A Vertical Life

When I first started bouldering in Castle Hill, NZ I often wondered what it would feel like to be the person who found the classic, beautiful lines that held me enthralled. It seemed like an incredible thing to do and I wanted that experience. Eventually I would start developing my own problems in Hatcher Pass back when there was no information on bouldering, but I picked the most obscure areas that I could find and I dug out quite a few turds. Those were good times when I just want to climb everything regardless of difficulty or quality as long as it was the first ascent, but I knew that those problems would likely never be visited again. Since then I have had more luck.

In the past 4 years of climbing in Alaska I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have found and developed some amazing problems. Byron Glacier  was essentially a gift of unclimbed boulders sitting in a valley draped with hanging glaciers. Heaven on earth, or so I thought while Chris and I explored up to the toe of the glacier, cherry picking the best lines we could find. For two seasons, I devoted huge chunks of time to developing at Byron and ended up with a handful of classic lines to my name. I found another gem hiding far up the Powerline. In Hatcher Pass, however, my best contributions were less than significant and in 2013 I began shifting my energy to finding the new areas that were out there.

Near the end of the season August 30, 2013 I received the worst news I have ever had to bear. My friend, Kevin Volkening, had fallen. Kevin was one of the most influential and inspiring people I have ever met and knowing him was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Many of the highlights of my brief climbing life happened because him: first 12a red point, first trad lead, first mutli-pitch climb, first alpine trip; he brought out the best in me. He was such a real and genuine person that he could (and would) be a friend to everyone without diminishing the personality of each relationship. That day something essential was taken from all of our lives and in the year that has followed I have not been able to fully mend the void left by his passing. I likely never will. During the lonely hours I still feel anger and sadness and confusion welling up from the same place and I know it will take a lot longer for it to heal. Even writing these few  paragraphs has been difficult.

The idea to climb something as a tribute to Kevin came to me shortly after I returned home from the service in Montana. Since then I had been looking for the line that would honor his larger-than-life persona; preferably a tall, proud, classic problem. I never really mentioned this idea to anyone and the desire was beginning to weigh heavily on my mind. Even in the vastness of Hatcher Pass, there were few places where such a line could exist without having been discovered. The few of us who search have filled in much of the unknown areas of the map and although there was still potential out there classic lines were getting harder to find. Around the one-year mark I found a beautiful, short v3 aréte problem up Reed Valley which became the K-bone Aréte. I was uncertain if I would find anything more suitable than that. I had found a few other five star lines this summer, but nothing fit what I was looking for.

However, a few weeks later I stumbled upon the most striking line I had ever seen in Hatcher Pass and knew that it was perfect. It was tall, absolutely beautiful, and sitting on bench that overlooked all of the Reed Lakes Valley. I could hardly believe it. Two days later I brought the first load of pads and a rope kit to see if it would go. After cleaning and trying the moves, I left everything there and retrieved a second load of pads from our communal stash in the neighboring valley that night. I fell asleep exhausted, but content. In the morning a surprising and unpredicted series of showers nearly had me abandon the idea of climbing, but after eating a second breakfast I resolved to head up anyway. Rain and hail bombarded me on the approach, but by the time I reached the boulder the weather had moved on and the rock was surprisingly dry. I rehearsed the moves on rope again and felt confident about the high crux, a reachy move off of a foot smear 14 feet up.

What followed was one of the best problems that I have climbed in Hatcher Pass. It certainly is one of the most aesthetic and proudest lines in Hatcher and considering that I have climbed at Hueco, Bishop, Joe’s, and Squamish this season, I know it would be a five star problem anywhere.

To me this problem represents the culmination of two goals that I have been working towards in the last year. It is a gratifying to finally be putting up high quality lines in Hatcher Pass, but it is even more relieving to be able to dedicate such a brilliant climb to someone who I will never forget. Thanks again Kevin, for inspiring me to live A Vertical Life, In A Horizontal World.