Monday, March 25, 2013


It's always good to hear from my friend Jon Alexander, but the text I got from him a few days before Christmas was definitely one of the more memorable.

"I think I struck gold.  When can you make it out to Sugarloaf?"

Long considered a second-rate toprope and trad area, the woods around the mountain are also littered with boulders, most of a high quality quartzite like those in areas like Bushwhack and The Acre.  Many of them have probably been climbed, but so far there has been little documentation or communication between the current generation of climbers and those who have come before.  

For a couple years now, Jon has been walking Sugarloaf and the surrounding area every chance he gets, gradually bringing to light just how much climbing potential there is there.  Even knowing this, I was blown away when I saw this boulder firsthand.

                                                                                              Photo: Jon Alexander
A bit of research showed that it had seen some traffic as early as 2001, when it was known as the Magical Boulder.  We found two photos of climbers on the right side of the overhanging face, though the captions said that the line they were on hadn't been topped out yet, and no further mention was made of it.

A few days after Jon's text, I joined him and a few other friends to try our own luck with the topout.  Getting there and seeing it in person, the line did look awesome, but the one on the left of the overhang was even more intriguing.  Setting to work on it, I found that although the harder overhanging moves went relatively quickly, I was mentally unable to pull through onto the vertical face for the end.  I could have finished it then. I should have finished it then.  Instead, I decided that I was happy with my progress, and was sure I'd be back within a week to finish it up.

                                                                                             Photo: Jon Alexander
                                                                                              Photo: Jon Alexander
Then three months passed.  Partially it was due to snow, partially to injury, but I spent those three months kicking myself for not finishing such an incredible problem when I had the chance.  Saturday, we finally made it back out, and I was determined not to walk away empty handed again.

After Priscilla and Jon climbed the tall slab face and scouted out the best ways not to descend, I made sure I could still stick the overhanging moves, and then looked at the vertical section to figure out a plan.  In doing so, I made a key observation... it isn't as tall as it looks.  Due to a trick of perspective, the top part of the climb looks a few feet taller than it actually is, and I realized that with a good foot anywhere on the vertical, I was tall enough to stand up and reach the top.  I also realized that the perception of height was thrown off by the ground rising along with the beginning traverse, so that even halfway through the climb the pads are only a couple feet below.  From there, it was just a matter of having Jon remind me that I was lower than I felt, and after a slight pause to test a hollow sounding section of the lip I found myself topping out.  Three months late perhaps, but it was good to be there at the top of such a beautiful climb, on such a beautiful boulder.  Even better was the knowledge that I was there not because of any great physical achievement, but because of the absolute trust I had in my three friends down below.

We spent a while more at the boulder while Jon worked on the right side, and I can't wait to get back out there to see him finish it up.  Let's just not wait three months this time!

Here's a video of the send.

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