Tommy Caldwell jugs up to Mikael Sribhadung, a Swedish climber who donated $4,000 to a medical fund that will help Layton Kor pay his medical bills. The two climbers teamed up for a charity ascent of Mescalito on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park from May 13-16. [Photo] Mikael Sribhadung
For four days in May, Tommy Caldwell temporarily shelved his dreams of freeing Mescalito (VI 5.9 A3-, 2,800′) for a more important objective. Instead of sussing 5.14 moves, Caldwell took a traditional approach, aiding quickly up the El Capitan classic with Swedish climber Mikael Sribhadung. While their ascent was not boundary breaking, it was certainly distinguished: the effort raised funds for a pioneer in need.
The charity climb was part of a larger donation project to help Layton Kor, 72, in his struggle with kidney disease. Sribhadung donated $4,000 to Kor for the opportunity to climb Mescalito with Caldwell from May 13-16.
Kor’s climbing resume is the only introduction he needs. In 1961, he made the first ascent of Castleton Tower. In 1962, he was first to climb The Titan. That same year he completed Yellow Wall (V 5.8 A4), the second route on the Diamond of Longs Peak in Colorado, and the Naked Edge (III 5.9 A3) in Eldorado Canyon. Kor was on the 1966 team that pioneered the Harlin Direttissima (ED3/4, 1800m) on the Eiger Nordwand in winter. And in Yosemite, around the corner from Mescalito, he climbed the first ascent of the West Buttress (VI 5.10 A3) and the second ascent of Salathe Wall (VI 5.9 C2). In 1964, he established the popular South Face of Washington Column (V 5.8 C1).
Kor climbing recently in the Mt. Nutt Wilderness, Arizona. [Photo] Stewart M. Green
The fundraising effort started in late March, 2009 after Ed Webster, Stewart Green and Dennis Jump visited and climbed with Kor in western Arizona. Seeing that he was ailing and struggling to pay for his tri-weekly dialysis, hospital stays and medication, Green put together a small fundraiser to help offset medical costs. Initially, Green started selling signed photos of Kor on some of his historic climbs. The first two images he sold were of Kor’s 1963 first ascent of Monster Tower, just outside Moab, Utah.
Kor being one of her climbing inspirations, climber Steph Davis bought one of those photos and decided to support the effort in other ways. “Layton needed help, and I thought the climbers should help him,” she said.
Kor in Kingman, Arizona, April 2009. [Photo] Stewart M. Green
Davis initially wanted to do a charity guiding event, but thought a raffle might raise more money. With Green’s help, they informed potential climbing industry partners about the raffle. When numerous sympathetic companies obliged, they set up laytonkorclimbing.com to raffle gear and generate awareness. The effort gained momentum, and a number of climbers donated their time for charity guiding bids on Kor classics. It became known as “Climb with the Pros” and included days with Jimmy Dunn on Scenic Cruise (V 5.10d) in Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison; Steph Davis on Castleton Tower’s Kor-Ingalls (III 5.9); Tommy Caldwell on Kor’s Flake (III 5.8) at Lumpy Ridge, Colorado; Conrad Anker on the South Face of Washington Column in Yosemite; and Eric Horst at the Gunks in New York. Green also guided a few individuals up Independence Monument in Colorado for big donations.
Climb with the Pros was hugely successful, to the point that Davis and Green were swamped with emails from climbers who wanted to donate for guided days outside the planned raffles. As a result, Davis climbed a bonus day on Castleton Tower last September and Caldwell agreed to climb Mescalito with Sribhadung. His donation was the largest individual contribution so far and put the fundraising efforts close to $20,000.
Mikael Sribhadung takes a self portrait on his fundraiser climb of Mescalito. [Photo] Stewart M. Green
On May 12, Caldwell met Sribhadung in Yosemite, where the Swedish climber had been practicing his aid-climbing systems. A prolific climber in the 1980s and early ’90s, Sribhadung is a noted Swedish alpinist.
“We decided to climb Mescalito because it was one of his lifetime goals and it would allow me to do a little free climbing on my free-climbing project,” Caldwell said.
The next day they packed a full aid rack and food and water for six days, then climbed five pitches. The second day they climbed another five pitches up steep, leaning cracks which Caldwell called “exhilarating.” Discovering that night that a spring storm was brewing, Caldwell and Sribhadung decided to push hard for a four-day ascent, even though most parties take a week to climb Mescalito.
On Day 3, they pressed hard through eight pitches, including the crux. On Day 4, with clouds building, Caldwell and Sribhadung pushed through the last 10 pitches to finish at dusk. They hiked down the next day as light rain filled the valley.
Kor climbing in Arizona. [Photo] Stewart M. Green
“During the climb I tried to imagine what it would have been like to climb these walls without all the technological advantages we have today,” Caldwell said. “I am always overwhelmed with admiration for the climbers of the Golden Age.”
Green and Davis plan on revamping the website to establish a trust for Kor. Big City Mountaineers in Denver have helped receive donations as proxy, but soon that donation platform will close.
Eric Horst also has hosted his bid winner, a man from Quebec, at the Gunks. The other winners and pros have scheduled days to climb over the summer. Davis’s original Castleton winner is from Australia and has planned a trip to Utah in October for the climb.
Kor also has been out climbing, trying to keep his spirits high. According to Green, even though Kor is struggling with the physical and mental effects of kidney disease, “he does have a lot of climbs he still wants to do, and that keeps him motivated and happy.”
Eric Horst spent a day at the Gunks with this climber from Quebec to raise money for Layton Kor. The pair climbed numerous classics, including Directissima (5.9, 120′), pictured here. [Photo] Eric Horst
Kor (left) and Scott Baxter spend a day cragging in Arizona. Even as Kor fights kidney disease, he continues to climb. [Photo] Stewart M. Green