Jonathan Siegrist: First Ascent in Arrow Canyon

posted by dpm on 02/22/2012


Last July I got to watch as Jonathan tore through hard routes in Ten Sleep, Wyoming, flashing and onsighting nearly everything up to 5.14a. A month later I ran into him again in Rifle, Colorado where he was continuing to go through the motions. He sent most of the hardest routes in the canyon in a handful of goes and just before he left he claimed the first ascent of Shadow Boxing (5.14+), a contender for the hardest rig in Rifle.

Shadow Boxing (5.14+) Rifle, Colorado. Photo: Andy Mann

After that he headed to the Red River Gorge, an area where he’d previously done just about everything. This past fall season, Jonathan invested nearly all of his time into the Vader project at the Darkside crag. He mentioned to me that he really wanted to find something that would test him and force him to improve. I got the feeling that, while putting every route down quickly was fun for a while, he had grown tired of it and really wanted a challenge. The Vader project challenged him. Looking back at his blog, you can read about his struggles with the route. He initially thought it to be 5.15 and just as he was closing in on a redpoint, some holds crumbled and he had to work a new sequence. Other climbers like Dave Graham were trying the route with him and found a better sequence, dropping the difficulty a notch. Just as he was coming close to a send, the weather turned for the worse, the route turned into a water streak and Jonathan was forced to bail for warmer climates.

I don’t intend to put words in Siegrist’s mouth but I sense that it was his first bout with failure. He’d invested a ton of time and come up empty. In fact his blog post from Nov 28 was titled “Empty Handed.” He wrote:

It has been a tough season for me out here in Kentucky-- I would definitely be stretching the truth if I were to say that I'm leaving psyched. It seems that over the last 7 weeks I've been battling one thing or the next-- bad skin, humidity, rain, heat, etc. but before I take it too far... It's always important to put things in perspective. It's only natural that every once and a while a climbing trip turns out sour. At times repeated setbacks can feel like something of a curse, but then I am reminded that this is my life (and that's awesome).. and just like with any pursuit there will always be ups and downs. It's all in your attitude.

Jonathan headed home to Colorado and before long was back on the road for an extended trip to the Las Vegas region. He got back on the horse and set to work finding another route that would test his ability.

Hiking into Arrow Canyon, Nevada. Photo: Keith Ladzinski/Jstar's blog.

From his blog dated Jan 8:

The next day we took off for Arrow Canyon, an incredible limestone slot canyon adrift in the Nevada desert. I spent a day or two in this wicked landscape last year and remembered hearing rumor that there was a gnarly project somewhere in the canyon but didn't have a chance to look for it. I brought the full kit into the canyon with me and spent the better part of two days dangling on this rad route cleaning it up, chalking holds, and discovering this gnarly climb. I've not had a proper chance to give it any effort yet, but I'm guessing it's going to be heinous hard... barely there holds, steep angle, big moves.... So stoked to try it!

On January 16th he posted a blog titled “Project Mode” and set to work learning the intricacies of the climb.

On Saturday I did every move on the climb, and began to make links. Yesterday the process continued and my links both from low on the route and mid route are gradually expanding. It's a beast of a route. The meat of the climbing is only 70-80 feet but there is very little easy terrain. The angle gradually increases to a full on 45˚ at the upper crux. It's sick!

The Arrow Canyon Project. Photo:

With some short breaks away from the route due to rain, work, or other climbing excursions; nearly two months passed and he was still projecting the beast. On Feb. 9 he wrote:

At 16 honest tries in, I'm confident that this is the hardest route of my life. It's been an awesome challenge and I'm really looking forward to finally clipping chains. Any day now... this brutal piece of stone will allow my passage, I can't wait.

After a long period of tenacity, Siegrist finally sent the route yesterday and wrote on Twitter:

An epic battle finally comes to an end. I put in sincere effort on this one. A unique + amazing climb- my hardest yet. calling it 'Le Reve'

Jonathan found the route he was looking for tucked far away in a slot canyon in Nevada. It tested him like no other route had and he succeeded only after an extended effort. That’s quite telling about the difficulty of Le Reve.  Though Jonathan hasn’t yet made mention of a proposed grade, it seems safe to say that it is at least 5.14d and more likely a touch harder, though only repeats can confirm a first ascentionist’s proposal. Having sent numerous 5.14d routes like Pure Imagination, Golden Direct, Kryptonite, and benchmark 5.14c’s like Just Do It and Necessary Evil (5.14c) in a relatively short amount of time, it stands to reason that Le Reve is the real deal and one of the hardest in the U.S.

Siegrist on Le Reve. Photo:

Siegrist will surely post up and share his thoughts on his blog in the coming days so keep an eye on Also note that both Keith Ladzinski and Andy Mann put some time into filming his efforts so we’ll likely get to enjoy footage from the ascent in the near future. Next up for Siegrist is a trip to France in April.  We’ll keep you posted.  

Great work Jonathan and keep it up!