The unfortunately irrevocable Dan Osman climbed the 400ft Bear's Reach at Lover's Leap in four minutes and 25 seconds. Let that settle for just a few minutes.
Bear's Reach (5.7 with a 5.9 variation finish) - Three Pitches - Trad Gear Anchors - All three led
Turn of Highway 50 onto Strawberry Drive next to the Strawberry Lodge. Drive up the road and turn left onto Strawberry Court. Follow the signs to the parking lot. If camping, park in the assigned spot and pay for camping. If not, park in the extra parking and pay for daily parking.
Head up the steps as if going to Campsites 19 or 20 and bear left. Follow the ankle-breaking, rocky path for several minutes. Lover's Leap will be on your right and the back side of Hogsback will be on your left. You'll go past a large boulder with a gurney leaning against it (there's also a sign describing the history of the boulder nearby). After a few minutes of walking past that, start looking for a large, low-angle, slabby boulder on your left. The path is directly across from that boulder, and it goes up toward the left side of Lover's Leap. Watch out for rattlesnakes in the bushes and on the path. We didn't see any, but they are apparently there. Head right and walk along the narrow path for a few minutes until you come to a couple of disconnected right-facing corners. The first one you come to will be about 12 feet off the ground. The second one is the start of the route and about eight feet to the right. There is a blank-looking gap of about eight feet between the top of the lower, right-hand corner and the bottom of the upper corner on the left.
Pitch One (5.7) - 120 feet - Gear Anchor - Greg Led
Is it possible to even come close to the heights of adventure and imagination that Dano reached? Maybe, but only if you're a pro with a mind bent on doing the unthinkable. I'm not sure many people have tried, and I'm even less sure that's because his heights were unreachable. He left behind a legacy that seems to be untouchable if only because the climbing world is still in mourning; it's as if no one tries to emulate him simply because he already existed and, as a result, there is no need to replace him. He was irreplaceable, and my climbing style in no way threatens his mystique. I think anyone who has ever climbed with me can assert without a doubt that I tell the truth uninhibitedly.
To climb the first pitch, one must climb the lower corner, ensuring to protect this well as near the top as you can, then traverse left across the blank face (not as bad as it looks, but if you fall here then there is ground-fall potential). Protect the upper corner as soon as you can and move up it and past the juggy left-facing corner / flakes to a small belay stance. Use the upper, right-hand, diagonal crack as an anchor (beware of the loose flake the left). Large gear will be needed at the top. I had a 3.5 and 3.0 Camalot with me, and both were used. I could have used more than the one each that I had on me at the time.
Like any climb that requires complete confidence in my abdominal strength, or at least the ability to commit to a move that isn't totally secure, I bounced up and down on a few of the moves each time things got a little heady for me. Let's be clear, unless it's a crack, I don't feel heady on 5.7s, but this route had some interesting rock that made me think twice more than once. For one, the rock seemed eerily brittle. Two, one really can't climb this without completely committing to this brittle rock. Three, the guidebook warns folks about this choss by noting how an unlucky chap trusted his belay anchor a bit too much and fell to his death. Yeah, and Dano climbed this free-solo in 4.5 minutes. Let that sink in again, especially as I note that it probably took me a good 4.5 minutes just to get past the upper right-facing corner and into the flakes. I admit, I was afraid of ground fall, and despite the grades on each pitch, I almost never felt secure on this route. It wasn't until the very end at the 5.9 variation finish where I felt OK committing to a move that felt hard, and that's because the 5.9 finish was on a solid chunk of rock that I didn't foresee going anywhere anytime soon.
Pitch Two (5.7) - 120 feet - Gear Anchor - "Ratherbe" led
Climb straight up the crack where the anchor is, and avoid the flake directly to the left. Climb the short left-facing corner / flake and step left into the blank section below the right-facing flakes. Make the bear's reach move up and left to the base of the flake, and then follow that to a ledge near the top. Note that there is a smaller ledge below the actual, larger belay ledge. I actually think the crux is the move that gains the upper ledge.
Despite the fact that "PBR" led the final, 5.9 variation, I think this was not only the money-pitch, but also the headiest of all three pitches. I give major kudos to "Ratherbe" for pulling this pitch off, and it's not even because of the "Bear's Reach" move, which seemed mild in relation to it's reputation. If I felt insecure on the lower flakes, then I would have freaked out leading the flakes on the second pitch. Nothing felt attached to the rock here. It was a serious challenge for me, and I was the third for this pitch. Neither "Ratherbe" nor "PBR" felt as uncomfortable as I did, so it may have just been the status of my head that morning, but I wouldn't have fallen on this section to save my life. And to note Dan Osman's feat even more, there is an outtake of the above video that shows him falling and catching himself at some point on the route. The fall looks a bit contrived and controlled, but to even fake a fall here is pretty damn ballsy.
Pitch Three (5.9 - alternate finish) - 120 feet - Gear Anchor - "PBR" led
Head straight up the corner and cracks to the top, looking for hidden jugs most of the way up. The easier finish is to the right with the 5.9 finish being the layback / beached whale crack high-step at the very top. Both "Ratherbe" and "PBR" managed to high-step and mantle this. I, on the other hand, looked like the fatty I am and slid my way up more like a slug than a whale. I'm glad "PBR" finished here, as it made for a nice final move.
Descent: Head straight back from the cliff's edge and fade left a bit, heading downhill into a clearing of the taller trees. Follow the path down to the left, keeping the small creek (if it's flowing) to your right without crossing over it. The path will bring you back down to the original, ankle-breaker approach trail at the bottom.
Knapsack Crack (5.5) - Three Pitches - 320 feet - Trad - Simul Climb on "PBR"'s lead
Well, just because we didn't match Dano on Bear's Reach that didn't mean we weren't out to topple his legacy once and for all. I mean, how much talent does it really take to get speed climb a route over 400 feet tall? We thought and thought about this for a while until "PBR" spoke up about a possible route on the left side of Hogsback. He noted that it was only 300 feet or so, but it was tall enough for us to take our swings at Osman's amazing achievement. Since speed was "PBR"'s forte, we followed him to the base of this wondrous climb and racked up.
Approach: This climb is on the far left of Hogsback. Hike out the trail across from parking spot #19 (turn left at the top of the stairs) and follow the ankle-breaker trail with the back of Hogwild and Hogsback to your left and Lover's Leap to your right. You'll follow this path for several minutes, looking for a small path that leads uphill and off to the left before turning right. This path is nearly as far down as the path to the left side of Lover's Leap, and it is not marked well. In fact, there is a smaller path on the left that you'll probably see first and wonder if this is the the correct one to take. It likely is not the correct path. I guess the easiest way to know this path is if you see the large, slabby boulder across from the right-hand path leading to Lover's Leap, then you've gone too far, by about 50 feet or so. Once on the path, follow it as it starts left and turns right and eventually to the slabs around Hogsback to the talus field. Look for a tree that is about a third of the way up the cliff.
All three pitches
Start at the right-facing corner and head to the tree that would likely make the first belay station if you stop there. From there, head straight up to the wide crack and then to the top.
"PBR" took the lead, I tied in the middle, and "Ratherbe" brought up the rear. Within minutes, before I could remember to snap a picture of the route we were about to smash all speed records on, "PBR" was a half rope length up and I was not far from being dragged up behind him. Within minutes, nay seconds, "Ratherbe" was running and cleaning all at the same time. I did all I could to keep the rope slack above me and tight below me, but they were each too fast for me to even think about the consequences of stopping to catch my breath. Hand over hand, and foot over foot, I labored just to keep myself from falling off. Ever run up a wall as fast as you could just to see how high you could get? Well all that teenage training from hanging out in the parking lot of Don's Shop N Save in downtown Bar Harbor was finally paying off. It was if I were an old drunkard who would die if he tried to dry out; once I stopped, I wasn't starting back up. The momentum was too great to regenerate, especially when "PBR" reached the top. At that point I realized that the rest of the climb was straight enough for me to clean the remaining gear, leaving "Ratherbe" with nothing to do but fly to the top. Finally, when we all reached the top, when we were all dying of an extreme shortage of breath, when our muscles no longer flexed to reach upward and instead twitched in anticipation of the collision that would halt all movement, we looked upon our watches and noted our time:
- "PBR": It took me about 13 minutes
- "Ratherbe": When did you start?
- "PBR": I forget
- Greg: When did you start, "Ratherbe"?
- "Ratherbe": Seventeen minutes ago.
- "PBR": So what is that then, 20 minutes, 25 minutes?
- "Ratherbe": Uh, so you climbed for 13 minutes, and I climbed for 17 minutes and -
- Greg: We need to know how long he was climbing when you started, right?
- "PBR": Uhhh...
- "Ratherbe": Uhhh...
- Greg: So take the difference between the two and add them together, 21 minutes?
- "PBR": Huh?
- "Ratherbe": Whaaaa?
- Greg: Yeah, yeah, no, wait, add the two together, so that's 30 minutes and subtract the difference. Yeah, so that's 26 minutes?
- "PBR": Uhhh...
- "Ratherbe": Uhh...
- Greg: Uhhh...
- "PBR": Errr...
- "Ratherbe": Thirteen and 17 and you started when again?
- "PBR": Thirteen minutes before I stopped.
- Greg: Yeah, that's 26 minutes.
- "PBR" and "Ratherbe" (looking at Greg strangely): Huh?
- Greg: Yeah, so, just add -
- "PBR": Huh?
- "Ratherbe": OK, whatever.
- Greg: Yeah, divide our time by three, take the standard deviation under the variance to get the zscore, add the two together and multiply by the circumfr - no the radius...
- "PBR": It's hot up here, let's go.
It was hot, and so our day was finished, except for the wonderful egg noodles and canned salmon that awaited us back at the campsite. We headed down the slabs on the backside, fading left until we met the path we had taken up, and walked slowly back to camp. Our day included a slow climb on a famous speed route, and a speed climb on a route that could have been climbed even faster than our actual time, whatever that was (either way, we were no match for a legend). The next day was our last day, and as we sat around the campfire, I began formulating my thoughts on the entire trip and how I was going to summarize my experience. I'll leave you with a hint of my thoughts, even if I don't make the precise comparison later on when I actually write it: there are rules, and there is adventure, and they cannot exist in their purest forms together.
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