Words: Jonathan Siegrist
Photos: Alton Richardson
I first saw the wall back in 2014. On a mellow photo assignment for Arcteryx, several of us wandered up to the base in the winter, postholing the entire way. At the base there’s a beautiful hanging meadow that was filled with snow at the time. I was awestruck by the size and beauty of the wall. I gathered as much info as I could and tucked this memory away for the future…
Fast forward four years, my friend Chad Umbel volunteered to help me find my way to the top. He knows this zone better than anyone, so I felt privileged and stoked to have his guidance. We motored up the wall, our excitement building along the way. When we finally reached the summit, hauling 220 meters of rope with a full bolting kit along the way, he turned me loose; “Okay dude, where do you want to start?”
I have bolted countless single-pitch routes, and developed many traditional lines, but these were the very first moments of my personal adventure in multi-pitch first ascent. In-fact, this moment was something I had looked forward to for many years. I always dreamt of combining the experience of discovery when bolting, the solitude and exposure of wall climbing and the raw difficulty from single pitch sport. My hard fought success on ‘Jumbo Love’ 15b in May had freed my attention to seek out something different like this adventure, and gratefully all of the stars aligned to create this opportunity. Rappeling in for the first time was uniquely amazing, my eyes enthusiastically scanning the terrain below.
Over the following two weeks I would obsess over this wall. Everyday that my body would allow I hiked up to my route to work. After 7 hours of cleaning and bolting, exhausted, I drove to the gym in Vegas to keep up my climbing shape. A glimpse of a hold or some potential movement I had envisioned on the wall would keep me awake at night. I jotted down logistics on a notepad and ran through ideas aloud. The entire process – from choosing the belays, to first touching the holds, to eventually climbing the entire line, was intoxicating.
Without a doubt this climb is one of my favorite achievements and contributions. I’m incredibly proud of how this route has turned out, and furthermore I can’t wait to see what worlds this fresh motivation takes me to.
I named the route ‘Aeolis Mons’ after a mountain on the surface of Mars. During my efforts on this route I was digging deep into the endlessly intriguing story of the Mars Curiosity Rover. I flipped through images that the Rover had taken and couldn’t help but feel how strikingly similar the landscape of my desert home was to this distant planet.
Just from referencing my recon photos, I knew immediately that this specific section of the wall was what I wanted to climb the most. The beautiful coloring of the rock, its position on the wall and its length appeared drool worthy. It turned out even better than I could have hoped – a slightly overhanging belly of immaculate stone, reminiscent of the Blasphemy Wall at the VRG, peppered with tiny, bullet hard crimps, nearly 500 feet off the deck. When I rope soloed on this pitch to prepare for the send day, I knew it would be somewhere around 13+/14- on lead, and very much my style. The big question mark at this point was the crux, two pitches below.
The crux pitch. This 36 meter monster tackles three roof systems – each one harder than the last. This section of the wall is too dramatically overhanging to rope solo or practice on, so I had no idea if this piece would even be possible when I started climbing up from the ground. Unlocking the beta almost identically to how I envisioned when cleaning the pitch was perhaps the greatest discovery of the entire process. In that moment I knew the whole line could go free. I fell high on this pitch during my second burn and I wasn’t sure if I’d have the energy for a third try. I even considered just continuing up the wall in the sake of time but I opted for a hail mary burn; this day was likely the last weather window before the true Vegas summer settled in. Nervous, I nailed the heinous sequence on the exposed blunt arete, clipping the anchor out of breath with bulging forearms. From here I knew I had a shot but there was still plenty of hard terrain above me. I really wanted this to be the day.
Generally speaking, as you climb higher on Aeolis Mons, the quality of rock improves. The final two pitches feature holds and movement that is unique to only the finest silky blue limestone. The crux of pitch 6 is connecting an impossibly small crimp with a water runnel and then smearing your way to a wandering band of chert… perfect. Hard to climb this stuff without a wide smile.
For the most part my journey on Aeolis Mons was alone, and I certainly savored my time dangling and swinging around on this wall all by myself. However, the day I climbed the route I relied heavily on this lovely woman. I led every pitch as Shaina jugged my line, cleaning draws through roofs and wildly overhanging terrain. She kept me stoked and positive when I fell high on the crux pitch and my chances looked slim. It would not have been possible without her.