Interview with Pro-Climber Nick Duttle

posted by dpm on 05/28/2014

It’s that time of year when the staff fridge at DPM headquarters gets filled with health foods imported from Boulder, Colorado; Austin, Texas; or some other God-forsaken liberal stronghold. Hidden amongst the traditional staples of the West Virginia diet, like Mountain Dew and Ranch dressing, these hippie foodstuffs are a sure indicator that Nick Duttle is back in town.

Nick usually rolls into town for an unspecified amount of time each spring and fall to climb at the New River Gorge. Over the past few years, he’s managed to tick off a good number of the hardest routes in the region. Back in 2011, we did an interview and got some good video of him sending Trebuchet (5.14-) which you can see by clicking here.

Nick Duttle was born with a rare genetic condition called Ectodermal Displasia that has caused many health challenges throughout his life. Read more about that in the DPM article, "Don't Sweat It!"  Acting like a clown is not a symptom.

This season, Nick had a particularly productive trip, sending ten 5.14’s over a one month period. He also furrowed the eyebrow of the local guidebook author, first ascent guy, and DPM editor (speaking here in the 3rd person) by completely disregarding the given grades in the guidebook and suggesting “personal grades” for some of the routes he completed. Here’s Nick’s tick list of 5.14’s with his suggested grades:

Hoax of Clocks, 2nd ascent (5.14c)

Journeyman, 3rd ascent (5.14b)

Mandrill, 2nd ascent (5.14b)

Into the Sarlacc, 2nd ascent (5.14b)

Mango Tango (5.14a)

The Crouch (5.14a)

Metz Hill Parking, 2nd ascent (5.14a)

Coal Train, (5.14a)

Prohibition, 2nd ascent (5.14a)

Mono Loco (5.14a)


Nick works out the moves on The Racist (5.13b). Photo: Edwin Teran

DPM: Nick, wake up and move over bro… I need to get to my computer.

Nick: (mumbles, expels gas, etc…)

DPM: Let’s do this interview… What have you been up to this past year? What’s your usual travel circuit?

Recently it’s been Colorado in the summer time, then heading east for the New and Red in the fall. I generally spend winters down in Texas.

DPM: Were you around for the floods on the Front Range last year?

Yeah, it was crazy. I live right in the hardest hit area. We received the highest amount of precipitation for the whole rainfall event. West Creek, a tributary of Big Thompson Creek is right in front of my house. It had been raining for days straight and finally the power went out.

Most of the neighbors had cleared out, but we were still there. Everything got quiet, there was no sound but the pulsing of the rain on the ground. The rivers were raging so powerfully that the trees were breaking, rocks were tumbling through it and the house was shaking like an earthquake. All you could hear was nonstop pulse of the water surging over everything. It became real when I saw the army trucks roll through and the military checkpoint. Helicopters were plucking people out that were stranded on one side of the river.

My friend Glen Johnson and I had to set up Tyrolean’s across West Creek and Big Thompson to get people out. There were so many old folks without power and food and couldn’t get out. I stayed in Estes for a week or two after the floods cleaning up and making sense of it. Homes and business were washed away and, of course, all climbing projects got put on hold. It certainly gave me a sense of humility about the power of the mountains.

DPM: What were some interesting destinations that you visited this past year?

I went to El Salto, Mexico this past winter. It’s amazing limestone climbing in the Sierra Madre. One of the prominent first ascentionists down there, Alex Catlin, recommended we check out this cliff line just outside of La Laguna and El Salto. It’s insane; probably three miles long, north-facing, and at 7000 feet. It has the potential to be North America’s version of Ceuse. As far as we know, there are no established routes there. I plan to go back to develop in the fall.

DPM: Is it true that you’re half Mexican? Can you speak Mexican?

Si senor. Tienes frijoles por mi y mi amigos?

DPM: I don’t know man, check the fridge… So you usually set up for the winter in Austin, Texas. Last year you climbed your first 5.14d -I, Me, Mine- and a slew of other 5.14’s. What is the climbing like around Austin? Why haven’t we heard too much about it?

The climbing style around Austin is physical gymnastic, powerful limestone climbing in relatively short, steep roofs on pockets. The reason you haven’t heard about it is that a lot of it is on private property or kept under the radar.

DPM: Tell me about your project down there this year.

This last winter I was trying to do this open project called Nosotros. It climbs the intro of I, Me, Mine then breaks right. It’s V12/13, into V13, into V11. It’s about 45 feet of nonstop horizontal power climbing. It’s for sure the most powerful climb I’ve attempted. It’s harder than I, Me, Mine… almost like two of them stacked. It’s definitely a good bit harder.

DPM: But you didn’t send; what happened?

Well, I tried my hardest and started to get good links. I finally got it down to one hang and then the mank monster moved in and the season ended. I trained hard for it though: track workouts, swim workouts, climbing workouts.

DPM: You going back?

I’ll be back in November/December depending on how the Mexico thing plays out.

DPM: In the past, you’ve spent most of your time on the East coast at the Red, but recently you’ve been coming more to the New. Is the Red climbed out for you?

In terms of things I can learn from the stone, it’s pretty tapped out. I could probably shed some weight and climb harder routes there but in terms of becoming a better climber, the New has more to offer.

Nick on Trebuchet at the New River Gorge in 2011. Click for video.

DPM: Last fall you came through the New and just climbed a bunch of 5.13’s. This past month you’ve focused on the harder routes. Was this all part of some master plan?

Yeah, so last fall I just wanted to get a base of understanding of the rock around here. Instead of plowing into 5.14’s and having to fight for them, I wanted to learn how to move on the rock. Without that, I knew that a pummeling awaited.

When I came here this spring, I wanted to build up my technical climbing skills for approaching my main project in Colorado which is a big arête at 14,000 feet on Long’s Peak. Last summer I put up Stills of the Infinite, a 5.13 near my main project. It was a good introduction to climbing at that elevation, dealing with the 6 mile hike in and 6 out, understanding the weather, learning what was possible. I thought that one was going to be 5.12 but my first effort I could barely figure out the moves. Because you’re hand drilling you have to be really careful about where you put the bolts. If you’re going to develop routes up there you have to earn it. It’s a code of ethics of the mountains.

DPM: So you ticked off ten 5.14’s in a month here. And you’ve done others on past trips. You’ve done just about all of them. What is there to come back for?

Picket Fence, Whiny bugs, Vympel, the Circules project, the Full Metal Brisket project, Super Pod project, the extension to BC…  I definitely want to explore more of what the New has to offer. After climbing on Hoax and seeing that movement like that is possible here, it’s just a matter of finding more routes that offer that movement. The fact is, 9a (5.14d) is already bolted here, but no one has stepped up to do it.

DPM: What are some of these 14+ routes?

The BrisketSuper Pod is 5.14c/d. It’s like a 5.13d to V12. There’s a lot. Plenty to do.

DPM: Of the established routes you tried, which were the most challenging?

Mandrill, Hoax of Clocks, Journeyman, Into the Sarlacc, The Crouch, Mango Tango… The hardest moves were on Mandrill and Hoax.

DPM: Anyone that climbs here knows that the grades are completely jacked. They make absolutely no sense at all. Would you agree?

Absolutely. There’s nothing like thinking your cool and then getting curb-stomped off 12b.

DPM: During your trip you suggested some grade adjustments, commonly referred to in the biz as “personal grades.” You suggested 14c for Hoax of Clocks which was given 14a, 14b for the Mandrill which was given 14a, and 14a for The Crouch (given 13d) and Metz Hill Parking (given 13c). Who are you to come here and tell us how hard things are?

Well, I’m bigger than most people that climb here and I’m from Colorado sort of…  It’s graded more for hardest moves here instead of fitness/endurance. With Hoax, it’s so thin and precise but you (the first ascent guy) thought it was V7. For Chris (Sharma) and Jimmy (Webb) and I, it’s more like V12.

DPM: You realize I can’t climb even close to V12 right? Not even V9. But I was able to do the move, so how does that make sense? Is it because you guys are all fat?

When was the last bouldering trip you went on? Have you tried going to Joe’s, or Hueco, or Bishop?

DPM: Yeah, in like 2001. What did the grades get all soft since then? Claiming that the boulder problem on Hoax is V12 is just wrong. I completely disagree. But seriously, I think what we’re getting at here is that grades are ridiculous, stupid, and above all PERSONAL. Am I right?

Yup. Different challenges for different people. We’re just going up rocks, clipping things in case we fall down.

DPM: Well stated Nick. Where are you off to next?

Back home to Colorado to get back to my girlfriend Katherine, swim in lakes, work on the project, and climb up rocks.

Click the image for video of Nick on the 2nd ascent of Hoax of Clocks.