In the search for hard new free climbs, old aid climbing routes are prime real estate. The evolution of better protective gear and stronger climbers means yesterday’s impossible routes can be free climbed at 5.12, 5.13 and 5.14 — probably the most famous is The Nose on El Capitan, freed at 5.13+ by Lynn Hill in 1993 after 35 years as an iconic aid climb. Starting in 2004, Mike Anderson made a career of freeing aid climbs in Zion National Park, the walls of which were thought to be too blank to climb by any means until Jeff Lowe started tackling the steep sandstone there in 1969.
Chris Weidner, a Boulder-based climber and writer, had to look no further than his own backyard for an unplucked gem: Eldorado Canyon’s Centaur, a 5.8 A5 aid route first climbed by Pat Ament, Tom Ruwitch, and Roger Briggs in 1967, then left almost untouched by aspiring free climbers ever since.
“I first learned about Centaur by studying [Richard] Rossiter’s Eldorado guidebook in the early 2000s,” Weidner says. “I thought that maybe someday Centaur would be worth a look. But after scoping it from the ground, from the left (on the Naked Edge) and from the right (on the East Slabs descent) over the years I realized that, if it went free, it would someday become a classic hard route.”
Centaur is two pitches, approached by climbing the first five pitches of another Eldo classic, the 5.8+ Redguard. The first pitch of Centaur, retro-bolted in the ’80s or ’90s, goes at a stout 13c, with pumpy underclings and bad footholds (a few were so tiny Weidner didn’t see them until he’d made 10 attempts). The second pitch was freed by Christian Griffith in 1986, is a not-casual 12c. Altogether, Centaur is only 140 feet of climbing, but what climbing, Weidner says.
“A safely bolted, overhanging pitch, 700 feet off the deck that hadn’t been freed?” Weidner says. “That’s what led me to attempt it.” Weidner, a longtime contributor to Climbing, Alpinist, and other publications, is no stranger to burly routes — in August 2010, he and Bruce Miller pioneered a nine-pitch 5.12a route, Hearts and Arrows, on the Diamond on Longs Peak.
He first rappelled down the route in late September, checking out the line and cleaning the holds. He returned several times over the next six weeks with his wife, Heather, and they both tried to free the first pitch. On his ninth day of attempts, with Bruce Miller, Weidner redpointed the route on November 20, and he says it’s a new testpiece: “There’s delicate footwork, body positions and micro-crimps combined with thuggy power moves. The cruxes are well-protected but there are a few spots with potential for big falls.”
The young 5.13c route may not have to wait long for its second ascent. “My friend Alex Honnold wants to try Centaur with me the next time he’s in Boulder,” Weidner says. “We have a bet: If he onsights it, I’ll buy him dinner. If not? Dinner’s on him.”
Photos by Celin Serbo
Declination is other places, other spaces, and the things that happen there.