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Jun. 11, 2008
Steph Davis completes first known free solo ascent of Castleton Tower’s North Face
Our reliable friends at Wikipedia define free solo climbing as “a form of free climbing where the climber (the free soloist) foregoes ropes, harnesses and other protective gear while ascending and relies only on his or her physical strength, climbing ability, and psychological fortitude to avoid a fatal fall.” Those same folks describe BASE jumping as “a sport involving the use of a parachute or the sequenced use of a wingsuit and parachute to jump from fixed objects--with the parachute unopened at the jump.”

Combine these two acts and you get something called BASEclimbing…

Castleton Tower reigns supreme as the ultimate tower climb in the Moab area of eastern Utah. This exposed 400-foot tall tower of sandstone sits atop a large talus cone, presenting a formidable challenge to even the most experienced climbers. Since the standard way down is a lengthy three pitch rappel, many climbers choose to simply BASE jump from the summit, adding another element of excitement to an already slightly insane pursuit.

Steph Davis, a seasoned professional climber and Team Clif Bar athlete, had recently been climbing the north face with two of her friends, Mario and Sean, repeatedly, keeping her ultimate goal of eventually free soloing the route to herself. When Steph finally divulged her secret to Mario, he immediately jumped on board and offered to jumar up the route so that she could climb unburdened, and they could both jump from the summit together.

After climbing the route traditionally four times in the span of a couple weeks, Steph felt confident she could safely free solo it. “The fourth [climb] made me feel 110% sure, and that's when it was time to make the climb. For me, free soloing is a very different experience than climbing for difficulty. I love the feeling of perfection, of being absolutely certain that I can safely solo the route. Unless I know that is possible, I won't do the solo.”

Despite feeling a bit “weak and dizzy” from fighting off a slight cold, when the day came to do the climb, Steph decided the time was now:

“…the wind forecast looked the best on that day than for the days to come, and I didn't want to lose my momentum. I also didn't want to solo the route and not get to do the jump. To me, the complete experience of soloing a difficult route and then jumping off was really the cool part! Also, I had a BASE rig stashed on the summit, because Mario and I had tried to get two jumps in one day the week before (running up the North Chimney after we climbed and jumped the North Face), but got stopped by wind conditions for the second jump and had to rappel. So everything seemed in line, except for feeling a little sick. I decided that there were more things in line than out of line, and I should just go slow, and work hard on relaxation and a good mental state. Even feeling a little weak, I thought I should be able to do all the climbing safely, and I decided to go.”

The first and second pitches went without incident, save for the time when Steph stepped on her own pant leg, which she admittedly forgot to roll, causing her foot to skate off the fabric. A solid hand jam saved her, but the “unwelcome adrenaline burst was a little draining, and [she] had to sit on a ledge…for a long time to rest.” The third and final pitch offers some seriously steep crack climbing, requiring lots of strength, complex moves and the obvious nerves of steel.

Although Steph admits to being “really nervous” about this portion of the route, she concentrated hard and climbed deliberately, knowing full well the consequences of climbing without a rope. Using soothing music on her iPod to help her along, she eventually made her way up to the summit, completing the first ever free solo ascent of the north face.

After taking it all in, checking the wind direction, and chatting with the other elated climbers on Castleton’s summit, Steph packed her rock shoes and chalk bag inside her jacket, threw on her ‘chute, and jumped…”two seconds of freefall, a minute under canopy, and five minutes back to the car…a pretty nice way to go!”

Ummm…what did you do last weekend?
Posted by:
Team Clif Bar

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We like getting our heart rates up, taking a big breath of fresh air, savoring delicious food. But we also love telling stories and here's where we type 'em up. (BTW, it works both ways; leave a comment—please and thank you.)

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