Interview: Dan Mirsky claims first ascent of Solid Gold (5.14c)

posted by dpm on 04/12/2013


I first met Dan at Potrero Chico, Mexico sometime in the mid 2000's. He was plugging away at the 5.13's and enjoying the winter life in Mexico of short hikes to the cliff, excellent climbing and sipping cheap caguamas at the end of the day. The next time I ran into him was at Rifle, Colorado where he'd become a summer fixture. This time he was lapping 5.13+ routes and sending some of the canyon's hardest like Zulu (5.14a) and Stockboy's Revenge (5.14b). Apparently no stranger to progression, Dan just sent his hardest route yet at the Cathedral Cave in Southern Utah. His new link-up, Solid Gold (5.14c), climbs the plum line out the middle of the cave, linking sections of the 5.13a Space Shuttle to Kolob and the meat of the route Golden (5.14b). Overall, Dan spent the better part of five months battling conditions and the standard ebbs and flows of progression and discouragement. He stuck with it though and last week finally clipped the chains on what is possibly the hardest route in the cave.  

Dan Mirsky on Solid Gold. Photo: Dave Pegg/Wolverine Publishing

DPM: My understanding is that the original Golden (5.14b) was first climbed by Chris Sharma. Joe Kinder came later and sent Golden Direct (5.14+), a version that avoided a big rest before the business. How does Solid Gold differ from these two routes?

Dan: At this point there are 3 starts to Golden.
Original Golden: climb Space Shuttle to Kolob (5.13a), which climbs up the main steep wall until you can escape right into a massive pod where you could eat a snack or take a nap. For Golden you then traverse left out of the pod back on to the main steep wall and climb straight up from there.

Golden Direct (I have never tried this): Climb an existing 11d to the left of the main steep wall to another pod-looking thing. Do a hard move right to good flake and then do hard climbing up from here to join original golden just after the big rest.

Solid Gold: Climb the first four bolts of Space Shuttle to do the big move left at the crux then continue straight the center of the main steep wall via a boulder problem to get to the 'good' flake on Golden Direct, then do the rest of the Golden Direct boulder problem into Golden.

So basically, Solid Gold is the most straight up way to climb the main awesome cave feature which is how it avoids all the rests and possibly makes it the hardest iteration of Golden. The style of the route is total power endurance; basically bouldery sequences with marginal rests the whole way starting with the one leaving Space Shuttle and culminating with the crux of Golden, an amazing sequence of spraggle pockets and tufa pinches on some of the best limestone I have touched. It is in my opinion the coolest crux sequence I have ever done.


DPM: Grades are so subjective and hard to propose, especially when you're the first to do something. It seems that the original Golden has settled in at 14b. When Joe did Golden Direct he proposed 14c, then thought more about it and suggested 14d, then finally settled at hard 14b. It's a silly game but what are your thoughts on the difficulty?

Dan: It is important to note that I have not tried Joe’s Golden ‘Direct’ start. Others who have done that start seem to agree that the Solid Gold version would be harder. I am proposing 8C+ (5.14c) for the grade of Solid Gold. To me this version seemed like solid 5.14 for sure, but to others maybe easier or harder. I am totally psyched for someone else to try and help confirm the grade.


DPM: Why'd you go straight for the hardest version before ticking off the other versions of the route?

Dan: Last fall, my girlfriend Katy Dannenberg and I embarked on our life on the road in an airstream trailer I purchased in November and we came straight to the Cathedral. Initially my goal was simply to send Golden. I'd tried it on a past trip with BJ Tilden and was totally psyched on it. When we showed up I immediately noticed that Joe Kinder had added a bolt, which would allow for what became Solid Gold without my doing anything else besides tying in and trying. In the past, sitting in the cave looking up, I had noticed that the route could go in this way and it seemed to me the most direct obvious line, now that all the bolts were in place I quickly started running out of reasons not to try to climb Golden this way.

Of course, once I started trying Solid Gold, the weather quickly crapped out and the fall season at the Cathedral was done. Believe me, I dragged Katy up there in sub-forty-degree temps only to find icicles shooting horizontally straight out of the of all the holes in the cave. When we were finally able to start climbing in the cave again it was probably mid-February and I decided that I was all in for Solid Gold.

Photo: Dave Pegg/Wolverine Publishing

DPM: How much time did you put into the route in the spring?

Dan: Cold weather/ wind and wetness made efforts and progress sporadic for the better part of a month. Things finally got warm enough to try consistently in early/mid march but wetness on the route continued to be an issue. Eventually it got down to one critical undercling on Golden that was consistently wet and I resorted to coating the inside of it with aluminum foil (an old trick someone once showed me in Rifle) to try stave off the wetness. It kinda worked...

At the beginning of April, after a long but amazing winter of living out here in the desert in our airstream (Kristoferson) with my wonderful girlfriend Katy Dannenberg staying warm, cooking amazing food, drinking good beer, watching "Homeland" and "Game of Thrones" i.e. not exactly roughing it; the undercling got dry enough that I took the foil out and then it was on. I had a solid week of making it to the upper crux on Golden and it felt like each day I was making it half a move higher through the amazing boulder problem on shallow spraggle pockets and tufa pinches.

Last Friday, the 5th of April, after a rest day, I tied in to my super awesome and light Millet Absolute Pro 9.0 and I sent on my 1st try. The send felt great, nearly flawless exactly how you want the culmination of lots of hard effort to feel. I was, and am, totally psyched. I am hard pressed to call this a true first ascent, but it is my hardest send for sure and I am happy that the vision for the full Golden now is a reality.

Click the image for a DPM video of Dan climbing Vogue (5.14b/c) at the Industrial Wall in Colorado. It's a stash video so you'll have to log in but it's free. 

For a better idea of the route Golden, click the image to see Sasha Digiulian climb the original version.