Photos by Jason Bagby. Story by Todd Yerman and Jason Bagby
Swiss climbing phenomenon Nina Caprez breezed into the high desert on her American climbing trip, joined by Christoph Bichet and a rotating cast of Canadian and European climbers. Intrigued by the history and style of climbing at Smith Rock, they immediately gravitated toward the imposing Monkey Face. “Spank The Monkey” follows an unsettlingly sharp, exposed and runout arête up the Northeast face of the distinctive formation.
“Some routes are magical to you,” Nina enthuses. “That magic can be awakened by the place, the aesthetic of the line or the history behind the route. I felt only excitement looking at that line, and that’s what I’m looking for in climbing.”
The full pitch (beyond the 5.12a original anchors) first fell to Tommy Caldwell in 2004. One of the great mountain athletes of his generation (or any generation), Tommy unlocked the sequence using double ropes to make the intricate and exposed arête moves marginally less terrifying. If one were to look up “timid” in the dictionary, one would not find Tommy’s likeness.
“Spank the Monkey caught my eyes from the first time I saw the Monkey Face,” Nina explains. “That pure arête had something attractive to me, but I also felt impressed and somehow intimidated. I needed some courage to start the climb.” For the soft-spoken Caprez, with her extensive mileage on big-number alpine routes, this was the understatement of the month.
With high winds and a visiting Englishman’s redpoint burn on a neighbouring route attracting most people’s attention, Nina and Christoph climbed to the first set of chains, then balked. “We tried to continue, but both of us failed. We were not able to reach the belay [second anchor]. Too many big falls meant that we hadn’t had the courage to demand more that day.” Presumably, huge air over a sharp arête suggests a lack of courage to them. Nina and Christoph used a single rope.
The next day brought more settled conditions. “Second day on the route we managed to climb to the top. What a great sensation! Chris was quite solid but I took again these big falls around the arête which made my psyche even higher!” Nina’s likeness is also not found in the aforementioned dictionary entry.
Christoph sent on Day Two, and Nina’s reaction characterizes the mutual support this international team brought to the crag. “It was a big moment to watch Chris climbing this outstanding 13d by giving his best. I was stoked for him, felt a big compassion and I wanted badly to climb it as well.”
After a rest day, Nina returned to the Monkey, climbing with a mix of excitement and anxiety. “And then I broke a foothold all the way up there. It was unexpected, but that’s the reality of rock climbing. You can be as prepared as you can but at the end, nature decides whether you send or not! I felt happy and alive. I took a 15 meter fall and that was actually even big to me.” Undeterred, She rested and tied in again. “Next try I climbed like an angel and I was totally in balance with my mindset and the route. It was beautiful and I knew once more what I’m living for!”
Her redpoint of this big-ticket line, and quickness to give props to Christoph when asked to describe her own accomplishment, set the standard for her crew’s friendly rampage through Smith Rock. Despite the unseasonably wet weather, they spread enthusiasm and inspiration to locals and visitors alike.