Video: First Ascents, and What Happens Before

A new film set at Colorado's "Abyss" explores what it takes to be first
Staff Writer

When Rich Crowder and Jon Glassberg first laid eyes on the vast boulder field near Mount Evans in Colorado, they saw serious potential.

“We were in a little bit of disbelief… a kind of unspoken giddiness,” said Crowder in the Louder Than 11 documentary ABYSS: North America’s Highest Bouldering. (Entire film is embedded above.)

In the new film, Abyss is a catalyst for conversations about the ethics of finding and developing new climbing areas and stewardship. These heavier topics are discussed in between crystal clear footage of first ascents of killer boulder problems rated up to V13.

Abyss addresses questions faced by many serious climbers. When you climb outside regularly, you may stumble upon an unknown area, and there are plenty of reasons to keep it quiet. There are no crowds, the rock is pristine. You can find and try the best lines.  You can try problems without preconceived notions of how hard they are. You can bag first ascents yourself.  

But you also have to prepare many climbs before you dive in.

Crowder and Glassberg put in a lot of hard work with a select crew. To set up new routes, they hiked in, scrubbed the rock, picked off sections that could break off and hit climbers (or spotters) and decided whether each route was safe enough to try (Could you put a crash pad there? Would the fall be safe?).

The new role of social media in climbing also received a hat tip. While climbers used to find out about new areas through word of mouth, social sites like Facebook and Instagram are changing that. Now information spreads at lightning speed. While this can be great if you want to quickly build enthusiasm about an area, it can also be a curse if word gets out too quickly.

The discovery and establishment process also leads to other questions and responsibilities, according to the film. Before wandering into an area, climbers need to consider access issues, conservation of any species that depend on the habitat and the general impacts of human use.

The final scene is visual candy for anyone who loves first ascents. Ben Spannuth takes on the tower called Doubloons that first lured Crowder and Glassberg to the area. The line up the 5.14 route sits a thousand feet above the valley floor. Their eventual success is a proud moment for the climbing community, part of Abyss history, and it helps answer the question of why a new climbing area should be established and shared.

In the words of Clark Shelk, president of Revolution Climbing: “Nobody is going to remember you in, like, 100 years. What’s more important is that this exists. This is legacy.” 

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