A 33 Year Journey to a First Ascent

In 1982 (yeah, sorry, the story starts in 1982) my sister set me up on a date and to entice me to follow through she said it was with a woman who “was a rock climbing instructor and had her own rope”.  That was Betsy and besides having kids and all that stuff we’ve been climbing rocks together ever since. One of the first places we climbed together was at Lover’s Leap using a guidebook written by Rick Sumner.  Yes, you’ll hear the name again later.

Betsy and I have climbed a lot, have been on first ascent teams but have never actually put a route up ourselves.  As you can imagine, finding a new route at established areas these days is extremely difficult. But it sounded like a worthy goal and as you age you start thinking about what you leave behind.  When someone says, Ney and Bets – what did they leave behind?  For example, did they help end world hunger?  No, but they did put up some rock climbs out in Nevada where no one really goes.  Well, it would be a fun goal anyway.

So I started watching for areas as I flew across Nevada and eastern California on my trips.  I found one worthy area but it turned out to be too good to be true – it was a large granite wall that had been climbed.

Pequop (Large)

I was also doing research on the web and I saw that Rick Sumner (same one) was developing a secret area out in Nevada somewhere.  He was posting enticing photos but not revealing where the place was.  I started to strategize on how I could find out where he was climbing. Extortion? Kidnapping?  I finally settled on bribery.  I offered him an airplane ride over his area and to recon other areas in exchange for introducing Betsy and I to his area.

Rick lives halftime in Alaska and was soon to depart north, so he declined the ride in order to get more rock time – but he graciously invited Betsy and I out to climb.  We had a great day out and Rick led us up some of the climbs he had recently put up – and we got to feel some of the excitement of being in an area not fully developed. Thank you Rick.

Now Memorial day weekend was coming up and the weather was crappy each day, but I snuck out for a two hour flight one morning to try to photograph some of the crags in the area that Rick had now publically named, “The Egyptian Ridge”.

At first I thought the flight was a total dud.  The ridge was mostly in clouds and the photos I got were blurry because I didn’t want to slow down too much or get too close.  I can fly slow, take photos and deal with clouds and terrain, but not all three at once.

Oh  uh, are those T-storms forming over the Egyptian Ridge?
Oh uh, are those T-storms forming over the Egyptian Ridge?

But I did get some blurry photos that ultimately came in useful. Note that I’m not including here the photo of the formation we ended up on – because that location is still secret.  Here are some photos of the Egyptian Ridge taken on a later flight on the way to Salt Lake City for business:

Egyptian Ridge
One of the Egyptian Ridge formations
A segment of the Egyptian Ridge
A segment of the Egyptian Ridge

Betsy and I drove out Friday night and camped in our van nearby, only to wake up with rain, clouds and the Egyptian Ridge completely obscured.  Damn.

But then I remembered a blurry photo of a formation, not identified on the ridge by Rick, that looked promising.  Betsy and I headed that way and got halfway across a large field of sagebrush on a dirt track before becoming stuck in the mud, with the cool traction sleds and the tire chains tucked safely away in our garage for the summer.  Bummer.

Minutes from getting bogged in mud
Minutes from getting bogged in mud

Oddly, not long after we stopped forward progress we saw lots of cows moving all around us.  We eerily ended up in the center of a cow roundup.  A cowboy and his dog came riding over and we were feeling guilty that we were stuck in the middle of the jeep track, but he was only asking if we had extra beer. He ended up with wine, which I felt bad about because he surely thought I was a wus not having any beer.

We hiked up to the formation Saturday and spent the day with our dogs hunkered down under rocks in the rain watching water pour off the face. But what a face it is! We picked out some good lines and went back to the mud-bound van for the night.

Our van, outstanding in its field. (old joke but couldn't help it)
Our van, outstanding in its field. (old joke but couldn’t help it)

Betsy got the van stuck again just trying to turn it so we would have a nice view, but she redeemed herself by figuring out we could use the plastic leveling blocks (which we broke to bits) to help free the van. We then decided to just leave it in place until Monday when everything was hopefully dry and we could drive it out.

On Sunday we put up two new first ascents!  We did it. The first, we named High Desert Solitaire, starts on the left side of the face with a bolt, which protects a few thin (5.9) face moves up right into a crack (5.6) leaning right, then up to a small roof/belay (5.8), then up to a ridge that leads to summit blocks.

Betsy putting in a protection bolt on High Desert Solitaire
Betsy putting in a protection bolt on High Desert Solitaire

The second climb, called Visions of Empire (the modern ghost town of Empire is just within sight), is a fine face climb that goes up the middle of the face (5.8).

Visions of Empire route
Visions of Empire route

I had posted the photo of us in the mud on the Supertopo.com climbing forum on Saturday and a climber, Alex Kirkpatrick, saw our van in the field and drove out Saturday afternoon to make sure we were OK. Thank you Alex. He ended up camping with us, and we all did the big hike back up to put up a third climb called The Hourglass (5.7).

Hourglass (Large)

For getting almost hopelessly stuck in the mud, it turned out to be a fantastic climbing weekend!

Betsy and Alex enjoying a Nevada sunset
Betsy and Alex enjoying a Nevada sunset
Betsy, now a ground-up bolting machine.
Betsy, now a ground-up bolting machine.

1 thought on “A 33 Year Journey to a First Ascent

  1. I see much work in the future of “the ground up bolting machine” Way to go Betsy

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