So I did it! Finished grad school and took the leap into full-time climbing life. It feels sort of like that time Mike Swartz and I did the rope swing off the Monkey Face at Smith Rock – you wondering what you were thinking until the rope catches you and you’re securely flying over high desert in central Oregon. Well, I hope that’s what it feels like… I think I’m still in the free fall stage!

By way of getting things started, here are a few climbing highlights from 2016.

Sam and Mike projecting in El Tecolote Cave

El Salto, Mexico – January (2017)

Okay, our last trip to Mexico was in 2017, but just barely. It was also an incredible trip and when I sent my hardest sport climb to date, so I’m letting it slide. After a great trip to El Potrero Chico last January, we had to go back and explore the neighboring famed, tufa-laden mountain destination just on the other side of Monterrey: El Salto. I flew down to Monterrey on January 3rd and met up with Sam Daulton, Mike Swartz, and Jake Sahl – the Rumney/Dartmouth+ crew and some of my favorite guys to go on a climbing trip with.

El Salto was even cooler than I expected. It’s located in Cienega de Gonzalez, a chill village two hours from Potrero Chico with a handful of word-class limestone crags. There’s a lot of rock but probably less than 200 routes, and for the purposes of my trip there just as well could have been one. Sam had his sights set on El Infierno de Dante, a 40m 14a with a lower anchor that climbs at 13d. Sam and I both sent, making Dante’s Inferno our first 5.14s. While projecting consumed an intense 8 out my 10 climbing days, there was still some time to explore other crags and enjoy the lovely apple orchard where we rented a house for two weeks.

Projecting Trapezoid on Beaver Wall, Mt Lemmon (photo: Raines Demint)

Mt. Lemmon – all year

My new climbing home is Mt. Lemmon, one of those places you’ve probably heard if you climb in the US, but never been to. With loads of great vertical granite crimping spread out along a 20-mile highway, locals love Lemmon but it’s not a destination. The best part about Mt. Lemmon – the local name the southern Arizona San Catalina range – is that it towers 6,000′ above Tucson, and there is climbing at every elevation from 2,500-9,000′. With nearly 300 days of sunshine, you can climb every day – just pick your elevation.

I found a great crew of climbers in Tucson, including grad students like myself and a wider array of weekend warriors and dedicated climbing professionals. My favorite days have been at the Reef of Rocks and projecting around Windy Point – at The Gallery and Beaver Wall. Even after two years of climbing on Mt. Lemmon I feel like I’ve barely skimmed the surface and there’s plenty left to do. This season I hope to follow friends around in the boulders they’ve been developing in the Wilderness of Rocks, project the second pitch of Doubt (14a at the Reef of Rocks), and spend some time at the oddly steep (for Lemmon) crag The Fortress.

Heading to try Jabberwocky at Cochise Stronghold

Cochise Stronghold – all year

The moonscape of rock where the Chiracahua Apache chief famously fought off the US army in 1871 is also home to amazing, old-school slab climbing on granite domes. I’ve only spent a few days at Cochise Stronghold but they’ve been memorable. I’ve had great days on classics like Stampeded, Abracadaver and War Paint, and been humbled on more classics like Jabberwocky. Thanks to Tyler and Melissa for the great days out getting scared on 5.10 slab! The Dragoon Mountains are special, and I feel lucky to have spent some evenings watching the sunset from those granite domes.

At the top of Rainbow Wall after on-sighting The Original Route (with Tyler Rockhill)

Red Rock – March

Tyler and I had a somewhat epic spring break week in Red Rock, shortly after we started climbing together. On my previous trips to Red Rock I was mostly psyched on sport climbing, so I hadn’t even sampled the amazing trad lines the area is known for. Tyler and I remedied that with a very smooth send of Levitation 29 our first day there. Once we realized we liked climbing multi-pitch together, we figured why not go big? Graced by a warm weather window, we climbed the mega-classic Original Route 12a, which goes straight up the middle of Rainbow Wall’s elegant swoop. I was surprised and psyched to snag an on-sight of this incredible climb, leading every pitch.

El Sendero Luminoso on the blank face (left) at Potrero Chico, several days after sending

El Potrero Chico – January

My first trip to climb in Mexico was (naturally) at El Potrero Chico, in Nuevo Leon, Mexico. Every climbing day was amazing and we had a great crew. I arrived at night and the next morning we got up at 3am to climb Time Wave Zero, probably the longest bolted climb in the world (if there’s a longer one, someone please let me know where!). I stayed nearly two weeks, so there was time for more classic multi-pitch moderates, as well as for single-pitch cragging. I was feeling strong that trip and sent a handful of 13s in a couple of tries each. But the real highlight was El Sendero Luminoso, the 15-pitch bolted 12d that Alex Honnold famously free-soloed two years earlier. With two 12d pitches and about half going at 12-, we were pretty intimidated to try this. However, Sam, Mike and I went for it and somehow pulled off a team on-sight (someone sent every pitch). We did it in a two-day push, climbing the first four pitches one evening and jugging fixed lines to finish it the next day. This was not only an incredible accomplishment and a huge surprise to all of us, but the climbing was fantastic. I have never found so many pitches of interesting, sustained climbing in one place, let alone on one route.