• Aki

Freeing Kingpin

Updated: May 7


This weekend marked the end of my guiding season and the beginning of my climbing season. All the hard work I put in this summer allowed me to save up for my time off. To make this period as productive as possible, I had to prepare to meet some of my goals ahead of time.

The first goal I had was to free Kingpin, a route that Adam and I had put up last year in the Beartooths. It is a seven pitch climb with over 40 bolts, including belays. It went in ground up at 5.11+ A2, a wandering pathway up an intimidating wall.

Over a few trips, Adam and I straightened it up with new variations (all bolted from stance or on rappel after having been led) and by the end of last season, it was fully equipped as a free route with the crux pitch wildly overhanging at the top of the wall. The only issue was that it was way over our heads...

This spring I dropped 300 meters of static line over the route with the intention of minitraxing it between days of work, but I never found the time. After getting in one trip with Adam to top rope the crux, I was able to work out some of the sequences. Shortly after, I returned with my friend Jonah to pull the ropes and get ready to send. I marked the holds and dialed in the cruxes, coming up with new beta that felt doable.

A few days later, my tic marks were still on the holds and I was feeling unsure. This was my last weekend in town and, consequentially, my last chance to fire this pitch. Not only had I talked my friend Seth into coming down and shooting the climb, but Adam had given up a weekend of climbing new routes to help send finally. Because of all this, I was feeling the pressure. Their lighthearted joking about some campfire commentary the night before helped ease my stress.

Besides a fall on the fourth pitch, the first five pitches went fairly smooth. I scoped out the crux pitch, double checking the tics, hanging a few draws, and sussing out some gear placements.

On my first go, I made it to the first crux and fell. I lowered down, pulled the rope, and rested. Second go I got up to the upper crux and fell. Lower, pull, repeat... After five goes, I keep falling in the same spot and I was feeling physically and mentally defeated.

Time to retreat.

The next morning we wake up at the same time, moving a little bit slower as we stretch out our aching shoulders. A short walk and some shenanigans get us to the base of the climb, where all the gear is cached. We cruise to the upper pitches and I swap out my kicks for a fresh pair. Once again, we are hanging in space at the base of the crux. All the mental rehearsing I have been doing for the past 24 hours will hopefully pay off.

On the first go I make it right up to the last draw and peel off. I work the moves real quick, adding a few meaningless marks, and lower back down to rest.

Ten minutes later I'm back on the route, moving effortlessly on the lower section. I cruise right up to the final rest and begin the same ritual as every other attempt, waiting for my heart rate to drop while I pick off little flakes beside me.

I enter the final sequence and disappear into the movement. After latching the final jugs I hear my friends' encouragement and mantle the ledge in disbelief. Hoots and hollers echo down the canyon walls.

Adam follows the pitch and congratulates me, although we hadn't finished yet. I rack up for the last pitch- a runout 5.11 on loose flakes with lots of lichen. It hadn't been repeated since the first ascent and we both were slightly reserved about climbing it. Fortunately, it goes uneventfully and we top out with a feeling of success, finally putting an end to Kingpin.

It felt good to wrap up this project, as it was a first of many for us. The style we did it in was a total blast and brought me right back to stories I had heard of climbers past. To top it off, the movement ended up being five star.

And although this climb was very important to me, it is worth noting that some other very impressive ascents were in the making right beside it. No blog posts and no photographers, just hardmen cranking on little holds. Kudos to those guys for keeping it real.

#kingpin #firstascent #rockclimb #beartooths

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