Thursday, July 17, 2014

Santa Barbara's Hardest

One of the most popular articles in Allez was Steve Edward's "Southern Cal's Hardest" in issue #3. That was written in 1995 — before sport climbing died. Fortunately, there are a handful people refusing to acquiesce and just go bouldering like everyone else. Bouldering is more convenient, social, and (most would say) fun; but I believe sport climbing still offers many things that bouldering cannot. So, because history is important, and maybe some readers will take up the sport climbing torch, I'm writing an updated version of Steve's article.
   In the 90's, 5.13a was a benchmark goal for any aspiring sport climber. That would put 20+ climbs on the list, which is a bit long. Here I'll cover all the routes 5.13b and harder, which reduces the list to a manageable twelve. Since I always like to put numbers behind things... 7 of 12 are in the Santa Maria, so for hard routes, that's your destination. The numbers also reflect the death of sport climbing: 7 were put up between 1990 and 2000, 2 between 2000 and 2010, and 3 since 2010. Many thanks to Bob Banks, Steve Edwards, Elijah Ball, Bernd Zeugswetter, Andy Patterson, Chris Leube, Steve Lapen, Hans Florine, and John Perlin, without your help I could not have written this article. From easiest to hardest, with routes of the same grade being alphabetized, here they are...

5.13b / 8a:
Epoxy or Not to Be  First ascent Steve Edwards in May, 1995
Location: Earthwatch, Santa BarbaraSteve at the crux
Second Ascent: Hans Florine in 1996
Length/Moves: 30', about 13 hand movements
Crux: Long dyno off a pinch/sidepull. 
Type/Style: Power
Realization Time: 4 years from being bolted to realization.
Description: Climbs like a cryptic sandstone boulder problem. 13 moves get you to the end of the business, capped by a huge dyno, found by Hans on the second ascent, after Steve spent years working (and doing) it off a ridiculously bizarre move that no one else seemed able to do. A handful of ascents, all by strong boulderers, is fitting for a route inspired by Peak limestone and the Frankenjura. You might want to warm-up before getting to the crag.
Steve: The one thing I remember about this line fondly is that when we first bolted it, I could barely get my feet on and take weigh off of the rope at any point on the climb. It took four years to do the thing but, still, that is noticeable progress. Not one of my better first ascents but, still, have some great memories hanging out at this idyllic little spot.
Chris Leube: Got psyched on it after having seen German Eric on it. Probably my favorite route in Santa Barbara not counting Santa Maria and obviously Epic Garuda.
Video: Steve Edwards on the first ascent

The Green Room  First ascent Bernd Zeugswetter in 2005
Location: The Playground, Santa BarbaraBernd at the crux gaston
Second Ascent: None
Length/Moves: ~25'
Crux: Powerful V8 gaston
Type/Style: Power
Realization Time: Maybe 2-3 sessions
Description: It's a solid V8 at the second bolt and eases off at the third, then a slab top-out with another bolt. Bernd also soloed/bouldered the route in 2006.
Bernd: It feels like a SB fusion of bouldering and climbing.
Andy Patterson: ...a bit esoteric, and is really just a one-move wonder. The opening two or three moves are moderately difficult, then there's literally one grim deadpoint. After that, it becomes 5.9-. Not the most continuous line, but the boulder-problem at the start is really hard.
Steve Edwards: All I remember about the Green Room crux is that it felt scrunchy. Even though it has great rock, and the top is fun, I was never too intrigued by its one-move nature. So instead of trying to do it, when perhaps I could have, I spent all my time on the route to its left, which I could do the moves on but never linked. It's still a project. Go do it.
Photos: Bernd leading in 2005

Hard Boiled  First ascent Phil Requist in 1995
Location: Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong, Santa MariaPhil in the crux
Second Ascent: Hans Florine in 1996
Length/Moves: 45', 22 hand movements
Crux: At 30': double-throw off a left hand 2 finger pocket, first to a crimp, then to a pinch.
Type/Style: Power-Endurance
Realization Time: maybe 5-10 days over a few months
Description: Starts on good holds, a couple long pulls get you to the first "embedded rock" crux. Then a gaston to two underclings brings you to the crux. Generally thuggish, except for the two cruxes; then you have to slow down and climb accurately. Certainly what I consider a "whole body" route; The Old-Pro Skill (12d) at the Owl Tor would be good preparation.
Chris Leube: What can I say, not your best route Phil...
Phil: I'm glad the "4 clip" approach I took on redpoint has become almost standard, the route is still totally safe, but it's just radder that way. (The work bolts are still in place.)
Bob Banks: Sort of my style, but still took me a few years of on-again-off-again projecting, including not one, but two falls at the anchors. The best part about redpointing Hard Boiled is knowing you don't ever have to get on it again.
Elijah Ball: I think I spent ~15 days trying to redpoint in 2007. Then I got really sick, went to the hospital for a few weeks, got really light, and sent it late 2008 after 3 or 4 days.
Steve Edwards: The holds are good but the moves are so big and unrelenting, your entire body gets pumped and you feel like you've been in a fight the next day. Really good fun.
Steve Lapen: Fun... a cool, exposed top section that adds some extra excitement.
Videos: Bob Banks attempt 1997/1998
Bob Banks one go before redpointing on December 11, 2004
Phil redpointing in 1998
Elijah looking large in a 2007 attempt
Micah redpointing on 11/5/2016
Photos: Elijah in the crux

Rubble  First ascent Elijah Ball in Spring, 2011
Location: Owl Tor, Santa MariaElijah: no spaghetti arms here
Second Ascent: Phil Requist on October 12, 2013
Length/Moves: 25', about 12 hand movements
Crux: Consistently hard moves followed by a throw to a sloper then a long reach a 2 finger.
Type/Style: Power
Realization Time: 3-4 days
Description: An adventure for biceps, Rubble is steep and bouldery with frustratingly pumpy pinches, pockets, slopers, and underclings. You have to have a good variety of skills for this short route: two finger strength, pulling power, and sloper strength will all be tested. Great rock (for Santa Maria) and perhaps the steepest route on the list.
Elijah: My first foray into the art of route development and Rubble has calibrated the standard for my own work dauntingly high. Conceived as Steve Edwards’ gift to posterity she is the fruition of my innate sandstone virtuosity, a masterpiece for the ages that submits me for consideration as the Harper Lee of sport route authorship. You are welcome, world.
Phil Requist: Such a great route! I hope people appreciate the history: it's named in honor of Hubble at Raven Tor. If this route doesn't get the local boulderers to check out the Tor, nothing will.
Steve Edwards: Bravo to Elijah for giving it some love and realizing the rawness of that little section of wall.
Video: Elijah Ball attempt in July, 2014
Photos: Phil low 2 finger David Gibbons low Gregory Su undercling Dean Privett undercling to crimp Greg crimp crossPhil sloper

Stealing Fire  First ascent Stuart Ruckman in 1992
Location: Green Dome, Santa BarbaraNot Stuart, but Steve Edwards
at the redpoint crux
Second Ascent: Jean-Paul Finne in May/June, 1995
Length/Moves: 50'
Crux: First move, long with bad feet or wild heel hook. Redpoint crux a thin pull near the end.
Type/Style: Power-Endurance
Realization Time: Only a handful of days but over a year or so.
Description: A boulder problem starts this power-endurance fest, followed by a unique variation of moves requiring a number of techniques — standard schist fare, really.
Steve Edwards: Sharp rock and strange climbing has kept The Kryptor {aka The Green Dome} from seeing a lot of suitors. Though a number of famous rock stars have given this a look, only Jean-Paul is known to have repeated it. While I professed love for this line, I spent very little time trying to do it because I always had my own projects here that I felt were better. Still do, in fact. Private Little War really deserves an ascent after all these years.

Wild Kingdom  First ascent John Perlin in 1993
Location: Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong, Santa MariaDoug Engelkirk on his onsight attempt
Second Ascent: Unknown (has been repeated)
Length/Moves: 80'
Crux: Start: cross to a mono then a long reach; then, slightly higher, a throw to the break.
Type/Style: Powerful start, but overall Endurance
Realization Time: unknown, maybe 3 months
Description: Probably 12c over the first 18'. Then a lot of moves on just past vertical terrain. Up high, after a moderate rest, the wall kicks back a lot and you've got some long pulls, so you'd better have something in the tank. Finally, there's a tricky reach to the clipping "jug" off bad crimps.
Phil Requist: I did this before the extension when it was probably light 13b, now I'd guess it's solid-to-hard 13b. I want to try re-repointing this fall, maybe Owltoberfest. Not my style, so it's gonna take some work!
Chris Leube: Since I was always more the rachitic type, this route was not to bad for me. Not too long or powerful moves just a rather spicy start, the rest endurance.
Steve Edwards: The start on this thing was so nasty I'm not sure if I ever did it. Never a fan of monos, especially half-pad sharp monos. The top is great and, thus, Crocodile Hunter was born. Has anyone been on this since?
Videos: Not Wild Kingdom, but Phil redpoint failing on Crocodile Hunter
Photos: Phil not hiking the mono move Phil trying the mono Elijah on the arete Elijah on the arete again Elijah Elijah

13b/c / 8a/8a+:
Renaissance Man  First ascent Andy Patterson in March, 2013
Location: Renaissance Crag, Santa BarbaraAndy above the crux
Second Ascent: None
Length/Moves: ~30', 16 hand movements
Crux: The whole thing
Type/Style: Power
Realization Time: Andy: "I don't know exactly how many days I spent on the route, but I know for sure it was at least 15+ days spread out over the Spring of 2011 through the Spring of 2013."
Description: This route packs a little bit of everything in to a small route. Steep face moves, flared finger-locks, dynamic lunges from incut jugs, slopers, pinches, and even a desperate knee-bar-scum-move guard the chains. Clocking in around 16 tricky hand-movements, the relatively short pitch feels much longer than advertised, and the steepness of the face deceives the eye. Expect sharp but well-constituted rock, with extremely condition-dependent texture. Think of Ren Man as a seven-move V9/10 boulder problem in to a steep and powerful 11d/12a.
Andy: As of this writing, Bernd and I are working on a lower start to Ren Man which begins down the hill and right of the traditional start. It adds a six or seven-move V7/8 in to the original start, with absolutely no rests. The end-result will be twenty-plus hand-movements of exceptional difficulty. The grade will likely jump at least a letter, but I won't know for sure till I send.
Elijah Ball: You lost me at "knee bar".
Photos: Andy working the moves Bernd working the moves Andy Andy Elijah

13c / 8a+:
Better Than Life  First ascent Phil Requist in May,1994
Location: Owl Tor, Santa MariaPhil at the second mono
Second Ascent: Hans Florine in May/June, 1995
Length/Moves: 55', 30 hand movements
Crux: Start: 3' cross-pull off a gaston at about 40 degrees overhung
Type/Style: Power-Endurance
Realization Time: 25 climbing days over 7 months
Description: From Allez: "From mono pulls to huge dynos, the route just keeps coming at you. Likened to Chouca at Buoux. 38 hand movements without a decent shake or an easy move. Wills Young thought the first 3 bolts alone were 13a/b. Hans Florine lost a bet to repeat the route over 4 months." This route has a bit of everything: bad feet, poor rests, many pockets. 5 clips with a decent runout at the end.
Phil: This route will always be the symbol of an era to me... in 1993, Steve called me and said he found a new wall near SB, so I moved back. The wall was the biggest pile of choss ever and my hardest redpoint at the time was 5.12c. One year later, I had increased my climbing by a number grade and, as a team, we established the best sport climbing crag within 200 miles of Santa Barbara — that was a good year. Oh, and it has monos, I like monos.
Hans Florine: I was not in my "bag on boulderers phase" back then, although I really was pissed at Phil for making it so F&$%#^@ hard at the start. I really thought the first few hand movements on BTL were Fricken hard, too hard. I would not have put a V rating on them at the time (now I'd say V9) but I was thinking I was going to kill Phil for making it like some impossible DA concoction that only he could do! (DA=Damnation Alley bouldering wall, for the un-informed.) BTL is probably the first route I had ever gotten on, that I later redpointed, that I couldn't actually pull the moves on the first day. I've never considered myself a "redpoint" climber, especially "back then," but for some reason I invested the effort in BTL.
Chris Leube: Had to have a talk with Phil to be able to do it, basically less changing of sequences after being close... this talk actually helped me a lot for the future.
Bob Banks: Unquestionably the best route in Santa Maria and the only route I ever think about when I fleetingly think of sport-climbing again.
Elijah Ball: This was my first 5.13. It took me 35 days to send, just after I finished college in 2001.
Steve Edwards: So well done. So cool. So hard.
Steve Lapen: I also remember Better Than Life quite clearly as it was one of my favorite routes at the Tor, with an exciting section near the top.
Videos: Elijah Ball redpointing in September, 2011
Hans Florine on the second ascent
Phil redpoint failure
Chris Leube working the route in 1998 includes our "talk"
Chris Leube redpointing in Bad to the Bones
Photos: Elijah at the gaston Phil crossing to the 2 finger Phil Elijah learning to stand on his toes Elijah on the throw to the hueco Phil high on the route

The Odyssey  First ascent John Perlin in Summer 1995
Location: The Acropolis, Santa Barbara
John from Allez Magazine
Second Ascent: Ian Vickers in 1996
Length/Moves: 43 feet, 7 bolts and 21 hand moves not including clips
Crux: There are no meaningful rests. The most powerful move is maybe V7 or V8. The mono move is dangerously hard.
Type/Style: Power/Power-Endurance
Realization Time: ~25 serious redpoint attempts and roughly a year of working out all of the moves and linking sections
Description: Steep and thin. You need really good mono strength if you interested in trying this route. The power crux is between the 4th and 5th bolts. It’s a long move to the right from a three finger first digit left hand side pull edge to a full handed sloper, which you match on, and from there to a first digit right handed mono.
John: Wire the moves and then when going for the redpoint climb fast, deliberate, and precise. For me personally this is my proudest achievement in climbing. I found the cliff, bolted and cleaned the line, dug out the base to add 4 feet, built the route, and ultimately succeeded in climbing it. It was a brilliant multi-year process. Oh yeah, most importantly the view from the crag is spectacular!

13d / 8b:
Gala Gala Happy  First ascent Elijah Ball on October 5, 2013
Location: Owl Tor, Santa MariaElijah just past the crux
Second Ascent: None
Length/Moves: 50', ~22-25 hand movements, mostly massive
Crux: Half-way up: big side pull to a two-finger jug, clip, have enough energy to pull in the right arm
Type/Style: Power-Endurance
Realization Time: ~10 days of concentrated redpoint effort over one summer
Description: This route is dynamic and brutal from beginning to end. Long, steep, off-balance pulls make this more than just a slugfest. This route contains some of the steepest, and definitely the longest moves at the Tor, which says a lot. If you've done Pro Skill and Hard Boiled, and want even more severe "whole body" punishment, this is the route for you.
Elijah: Opening Gala Gala Happy at Owl Tor’s initial annual climbing celebration secured my claim as world’s first Owltoberfest Lord of the Forest. Phil Requist envisioned, equipped, and realized her. She’s fifty feet of preposterously spaced jugs meandering toward the cliff’s prominent prow. Her opening sequence is a dynamic dream for two-finger pocket aficionados. Cop a knee bar at the minimally useful hueco at one-third height to invalidate your ascent. Choose dignity and be greeted by Gala’s neolithic pulls through gorgeous pockets and slots.
Phil Requist: I used to say that getting on this route felt like being raped by Godzilla. It still does. This is my main project and I put a lot of time into it in the spring to no avail. It's not a fun route to get on when you're feeling weak; it will just chew you up and spit you out.
Steve Edwards: A lot of great times are associated with this one, though none have anything to do with climbing it. The name still makes me laugh and gets that dammed song stuck in my head. Gala gala happy!
Videos: Me getting raped in 2010
Photos: Chris wearing knee pads Phil on one of the many long moves Phil throwing to the hueco Chris moving out of the hueco Chris craning to see the next 2 finger

14a / 8b+:
Bodyguard From Beijing  First ascent Hans Florine in November, 1998
Location: Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong, Santa MariaWrong climb, but right era:
Hans in France in the 90s
Second Ascent: None
Length/Moves: 50', less than 30 hand movements
Crux: Sticking shallow two finger, just prior to awkward left traverse to easier ground, and after first 40 feet of significant climbing.
Type/Style: Power-Endurance
Realization Time: 9 climbing days over 9 months
Description: One mono pull early on that is not difficult, pinches to pockets. Redpoint burns tempt you to blow off some clips, probably should not. No "rests" per se until after the traverse to left out from under the roof. Chris is the only person to have put serious effort into this route, which only adds to it's mystique.
Hans: Chris {Leube} should be given large credit for the initial bolting and cleaning of the route. On the day I redpointed, it was so cold warming up hands on the back of your neck was required. I sent the route past the crux and was stemming the rest after the traverse when a knob popped off and I fell... waited 20 minutes and "re-red pointed" the route.
Chris Leube: Kind of like the sloth I am pissed and it is unfinished business for me! Owltoberfest!
Phil Requist: Not my style; technical and not super steep. The 2 finger undercling move took me about 20 tries alone. I doubt I'll ever redpoint this route, but I'm excited to get all the beta at Owltoberfest.
Bob Banks: Only got on it once (too many monos.) Belayed Hans on its only redpoint. Watched him fall at the anchors immediately after my (first) fall at the anchors on Hard Boiled, after telling me "I'll never fall there."
Elijah Ball: Impossible. Can't be done.
Videos: Chris Leube's high point in 1998
Chris, again in Bad to the Bones, making it look hard
Photos:  Elijah mid crux

Buddhist Palm  First ascent Elijah Ball on October 18th, 2014
Location: Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong, Santa MariaElijah mid-route
Second Ascent: None
Length/Moves: 50', about 30 hand movements
Crux: Long pull off a 2 finger pocket after 30’ of difficult climbing.
Type/Style: Power-Endurance
Realization Time: Elijah: "I think it was the 2011/2012 season that I really focused on Buddhist, putting in ~20 days of work. I just did not have it at that time. Previously there had been maybe two seasons of ~5-10 days working through sections. I put it down for a season, picked it up again in the fall of 2014 and finished up in ~10 days that year. Long story short I had the beta figured out for a few years and just really had to evolve a bit to git 'r done."
Description: Continuous hard moves for 35'. This route probably has the smallest holds of any of the hard routes at Santa Maria, and the fewest pockets. It's arete-like structure, unique features, and variety of angle changes allow for everyone to find a new place to fall.
Elijah: I started out thinking Buddhist really focused on my weaknesses but I now suspect it specifically suits my strengths. When dissected move for move - small holds, moderately overhanging, mediocre feet - it would not seem tailored to fit my Owl Tor-inspired climbing style. Once I dialed in the beta however, it became a power endurance problem, and that was something I knew I had a chance at. The final season of projecting was an exercise in full route strategy. In my experience Buddhist defines itself as this amalgamation of power and technique. She's a subtle beast.
Hans Florine: I believe this is one of the routes that I attempted the least. It was too disheartening how far I felt from actually getting the moves and the more remote thought of linking them. I made my attempts on this route when I was at my best sport climbing fitness.
Steve Edwards: We (I?) also did the Buddhist Palm move different than Elijah did it, which maybe fucked up the rest of the sequences but probably the only way I could do it. Basically, even though I was relatively good at the moves on this route (because I could always find 'cheater' feet as I recall), it was way too hard for me ever to have linked so it's hard to add a lot of commentary other than it was always one of my favorites. Best movement of any of the hard routes at either cliff.
Chris Leube: In hopes of finding a better sequence for Hard Boiled, I veered a bit to the left, into the Buddhist Palm sequence, it didn't really seem to be easier...
Phil Requist: This and Better Than Life are the best routes I will ever bolt at Santa Maria.
Videos: Elijah on the first ascent
Phil falling at the crux in 2007
Photos: Phil at the crux Elijah near the top

Strictly Ballroom  First ascent in Steve Lapen in December, 2006 or January, 2007
Location: Owl Tor, Santa MariaSteve at the mono crux
Second Ascent: None
Length/Moves: 55'
Crux: Low: A bouldery start with a very hard mono pull. Probably V9/10 for the first 18'.
Middle: A hard series to 2 finger pulls culminating in a dyno to a jug beyond your sight.
High: Another throw to a crimp you can't see.
Type/Style: Power and Power-Endurance
Realization Time: maybe 3-4 days over 1-2 months
Description: A brutal, bouldery mono move low guards a ledge rest. People usually call the start V9/10. From the ledge to the top is maybe 13b/c. The cruxes above are all you need to know.
Steve: I remember the route having a boulder crux right at the beginning, a dynamic crux at the top, and a tricky middle section that seemed extremely hard at first, using some undercling beta, which shut me down for about 20 redpoint tries until you have me some trick foot beta that made a big difference and eliminated the hard undercling.
Phil Requist: I've put a lot of work into this route over the last 20 years. I've probably 1-hung it 15 times, which shows you how useless that metric is. It's hard to have the power for the start and the endurance for the whole route. Steve wore socks when he did it — socks! What an ass. I want to see someone try Jason's {Campbell} beta, he onsighted the low crux — static.
Chris Leube: Fricking hard.
Bob Banks: Fun moves between two distinctively hard cruxes. Lasting memory is really of Jason Campbell making the mono move look fucking stupid.
Elijah Ball: Fuck Strictly. I've been working this route for the last 6 months. One move has me shut down. The fucking mono. There to the chains, no problem, I did that months ago. Ground to the mono, no problem, done that dozens of times. Fuck you Phil.
Videos: Steve Lapen working the route
Phil not redpointing in Above the Smogline circa 1997
Steve Lapen redpointing Ghetto Booty (14c/d) at Charleston
Photos: Elijah moving into the crux Elijah moving into the crux Phil finishing the mono crux Elijah starting the second crux Steve mid-second crux Steve mid-second crux Steve mid-second crux Elijah mid-second crux Elijah below the final crux Elijah at the final throw

The Future
There are still many more excellent, hard lines remaining. What Santa Barbara needs is more psyched sport climbers to do them. The bigger the team, the better the energy. Hopefully some people will get psyched on the routes above and also want to add to the list. Owltoberfest on October 25 & 26 will be the perfect time to get beta on most of the routes above. I hope to see you there!