Category Archives: Trad

Flashback Series #4: Freerider – The Forgotten First Flash of El Cap

By Mark Anderson

Every so often somebody asks me for beta on Freerider. Freerider is a ~35-pitch ~5.12d free route up the Southwest Face of the world’s premier granite wall: El Capitan in Yosemite. Mike and I climbed Freerider in Team Redpoint* style in May 2004, making the 9th ascent of the route and becoming the 24th & 25th people to free El Cap. Many of the details of that ascent have faded from my memory, but I do remember a few key events and specks of beta, which I will try to capture here for those who are interested. This is not an exhaustive trip report or accounting of every aspect of the climb, but a summary of my general recollections, followed by whatever random details of beta I was able to extract from various emails sent between 2009 and 2016.

*Team Redpoint style means both climbers free every pitch, taking turns in the lead, with the leader onsighting, flashing or redpointing and the second following free.


El Capitan. Freerider more or less climbs the clean pillar of right just right of the vertical shadow on the left end of the cliff.

We climbed the route “ground up”, meaning we climbed all the pitches in order, and we didn’t rappel in from the top to inspect any of the climbing or stash equipment. We did return to the ground twice, once after climbing up to the start of the Hollow Flake traverse (~pitch 14?), and again after climbing up to the big broken ledge below El Cap Tower (~pitch 19?), so that Mike could fly home to Salt Lake City to take final exams for his Master’s degree in Robotics. Once Mike returned to the Valley, we jugged to our highpoint, and then climbed the rest of the wall in a single 3-day push.

Easily the most notable aspect of our ascent was that Mike accomplished it WITHOUT FALLS! Mike climbed from the ground, to the summit, without a single fall, without rehearsal. This fact has been largely forgotten (or ignored?) due to the fact that in 2002 we aid-climbed the Salathe Wall, so “technically”, Mike’s ascent “doesn’t count” as a proper Flash*. I’ve always found that rather tragic. I was with Mike for every pitch of both ascents, and although I can’t deny my biases, I can attest that our Salathe aid climb in no way benefited what was for all practical purposes the first Flash of El Capitan. At the very least, it was unquestionably the first “Unrehearsed No Falls Ascent” of El Cap, which admittedly, doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but was certainly a major milestone in the history of free climbing.

[*Perhaps to a lesser extent Mike’s accomplishment has been overlooked because we were climbing in Team Redpoint style, so Mike wasn’t leading every pitch—however, this was the common, accepted style at the time, as it is today, and the most natural way to climb a long free route—the tactic of dragging a full-time belayer along is far more contrived. Furthermore, Mike led all the crux pitches in my opinion—the Monster OW, the Huber Variation to the Teflon Corner, and the second pitch of the Dihedral.]


Mike traversing out to the start of the Monster Offwidth on Freerider, May 2004.

For my own part, I fell in two spots (the .11c slab pitch above Heart Ledge, and the crux Huber-detour-around-the-Teflon Corner), onsighting or flashing every other pitch. I’m confident I deserved to fall on the Huber detour pitch, but the other fall has always gnawed at me, since it only happened because I foolishly decided to break in a brand-new, out-of-the box pair of climbing shoes on this pitch. I sagged on one of the bolts because my feet were screaming. Had I known I was only going to fall in one other spot I never would have risked climbing in new shoes!

All told, freeing El Cap was one of my proudest moments as climber, and it still makes me smile almost 15 years later. For me it was a graduation. I never really enjoyed climbing in Yosemite but I felt obligated to master it. Virtually all of my big Yosemite climbs to that point had been suffer-fests, for which I was under-prepared and over-matched.

Our Freerider climb was not like that. It was tough for sure, but we obsessed over it, spent months in preparation, and arrived well-equipped for the challenge. The climb itself was joyous, with nearly everything unfolding better than expected and a wave of momentum pushing us towards the summit. Once I stood on the summit of El Cap, having freed 3000+ feet of the world’s premier granite crucible, there was nothing left for me to prove, either in that particular arena or in that style. It “freed” me mentally to focus on my true love—sport climbing.

And now, the grizzly details…

General Thoughts:

  • If your goal is to send the route, you should be a pretty solid 5.13 sport climber, a solid 5.12- granite slab climber, and experienced with off-widths. At the time I did it, my hardest sport send was 5.13b, so its not like you need a huge margin of power like Alex Huber (who had climbed 5.15a when he freed El Cap). It helps if you can send “hard” pitches quickly; I was sending 13b in 3-4 days, or 13a in 2 days or less. Same for Mike.
  • It’s not a crack climb; all the really hard stuff is face climbing (and all the miserable stuff is OW!).
  • Good footwork is paramount, probably more important than good jamming skills. IME, good footwork gets you up big walls. In Mike’s words: “On granite, footwork trumps everything. If you have good footwork, there are footholds everywhere on granite. If you don’t, you’re f-d.”
  • Most of the route is not too bad grade-wise, but there are a ton of 5.10 & 5.11 off widths that sneak up on you. If you’re not solid on OW, they will wear you down really fast. Furthermore, efficiency with trad skills in general and granite cracks in particular will help a lot. The more time, skin & strength you can save on the 5.10/11 pitches, the more effort you’ll be able to expend on the cruxes.
  • It helps to have some experience on El Cap, so you are somewhat used to the idea of being up there, the exposure, and the commitment. If you’ve never done a grade VI route, it’s probably a good idea to spend a few nights on a wall to get a feel for it.
  • You have to maintain a positive attitude. I think that’s why we were successful despite the tremendous odds against us. Our Freerider ascent was easily the most fun I’ve ever had on a wall, not that it was super fun, but we had a great attitude the whole time, and generally things went better than we expected, which made it easy to stay positive.
  • The key to the entire route is to have a solid plan for logistics: how much water/food to bring, etc. It helps to pace yourself, figure out how much effort you need for each day and plan accordingly. I once said “Freerider is 90% logistics, if you have a good plan the climbing is not too bad.” Decide for yourself if that’s true J

Specific Logistics:

  • As I mentioned before, we didn’t rappel in from the top to rehearse or stash anything; we hauled one modest-sized haulbag and a poop tube. We didn’t bring a portaledge; instead we planned our climb to sleep on ledges. We did fix a few ropes though.
  • We really hate climbing in heat, so we planned our days so we could climb all the hard stuff in the shade. That meant a lot of sitting around and some pretty short climbing days. The route has tons of great bivies so its pretty easy to take your time and enjoy it.
  • I have no idea how much water or food we brought, what our rack was, or whether we shared a toothbrush (pretty sure we didn’t bring any toothbrushes).
  • Retreat: We never bailed, so take with a grain of salt, but we did aid the Salathe, so I have some idea of what would be involved if you wanted to aid your way off the route. Aiding the Salathe is a piece of cake if you have to bail before the traverse to Excalibur. I hear Excalibur is a fairly straightforward aid route, but you would want some #3.5 and #4 Camalots (and you’ll probably want them even more if you free it, haha). The crux of aiding Freerider would probably be the traverse from the Salathe to Excalibur, which would not be a trivial aid pitch in my opinion. But, it would probably make more sense to just finish up Salathe if you had to bail prior to the traverse.


  • Pre-Push Day 1 we climbed Free Blast then continued up to the last good stance before the slab traverse to Hollow Flake. We rapped and slept on the ground. (There were somebody else’s fixed lines all the way up to the top of Hollow Flake.)
  • Pre-Push Day 2 we climbed to the alcove below El Cap Spire and fixed our own lines from there back to the top of Hollow Flake, then rapped to the ground again. We took a few days off at this point (Mike had to fly home to take a final exam). We may have hauled a bag and stashed it at the alcove on this day; I don’t remember.
  • Push Day 1 we committed to the wall, jugged and hauled(?) all the way to the alcove. Our plan was to just bivy and start climbing the next day but we were pretty fired up when we got there and had plenty of daylight. Long story short we sent through the Huber variation to the Teflon Corner (we didn’t do the Teflon corner) then rapped back to the alcove very psyched.
  • Push Day 2 on the wall, we sent to the end of the “5.12a” traverse over to Round Table Ledge, then fixed ropes back to The Block and bivied there (thinking we had climbed all the hard stuff and the last day would be a cruise, haha).
  • Push Day 3 we climbed to the summit. That was by far the hardest day. Shit-tons of OW climbing. Pretty much every move, and we were quite tired by that point.

Notes on Individual Pitches (note, I haven’t kept up with all the pitch nicknames or numbers):

  • Hollow Flake Traverse: one of the harder pitches is the slab leading to Hollow Flake. That was the hardest technical climbing we had to do; the rest of the route is relatively steep with bigger holds. Fortunately, you are down-climbing most of the way so you have a toprope. I don’t recall any specific beta, except be prepared to smear a lot. It’s pretty tenuous. The topos at the time were kinda misleading on this pitch. My recollection is you climb pretty far up a ramp to the pendulum point, then you basically traverse (with a small bit of downclimbing) around the arete to a corner with a bomber crack. Then you cruise really far down the crack to an easy traverse into Hollow Flake. The crux is getting to and around the arete to reach the crack. The way Stephen Glowacz originally tried to work it out is not the best way (basically you want to down climb farther than that).
  • Monster Offwidth: At the time Rob Miller gave us a key tip, which I assume is common knowledge now–to skip the Ear Pitch (and the left-wards traverse from the Ear) by heading left earlier, directly into the very base of the Monster OW Crack. The Monster OW itself is just plain suffering, it’s not really hard technically. It’s more of a mental struggle than physical, because it just goes on forever without much to look forward to and progress is very slow. It only has one move, you just have to do that move 200 times, gaining about 3 ” each time you do it. If I ever do that again I would wrap tons of tape around my ankle knuckles. I still have scars on both ankles from that. Of note, according to Rock & Ice editor Dougald MacDonald, Alex Huber apparently quipped that this pitch would never be on-sighted. Well, at least not until Mike showed up, haha. Make sure you have a #6 Friend or equivalent for the Monster Offwidth. Perhaps multiples would be best–we had one that Mike dragged along as he climbed, with lots of are between that and the belay.
  • Teflon Corner/Variation (aka Boulder Problem?): I’ve heard the Teflon Corner isn’t too terrible if you have good footwork, but we didn’t try it. Instead, we avoided the Teflon Corner by climbing the ‘Huber tufa variation.’ Basically its pretty easy climbing to a hard Right-to-Left traverse. Back in the day you could do a huge span to reach a protruding tufa thing, but we weren’t long enough for that, so we had to match on a really small crimp on the face and then bump out to the tufa. I understand the tufa feature broke sometime after our ascent, so since then everybody has had to use what used to be the “short person” beta (the beta Mike and I used). Matching on the crimp was definitely the crux for me. I guess for a while the grade of Freerider was upped to 5.13a because of the tufa break on this pitch (perhaps it still is 13a?). I don’t know if that’s true or if people still climb this pitch (I’ve heard the Teflon Corner has become more popular).
  • Sous le Toit: The pitch to Sous le Toit was really cool, kinda heady but not really hard; perhaps my favorite pitch, I really like that kind of climbing. I recall dealing with some seapage and silverfish in this section above the block, but nothing too bad.
  • Dihedral aka Picture Book Corner: The dihedral pitches weren’t super bad. There was tons of fixed tat, especially in the 2nd pitch, so it was almost a sport climb. For me it was just a frantic sprint against the pump. If you have decent power endurance and can just keep moving you’ll be fine. We did these pitches in the late evening, so it was shady, which I’m sure helped. I led the first dihedral pitch and Mike led the 2nd. I recall a lot of fixed pins, since its kindof flared and bottoming. Considering the length of the pitch he didn’t place much gear (Mike clipped a lot of fixed pieces). I basically lie-backed it. I suppose you could stem, though it was pretty casual for me to just lieback as quickly as possible, then swing around to place gear. Of course the fixed stuff can be clipped from a lieback. Mike notes that he stemmed the 2nd pitch, and felt like there were footholds “everywhere.” He also said he placed a few micro cams on this pitch. For me, it was just a race against the pump, and the first pitch of the corner was the perfect warm up. In retrospect I feel like our desert climbing, especially doing Moonlight Buttress, paid off on this feature more than any other.
  • Traverse to Round Table Ledge: The traverse pitch was really memorable. It’s crazy exposed, because you start in a dihedral where you’re somewhat walled in, then you come around the corner, you can’t see or hear your belayer anymore, and you’re pretty much isolated from the entire SW Face of El Cap; suddenly you’re in a new world, with new views and unfamiliar features. Very spooky! This is another spot where different topos provided wildly different grades (from 12a to 12d), so we didn’t know what to expect. I was pretty intimidated by it since it was my lead, but I actually found it to be pretty easy (physically). It’s just a traverse along a pretty juggy rail. There’s some weaving involved but I’m pretty good at that kind of thing. The gear can be tricky but I remember quite a few fixed pegs. No hard moves, just pumpy and there are lots of rests along the way, so you can take your time and think about things. The rope drag was heinous, so bring lots of slings, though I don’t know if it would really help. We were able to fix from the Round Table Ledge to Sous le Toit with one 60m rope, which was key. That was really committing because we weren’t totally sure we would be able to get back to our bivy without having to “down” climb. This was one of the hardest pitches mentally, so have a plan for reversing this pitch if you get stuck midway through it (like trailing a tag line and/or bringing tiblocs or prusiks). It would be hard to get back on the rock on that pitch if you were to fall.
  • Round Table to the Top: Expect a lot of shitty offwidth (OW). I reckon from Round Table Ledge to the summit is about 500 feet of OW, no joke. To be fair, the climbing is pretty good, the rock is great, the features and geometry are cool, but by that point we were totally over OW climbing, and furthermore we didn’t know it was coming, so it was a pretty big shock. We were just looking at the topo thinking ‘ oh ya, 5.11, 5.10, no problem’. I’ve always been able to thrash my way up stuff so I didn’t think too much about it. We got up everything just fine, but with hindsight I’m sure the route would have been much more fun had I spent the time to work on my OW technique. Specifically, bring at least 2 #4 Camalots for the pitch above Round Table, you won’t regret it! I recall it starting with a thin hand crack that slowly widens to #4. It’s not flaring or weird, just long and enduro.

First Ascent: Ethan Pringle Sends “Blackbeard’s Tears” (14c gear)


I finally clipped the chains after freeing all 110 immaculate feet of “Black Beards Tears” yesterday at the Promontory, placing all 15 cams and one stopper on lead! This is definitely one of, if not the coolest and most unique FAs I’ve ever done in my life! I’d fantasized about how this fabled crack climb might look and feel for weeks before I saw it at the start of the month. When I first laid eyes on it, my jaw hit the floor.


On September 2nd I rapped in and installed an anchor right below the very top of the wall. I knew as soon as I saw the line up close that it was going to have some bad ass climbing on it and it did not disappoint. After 10 days of the usual kind of hard work and of course a fair amount of blood, sweat, a few tears right there at the end, I nabbed the red point.


Once I started giving it legit red point burns I pushed my high point higher every day (including one fall from the very last move on Saturday) so I thought I might get off easy without entering the realm of pre-send stress, the realm of manifesting worst case scenarios.


But of course as happens with the most meaningful projects, progress wasn’t linear and I had a heady couple days of “regression” before realizing how dialed I had it and taking advantage of a one hour window of the right kind of wind yesterday. The important ones always get heady, break you down and force you to check at least some of your ego at the bottom. That’s what I love and hate about hard projects: they force you to surrender.


I have soooooo many people to thank for hours of belaying, catching big whips, generally showing up and supporting both virtually and in person. You know who you are. Thank you so much! HUGE thanks to @jimthornburg for his dedication to supporting and documenting this project until the bittersweet end.


Now I can finally leave the black hole/golden triangle of Humboldt and Del Norte counties for a while, reintegrate back into civilization and probably hear the words Trump and Clinton a lot more.

See you later Promontory. Thanks for everything. It’s been real.

Oh and since everyone wants to quantify climbs with numbers, I’m thinking 14c. Come try it. It’s good.

Germany Part V: East of Weiden

Editor’s Note: This is Part V in a way-too-many-part series on Mark’s trip to Germany.  If you missed Parts I thru IV you can check them out here:

 We were nearing the end of our trip, and the fatigue of “maximizing fun” was beginning to take its toll, but we still had one major excursion planned, and I was really looking forward to it. “Saxony” sits to the northeast of Bavaria, sharing its southern border with the Czech Republic and its eastern border with Poland. For tourists, Saxony’s main attraction is the breathtaking city of Dresden, in the heart of Cold War East Germany. For climbers, the main attraction is the “Sachsiche Schweiz” (literally, Saxon Switzerland), known to American climbers as “Elbsandstein” (literally, Elbe (river) sandstone).

Elbsandstein, from the Schrammsteinaussicht overlook

Elbsandstein, from the Schrammsteinaussicht overlook

As we approached the Sachsiche Schweiz region, a thick layer of fog enveloped the countryside, so we decided to delay our planned recon hike by visiting the imposing Festung Konigstein. Construction of this impressive fortress began in the 13th century, and it’s said that the structure is so intimidating that nobody ever bothered to attack it.

One of the more remarkable watchtowers at Festung Konigstein

One of the more remarkable watchtowers at Festung Konigstein.  Kate, Logan, and Amelie are standing on the bridge.

It was easy to see why. The fortress featured a series of tiered walls, the tallest of which were easily 100 feet high and quite sheer. Of course, as a climber visiting castles, I’m always envisioning lines of weakness and routes through stone walls that were meant to be impossible to climb. The fortifications were entwined with the sandstone that makes the region famous to climbers, further enhancing the fantasy.


The hybrid cliff and stone wall fortifications of Festung Konigstein


This was the only castle that we paid to enter on the trip, and the interior was not particularly impressive, but the views from the fortress walls were unparalleled. The fog gradually cleared as we explored the extensive courtyard, revealing first the Elbe River, and then various distant spires of sandstone. The castle was awesome, but we were getting the itch to explore the natural stone fortress of Elbsandstein.


The Elbe River through the fog.

It’s hard to describe the scale of a place like Elbsandstein, but it’s rumored to contain more than 17,000 routes. That’s an insane number! Mountain Project lists 18,951 routes in the state of Colorado (granted, not every route in the state is listed, but the vast majority of them are). Colorado isn’t exactly know for restraint when it comes to route development. The entire country of Germany is only 31% larger (in terms of land area) than the state of Colorado, and the Sachsiche Schweiz is only a tiny fraction of that area.

The Schrammsteine area of Elbsandstein.  The thin spire at center is Tante (Aunt) and the formation to the right is Mittlerer Torstein.  The furthest left spire is the Schrammtorwachter.

The Schrammsteine area of Elbsandstein. The thin spire at center is Tante (Aunt) and the formation to the right is Mittlerer Torstein. The furthest left group of spires includes the Schrammtorwachter.

To get a sense of the place, we picked a loop hike known as the Schrammsteinaussicht. This passage twists and turns through a narrow labyrinth of sandstone spires, utilizing a series of ladders, catwalks, and not-quite-enough railings for a family with two small kids. Think of it as Saxony’s version of the Angel’s Landing hike in Zion.

Logan negotiating one of many ladders on the hike to Schrammsteinaussicht.

Logan negotiating one of many ladders on the hike to Schrammsteinaussicht.

The hike started in dense forest, but we were progressively introduced to more and more rock. First a narrow canyon coated in velvety green moss, and then a viewpoint that revealed distant sandstone spires. After more woods, we passed through a grove of towers on the order of 100 feet tall.  The most impressive tower in this are was a broad, twin-summited spire known as Schrammtorwachter (which means something like “Schramm Gatekeeper”—a fitting description).  At this point I spotted the first sign of rock climbers—an iron ring bolt located about 20 feet up the Schrammtorwachter’s south face.

Kate peeking through a narrow chasm below the north side of the Schrammtorwachter.

Kate peeking through a narrow chasm below the north side of the Schrammtorwachter.

Elbsandstein is legendary for its strict ethics. No metal protection is allowed, except for the rarely placed iron ring pitons. The cams and nuts that we consider essential to traditional climbing are not allowed for fear they will damage the soft sandstone. The primary form of protection is nylon cord, slung around natural features when possible, or tied into elaborate knots and slotted into constricting cracks (in recent years new types of “soft” protection have been introduced, like nuts made out of layered nylon webbing). Needless to say, this protection is dubious at best, especially when placed by neophytes.

A pair of experienced locals approaching a route in the Bastei. Note the elaborate “Monkey Fist” knots dangling from the Frau’s harness. These are slotted into cracks for “protection”. Apparently they work to some extent.

A local climber approaching a route in the Bastei area. Note the elaborate “Monkey Fist” knots dangling from her harness. These are stuffed into cracks for “protection”. Apparently they work to some extent.

A typical protection ring.  Apparently these were scrounged from railroad yards during the Cold War.
A typical protection ring. Apparently these were scrounged from railroad yards.

The rings, on the other hand, seemed quite solid. The piton blade is easily an inch wide and a quarter inch thick, and the ring material is beefy as well. However, all rings must be placed ground-up, and may be placed no closer than 3-meters apart. No three rings can be within 10 meters. It’s definitely not sport climbing, even on routes that offer ring protection.

Once I picked out a ring, I started seeing them quite frequently. Even the blankest, steepest looking walls seemed to have rings in the most inconceivable places (although the stone was rarely overhanging, except in the case of short roof sections). It was hard to imagine what it would be like to lead up these features with nothing but some nylon cord and a drill bit.

We continued snaking around rocks and through gullies until we reached a series of ladders and platforms that led to the summit. Logan loved it and was really psyched to climb the ladders himself.   Right as we reached the summit we saw a nearby climbing party beginning to descend from the tiny “Tante” (Aunt) spire.

The Schrammsteinaussicht.  Somewhat sketchy for toddlers.

The Schrammsteinaussicht. Somewhat sketchy for toddlers.

The view to the north, with a climber (in white) rappelling off Tante.

The view to the north, with a climber (in white) rappelling off Tante.

On the way back down I made several detours to inspect various features up close. The rock looks very similar to the vertical walls of the Red River Gorge. Extremely featured in places, and quite blank in others. Some if the rock even had iron dike intrusions like those found all over the Left Flank (and other crags) at the Red. The rock was also frighteningly soft in some places. Much of the light gray stone was so soft you could probably dig into it with a small stick. The best stuff was the dark black patina, and some of it formed impressive horns, shallow pockets and incut crimps. The catch was that this patina was quite brittle in spots and frequently hollow and filled with loose sand. Holds could easily snap off or crumble under load. So not only was the gear sketchy, but the rock was suspect.

Kentucky or Saxony?  Hint: if this were Kentucky, the wall would be covered in fixed draws :)

Kentucky or Saxony? Hint: if this were Kentucky, the wall would be covered in fixed draws 🙂

A more typical example of Elbe sandstone.

A more typical example of Elbe sandstone.

Seeing all this amazing rock, all these unbelievable features, and some climbers in action, set off a chain reaction inside of me that grew into an obsession. I had to climb something here. I knew I was ill-equipped—I didn’t have a guidebook , the skills to place protection here, or the time to acquire either, but surely I could find something relatively moderate, with enough fixed rings, to keep me off the deck. I didn’t bring any gear on the hike, so it would have to wait until tomorrow, but the plan was set in motion. Until then it was time to get some dinner in the mythic city of Dresden.

Kate on the hike back down from Schrammsteinaussicht.

Kate on the hike back down from Schrammsteinaussicht.

Dresden is known for its stunning architecture. The city was completely destroyed during World War II, but it has since been painstakingly rebuilt. I’m not really one for cities, but I would have to say Dresden is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. Unlike Barcelona (one of my other favorites) the scenic part of Dresden is really dense and compact. The Altstadt is almost entirely unspoiled and you can easily see the most impressive sights entirely on foot (even with two small kids in tow).

The towering Frauenkirche from the Fest.

The towering Frauenkirche from the Fest.

Our hotel was right in the center of things, so we were able to walk right out our door for a self-guided tour as the sun was beginning to set. A few blocks down there happened to be a Herbst Fest in progress, so we got a quick meal and a beer, Logan got a train ride, and Amelie played in the fountains. After dinner we waltzed through the plaza below Dresden’s most iconic landmark, the towering Frauenkirche.

Logan during the happiest moment of his life (about to start a train ride).  The saddest moment of his life is two minutes away (the end of the train ride).

Logan during the happiest moment of his life (about to start a train ride). The saddest moment of his life is two minutes away (the end of the train ride).

The magnificent Frauenkirche was completely obliterated during the notorious Allied fire-bombing campaign in 1945. I’m a big fan of Kurt Vonnegut’s writing, and surely his most famous book is the semi-autobiographical novel Slaughterhouse V, which follows the non-linear travails of an American soldier imprisoned in Dresden during the air raid. It was sad to think that such a beautiful place was once completely destroyed, but even worse to contemplate the terrible forces that led to it. Apparently the city was also completely destroyed by a Prussian siege in 1760, and suffered serious damage during the German Revolutions in 1848, only to be re-constructed each time. Vonnegut would say “So it goes.”



For decades after World War II the Frauenkirche was left in rubble as a war memorial, but after Reunification of East and West Germany it was rebuilt to look exactly as it did before the war. In any case, it looked amazing, and the evening light gave all the buildings a glorious yellow glow.

"The skyline was intricate and voluptuous and enchanted and absurd.  It looked like a Sunday school picture of heaven" - Kurt Vonnegut, describing Dresden in Slaughterhouse V

“The skyline was intricate and voluptuous and enchanted and absurd. It looked like a Sunday school picture of heaven” – Kurt Vonnegut, describing Dresden in Slaughterhouse V

The altstadt skyline from the Augustusbrucke.

The altstadt skyline from the Augustusbrucke.

We continued our stroll through the old city, crossing the Elbe River to watch the city skyline fade into darkness before returning back through a maze of architectural masterpieces. Every corner was captivating—it’s the sort of place you could never tire of.

Walking across the Augustusbrucke back into the Altstadt.  The central building is the Residenzschloss (palace) and a cathedral is to the right.

Walking across the Augustusbrucke back into the Altstadt. The central building is the Residenzschloss (palace) and a cathedral is to the right.

The Semperoper Opera House.

The Semperoper Opera House.

The next morning we headed out bright and early to the tourist mecca known as The Bastei (literally “bastion”, or fortification). This is one of those places with a constant stream of tour buses coming and going, and between the hours of 10am and 4pm the place is completely packed with crowds. We were able to beat the rush and get a brief unspoiled glimpse of the beautiful sea of sandstone spires that tower over the meandering Elbe.

The Basteibrucke (bridge) after the crowds arrived. This infamous structure was constructed in 1851.

The Basteibrucke (bridge) after the crowds arrived. This infamous structure was constructed in 1851.

The centerpiece is the multi-arched stone bridge (known as the Basteibrucke) that leads to an old mini-fortress hidden quite well within the rocks. However, the real attraction is the magnificent views. Once again there was a dense layer of fog, which I think really added to the mystique. The fog slowly lifted throughout the day, revealing more and more spectacular towers and expansive views.

More sandstone towers at the Bastei.

More sandstone towers at the Bastei.

This time I brought my kit with me, and I was on the lookout for rings. There’s a nice loop hike that drops down around the Bastei, and I quickly spotted a short, slightly detached tower of stone with a series of rings leading up a blunt prow. With three rings in 50 feet, this was a sport climb by local standards.

The small pseudo-tower I chose to climb. The line began up the white, left-facing flake, then veered right onto the black-streaked face.

The small pseudo-tower I chose to climb. The line begins up the light gray, left-facing flake, then veers right onto the black-streaked face.

Kate was super-not-psyched about my plan, especially after I spent the last 48 hours talking up the danger of the Elbsandstein’s climbs and the unparalleled boldness of its climbers. Now I had some serious backtracking to do to convince her that it really wasn’t that bad and I would be fine. There was a time when I was quite a bold climber, but we’ve been strictly in sport climbing mode since the kids came along. She wasn’t too re-assured by my assertion that the worst-case scenario was a few broken bones.  Apparently “it’s not like I’m going to die” isn’t a very compelling argument.

Passing the first ring.

Passing the first ring. Photo by Logan Anderson

Despite her reservations, I unwrapped my rope and racked up. I was pretty confident when I left the ground. The first bit of climbing to reach the lowest ring was really straight-forward, up a highly featured slab on the left side of the prow. After the first clip, the climb trended right onto a steeper face with dark gray incut edges.   Just as I was passing the first ring a solid looking edge crumbled under my left foot. I was in a good spot and easily avoided coming off, but it really got me thinking about the rock quality. The hold that dissolved under a fraction of my body weight looked completely bomber, like the black patina of Red Rocks. I didn’t have the experience with this type of rock to really judge which edges were solid and which were suspect, so I decided to avoid all the small incuts and instead use larger slopers and other low-profile holds that were less likely to break. This approach made the climbing much more tedious and much less fun, but it kept me on the rock.

The second ring is still a body-length away.

The second ring is still a body-length away. Photo by Logan Anderson

After several minutes I reached the second ring, and from that point I felt pretty confident that Kate could keep me off the ground in the event of a fall. I was able to relax a bit as the angle lessened gradually near the top. With growing confidence I made quick progress to the last ring. I found a highly dubious thread a body-length above the third ring, but I clipped it in hopes that it would re-assure Kate (it didn’t). Soon I was at “the summit”, which luckily had a nice big beefy rap ring. This was probably just the end of the first pitch of some multi-pitch route, but I was temporarily satisfied with my brief sample of the Elbsandstein climbing experience.

A statue of a Monk. The formation is also known as The Monk, and the tower-ette I climbed is at the base of the formation, opposite the camera.

A statue of a Monk. The formation is also known as The Monk, and the tower-ette I climbed is at the base of the formation, opposite the camera.

What I learned is that this is not the sort of climbing area you can experience in one or two days. It would be like trying to experience Yosemite in eight hours. You really need to take the time to just be here, explore the area, and work through the grades as you learn the rock and the protection. Perhaps some time in the future I will have the opportunity to do that, but for now all I really know is that I absolutely want to come back!

More towers.  The formation in far right, in the distance, is  The Locamotive.

More towers. The formation on the far right, in the distance, is The Locamotive.

If I have even the slightest ability as a writer, it should be evident by now that we had a fantastic trip. Shortly after I returned my good friend Fred Gomez (a new proud father) asked me if we would do it again considering the difficulties of traveling with two small kids. The answer is ABSOLUTELY! It was such an awesome trip, easily the climbing highlight of my year, in a year filled with worthy candidates. On the drive home from the airport Kate and I were already brainstorming ideas for future adventures to faraway places. Thanks to all the people who helped make it happen, especially Kate, Logan and Amelie for putting up with a season’s worth of climbing crammed into 17 days.  Thanks to my sister Christina, and her husband Eric for putting us up (and putting up with us) in Weiden.  Thanks to Shawn Heath and his lovely wife whose name I can pronounce but won’t dare try to spell, for showing us around the Frankenjura and insisting that we visit Dresden. Finally, thanks to the entire Trango/Tenaya team for continuing to support my climbing endeavors.

Auf Wiedersehen, und Danke!

Auf Wiedersehen, und Danke!

The vision for the Trango athlete team is to find climbers who embody our brand’s values and support them in their climbing endeavors. We focus on the character of the climber, their passion for the sport, and their desire to contribute to the community.

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