trust it much if at all anyway. Maybe I've never climbed a really hard pitch, because there always seems to be *something* solid at some point in the pitch, usually. But then again, I'm an optimist.

But you keep hoping, you keep believing, and you keep on keepin' on. Because up above you, slowly - incredibly slowly - those anchor bolts are getting closer and closer. Invariably there has to be some death-defying mantel move to clip them, requiring some dire free climbing prowess that you don't possess and that you figure someone else just stepped up casually, but you are terrified to commit to. So you duct tape down another hook, call for some slack, bust the move, then you can't reach the bolt anyway because it's too high, and you're balanced on the ledge with your nose and glasses scraping against the granite, and you still have 50 lbs of hardwear on your rack, and you can't see because it's gotten dark, and your partners have been popping beers down in the portaledge and have fallen asleep and nobody cares and you keep wondering why you put yourself into these positions again and again and .......

Trad climber
Jul 18, 2014 - 08:46am PT
Great post, Pete.

Mountain climber
Clackamas, Oregon
Jul 18, 2014 - 09:10am PT
Amazing, Pete. That's one worth archiving.

Trad climber
mt. hood /baja
Jul 18, 2014 - 09:15am PT
Pete , that was an excellent bit of putting words to a difficult to describe feeling....nice!

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, California
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 18, 2014 - 09:28am PT
Pete, my skin is crawling.

Big Wall climber
San Luis Obispo, CA
Jul 18, 2014 - 09:30am PT


As for A5...

I never want to experience that grade. And I am not the person to ask if it is still around on el cap. But I have done a whole lot of wandering around the base of el capitan.. Staring at routes that I Will never do. For instance, night mare on california street. I have looked at that first pitch long and hard. That I think is for shore A5, if you fall on the first pitch you will hit that flake and most likely die...

So ya I think it is still around!

Big Wall climber
So Cal
Jul 18, 2014 - 09:49am PT
Pete nails it!!

Your mini essay conveys to the reader the sense of what it takes to get those hard/scary bigwall pitches done. Nice job!
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