Transcendental Linkup — Luke Negley
The Transcendental Linkup consisted of climbing the 5 biggest/ best formations on Pikes Peak, a 14’000 foot peak near Colorado Springs, in under 24 hours.
The prep work for this climb was an immense amount of work, almost a month of planning, stashing water/food/gear, fixing a 600’ rappel, climbing each wall to ensure we could crank our designated pitches as fast as possible to meet our under 24hr deadline.
The linkup consists of the following routes:
- The Razor (5.12a) on Corinthian Column 350’
- The Gift (5.11) on Bigger Buttress 700’
- Arching Jams (5.10+) on The Pericle 500’
- The Flame (5.11) on The Sphinx 350’
- Finger Fanger (5.10+) on Bigger Bagger 500’
- 6-8 miles of scrambling/hiking between 12,000 and 14,000 feet
This adventure starts with myself and my partner Noah McKelvin being dropped off at about 1300’ the night before our attempt. We packed our bags and set off traversing in above The Corinthian Column and soon rappelling down to our Bivy ledge about 60’ up the wall.
We sat on the ledge not saying much as we watched the sun set over the city, we both knew that this was going to be one of the most physical days of climbing either of us had ever done. As the sun set we attempted to get some sleep before the alarms went off at 2:00am. I think Noah fared better than myself, he was smart enough to bring ear plugs to dampen the sound of hundreds of bats dive bombing us throughout the night. All I had were my headphones and 80s country jams to drown out all the commotion. Noah slept decently well from what I remember but I was only able to fall asleep at 12:30am, giving myself only an hour and a half of sleep before the alarms went off and the day was upon us.
We awoke regrettably, knowing that our first 2 walls were most likely going to consist of climbing by headlamp which neither of us had much experience with.
I had the first pitch, a 5.9 corner to a sloping traverse which holds refuge to the hundreds of bats that were dive bombing us the night before. It's hard to climb your best/fastest with the thought of a bat biting you or suddenly shooting out of the crack. I finished my pitch in decent time, fixed the rope to the anchor and Noah jugged swiftly behind. He arrived at the belay and I handed over ther rest of the rack and he shot up the 5.12 arete, climbing at a solid rate to set the pace for the day. Noah arrived at the anchor, fixed the rope and I jugged, plucking gear as I went.
We soon rappelled back to our bivy ledge, packed up our loose gear from the night before, fixed our backpacks to the wall and began downclimbing to the Hero Traverse. The Hero contains fairly easy class 2-3 scrambling, but with significant consequence if one were to fall. Noah is definitely the more experienced climber out of the two of us and very comfortable in alpine terrain and was moving considerably faster than myself. Several times I lost sight of his headlamp as we made our way across the Traverse. Eventually, we arrived at the rappels for The Gift where we had fixed a 600 foot static rope to speed up this section of the linkup knowing that we would have to do this rappel twice. We shot down the rappel with Noah leading us to a large grassy ledge which marked the base of The Gift.
We soloed the first pitch, a short 5.8 crack to a long easy traverse to the base of where the real climbing started. Noah took the second pitch, a beautiful 45 meter 5.11 S crack that snakes down through the sizes starting with number 5 camalots and ending in a tips finger crack. As Noah topped out this pitch and fixed the rope for me the sun was just beginning to shed light on the wall, a beautiful sight. I jugged and upon arriving at the belay we quickly traded gear and I began up the 11a finger crack which lies inches from an arete. This is a very interesting and airy pitch which continues for about 40 feet until an awkward mantle on loose blocks brings you to a large ledge. I placed a cam with a double length runner to reduce drag and shot up and left through a very chossy 5.8 chimney, eventually arriving at a nice stance and fixing the rope. Noah arrived at the anchor and began up a 5.9 offwidth, climbing exceptionally fast and he continued climbing until there was no more rope left. We simul-climbed the remaining pitches to the top of The Gift.
We topped out the wall in record time, two and half hours. At this point we were both feeling pretty stoked. We racked gear for the next wall and shot down the rappels to downclimb/scramble into the valley below.
We landed in the valley and began the hour long reproach to the base of Arching Jams, where we had stashed water and food. Upon arrival at the base of the wall we found our stash of food destroyed and scattered across the forest floor. Damn marmots somehow got to our stash that was hanging from a cam in a cave, a huge bummer. Both of us were looking forward to this crucial refuel. Thankfully, the water was still intact. We refilled our bottles and I began linking the first 2 pitches into a 200 foot mega pitch of ever steepening thin hands. By the time I reached the belay stance, a small ledge just big enough to sit on, it was about mid day so the sun was on us and I was feeling it. Noah jugged behind slowly, also feeling the heat. We traded gear and Noah launched up the next pitch, climbing around the corner and out of sight. All I know is I was selfishly stoked not to be the one leading this 5.9 R pitch. Noah fixed the rope and I began jugging in my socks, my feet were starting to swell and my toes were not feeling their best. Upon arriving at the belay I found Noah half asleep, we were starting to hit a wall and the mental battle was starting to begin. I took us to the top of the wall leading a long slightly chossy 5.6 exit pitch.
We topped out, grabbed our stash of gels and water and took a short 15 minute break which would end being our only break of the day. Both of us dreaded the hike back up out of treeline and across nearly the entire north face of Pikes Peak to the base of The Flame, an old school Jimmy Dunn 3 pitch 5.11 and the only wall I had not climbed before. I was a bit nervous to say the least. We began up the scree field to the notch where we would start traversing the north face. I would hike fast, passing Noah and then lay down on the ground to relieve my hips of all the weight, hoping that Noah would join me in the dirt, but he would walk right past me, forcing me up as a good partner should to tag along, stumbling like zombies. We gained the notch and began traversing class 3-4 terrain that again contained serious consequences. Upon arriving at the base of the Flame, I was pulling from the bottom of the well, my hips were bruising from the weight on my harness and I had pushed myself harder than I ever thought possible. Thankfully, my dad and his friend John had been climbing The Flame earlier that day and waited for us to give us some moral support, which was essential to the send.
Noah and I climbed the 5.7 approach chimney and began racking up for the ever steep 5.11 pitch. I climbed sluggishly, frenching/ aiding from time to time, eventually arriving at the bolted anchor where I really started to lose it. I had lost all the vision out of my right eye and I was gagging uncontrollably, most likely a combination of altitude sickness and a hot, birthday cake flavored protein shake that we pounded at the base. Noah jugged the overhanging splitter and arrived at the belay not saying much. I handed over the rest of the rack and he began moving up the second pitch. It's hard to remember much about the next pitch. I was hurting so badly and I remember nothing but unbearable dread.
Eventually we topped out the Flame, a monumental moment. Now all that lay ahead was a few rappels, some 5.7 free soloing and the final 500 foot pinacle that is Bigger Bagger. We got back down to the base of The Flame, coiled the rope, traded gear and began hiking towards the base of Finger Fanger hoping to arrive before dark so that Noah didn't have to lead a crumbly decently scary 5.9 pitch in the dark. After a hundred feet or so of free soloing/scrambling we made it to the base as the sun was setting.
The final formation, Bigger Bagger Buttress.
Noah had arrived 10 minutes before myself and was racked and ready to roll. He quested up the nearly 70 meter pitch and soon I was jugging terribly slow behind. I arrived at the belay fully ready to completely aid the next pitch, I didn’t even have my climbing shoes on anymore but after aiding the first few moves we both decided it would be much faster if I just freed the pitch. I lowered back to the ledge to put my shoes back on and climbed up the 5.9 cracks to the bomber ledge where I fixed the rope, As I arrived at the ledge darkness was upon us and I waited for Noah as he followed up the rope. Quickly, I gave Noah most of the rack and climbed the unprotectable 5.8 offwidth traverse straight right to the base of the last 5.10 + pitch that leads to the summit. Noah was soon following the pitch to meet me at the anchor. Noah started up the final pitch climbing well, taking us to the top of the pinnacle and he let out a victory screech as he reached the knife edge summit, fixed the rope and I began to jug. Arriving on top was a beautiful moment, the mountain was peaceful and the city lights flickered below, I think we both wanted to cry but nothing would come out, I had pushed myself way past what I thought I could accomplish.
We were victorious!! We had climbed the 5 best walls on Pikes Peak via their best routes in 21 hours. Though the climbing was over, the adventure was not done yet. We still had to rappel down the wall and hike out 2.5 ish miles to the car. We got back down to the base, gathered all our gear and began wandering through talus fields and forest until we hit a trail that led us to our vehicle. We drove down the road, found a camp spot, pounded a big bag of jalapeño chips and an entire bottle of Yukon Jack and fell asleep in the dirt.
A perfect end to a heinous day.