Awesome Autumn – Cloud Tower, Donner, More Red Rock & Tickling the Toes of Giants

When Spring of 2014 came to a conclusion, I was pretty disappointed. I had trained hard, put in a lot of work, and never got a chance to go even attempt some of the routes that had fixated my attention. Routes like Cloud Tower and Shune’s Buttress were looming goals that certainly weren’t going anywhere, but I wanted to ride the tide of momentum I had created. Instead of riding the wave of momentum to glory, I got throttled as the lip of the wave crashed down on me. Almost all of my goals for 2014 resided in the desert, and summertime isn’t the time to get things done, it’s the time to travel elsewhere and get solid. A steady diet of 5.10 granite all summer kept my skills sharp enough that when the time came, I could really ratchet things up a notch or three. I left the last blog off following the Memorial Day holiday weekend, taking a trip with some great friends to the Eastern Sierra.

The following weekend was the wedding of one of my closest friends who also happened to be one of my first climbing partners. Aaron and I lived together in the Lemmon House from 2008-2010 and also had lived on the 4th floor of Nye Hall at the University of Nevada our freshman year of college, where we met. Funny how life works out, here I am almost 10 years later a Best Man in his wedding. Even funnier how things work out, my girlfriend is his now-wife’s cousin, and was also a member of the wedding party. Upon Sam and my arrival to the cabin in Donner, Aaron and I quickly depart to get a quick couple of pitches in before dark. Sam helps Ashley put some finishing touches on a variety of things for the wedding while we go climb.

I took Aaron out climbing a few days (weeks?) after my first time climbing and learning the ropes from Ben. We tackled many of the easy classics at the Summit prior to Aaron moving to Oregon for his career and his first time on Jellyroll Arch was a memorable one. A friend of ours who was more experienced than us had suggested that all one needs to lead this route is a set of stoppers. With this beta in hand, Aaron launched off to what had to of been an amusing lead and nailed it pretty early on in climbing. This time around, we were racked with those springy cam things and far better technique…

Awesome early autumn light on Donner Peak and above Snowshed Wall

I take the slabular first pitch, which undoubtedly is one of the best (of many awesome) moderates at Donner.

Aaron thoroughly enjoyed repeating this classic

Me following the second pitch. Aaron lead the 5.9 variation, super fun!

Aaron cruised the 5.9 roof variation which neither of us had done before and we enjoyed the alpenglow turning to twilight of the evening.

Weston and Aaron atop the Grouse Slab formation following a fun cruise of Jellroll Arch

Silhouettes in this neck of the woods are awesome

The next morning everybody was quite busy with a litany of things, myself included, but as soon as I could escape for a quick hour or so, I bolted for School Rock for a few scrambling laps on some routes that were my first shaky trad leads back in ’09. Came across this sweet tree while third classing. The views up here were awesome and the easy movement on great stone put a huge grin on my face:

Awesome windblown tree with stellar views of Donner Lake from Junior High Crack

Back to Donner to get cleaned up at the cabin and then onward to rehearsal dinner, great times were had among friends and family which was definitely a good omen for the following day – Aaron and Ashley getting married!!

I’m not sure what the morning of most grooms looks like, definitely lots of photos, talking to lots of people, and probably some nerves I would imagine. Aaron and I got up stupid early to ensure we would be back in time-ish for all of us to get ready and be out of the wedding party cabin in time so that the girls could get ready. We started the day with a lap on the first pitch of the Donner classic One Hand Clapping

Aaron leading the first pitch of One Hand Clapping on the morning of his wedding with style and grace

Next up, I wanted to lead New Moon next door.

Me approaching the Firecracker Roof after the “crux” below on New Moon

New Moon is a classic I never got around to (read: didn’t climb well enough) when I lived in Reno. Man, that thing is awesome! Also, it finishes on the Firecracker Roof and that thing is always super hard for me…I have big hands (#3 camalot size), a low IQ and poor technique so that certainly could explain it.

Later that day, the wedding went (in my opinion) exceptionally well and was one of the most incredible events I have had the fortune to be present for.

Mr. and Mrs. Sieczkowski!

Samantha and I were both honored to be a part of the wedding party

Aaron and I

At the end of the reception, going clockwise Jeff, myself (barely visible), Travis, and Aaron.

Regretfully we were back to Las Vegas after the wedding and truly special time spent with friends, family, and friends that without a doubt count as family.

The work week sped by, plans for the weekend experienced a plethora of changes, and next thing I knew I was going to be heading up one of my huge goals – Cloud Tower.

Allow me to just preface this by saying if you are considering doing this route, go do it! Without a doubt the best route I have ever climbed.

Matt taking off to lead the third (second as we did it) pitch of Cloud Tower

The first pitch of this route went uneventfully, although quite physical it is easy (5.8) but definitely woke me up and helped me settle my nerves.

The next pitch is an awesome 5.10- thin hands crack. Matt, however, never looked at the topo and stated “this pitch is pretty stiff for 5.8.” I start laughing and remind him that the pitch is 5.10- and it all makes sense to him.

Matt leading the 10- pitch on Cloud Tower

Next up was the crux pitch, a super hard, super beautiful corner…

Me leading the crux pitch of Cloud Tower

This pitch is beautiful, difficult, and protects perfectly. I hung a fair bit on this pitch and definitely want to run a few more laps on this route, get this pitch wired, and hopefully send it clean one day.

Matt cruised following this pitch…

Matt following the crux corner pitch on Cloud Tower

Matt following the crux pitch on Cloud Tower

Matt leading the mega-long, mega-hands, mega-fists pitch

Matt leading the awesome super long 5.10 pitch

I was supposed to lead the final pitch of Cloud Tower, but another partner of mine and I had discussed climbing the route a week or two later, so I let Matt take the lead. Unbeknownst to me, my friend mixed up Cloud Tower and Rainbow Wall…

Matt leading the most beautiful pitch on the route

Me following the final pitch

What an absolutely outstanding route. Seriously, so good. Awesome crack climbing, very physical, incredible position…the whole package in my book.

As mentioned above, a certain buddy of mine mixed up Cloud Tower and Rainbow Wall. With some encouragement from another friend who thought Cloud Tower was harder than anything on Rainbow Wall, I decided to take the momentum I had and ride the wave…and attempt Rainbow Wall. Shane drove out from Orange County and it was game on…

Me approaching the Rainbow Wall. Intimidating.

Shane following the 5.12a/b second pitch of Rainbow Wall

More Shane following the mega classic P2 of Rainbow Wall (5.12a/b)

Shane contemplating more hard moves

Weston shaking out on P4 of Rainbow Wall’s Original Route

Arriving at the Rainbow Wall, that area is by far the most beautiful zone I have seen in Red Rock. Seriously, just go for a hike and enjoy the ampitheater up there. In addition to being stunning, it is also one of the more intimidating climbing venues I have been to outside of Yosemite Valley. The first pitch was an easy 5.6 pitch, the next pitch a 5.12a/b pitch that I one-hung. I am not a 5.12 climber, so this was a huge accomplishment for me – and it gave both of us the confidence that we thought we had the route in the bag if the 5.12 pitch down low went that well. Then reality struck. I got lead the 5.11d pitch as well and lo and behold, got my butt handed to me. Hard. I resorted to aid after not being able to free the moves and wound up taking a 15′ swinging fall into space when a Red C3 blew on me (after being on it for a while, as well). After this pitch I lead the following 5.11- pitch without struggle and we decided that bailing would be a good idea at this point. I was very happy we made the decision we did, as reversing the approach in the dark would be amusing.

A weekend later, Jon, Travis and I were en route to Jon’s family’s cabin near Zion. We crashed there, were up early and went to Zion to climb Shune’s Buttress, another goal of mine.

Jon warming up with fantastic views in the background

The first pitch is one of the cruxes of the route, a 5.11+ corner that goes for 160′ – the lower 100′ has hardly a move below 5.11, and the upper section involves some 5.10d climbing with funky gear. I was thoroughly amused and got it handed to me on this pitch. Some warm-up. Jon and Travis enjoyed following it…

Travis in the midst of his favorite part of Shune’s Buttress – ZE WYDE!!!

Most of this pitch will make you smile, as Travis is here

T-Pain’s reaction upon being asked how he enjoyed the WYDE

Jon following P1 of Shune’s Buttress

At this point we let a party of two who took the 11- start while I received my flogging on the 11+ start pass us.

The next pitch, a 5.10 fingers pitch, will make you smile as Travis is in the above photo.

Jon following P2 of Shune’s Buttress, which puts you in very cool position

We were on the team ahead of us’s heels now so we took a secondary belay station (nice to have two sets of bolts in this case) and hung out for a bit. As the team above climbed through a hanging belay, we waited a bit longer since a hanging belay with 5 people would not be a fun occurrence. At this point, perhaps due to the loose nature of the upper section of the route (not sure about this – never been), a significant amount of human-caused rockfall occurred. We bailed due to this and decided to go cragging instead. Jon and Travis had both climbed with me in the past at Cerberus Gendarme, but neither of them had done the MEGA CLASSIC finger crack “Intruder.”

A few shots Jon got of me leading it…

After everybody got a lap, we caught the shuttle, ate some Mexican food, and went home.

Bailing on those last two routes left a bad taste in my mouth. I had been climbing all of these routes with elbow, knee, rib, and finger injuries and the psyche had taken a huge hit bailing off of Shune’s.

Nothing gets me psyched more than seeing the “lights on” moments where people “get it” with certain aspects of climbing and get hooked. My friend Seth, who I went to undergrad with and recently reconnected with me, wanted to learn to climb cracks. He had never climbed one outside. I figured my favorite single pitch crack would be a great place to learn. We invited a couple of other folks out and my buddy Stephen wanted to shoot me leading it, which forced me away from my usual lazy habit of just putting a toprope on this route.

These photos were taken by Stephen King of me leading The Fox:

Some real nice light in Calico Basin to end the day

Climbing one of my favorite routes for the first time since July with friends who were newer to climbing cracks, and who really enjoyed it, revved the stoke for me to the maximum. The next Saturday I was set to go to Zion with Stephen and we were going to hop on another classic and see how it went. Tuesday night at the climbing gym, however, to add to my host of other injuries…I managed to strain an inner oblique or abdominal muscle. I attempted to push through the injury and it was not an intelligent choice. Oh yeah, this was also Stephen’s first visit to Zion…which meant party shirts were mandatory!

We also forgot the cameras at the car, so our cell phones had to do for this one. We only did the first four pitches of Monkeyfinger after bailing due to the pain in my abdominal/oblique area (severe) and heat once the route went into the sun the pitch after the crux.

Hard to beat the approaches here

Iron Lion Zion

Stephen King leading his first pitch in Zion, the WAY classic Pillar of Faith pitch (5.11-)


Me getting stretchy to set up for the crux move of the pitch

Party shirt? Oh yes.


Crankin! SO good!

Me looking down after my battle with the thin, hard Black Corner pitch (5.12)

Stephen pulling over the final moves of the Black Corner and into the fun 5.9 chimney above

After the aforementioned Black Corner Pitch, P3, Stephen launched on to the 5.11b fourth pitch as the route went into the sun. Temps were hot and following the 5.11 pitch I was experiencing significant pain in my abdomen/oblique zone from the injury. That coupled with the instant heat resulted in our decision to call it a day and bail. I was super disappointed, but this was one of those bails where you simply go “what can you do?”

Party shirt, sad man. Me at the one of the rappel anchors pretty bummed to be going down and in pain

Some river hanging out occurred.

I attempted to blend in with the tourists in spite of my pack.

Gear was sorted and 3.2% beer was consumed

In the end, the trip was a success in the sense that we got in four absolutely stellar pitches in. Bonus that they were of appreciable difficulty. Even higher bonus that my partner was awesome, and more bonus that it was his first trip to the area.

As far as the entirety of the Fall, I have seen the realm of possibility in myself and my incredible partners and it inspires me. I want to keep pushing hard but I know I also need to get healthy. Striking the balance between these two is something that I struggle with, as once I become focused on something, the focus becomes laser-sharp. This focus also has to be locked into something proactive…the idea of focusing on “rest” is tough for me to grasp, because I do a very poor job at doing nothing.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, hope you enjoyed.