good looks and cam hooks

Lumpy Ridge with Bernard Gillett


Over the past three days, I’ve hauled all my gear for 27 hours of driving from Southern Maryland to Longmont, Colorado. The goal is to get in a few climbs while we’re out and before we head over to Yosemite. The real treat, however, is that we’ve been staying with the family of local star climber and guidebook author Bernard Gillett.

Hiking the approach to Lumpy Ridge
Bernard and I met just this year under very strange circumstances. His daughter Katie was a freshman at Vanderbilt as I was on the way out. We knew each other distantly, but when she discovered that I climbed, she made sure to tell me all about her dad. He’s written four guidebooks (as well as Vandy’s calculus textbook), put up many insanely difficult first ascents (up into the 5.13 range), and is an all-around legend. Most importantly, he’s a great family man, with five wonderful kids. Katie informed me that her dad would be flying in to Nashville for one day just to go see a musical with her in the evening. The only problem? She needed someone to entertain her dad during the day while she was in her classes (Bernard is a college professor at UC Boulder and would never let his daughter skip class).


The gang with Bernard instead of me
Needless to say, I soon found myself picking up Bernard Gillett at the airport. We booked it to Foster Falls (a climbing area near Chattanooga), jogged the approach trail and start tearing through as many classic climbs as possible within our 3-hour time window. Bernard shared countless stories of his many escapades, and I just soaked it up. At the day’s close, we took a quick and frigid dip in the falls. We got so much done in so little time, and it was day to remember. Life was good.


Belaying Matt to the summit
Fast forward a few months, when we realized that our route to the Valley passed right though Longmont. I couldn’t resist asking Bernard if he wanted to climb with us while we were in Colorado. This quickly escalated into him housing us for three days and guiding us around his favorite spots. It’s one of those offers that you know you won’t ever be able to repay, but you’re obviously still going to take it. As I sit here in the Gillette house eating their cereal and drinking their coffee, I’m reminded that I have probably peaked.

This brings us to yesterday’s activities. On the agenda was a classic moderate crack climb called Pear Buttress, located in Lumpy Ridge. Bernard climbed first with

Matt exiting the chimney in great style
Elam and Voss, while Matt and I followed as a team of two. We did the normally five-pitch route in three longer pitches. Pitch One involved a pretty scary start, with 20 feet of easy climbing before you can place your first piece of protection. A fall here would be highly unlikely, but it was enough to spook you. I led this pitch and loved it. The second pitch was super-classic crack climbing, starting with finger locks and moving into a long stretch of thin hands (“thin hands” mean you can jam most, but not all of your hand into the crack. It feels pretty insecure compared to other crack sizes). Once the crack widens to a perfect handcrack, it was easy breezy. For Pitch Three, we took a chimney variation finish that began with a super-runout 5.4 traverse with no protection into a much better-protected 5.8 hand traverse up into an easy chimney section. As you emerge from the chimney, you top out on the beautiful ridge with incredible panoramic views.


Exposed descent!
The hike down was a rather exposed 4th-class downclimb (4th class means that light climbing is involved, but it is so secure and easy that most people wouldn’t bother to rope up). This eased up into a trail that took us back to the car. Needless to say, getting to climb with the guy who wrote the guidebook for the area made navigating this descent considerably easier.


We finished the evening at the Gillett house with a delicious dinner and hanging out with the family. The kids taught us how to slackline, which none of us could do in the slightest. We’ll just stick to climbing.