Hard sport climbing is all about finding a really tough challenge and then elevating yourself to meet that challenge. But when that challenge doesn’t come together quite as easily as we’d like, it’s ironic how quick we are to try to bring that challenge down to our level. Really it should be the other way around.
I have always been someone who likes a good challenge, particularly in climbing. This is certainly what first drew me in when I started working on Golden, the classic 5.14b in the Cathedral outside of St. George, Utah. The Cathedral is an amazing limestone cave tucked away in the Utah Hills on the Utah-Nevada border. I had been thinking about Golden ever since I first saw it in 2007.
Golden is a perfect sport climb. It’s a steep, clean line on the most central part of an impressive cave. The first half of the route climbs a short 5.13a called Space Shuttle to Kolob to reach a no-hands pod/rest that you could sleep on. From there, the next 50 feet of is relentless. There are no knee bar gimmicks, no tricks. It’s all continuous, powerful climbing that culminates with an amazing crux boulder problem ending with a big throw to a “jug.”
The history of Golden and its various iterations quickly becomes confusing. Initially Golden For A Moment—the route’s full name—stood for a number of years as a project bolted by Todd Perkins, the Southern Utah first ascentionist who has been hugely responsible for making this region one of the finest sport-climbing areas in the United States. Eventually, the route’s FA went to Chris Sharma in 2006. Though Sharma’s second-try first ascent was impressive, I found Todd’s eventual redpoint, nearly a decade after bolting Golden, to be equally impressive and maybe even more inspirational.
Joe Kinder arrived on the scene and, in 2008, added his own variation of Golden Direct (5.14b/c/d), which avoided the no-hands pod atop Space Shuttle to Kolob by coming in from the left. Golden Direct begins on an existing 5.11d to the left of the main steep wall and reaches another pod-looking thing, similar (but not quite as good) as the other one. From the pod, you encounter hard, sustained climbing that ultimately joins into Golden just after the big rest.
[ba-pullquote align=”right”]The first time I tried Golden it was too hard for me. I could do the moves, but only barely.[/ba-pullquote]I first tried Golden (the original version) in the spring of 2008 and it was too hard for me. I could do the moves, but only barely. It was enough to plant the seed. I didn’t make it back to the Cathedral until the fall of 2010. By then I had become a stronger and more confident rock climber. On this trip I spent two weeks working on Golden with my close friend and secret rock-climbing hero BJ Tilden. Although I made progress I still knew I wasn’t there yet. BJ, however, is a stronger and eternally more confident climber than me; he sent Golden on his last go of the trip. It was super inspiring and I was happy for BJ.
I had to go home to Colorado, but thoughts of getting back to Golden stayed with me. It was such a good challenge for me, I knew the only chance I had at redpointing the route would be to raise myself to meet its challenge.
In the fall in 2011, my girlfriend, Katy Dannenberg, and I took our first climbing trip together. We spent four days at the Cathedral. I surprised myself by regaining my previous years high point in a matter of tries. However, our time was limited. Once again I left with a few small breakthroughs, mostly important being the swell of confidence that this route might be possible for me after all.
In 2012 Katy and I headed back to the Cathedral, I was as strong and fit as I had ever been. During this trip I decided that I really believed I could, and would, do this route.
I will admit that ever since I first saw Golden I thought there could be a line that went straight up the up the middle of the steep wall and avoided all the pod rests. I imagined it would be the ultimate challenge for this cave. I never did more than look and think about the possibility; I didn’t have the confidence to propose a new more difficult variation when I couldn’t climb the Original Golden.
Then … something interesting happened. Joe Kinder had drilled some new bolts. When I walked up to the cliff on our first day back at the Cathedral, there it was staring at me as clear as day: the most direct, the true line. Thanks to Joe’s addition of a few new bolts, this new variation existed; it just hadn’t been climbed yet. It was just pure, resistant climbing from ground to the top. It would start on Space Shuttle to Kolob, then go right into the boulder problem on Golden Direct, and finish on the same. Bottom to top, no rests. The moment I saw this potential “super direct” version of Golden, all my years of just wanting to send regular Golden vanished. Now, all I could think about was this much harder and much more inspiring challenge.
In my mind, this was THE line. Now you could climb straight up the center of the steep wall without any rests and with continuously hard/ powerful moves from beginning to end. In my mind, it was different enough to warrant its own name and I secretly started calling it Solid Gold.
Over the next few weeks through the fall of 2012, I projected this super-direct version, Solid Gold. I made progress, but the onslaught of winter chased us out and down to the Virgin River Gorge.
At this point, I still hadn’t sent the original Golden—my first goal. But I also didn’t care. Now it didn’t seem important. Golden had become just a piece of a new challenge: Solid Gold.
That winter, I trained by climbing real rock, drinking lots of beer and generally just enjoying the desert life and living in my Airstream with my girlfriend. Come spring I was feeling fit, happy and confident.
We were back at the Cathedral in the spring before the rock had even fully dried. Golden was wet, yet I still climbed on it. I didn’t care. Over the next month the wetness dried except for one critical hold. I covered the hold in aluminum foil, which only kind of worked. Finally by mid April the hold had dried enough for me to remove the aluminum foil.
For a week I progressed everyday on Solid Gold. I consistently made it half a move farther into the upper boulder problem. Soon I was making it all the way to the last dyno. I felt fortunate to be making upward albeit incremental progress. This kept my psych high and built up my confidence.
The day I sent Solid Gold, I knew I was gonna do it. If you have ever invested yourself seriously in a project for a long period of time then you have probably experienced this feeling, too. It doesn’t always happen, and I wish I knew the secret to it. But other than consistently trying hard and not being deterred, I don’t think there is a secret. For whatever the reason, on this Friday morning, I felt like I had reached a place in my process of projecting Solid Gold where I was no longer nervous to fail.
There is the kind of confidence where you have to tell yourself to be confident and that you can do it and then there is the kind that comes from deep within and doesn’t require affirmation or reassurance. One is forced, the other genuine.
For whatever reason, that Friday morning, as Katy and I brewed coffee in the Airstream, I felt something genuine.
We reached the Cathedral and did our usual warm-up routine. Then, it was time. I tied in and started climbing. The climbing was like a dream. I experienced what near-perfect execution feels like. I experienced the feeling of watching myself do the moves, effortless and confident. When I stuck that last dyno to the jug, I kept climbing and climbing until I was literally standing on the top of the whole cave, standing in the sun, a precious commodity at the Cathedral in spring. I was so pleased. I had completed one of the biggest challenges I had ever set for myself.
I am not sure what it was that made me abandon just doing the easier version of Golden in favor of doing the harder challenge. In general I’m not sure why I seek such challenges, but I know it has something to do with the reason why I love to climb. I like the feeling of knowing that I didn’t take the easy way out. I like testing myself. I like progressing, and, yes, I must like failing, too.
What I love about climbing is a good challenge and an inspiring line. The feeling of success is sweet and perhaps none as sweet as Solid Gold. But more than success, I know that it’s the challenge that keeps me coming back.
About The Author
Dan Mirsky, 31, grew up in the American climbing epicenter of New Paltz, New York, where the Shawangunks is located; his first pair of climbing shoes were Lynn Hill hand-me-downs. But it wasn’t until Dan attended Colorado College as a freshman that he really got hooked on rock climbing, cutting his teeth at Shelf Road and making frequent road trips to Rifle. After graduating college in 2004, Dan remained in Colorado, living in Carbondale and later Boulder, where he has worked as a professional mixologist for various restaurants, while remaining dedicated to rock climbing.
He’s one of the elite few Rifle rock climbers who literally warms up on 5.14, climbing Living the Dream (5.14a) and Simply Read (5.13d) before trying his actual project; then warming down with a lap on Zulu (5.14a) that afternoon. Dan, who has sent such routes as Tomfoolery (5.14b), Vogue (5.14b), Girl Talk (5.14b) and Carry the Fire (5.14c), says Solid Gold (5.14c) is his hardest redpoint. He is sponsored by Millet. Dan spent this fall in the Red River Gorge, living in a new airstream with his partner and fellow bone crusher, Katy Dannenberg. Look for them back in the Red this spring … or wherever the open road takes them next.