Local Flavor – Interview with Ryan Jennings, Pt 1

What can I say, the new features just keep coming, as each month I’ll be interviewing prominent local climbers.  Our first victim local interview is with Ryan Jennings, who grew up in the area, then moved away for a bit before relocating back to the valley with his wife in 2002. Ryan is one of the most motivated ice climbers I have ever met.

What draws you to ice climbing?

Ryan Jennings on Banzai Pipeline.

Ryan Jennings on Banzai Pipeline.

It’s easier than rock climbing?  If you’ve done it for any time you know what I mean.  Really though I like the changing nature of it.  No climb is ever the same and you’re never guaranteed it will be in shape.  It requires a dedication to learning the habits of ice to succeed. It’s liquid to solid, never the same form one moment to the next.  You don’t get that with rock climbing.  For the most part a rock climb will always be there waiting for you in the same state.  An ice climb does not wait and instead I find myself waiting for it. It takes patience, luck, skill, timing, speed, and so much more.  But really like I said, it’s easier to hang off picks than it is fingers.

You’re always super psyched about the ice in Redstone, what’s the best thing about the climbing there?

The variety, uniqueness, beauty, the red cliffs and surrounding mountains.  It’s hard to name one thing.  I like the fact that no one else is around and I don’t worry there ever will be.  Even if there was there is so much ice in Redstone. To see it all you have to enjoy long posthole approaches up steep slopes to climbing on bad dirty rock.  Many a line has little or no pro and takes you to ice that’s on the verge of complete meltdown because it’s formed today and gone tomorrow.  To climb the more obscure routes you have to study them and patiently wait for conditions to be right.  Conditions are often only right for a few days a year. This fact alone keeps a large percentage of the climbs untouched when they do come in.  Now especially with the bolted lines at Coal Creek I suspect most folks will focus their attention there in the years to come. There are a lot of good lines there that have bolts and no approach and others to be done now that the style’s kosher.  Few will ever venture into the less accessible more natural climbs. There just don’t seem to be that many climbers out there doing ground up natural lines anymore, lines that require commitment to catch in condition, energy to get to and knowledge to escape from.  I’m not saying the talent isn’t here but either they’ve already done all the natural lines, they’re out there and I just don’t see or hear from them, or they just aren’t focusing their attention towards them.

What are your favorite local routes (or anywhere for that matter)?

Above and beyond all others is Deep Throat in Glenwood Canyon.  That is by far the sickest mixed route in Colorado or almost anywhere.  You won’t find any bolts on it.  It requires every skill you know and you’ll learn some new ones while you’re at it. Nightmare on Wolfstreet in Canada is top notch too but with bolts.  The Talisman and Bird Brain are both ones you’ll remember and pretty clean.  Locally, it’s all good.  The first pitch of Stoney Fest is classic hard ice that I don’t think anyone gets on, right off the road.  The Sopris backdrop on that one is spectacular.

Most memorable first ascents?

Scrapping up the first ascent of Dirt Pimp.

Scrapping up the first ascent of Dirt Pimp.

Watching Kevin climb the first pitch of the Longest Route was memorable.  I stood half way up a small ice flow filming the ascent and I remember worrying that I might pass out and fall from the adrenaline of watching.  I was scared as he worked his way up the crust covered vertical wall above his last piece, a pounded Spectre.  With every move the ice fell away from under each previous foot placement as he got farther from the few bad pieces below.  You could tell that it was just barely enough to hold body weight but he was committed and just kept going. I finally had to traverse a ledge above and lower a rope with a knot for him to clip as pro.  He then ran it out another 40ft to the top on more of the same. Fear Factor was much the same.  He basically soloed the top half of that one.  Other memorable ascents would be the last pitch of Stoney Fest (as we did it) and Dirt Pimp. Both were all natural on suspect dirty rotten rock. I love that.

Worst climbing accident?

Ruth Gorge, Alaska 2002.  We left our glacier camp to climb Shaken Not Stirred on the Moose’s Tooth and planned on returning later that day.  At sunrise we started up the route and it was slushy rotten conditions on the steep ice but we eventually made it to the col. We bailed on the final snow climb to the summit because we were weak, it was late, blah, blah.  We started rappelling around midnight and made it most of the way with no major issues. Hallucinating, 20 some hours in, I clipped a slung horn, at the bottom of a rap, 20 ft below a good crack I’d passed up.  We had two raps to go to cross the bergschrund.  I quickly noticed the horn looked more like a tire sized boulder frozen to a small ledge.  I clipped in and bounce tested it heavily.  I remember debating if it was just me or if it was moving.  Too tired to climb back up to the better crack I reasoned that someone else had rapped it and it held so it should hold us, right?  Kevin came down and reluctantly agreed, we pulled the rope above and I started down.  No backup.  About 15ft down I heard Kevin yell “Oh shit.” I fell backwards in the dark and started sliding. Something slammed me in the shoulder and I thought I’d just been stabbed by Kevin’s crampon.  Now I’m pretty sure it was the belay boulder. I had dreams about falling down a mountain before the trip and debated the merits of curling into a ball.   After a couple hundred feet I curled and immediately my foot caught the rock wall of the couloir sending me spinning off the rock wall below.  Airborne for some time, I thought the landing would tell the tale so I waited. We landed, bounced and slid another 500ft down the ice-chunk-littered avalanche cone. When we stopped I had a chunk out of my shoulder and my left foot was backwards.  Kevin was bruised and battered too and complained of a hurt knee but could walk.  The rescue is another story but I owe my life to the four guys camped above, Paul Roederick (the only pilot that could land there) and everyone else that helped.

Ryan Jennings is a passionate climber who currently lives in Carbondale where he is within close striking distance for new routing missions to Redstone. Besides being a bad ass climber, he can help you with all your real estate needs! Stay tuned for part 2!

2 Responses to Local Flavor – Interview with Ryan Jennings, Pt 1

  1. Pingback: Local Flavor - Interview With Ryan Jennings, Pt 2 | Splitter Choss

  2. Pingback: Interview with Rock & Ice Editor Jeff Jackson | Splitter Choss

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