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Pizem’s new free climb, Back to the Earth (5.13c/d, 3 pitches), “P” Wall, Mt. Evans, Colorado, follows the red line. The blue variation tops out at 5.11; the orange line is Pizem’s original objective, a still-unclimbed arete that likely goes at V12. Pizem’s ascent, protected by a mixture of gear and hand-drilled bolts, is one of the country?s most difficult free climbs above 12,000 feet. [Photo] Rob Pizem

I remember my first recon trip to the base of the wall. I passed through the area A boulders at Mt. Evans, and upon zig-zagging through the warm up zone I walked by many friends who were surprised to see me, to say the least–I normally spend more time on walls than at the boulders. Wondering where my pad and shoes were, they asked what I was doing. Shyly I identified the wall that loomed above them and said that there was a new route to be had and that I was going to find it.

At this point in time, my climbing passion had evolved from repeating routes to seeking out what hadn’t been done, what might not be able to be done, and what takes a little more work and vision and perseverance. I can thank Mike Anderson for giving me the confidence to seek out the unknown and unexplored. Since I was short on time during that first recon trip, I only was able to spy two potential lines on the 500-foot wall and vowed to come back.

The first time I hiked through the alpine tundra to the top of the wall was with a friend who I had known for years. He was eager to learn about new routing and to get in on the action. When we finally arrived at the summit, we spent a long time navigating the boulders and loose rock to get to the perfect perch to see the walls below. I noted that the boulders looked small from our new vantage point and that the wall was bigger than I thought. Unfortunately, having forgotten my jumars and basically everything else that we needed to give the wall a good look, we instead spied a perfect line a few hundred yards away on a slabby wall down valley. Not wanting to waste the day we struck out on the unclimbed crack. What struck me while belaying was the large, overhanging dihedral that jutted out above our original vantage point. It was identified by the two large parallel orange streaks of lichen that climbed out an apparently steep overhang. It was at that moment that I knew that it must be climbed and that, with a little luck, the crack that appeared and disappeared in that corner was just enough for a high altitude good time.

On my second trip I fixed a line and scoped the overhanging arete feature that stood out as the most dramatic section of the climb. The nearly 60-degree overhanging orange-streaked dihedral below me would go with a little work, but this arete kept me guessing. I attempted a few moves while hanging on my fixed line and was sure that it was possible. But possible for a weak guy like me? I knew that if I couldn’t unlock the mystery that one of the bouldering super powers below could. After having Charles Fryberger take a look at the arete and hearing his perspective, I felt that I needed to look around a bit more for an alternate ending to the pitch. (Chuck, who I had known for years, basically said that I had bitten off a little more than I could handle, and I took his advice). This led me to the pink horizontal pegmatite band, connected to my pitch by some 5.10 crack climbing. Unfortunately, the rock wasn’t perfect and all the holds were facing the wrong way. Chuck quickly said that it would go free, but at no less than 5.13. Psyched, I began to play with the half pads of plagioclase until my feet and fingers danced through the twenty foot section. Even without anything I would consider a good foothold or hand hold, the end of the pitch was going to go free. My main concern was the fact that I would be pulling hard on two half-pad, one- or two-finger underclings with only foot smears, after pulling all the other hard moves on the route. All this only to have to dyno six feet to a jug where I finally could shake out for a second or two.

After that trip with partner number… who knows… I was confident that I could free the climb with a bit more work. It took many attempts, many falls back to the earth, two split tips, a bunch of wire brushing, enduring the freezing cold winds and shivering to finally open the climb. There is nothing like this journey to take you where you want to go. For me, it was the first time that I have had to invest such an effort for such a small undertaking. I will remember and cherish the time spent with everyone that had a chance to hang on the side of the wall with me, watching the aspens change in the valley below, listening to the boulderers release their battle cries, and feeling the excitement of discovering the sequences that would eventually be used to link the route’s cruxes. If Back to the Earth (5.13c/d, 3 pitches) is too easy for you, please send that arete and give me the beta!