To Bolt or Not to Be

I began climbing when I was 9 years old. I only wanted to climb in the gym and compete, because climbing outside was scary, uncomfortable, and just not as much fun. I didn’t know anything about grades, and my knowledge about the sport in general was quite limited, but one thing was certain. Climbing 5.14 meant I would need to learn to scale dry wall.

I didn’t have many climbing “heros” when I began climbing. I looked up to the older kids on my climbing team, but didn’t know much beyond the Estes Park Climbing Gym. Fortunately, fellow Estes Park local Tommy Caldwell popped into my secluded gym world one day when he came in to sign posters for the team.  That poster of Tommy on To Bolt or Not to Be stuck with me for the next 13 years. Until I started climbing outside nearly 8 years later, 5.14 meant no holds, stick to the wall like spider man.

Paige Success WEB

This past weekend, I climbed the only route that I’ve cared to complete since I was little. To Bolt was an important milestone for me in many ways. Established in 1986 by Jean-Baptiste Tribout, America’s first 5.14 has held its grade for over 25 years. Repeats are somewhat rare, given the route’s staggering presence and accessibility in perhaps the nation’s best maintained State Park. But projecting To Bolt means signing up for mental warfare. Down pulling holds are rare, and each move is just like the last – barely there. For the first 9 bolts, there are no rests, no places to pause and recompose. There is nowhere to go but up, and no option but to keep maximum body surface area plastered to the wall. If your hips come out an inch from the wall, you’re off. If you don’t have 100% confidence in a foot placement, you’re off. If you hold on too hard, you’re off. Each movement is part of a 105 move delicate dance.

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Ryan Palo photos

This dance was not easy. I found each and every move to be very similar in difficulty, meaning I could fall at any given point. Unlike other projects I’ve had, falling wasn’t a matter of not trying hard enough or lacking strength. Instead, it was the slightest of errors that sent me hurling backwards down “the great slab”. The ninth bolt hosts a 3/4 pad “rest” before launching into the final redpoint crux. However, on redpoint, the last 5 bolts of 5.12 climbing proved the most difficult for me. I recovered fully after climbing the meat of the route, and immediately fell apart as I began the moderate finish. My beta was wrong, my feet cut, and I was pumped out of my mind. But somehow I kept climbing and clipped the chains, after the most nerve wracking 47 minutes of climbing in my life.

At my favorite crag in the world, among great friends, I completed the route I’ve gazed upon with starry eyes since I was little girl. It was’t quite climbing up drywall, but it was certainly a fight up some pretty small holds.

Eagle KILL WEB

Paige Eagle WEB

Eagle photos by Jon Glassberg

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22 thoughts on “To Bolt or Not to Be

  1. Congrats on the redpoint of “to bolt” I think it is one of the most aesthetic looking routes around. Something about a clean wall like that is very appealing. Now what?

    • Thanks Doug! It certainly is one of a kind. Next is Vegas and then home for a few weeks. Hope you and Dana are well!

  2. Beautifully penned account of the commitment pushing one’s limits demands. I vividly recall when news of JB’s ascent of this route first hit the mags (yeah, there was no internet back then)……its served as a healthy dose of inspiration for many of us who were compelled to push a little harder, reach a little higher. But it wasn’t long after when technocentric vertical “slabs” of high difficulty “fell” out of vogue in lieu of the new brand of steep routes that gradually over took the upper grades. I’m inspired by your desire to tackle this different style of slabby 5.14. Few of today’s power climbers are technically capable of doing it, which speaks volumes about your foritude, commitment and precision as a rock technocrat! Mega-congrats to you Paige!

    PS – I gather you climb with my long time friend Michelle Hurni, amazing coach and all around terrific gal!

    • Thank you Rick, slabs are definitely where the fun is at! Michelle was my coach for many years, it’s always fun to learn about connections in the climbing world!

  3. Nicely done Paige! Great for some of the early belay volunteers from DCL (like me!) to see you all grown up and climbing so strong. I believe you were 9 when I first had the privilege of holding your ropes. Keep up the writing as well — you’re good at it!

    • DCL! Those were the days. I certainly wouldn’t be where I am now without DCL and everyone who made it happen. Thank you for the belays Sharon!

  4. Pingback: Paige Claassen Repeats To Bolt Or Not To Be (5.14a) | Climbing Narcissist

  5. Congratulations! That is a major accomplishment. I’ve stared at that route many times. Still looks like climbing dry wall to me.

  6. Congrats Paige! What a fantastic, poetic, and inspiring account of your climb. There is nothing quite like achieving a lifelong climbing dream; to do it on a route like To Bolt makes it that much more amazing.

    It makes me smile to read that Smith is your “favorite crag in the world.” I’ve been all around the globe and I couldn’t agree more. Keep up the great work!

  7. Way to hang in there Paige! After years spent at Smith when I was in high school and college in Seattle I have yet to sack up and try To Bolt. Thanks for the inspiration! Great work 🙂

  8. We’ve never met but I subscribed to your blog because you inspire me! Congrats! Taking my first trip to Smith in May!

  9. Paige!

    You may remember me as the Evolv rock shoe rep back from the days of DCL in 2004. I also remember your father Dan and last remember running into you both when you were, what … on your way to worlds in Japan?

    I really like what you’re doing with your career as a climber and your writing! Of course I’m from way old-school, Yosemite in the 70s, 80s, & 90s. Now Smith Rock is old-school … Sport! You characterized that well and I like that you strive for historical accuracy, (as in your recent correction about Smith Rock’s place in history).

    As you well know, To Bolt or Not to Be was a seminal route of its time. Good for you on dipping back into the past and understanding its connection to the present. I also much enjoyed your fun and concise description of what it took to get this route done. Bravo Paige!!!

    Cheers,
    Roy

    • Roy! Great to hear from you, I apologize for the slow reply. I hope you’re doing well and still climbing. Hopefully we’ll run into each other again one of these days! Perhaps when I finally make it to Yosemite and am trying to bumble my way up a big wall…

  10. Pingback: FFA & 2nd Ascent of Italy’s Art Attack (8C) by Paige Claasen | Coffee and Rocks

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