5 Famous Climbing Features That Fell Off – Climbing – Climbing Magazine | Dauktion

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Standing at the base of the gendarme, Elizabeth Doyle almost felt like wrapping her arms around the base.

What is this thing holding onto? She thought. It obviously cracks – that’s how you climb it!

The Gendarme was a slender 40-foot spike in the middle of the beautiful 300-foot quartzite fin of Seneca Rocks, West Virginia.

She recalls, “I could see myself standing on top as the whole pillar fell silently and majestically, like a swan leap, until she and I exploded on the rubble far below.”

She wanted to stay. But her friends scoffed, so she climbed onto the gendarme.

“I’ve never been to a ‘summit’ for such a short period of time,” she says.

She was a pretty good judge. In fact, she is now judge of the district court in Pennsylvania. A few years later, the gendarme, once revered by the Seneca tribe and later climbed by many – an ascent was a highlight of local climbing courses – fell to the ground on October 22, 1987 at 3:27 p.m. Only one person saw it go, an 11-year-old named Brock Markwell who was out at the local elementary school.

***

things fall apart. In climbing, it can mean entire walls in distant mountains, stretches of cliffs from the San Jacintos to the Adirondacks and the White Mountains, and iconic shapes or features on cliffs in the region. In early August 2014, news broke that the 40-foot Cobra Tower at Fisher Towers near Moab, Utah, had collapsed, news that saddened some, many pondered the impermanence, and Ascentionists were very fortunate.

We climbers go up, but these things can come Low.

Herewith, in chronological order, a gallery of climbing elements that have formed craters. And a few ideas for what’s next.

The gendarme as he once stood in the middle of the notch. (Photo: Courtesy of senecarocksmuseum.org.)

The Gendarme may have been destroyed by freeze-thaw cycles: Temperatures had dropped to 20 degrees Fahrenheit overnight, but they soared to 80 degrees Fahrenheit on this warm fall day. Another theory is that the Air Force jets that often flew over the valley, allegedly above the sound barrier, may have shaken the tower.

However, people knew that the tower would eventually disappear. I saw it the first time I went there and the next time it was gone.

beach crack, Mickey’s Beach, San Francisco Bay Area, 1994. beach crack was a famous 5.12b in one of the most beautiful regions in the Bay Area, and a few climbers worked on the line, perhaps as a first 5.12, until the day it went. The route – or rather half of it – coincided with Scott Frye’s famous 5.13b/c Plate-o-shrimp and two more, during a big storm. On the plus side, when the right half of the rift climb fell, it exposed Mickey’s Beach Arete (5.13c).

The colorful marine atmosphere here includes crashing waves, the smell of brine, tide pools, starfish, sea otters, shorebirds…nudists…and once a costumed character.

On May 25, Memorial Day 1981, “Spider Dan” Goodwin climbed the Sears Tower, then the tallest building in the world, using suction cups and camming devices while wearing a Spiderman suit. Soon after, he was seen doing the beach crack, in a blue Lycra suit with a red cape, although he had been warned about the Spiderman logo at the time. The rock at Mickey’s Beach is smooth even on a dry day. Credit to Goodwin for courage as he soloed the route.

You can check out this old video of his solo, complete with extra moves, a bit of choreography that never caught on (thank goodness as it looks really dangerous).

The wedge stone that was part of a classic 5.10mm double pitch on Easter Island Tower (marked with arrow) broke loose on the morning of Easter Sunday 2001, even as climbers made it up the approach.
The wedge stone that was part of a classic 5.10mm double pitch on Easter Island Tower (marked with arrow) broke loose on the morning of Easter Sunday 2001, even as climbers made it up the approach. (Photo: Michelle Peot)

Chockstone on Easter IslandBridger Jack Towers, Canyonlands, Utah, March 31, 2002. This feature was, as Mountain Project described it, “the unique chockstone that bridges the gap” between the first and second slopes of the three-star hotel thunderbolts (5.10), compiled by Jeff Achey. People belayed next to the piano-sized rock and then stepped on it to win
the wall of the crux of the second pitch.

Groups had climbed the route the previous day, and on the morning of autumn, Easter Sunday, more went to the tower and route. For real.

Wrote a poster about Mountain Project: “I camped under the Bridgers and watched the piano block fall out. Had climbed the route the night before, great fun.”

The old man from the mountain, May 3, 2003. As one rounded a curve and saw the Old Man, the glacier-carved, rugged profile high atop Cannon Cliff, Franconia Notch, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, one felt a thrill. The sight signaled arrival at the huge granite face, 1,000 feet at its highest point, with all the adventures of its routes and unpredictable weather. Climbing up and descending instead of rappelling, you walked around the large cinder blocks, steel cables and turnbuckles that were part of a hundred-year effort to ward off the freeze-thaw plunder on this state symbol.

The stern face of the old man of the mountains.
The stern face of the old man of the mountains. (Photo: Boston Public Library)

The famous eight lake view (5.6) finished a turn (climbed in 1933 by Fritz Wiessner and Robert Underhill) on the old man’s head, and two routes tackled its overhanging face. A line was what the guide called the “spectacular free climb.” Bubba Martin (5.11) created by Dave Anderson and Mike Kenney in 1982. The other was Cheek to Cheekalso in 1982, a 5.10 by Steve Larson and Andy Tuthill on corners and overhangs on the old man’s throat and face.

Larson, then 26, recalls asking Tuthill that day, “What are you guys thinking out there?”

“Why don’t I try to go out and see?”

Tuthill cast off and set up a hanging stand just under the old man’s chin.

Larson recalls, “Tourists have admired that square jaw for years, and I was delighted to see the cracked finger in the corner.”

Some 20 years later, the Old Man of the Mountain fell sometime between midnight and 2:00 a.m. after a spring rainstorm. “Apparently the Adam’s apple gave out first,” says Larson, “and the old man just slid down the plates.”

The cobra, Fisher Towers, Utah, sometime between July 31 and the first week of August 2014. Rumors of the collapse of the tower, shaped like a soaring cobra, have long been an April Fool’s staple. But this time the news was real. The collapse affected not only the top block of the formation, as might be expected, but the entire hood contour that gave the Cobra its shape. The extent could indicate a lightning strike.

Many had climbed the 40-foot hoodoo via a 5.11, first climbed in 1995 by Jimmie Dunn, who, as a pro, wrapped his dog’s leash around the pillar.

Sam Feuerborn climbed the Cobra - while he could.
Sam Feuerborn climbed the Cobra – while he could. (Photo: Dan Wood)

Steve “Crusher” Bartlett, climber and author, wrote of the experience on Mountain Project: “So unlikely, but so much fun and semi-terrifying. Once I got to the top, the wind blew me back down almost immediately, and being very aware that a windy day is exactly the kind of day this thing is going to fall over, I hung on for maybe a second before I quieted myself chattering down the ground sank.”

No one witnessed the destruction as a violent storm swept through with rain and strong winds.

***

What’s next?

Well, at the top of the list of candidates should be three things that have featured prominently in hoaxes. Variously, the split column, the inside of which fell down, is said to have fallen off
Edge creates a laser-cut pumpy layback on the Grand Wall, the Chief, Squamish; the glued-on boot flake, which also ensures a steep layback, on the Nose, El Capitan; and the totem pole, Tasman Peninsula, Australia. Watch the video of Mayan Smith-Gobat and Ben Rueck mounting it.

Of course there is also a totem pole in Queen Creek Canyon, Arizona. And totem pole in Monument Valley…

For me, the most popular choice during earthquakes or floods would be the popular fluted peak, which is the most popular destination for a route (usually Stolen chimney, 5.10) on the 300-foot Ancient Art Formation, the Fisher Towers. In 2011, Katie Brown and Alex Honnold spent two days there filming a Citibank commercial. Viewing audiences went berserk: people thought the ad was fake; I got dizzy looking at the footage from Brown’s helmet cam; wondered who this “sweet” and amazing girl was. CNN’s Jeanne Moos did a fun little segment on the excitement.


This article was originally published in rock and ice in 2014

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