Four Star Syndrome

I left Mount Woodson feeling defeated. I knew I wasn’t defeated, but instead that I was just burnt out. Too much ambition, too many goals, too many responsibilities, too many dreams; I was trying to accomplish them all at once. By the time I got to San Diego State I was feeling hopeless, like running off and leaving everything behind, and then there was Emma, sitting down on the grass putting together a tent, so I asked her if she wanted to skip out of town for a few days and climb Epinephrine in Red Rocks. It was so spontaneous, I didn’t really expect her to say yes. A few days later we were speeding out of California and into Nevada on the I-15.

Everything about Epinephrine sounds epic. The name is badass, its location world class, the features you climb mind boggling and at first terrifying, that it’s a 16 pitch free climb, that it has a summit, and that the descent is not trivial. Yes, Epinephrine is likely the most sought after climb on the young trad climbers tick list, and with good reason. The only problem is that people come from all over the world to visit Red Rock, and of the climbers that make the pilgrimage, Epi is often first on the list.

I’ve heard some astonishing stories from other climbers who undertook the vertical voyage to the top of the Black Velvet Wall via Epinephrine. Some benighted behind hordes of slow parties, and when I was in Lander I heard a story from another travelling climber about two guys passing his party because they were “experienced” only for their leader to pinball down the second chimney, the one Emma is pictured in, sustaining life threatening injuries. My newfound friend in Lander told me they sat there and waiting for the SAR team to come with a helicopter and rescue the other party before bailing. On Mountain Project I’ve read in forums of climbers reaching up to pull onto ledges and smearing their hands in shit left from previous parties. It can quite literally be a shit show.

Many of us who’ve embarked to climb these mega-classic routes are all too familiar with the chaos created by crowds, and the deterioration of the areas due to traffic, and certain ledges on the climb and places surrounding the climb being turned into public restrooms. The most astonishing thing about all of this being that while there are hordes of people all moving slowly in massive lines up these classics, there are still world class features nearby that go unclimbed.

One way to mitigate this is obviously to just go climbing on these routes in the off season, when the crowds have moved onto other climbing locations that favor different months. That’s what we did. We climbed Epinephrine in late May, and we shared the route with one party who was far ahead of us, and not once was there an issue. The other solution: just go climb something else!

Everywhere you go, especially if it’s a climbing destination, you will find the same pattern. People gravitate to three and four star routes, especially the ones of moderate difficulty. So climb two star routes, or even better, locate the ultra classics that are on the outskirts that nobody wants to hike to. Oftentimes, the two star routes are ultra-classic, but have a scary reputation because of run outs, complicated approaches and descents, or awkward features like true chimney, off-width, and slab climbing. Oftentimes these routes aren’t straightforward, but isn’t that what it’s all about? Getting out with the people who get us psyched on life and having a genuine adventure.

Out at El Cajon Mountain the regulars always joke when the trail head is packed with cars about all that traffic on two routes, Meteor and Leonids. While those are great routes, just left to them is an even better route called Manana that is rated 10b, and it’s far better climbing than the other two, but it goes unclimbed partly because it’s rated 5.10, and also because the 1st bolt is 15 feet off the deck. The truth is that it’s less known because people just wait in the line for Leonids and Meteor because they know what to expect. Furthermore, a lot of people never climb out of 5.8 and 5.9 because they wouldn’t dare attempt a grade they are not 100% confident on.

When you climb a classic route you know you’re going for something that is tried and true, and that there is beta describing every single pitch and detail of the route from start to finish. That’s cool. It was nice when I was new and anxious about those little details, but I’m not new and anxious anymore, and climbing up and into the unknown is the type of adventure I’m all about these days. When I’m faced with an imposing move 15ft. above my last piece of protection I come alive. That’s where I find the person I’m meant to be.

So I don’t know about you, but when I go to a restaurant that has a 1 hour wait time for seating, I usually just get in my car and find something else to eat. And when I walk up to a climb that is about to get gang raped by a bunch of gumbies I just open up the guidebook or check mountain project for obscure routes nearby that climb the same peak by different features. I’ve found the best restaurants that nobody knows about, and I’ve climbed the most epic unknown climbs that are far more memorable than Epinephrine because of it.

Or you can just wait in line with your cool outfit being in a place that everyone else agrees is hip slick and cool. See ya at the top.