Local Flavor – Interview With Ryan Jennings, Pt 2

Welcome to part two of our interview with local climber Ryan Jennings, an avid ice climber who spends his winters scouring the local choss for new routes. Part one can be found here.

Another new route goes down.

Another new route goes down.

Who were/are your biggest influences in climbing?

Mark Wilford, Duncan Ferguson, Jeff Lowe, Reinhold Messner, Layton Kor, and many others.  It’s highly likely a few of these guys climbed most of the routes in Redstone long before websites were around. That’s the best thing about “leave no trace.”

It’s 2009, does style matter anymore?

It certainly doesn’t feel like it.  I worry that the roots of our sport are being forgotten.  I grew up following, to some extent, the rules laid out by Jim Erickson in his early Boulder rock guide. If you haven’t read them you should.  That guy had style and stuck to it.  He held himself to higher standards than I was ever able to hold myself to but his beliefs gave me a foundation with which to form my own beliefs and morals regarding how I wanted to approach future ascents.

Now a days I believe bolting is a necessary evil but that wasn’t always the case. With much hesitation I will install bolts now but only when some criteria have been met.  I believe a climb is worth climbing only if it’s a visually natural line and I find it aesthetic.  I always start ground up and rarely rap in for a preview.  We usually give it numerous goes on natural pro if it seems possible and then only when confronted with multiple ground falls or high potential for broken bones will we decide on bolting. Even then I re-affirm it is a natural aesthetic line that others will enjoy and that natural pro is just not an option.  We have been able to find and complete many routes this way without the need to leave a trace of our passing.  I believe there is a lifetime more of them out there.  With luck and patience we find the conditions right, we come prepared, and if our balls are big enough we get it done.  If not, and it’s seemingly possible, we go home and come back another day.  It’s the fair way to do it.  Then everyone in the future has a chance to have the same experience.

That’s style I hope others debate even more than I do every time they approach a first ascent. Once a cliff is riddled with bolts on every inch of stone, the best lines and in some way the beauty of the cliff to a climber’s eye disappears forever. It’s nice to have routes to look forward to being skilled enough to complete in good style someday in the future.

I must say I’ve had a hard time this year seeing the Coal Creek lines get bolted that I’ve studied and waited for.  Waited to have the conditions, the skill, the timing and whatever else needed to complete them in good style.  Now, overnight they are rap attacked.  I understand that they may have never gone without bolts and they are safer now and a benefit to the masses but every time we bolt a line especially one with the possibility of having natural pro we take the dreams of future generations away.  Now don’t get me wrong. I think Coal Creek is as good a spot as any for the sort of climbs going in there and you’ll definitely see me out there climbing all the new lines.  I am appreciative… but I secretly dream that one day I’ll climb some of those lines natural and perhaps at that point I’ll politely ask the author to remove their bolts.  You have to admit there is something special about waiting for your skill to match the challenge and leaving the option for others to do the same.

With that all said I must confess that, like most, I am not as strong willed as Jim Erickson and I have given in to this new age at times in my own way.  We just finished a great 5 bolt line.  With this route I basically doubled the amount of bolts I’ve put in during my short existence.  It was fun taking whippers on bomber bolts and we felt like we were climbing the hardest routes of our lives physically, but I realize that perhaps the reason for my approach is that in some small way I will always worry that placing those bolts may not have been the right thing to do.

Best day of climbing, ever?

Is there such a thing? I often finish a day and feel it was the best of my life.  I sadly think I forget a lot of the good ones I’ve had.  Maybe that’s why it’s hard to pick one.  What if I’m forgetting one? Perhaps the most recent one would be last winter.  Or was that the winter before? Kevin and I had climbed the Talisman a few weekends before and started hatching this plan to climb three big routes in a day.  I guess we wanted to train for something or another and step it up a notch.  There are only so many routes down there so we decided on starting with the Talisman then Bridalveil and finishing with Ames Ice Hose. I always feel a day like this is a good test to see if I’m in shape enough for a fast (safe) day in Patagonia or any other place I’d like to visit.

What made the day was that we had no plan other than the line up and waking up in Carbondale at midnight or so, driving to the Talisman and skiing in.  We climbed the Talisman in three pitches, got down as the team behind us was starting and skied out. Then drove to Telluride, skied in, climbed Bridalveil in basically one pitch, hike off and skied out. Drove to Ames and had a meltdown.  Both exhausted, with darkness setting in and postholing in our future, we fought back and forth about going.  I finally forced us to have two Gu shots and hike at least to the Railroad grade to reassess. Once the Gu kicked in we were on our way.  Once at the climb I racked up and went to start up the first pitch.  I quickly realized I’d left my life support leashes in the car.  I could hang on forever with those but without them I was reduced to tears.  We renegotiated and since Kevin was feeling better he agreed to finish the climb if I could get us to the first belay. I fought harder than ever on that pitch. Then Coop, the bastard, decides to bust straight up on the steepest part of the last headwall instead of the typical relatively easy long leftward traverse.  I over-gripped the whole way. On the rappel I was worried I couldn’t hold the rope tight enough to brake.  We were so excited when we got back to the car we decide to drive home right then.  I don’t know exactly how long it took but I recall it being around 28hrs round trip from Bonedale.

What about StoneyFest, where did that come from?

Looking for love in all the wrong places.

Looking for love in all the wrong places.

I don’t know…Stoney days?  I sometimes wish the name were different but terms get started and then repeated so much that there can be no other name.  It fit with the Redstone name and someone or another just started repeating it.  Plus I live on “Indica” way.  Oh, did you mean the actual festival? The year I moved back to Carbondale I started scoping the cliffs.  Kevin soon came to visit and the rest is history.  We were tired of how crowded, popular and hacked up the Ouray Fest had made climbing down there that weekend.  We decided there was no better time to have solitude in our own little ice climbing heaven.  We decided to spend a few days every year testing how far our skills had progressed on perfectly virgin ice with the goal being that we climb something new (at least to us) every year.

Anything else?

I just finished looking at the topos of the new routes at Coal Creek and I’ve now climbed a couple.  They’re great and I really appreciate the effort those guys put into them but I wonder if all of those routes especially on what they call the Main Crag will form consistently and in the same place to allow the bolts to be used again.  I wonder how much the authors have watched each line over the years to determine this crucial fact.  Maybe they have.   I also get a bit heated when I show up and the cliffs are littered with ropes and draws and there are empty bolt holes everywhere.  I always find it’s lame to see routes that cross one another when you don’t know which bolt is on which route.  It re-affirms in my mind the merits of the ground up, natural line, wait till I’m ready and conditions are right, leave no trace approach.  If I had a say I ask to see fewer bolts (when natural pro is available) placed in the correct spot the first time and draws and ropes removed daily so as not to be eye soars all season.  It’s just courteous to the hundreds of none climbers that go up there every week if we don’t leave the place looking like a mining operation or attack on the cliffs.

I’m sure I might catch a ration of comments on this interview and so be it.  I’m alright with everyone else’s style.  I just want to make sure others are thinking about what their doing and let it to be known that there are still some of us out there trying as best we can to stick to the old ways even though it sometimes seems no one really cares anymore.

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!

One Response to Local Flavor – Interview With Ryan Jennings, Pt 2

  1. Hi Ryan,

    To answer your question about whether I actually studied the routes up Coal Creek before bolting them. Yes. I’ve been climbing in Coal Creek for nearly 20 years and have seen all of the lines come in in various incarnations, sometimes fatter, sometimes thinner. This year the ice was average. Unless the drainages change, which isn’t likely unless someone goes up there with a shovel, the ice consistently forms in the same spots. Anything else?

    Duane Raleigh March 4, 2009 at 11:26 pm
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