The Nose. High Exposure. Pinch Overhang.

by Michael Kennedy
Spring 2009

The Nose. High Exposure. Pinch Overhang. Yellow Edge. Cassin Ridge. Midnight Lightning. North Face of North Twin. Primrose Dihedral. Astroman. Dream of White Horses. Bridalveil Falls. Walker Spur. The best-of-the-best, every one a masterpiece, an outstanding example of its particular discipline, a line that begs to be climbed. A classic.

Each of us has our own list – climbs we’ve done and those we aspire to, routes we may never touch yet still dominate our most fervent imaginings. Mine tends to favor soaring mountain walls; yours may tilt toward prows of flint-hard sandstone set against sundappled forest floors or gossamer threads of ice veining high-country crags, singular lines of chalk-daubed holds on roadside overhangs or endless processions of cracks and corners up flawless spines of alpine granite. Classics are the makings of our dreams. Be it ten perfect moves or ten days of sublime effort, each embodies a near-impossible-to-describe blend of beauty, challenge and history.

Evening sun glancing across a lichen-stained buttress illuminates a delicate procession of flakes and incuts, a wisp of cloud reveals an icy arête amongst the jumble of a seracthreatened wall, a tiny edge reveals itself in the flat light of an afternoon snow squall. That first flush of infatuation draws us close enough to discover the deeper qualities we seek. The simple pleasure of fluid movement, each handhold solid and reassuring, ledges appearing just where you want them, the void a mere reminder to pay attention. The sense of infinity as the ground steadily falls away, ridges and valleys and peaks stretching out to the horizon. The marathon effort, hours spent figuring out a particular sequence, falling on the same move for days, finally letting go enough to put it all together. The pinpoint focus 50 feet out when you can’t – just can’t – contemplate falling. The inner struggle with doubt and fear and desire. The quiet moments coiling the rope at the end of the day, sharing a satisfied glance with a trusted partner.

Classics connect us directly with the rich and ever-evolving history of our shared culture. We’re reminded of the logic and elegance of Emilio Comici’s “drop-of water” maxim by his pre-WWII Dolomite masterpiece the Yellow Edge, of Warren Harding’s persistence and determination by The Nose, of John Gill’s prescient mastery by the dynamic Pinch Overhang. Astroman and Midnight Lightning evoke the “sex, drugs and rock-and-roll” ethos of late-1970s Yosemite, the North Face of North Twin, the brooding allure of a remote Canadian Rockies wall. Wool knickers, 70-cm wooden-handled ice axes, primitive ice screws and crystal-clear vision got Jeff Lowe and Mike Weiss up Bridalveil Falls. And today’s climbers, even with modern gear and shoes and attitudes, can still experience the same joyful vertical dance on High Exposure that rewarded Hans Kraus and Fritz Wiessner in 1941.

We’ve asked five of our friends to share their favorite classics – a few obscure, some familiar – in their essays for this catalog. May they rouse you to study the photos, dig into the guidebooks, pester your friends about their dream climbs. Better yet, get inspired to search out a new classic of your own. Check out that new crag or the next valley, wander a bit. Who knows where you might find the next Walker Spur or Dream of White Horses?

About the Author

The timeless beauty and elegance of the mountain world has inspired Michael Kennedy for over 35 years. A reformed alpinist and editor, Michael tries to curb his curmudgeonly tendencies and generally stays close to the ground, searching for classics in the Mountain West with wife Julie, in-between performing belay-slave duties for their son Hayden. He hopes to fade into dignified obscurity as a climbing, skiing, paddling and all-around mountain sports bum.