Brandon Emery finding his way up the super run-out climb "Four Little Fishes" located on Aquarium Rock in Custer State Park.
Climbing Pinnacles, Needles Eye 2016
Ryan Emery following John Biddick up Bloody Spire in the Needles Eye parking lot in Custer State Park, SD.
White House Wall
Hidden Valley Campground
Lost Horse, Joshua Tree California
Seeing granite walls stretched across the hills, I can't help but wonder if anyone has climbed them. Many climbers climb to simply climb a harder and harder grade each time they go out. The thing that catches my eye more that just climbing hard is to contribute and add onto those lists of climbs people want to do. Whether they are easy or hard climbs I want to help expand the climbing areas in the Black Hills. Most of the places you have to go to find untouched rock is to simply hike another 30 minutes past the normal areas. However when I was about to hike to some formations further past the Chopping Block area of Mt. Rushmore, I couldn't help but notice a thin wall in the middle of area. Carrying my guide book as a resource to see if its been done. I found that there was only a single route up this formation and that was a 5.0 scramble on the side of the formation. Nothing on the wall. Immediately I was hooked on the idea of a setting a hard route on a face located in the middle of this main climbing area.
The days where I couldn't find a partner to go climbing, I spent the time analyzing the rock and where I thought the route should go. After multiple days of planning I soloed up to the top of the formation and decided to start hand drilling a set of chains. Double and triple checking to put the chains in the proper location, I turned the music on my iPhone and drilled away. An hour later I had two bolts drilled with chains to equalize the belay/rappel. The following day I rapped off a single line with a wire brush and started to clean. I was amazed with the amount of dirt and rock that come from this wall. Hours upon hours of cleaning and I still wasn't finished. Due to me being impatient and wanting to climb the route I rappelled down to come back when I'm feeling fresh.
With first ascending routes you have to make sure your following the climbing ethics in your area. If you don't follow the rules, the climbing community will either degrade your routes or simply chop the hardware you drilled into it. My main focus is to make all my climbs ethically correct so that many people the climbing community can see it as a fun and classic line. As far as the ethics in the Mt. Rushmore area go, its more laid back. Back in the 80s or 90s Mt. Rushmore climbing became a big area for sport routes. Which allowed the developer to either ground up or rappel bolt your routes. All which would have to be hand drilled. As far as the climbing ethics in Custer State Park all routes must be developed ground up with a hand drill. I've heard many situations where climbers try to rappel bolt in Custer and get their bolts chopped immediately.
I like the idea of putting up a route on lead because it forces you to find the perfect stance to let go of your hands and drill. So later when a climber is leading your route he/she is certain that where the bolt is located there will be a good stance to clip. Which is what John Lang and I did on our route on Dire Spire, "Questionable Ink". When looking at this route I wasn't sure if i had the skills to put the route up on lead. To make sure that I put the bolts in the right place I climbed the route over 9 times and marked with chalk exactly where I had a good stance to clip a bolt.
After 3 days of drilling and cleaning the route it was finally ready. On an 80 foot wall with multiple bulges consisted of small crystals and one horizontal hand crack. John Lang and I placed a total of 4 bolts. We were concerned at first about how high I placed the first bolt because it sits about 25 feet off the ground with almost no protection up to that point. Reason being that down below the bolt the rock quality isn't the greatest, however I spent many hours getting all the loose rock off and checking to make sure the holds will support your weight. So It should be fine.
The day before John Lang and our friend Robert Kinyon were going to leave for Poland we agreed on John and I to lead the route as one last climb before departure. Since John and I both love taking climbing photography we took turns taking pictures of each other leading the route. I got to go first. When I reached the chains I was filled with complete joy with what John and I created. Maybe I'm biased but I would rate this a 4 star climb all the way. Reason being because the route offers you many different styles. Down low consists of juggy 5.8 climbing followed by a hard hand crack with a tiny crystal finish. The crack made the climb difficult from the start because in order to get your jams in you have to put your whole arm in the opening of the crack. From there you have a big bulge that forces you to mantle onto two finger crystals that leads to a desperate smear. During which you have little to no feet. Gaining the last couple of bolts up high you lie back on tiny crystals until you make a couple dynamic moves onto small crimps. Ive never climbed a route that had 3 separate styles of climbing that were somewhat difficult. The last couple moves are incredibly fun and get your heart racing.
John and I had a hard time trying to figure out what the rating would be for the climb. We kept referring to a well known 5.11+ route just a couple rocks down called a "A Wrinkle in Time". We felt that the moves were harder than the crux on A Wrinkle in Time. Since we only have done a few 5.12 climbs we decided on the making it a hard 5.11 and see what other would have say about the rating. Another first ascent in the books and looking for more. If you want to check out this route you can find it on Mountain Project as "Baby Please", 5.11c/d located on Razorback in Chopping Block area! If you do end up climbing the route let me know what you think. It can easily be top roped if your comfortable soloing.