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Peter Croft working his way up the first ascent of Bubb?s Creek Wall (V 5.12, 16 pitches), Sierra Nevada, California. Croft and Dave Nettle, who climbed the route with photographer Greg Epperson, were hit by a storm at the top. They were forced to leave the direct finish to spur. [Photo] Greg Epperson

Success in big routes can usually be divided into two categories: clean
sweeps where it would be hard to imagine anything better and big “buts.”
PeeWee Herman once said, “Everyone has a Big But.” He was right. This
summer I set out to deal with mine.

In 2004, Andrew Stevens, Hans Standteiner and I climbed a little over
half of the 900-foot route Blowhard (IV 5.12+), a series of steep, thin
cracks up the angular prow on the left side of the face, before we
veered onto the Polish Route to finish. At the time I tried to convince
myself that our effort constituted a real route and wasn’t just a
variation, but a winter of “what-ifs” set me straight. Andrew and I
returned in early summer to recce the upper section, then Hans and I
went back for the clean sweep. The climb’s centerpiece lies on the 12+
third pitch: first-digit finger jamming while palming and heel hooking
the edge of the buttress. For the last two pitches, wide bridging up
shallow corners along the very crest (11+, 12-) took us to the huge
ledge where the Polish Route tops out. The hike out in the dark made for
a perfect ending to the day.

Just right of Positive Vibrations, Venturi Effect (V 5.12+) traces a
series of corners and cracks on the tallest part of the 1,200-foot face
before scaling the last four pitches of the ridge to the summit. Dave
Nettle and I climbed it in September 2004, establishing the most
sustained free route we had done… but without an independent start. I
returned this August with Nils Davis to straighten things out. A day of
clumsy aid climbing (on my part) and nervous trundling prepared us for a
clean sweep the next day. The new start was a bitch slap of a warm-up.
At 6 a.m. I was stale and chafed from my goofy antics the day before,
and the ascent was no foregone conclusion. We summited after sunset and
descended in the dark.

I took a break from the Hulk in early August and hooked up with Dave
Nettle at the base of Bubb’s Creek Wall. Dave and Brandon Thau’s proud
route, Samurai Warrior (5.11 A1), takes the bulging orange shield in the
center of this 2,000-foot whopper; we were convinced it was prime
material for the first free route on the main wall. Greg Epperson joined
us for a big-wall foray, while Dave provided the muscle (and blew out
his soles) to sort out most of the free variations. When we went for the
sweep, Dave’s borrowed climbing shoes were far too big, like
flippy-floppy clown boots, and he decided to follow the route. Somehow
he managed to do just that, with Greg shooting pictures and me laughing
my head off. One pitch short of the top, a storm pinned us down, turning
the final beautiful 5.11 corner into a gushing toilet. Seeking shelter,
I girth hitched a prickly shrub and huddled beneath it to no avail. As I
shivered, Dave came up and found an easier exit out left. Relieved at
our escape, we turned to bragging about our route, Bubb’s Creek Wall (V
5.12, 16 pitches), while we coiled our wet ropes. But that last missed
pitch still sticks in my mind.

More than half the big climbs I’ve done have ended with some sort of
lurking question marks. That’s OK with me. While some people seek
answers in the mountains, I find the questions to be far more exciting.

–Peter Croft, Bishop, California