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Albert Newman and James Q. Martin established More Sand Than Stone (V 5.11 or 5.10+ A1, ca. 1300?) three years ago as an aid route on the south face of Tooth Rock, an enormous spire/peak remotely located in the Vermilion Cliffs of Northern Arizona. They returned many times to clean and work the line in preparation for a free ascent that would climb the center dihedral, work left to the arete and finish (out of sight in this photo) on the last six pitches of the Lost Love Route (VI 5.10 C2+, 1977). The pair, along with Fitz Cahall, succeeded on March 14 and 15 to make Tooth Rock’s first free ascent. [Photo] James Q. Martin

Fitz Cahall and James Q. Martin joined Albert Newman, one of the pioneers of northern Arizona’s Vermilion Cliffs area, to make the first free ascent of Tooth Rock, an enormous desert spire/tower (the definition of the monolith is unresolved), on March 14 and 15. Tooth Rock’s cliffs are some of the tallest in the southwest, ca. 1,700′ on the eastern face. Its difficult-to-find, friable Navajo sandstone, comparable to Zion rock but softer, however, sees few ascents. There are only seven routes in the Vermilion Cliffs; Tooth Rock houses four, two of which have never been repeated. All four climbs require considerable amounts of chossy aid.

Newman and Martin established More Sand Than Stone (V 5.11 or 5.10+ A1, ca. 1300′) in the fall of 2003, aiding about 60 percent of the line. In the interim, the two–especially Newman–made more than twenty trips to clean and work the aid sections before freeing it. “It’s one of the better modern desert classics out there,” Martin said of the climb. “We didn’t take the easiest route; we found the best line and took a lot of time to get it right.” Although its multiple parts were climbed separately over two days, their ascent marks Tooth Rock’s only free ascent.

As soon as Newman spied the striking ca. 700-foot dihedral system that opens More Sand Than Stone in the fall of 2003, he wanted to free it and began working the route solo. One month later Martin accepted Newman’s invitation to attempt it, using aid if need be. Although heavily reliant on gear during its first ascent, they knew that cleaning and sequence-solving would allow for a free and committing ascent (even with its bolts, placed in unprotectable and runout sections) in the future.

The south-facing route ascends eight pitches of varying terrain before joining a ledge system that accesses the top six pitches of the classic Lost Love Route (VI 5.10 C2+, 1977). The duo had hoped to find a weakness above the ledge to continue More Sand Than Stone to the top independently, but they couldn’t find enough good rock, so they hooked into Lost Love for its final pitches. Those top pitches the pair climbed free at 5.10+ before freeing More Sand Than Stone from the bottom.

Trying to climb only in the shade, a difficult task with a south-aspect desert tower, the team (including Cahall, who joined the pair for the free ascent) completed the first three–the hardest–pitches (5.11a overhanging mixed to technical, insecure 5.11 past pins and nested TCUs to tricky jams of varying sizes) on the morning of March 14. They fixed ropes to return before sunrise the next day to complete the remaining eleven pitches. Cahall managed to onsight the eight pitches up to the ledge free, and continued to climb the rest, which he had freed before on Love Lost, without falling.

Newman believes More Sand Than Stone is Tooth Rock’s greatest gem, but admits that worthwhile variations remain unclimbed, as do a few “weird, scary, dangerous” independent lines.

James Q. Martin, Albert Newman,

Albert Newman leading through overhanging 5.11a on the mixed first pitch of More Sand Than Stone (V 5.11 or 5.10+ A1, ca. 1300?). The next pitch is the physical and mental crux: technical and insecure 5.11 moves high above 0 and 00 TCUs. [Photo] James Q. Martin