The Naked Edge, Eldorado Canyon

By: Bill Wright | Climbers: Bill Wright, Tom Karpeichik |Trip Dates: August, 2002

Photo: Paul Young

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Onsighting the Naked Edge

The title of this report has nothing to do with me, but is a reference to my frequent partner, Tom Karpeichik, AKA 'Hardly Manson'. If it had anything to do with me, I'd have titled it "Three Times A Charm" since I had been dragged up this route twice before: once by the now-retired Dr. Offwidth and once by Mark Hudon. I certainly don't skimp when it comes to rope guns and today was no exception.

The Naked Edge is the most famous, most storied, and most classic climb in Colorado. Its exclusion from Fifty Classic Climbs of North America is so glaring and so myopic as to cast a heavy shadow of doubt on the credibility of the authors. It isn't just a good climb left off a short list. It is a required climb. Climbed from the ground to the summit, the Naked Edge consists of nine pitches and about 700 vertical feet, though it is rarely climbed that way. Nowadays, pitches are combined. The three approach pitches are not strictly part of the route, but you have to get up there somehow and there are many ways to do this. The first two pitches are frequently combined, as are the last two.

My history with this route is an extremely humble one. I still haven't led any of its pitches except for the moderate third pitch (5.8+). My first time up, I fell a couple of times on the first pitch, once on the second pitch, once on the fourth pitch, and had to be hauled up the fifth pitch. The next time I got the second and fourth pitches clean, but still fell on the first pitch and still got hauled up the fifth pitch. Today I was just out to support and belay Hardly in his bid to onsight the climb.

The Naked Edge was long overdue for him. He had climbed numerous Eldo 5.11's and was getting to be quite solid. He recently redpointed 'Back in Black' (11d), onsighted 'Vertigo' (11b), 'Sunset Boulevard' (11b/c), 'C'est What' (11b/c), and a host of other climbs. He was ready. Hardly was regularly onsighting 5.12a sport climbs in Boulder Canyon, but he didn't approach the relatively tame rating (11b) of the Naked Edge lightly. Climbs in Eldo tended to be much more challenging than sport climbs in Boulder Canyon - much more so at the same rating. He knew the climb would be hard, but he was prepared to fight.

We met at 6:15 a.m. and after gearing and a bathroom trip, left the car at 6:30. I was in shorts and short sleeves, but Hardly had long pants and long sleeves. The weather was perfect. It was sixty degrees when we left the car and would warm to the 70 by the time we returned. There was no wind - a rarity for the early morning in Eldo - and would only build to a strong breeze by the final pitch. Hardly anyone was in the Canyon (but Hardly was in the Canyon…) We didn't see a soul on the Bastille until we were almost at the top and saw just one other party after they topped out on Ruper.

I led us up to the base of the route via the Ramp Route and a weird variation. For some reason I didn't head right to the 4th class section and cut left onto the very top of 'Bolting For Glory'. I clipped the last bolt on that route and then clipped the anchors at the top of Touch and Go before continuing up to and turning the Cave Pitch (5.8) to the base of the route. We simul-climbed up to this point. Now it was Hardly's turn.

Hardly pulled off his socks and tightened his shoes before launching up the steep, technical finger crack that marked the first pitch of The Edge. He climbed smoothly and confidently, only hesitating where you leave the arête to the left behind for good. He climbed far above a fixed blue Alien, jammed in another Alien and cranked through the crux to the top of the pitch. One 5.11 down, two to go. Combining the first and second, he danced up the sparsely protected slab above, ducked under to the west side of the arête, placed an RP, and cranked the 10b move to the belay.

I felt strong as I worked through the lower 5.10 moves and up to the crux. The finger jams on this pitch are shallow, technical and painful. The footwork is small, precise, and difficult to work out quickly, yet you must or your fingers will fail. I took too long in previous attempts and today I forced myself to climb more quickly. I barely scraped my way through to the belay with my fingers screaming in pain.

I scampered up to the crux move on the second pitch and remembered the "hidden" edge, which is right next to the flaring pin scar. This edge is positive and obvious once you grab it, but I missed it my first time up the route and Hardly missed it today. It makes the crux moves on this pitch much more manageable. We re-racked at the belay and Hardly easily climbed the long third pitch to the sloping ramp belay. This 5.8 pitch is a bit runout and you have to stay alert, but provides a nice respite from the difficulties. The position on this pitch is incredible. It is directly on the arête and the climbing is fun and interesting.

The fourth pitch is viewed as the crux by some climbers, but it has never been the crux for me. Technical stemming and liebacking lead to difficult moves entering a bomb-bay chimney. This is very insecure and much more difficult for shorter climbers, but I think my experience in chimneys and wide cracks really help me here. I use an upside-down chicken-wing to enter this chimney very early and avoid a difficult face move. Hardly climbed this pitch like he had done it countless times before. He was completely solid the entire way and easily backed up the pin at the crux. He looked like he was standing on a ledge instead of tiny edges. Soon he was at the belay, as this is a short pitch. I followed this pitch as solid as I have ever been. I think I'm ready to lead this pitch.

The belay at the top of the fourth pitch is outrageous. There are three bolts and a pin here so it feels very secure. That's good because you are hanging over six hundred overhanging feet above the ground. The rope dangles completely free and blows in the breeze. The technical crux of the route is supposedly the first fifteen feet off this belay. I had never freed these moves before. The climbing is off-balance on poor holds that lean the wrong way. In other words, it is classic Eldo face climbing.

Hardly clipped the first fixed pin and maneuvered a bit higher to clip a fixed wired stopper. He felt around for some positive holds and then just hung his whole body from two holds and lifted his left foot into the corner. After reaching up for some positive corners, he did a move I had never seen before.

Next, the climbing is proceeds up a strongly right-leaning ramp. The wall below is slightly more than vertical and devoid of footholds. I had previously seen climbers try to keep their feet on this ramp and lean heavily to the right in order to grab the handholds, also on this ramp. Instead of doing this, Hardly spotted a foothold high and out to the right. I had not noticed this before and if I had I would have dismissed it as too high to be useable. In a quick movement, where I thought he was committing himself to an irreversible mistake, he swung both feet out to the right, across the blank wall and hiked his right foot up onto this foothold. He then pressed himself back onto the ramp! It was brilliant. I repeated this move and it worked like a charm. Not only that, but it puts you into nearly a no-hands rest!

Proceeding carefully up the ramp, he executed the difficult and awkward duck-under move to the other side of the arête; now he was now faced with the dreaded, burly, technical, overhanging hand crack. In the past this has been the hardest part of the route for me. Since it is on the other side of the arête, I couldn't watch Hardly's progress but I avidly followed his movements through the language of the rope. I knew when he was moving up, when he placed a piece, and when he was deciphering a cruxy problem. He moved steadily up this continuous section, as you must, and was soon above the difficulties and looking down at me from the hanging belay on the corner. In the past, my partners have strung this pitch with the final 5.6 pitch, but that makes communication difficult and rope stretch significant. Hardly elected to belay there and encourage me to a good performance. I was glad to have him in sight and able to take the slack out of the rope if I were to fall. My last time up here, with Mark Hudon, Mark ran out this pitch significantly and when I came off I swung so far out from the rock that I could barely get back on the route.

I executed Hardly's sequence on the boulder problem crux and climbed it free for the first time. I then got the duck-under move free for the first time and faced my nemesis. This crack is severely overhanging and the technical crux comes early where you have to make a big reach from good jams past a wide pod to a technical, tight hand jam. Getting this jam solid enough to release the lower jam is the crux for me. The feet are difficult since they are tucked so far underneath my body.

This time I felt stronger and, while pretty desperate, pulled off this difficult move. The first jams above this are very tight hands, but then it goes to perfect hands for a move or two. Hardly coached me to relax my hands and only jam with the minimum amount of power. Conserving your energy is key as the climb is so steep. I did as I was told and made it to up to where a foothold appears on the left face. This is a welcome change from jamming the feet in the overhanging crack and allows a tiny bit of stemming, but I couldn't linger for long.

Above, the crack gets wider, but there are still hand jams in deep. I could even get my knee into the crack at one point to get a bit of a rest. The final section to the belay is very wide hands and even fist width for me. Luckily, just as I was about to peel, I could grab the edge of the crack for a lieback move and up to the belay! I had climbed the pitch free for the first time. I'm a long way from leading it clean, but it was still a huge improvement for me.

Hardly dispatched the final 5.6 pitch in a couple of minutes and I followed. He had onsighted the Naked Edge and I had followed free. We were both elated and already talking about coming back to give me a shot on the sharp end. I have no illusions about how much more difficult this route is to lead, but I think it is time for me to start trying…

Editor's Note: The author is a Major Contributor to the North American Classics project.