posted by dpm on 10/31/2013
Each fall season climbing news is dominated by the predictable: Adam finally got that lightning bolt scar removed from his forehead, Chris put on his wizard hat and smudged El Cap for KJorg, and all the while we are still trying to figure out wtf the Island is. But this year seems different. Never before have we seen the future of our sport unfold so clearly. Move over Miss Cleo, visionaries from the Northeast, Pete Clark and Paul Handlen (aka The Sideboyz) are basically the new Psychic Twins, but without the “actual” psychic abilities or rhinoplasty. Wow this article has taken a nose dive already...
Anyway, we at DPM are privileged to receive an advance copy of a grant written by The Sideboyz for their recent expedition. Through the American Alpine Club’s Live Your Dream grant, Clark and Handlen were able to access valuable resources that allowed them to establish their dream climb: a Class V 23-pitch 5.11 A3 girdle traverse of Farley Ledge in Massachusetts, calling it “King Snake: The Eternal Mystery.” Mr. Handlen, so inspired by this legendary “backyard bigwall,” even got a commemorative tattoo.
Paul 'Sideboy' Handlen's commemorative tat. The King Snake represents the route; the hobo stick represents the stuff they carried (#antproofboxes.) The hat with feather is the eternal mystery.
After reading this grant, Clark and Handlen clearly show us the meaning of dreaming, I mean, provided your definition involves sideways A3 falls, kick-stepping up mud corners in Testarossas, and Ninja Shuko Hand Claw Spikes.
Below is the actual, albeit shortened and slightly updated grant submitted to the AAC:
Please describe the climbing project for which financial support is sought. What is your objective?
Our team’s objective is to complete the first ascent of King Snake: The Eternal Mystery, a (proposed) Class IV or V A3 5.12 girdle traverse of Farley Ledge in Western Massachusetts. At approximately 25 pitches (~2,000 ft), King Snake will be the longest climb in southern New England, besting the closest contenders by a whopping 1,700 ft of climbing (estimated). Our dream is to complete a full ascent of the route by freeing as many possible pitches with several sections of known aid. After our initial ascent, we propose to work the most difficult crux sections to return later for a complete one-day free ascent of this monster. This will be very similar to Lynn’s ascent of the Nose. Except different.
Figure 1: Pitch 3 of King Snake: The Eternal Mystery. Paul Handlen about to follow an A3 crux pitch: hook, leeper, leeper, dyno to 000 Camalot. Both leader and second risk 25ft sideways falls.
Figure 2: Farley Ledge and southern New England’s biggest prize: King Snake: The Eternal Mystery
Please explain the proposed project/climb’s significance. How/why does this project allow you to live your dream? How does this project advance your progression as a climber?
In the 1950s, John Gill pioneered bouldering under the skeptical eyes of his peers high up on El Cap. Alan Watts was at the nexus of the debate, do bolts belong in climbing? Headpointing, pinkpointing, alpine tactics, and competition climbing have all made their contribution to bring climbing to another level. The question we ask is, in this finite world what is next??
In 2008, I became dismayed with the notion of the purity of a vertical ascent. How can we assign privilege to movement? Can we place judgment to the up and down over the right and left? Why discount the horizontal tango? Few recognize the majesty of the girdle traverse. I reference the reader to Freddie Wilkinson and Matt McCormick’s brave and humble attempt at a winter ascent of Cannon Cliff’s girdle traverse where they plainly state, “Forget the UBC Pro Tour [edit: done], girdle traversing is the future. This is where the next John Gill/Alan Watts/Fred Nicole will arise.” Word on the street, even the Dawn Wall Team has been talking about upping their game (see Figure 3). You feel me?
Figure 3: The Dawn Wall Team upping their game (original photo credit: Big Up Productions)
Over the last six years I have dreamt of the ultimate southern New England bigwall: a monumental girdle traverse of Farley Ledge in western Mass. Ken Nichols et al. completed a 60-pitch girdle traverse of the Gunks. Granite walls of New Hampshire such as Whitehorse, Cathedral, and Cannon host glorious side-to-side terrain. Girdle traverses are rooted in the history of Northeast climbing. In the same way that we train for Himalayan expeditions on Cannon and Washington, we look to our girdle traverses to prepare us for the Lotus Flower Tower and the Valley. This project is a lot like “a Northeast climber’s first trip to Yosemite to climb a big wall”, except it’s not in Yosemite. And it goes sideways. But it is a sort of a bigwall, with similar tactics and misery, right? This project will grow our expeditionary team by providing an authentic, replicable, homegrown bigwall experience in our backyard, making our Northeast brethren and the AAC proud.
In the summer of 2011, my best friend Paul Handlen and I made a valiant effort of the proposed project. Days of scoping, drawing topos, binoculars to spy key sequences, and stashing of gear led to a full-hearted attempt. After 10 pitches of debauchery, poor rope management, sideways falls, wet and moss-choked cracks, runout horizontal sections of hooking, literally climbing in a circle, and kick-stepping unprotected mud corners in Testerossas, we failed. To boot, we found ants swarming our sandwiches at the bivy. We were defeated (but still ate our ant sammiches). We reluctantly drank our now not-so-celebratory beers, rappelled 35ft to the ground and went home. The dream of King Snake was too big and too sideways for us. It felt dead.
Except not. Time has passed. Hearts and minds are resilient. I see the spark in Paul’s eye. Without a word, we both knew it was time (Except I actually haven’t told him we are going back. This is kind of like Reel Rock Film Tour 7 when Conrad brings Renan and Jimmy back to Meru, except different. We spent a year putting up new slab lines that make the Dawn Wall project look like the Flatirons. We trained for almost a mile on our single speed road bikes with cut-off jeans. We’ve been suspended from the local climbing gym during busy hours because we too often restricted patrons with our horizontal madness and hanging belays (also, we’ve wrecked some new holds after repeated hook sequences. OOPS!) We’ve put in a herculean effort to turn King Snake from a dream to a reality!
In truth, all jest aside this is what we love about climbing. Sure, girdle traversing a cliff is nonsense. But it is in the nonsense, the monumental effort required, the challenge and logistics, and the because it’s there and we’re crazy that make this project stand out for us. It is unlikely that a couple of regular Joes like us are going to free El Cap (we’ve yet to be fired from our “jobs,” plus I have a dog and Paul has two kittens; see Figure 4). Our motivations are grounded in the weird and obscure. We believe that an ascent of King Snake: The Eternal Mystery will make a positive and lasting impact on our climbing careers as well as on the history of climbing in the Northeast. This is a lot like Big Up Production’s movie Progression, except with even more progress. It’s for this reason that we seek the support of the Live Your Dream grant.
Figure 4: From left to right: Chairman Meow, Joseph Pawlin, and Carl Barks
Please briefly describe your and your team members’ experience:
Our team has over 24 years of cumulative climbing experience. We are pretty outstanding free climbers, but are also particularly adept at standing in aiders. We’ve even belayed 5.14s. Pete has completed some modest bigwalls. Paul is basically a Vietnam War vet reborn as a Mexican Cartel transplanted in Trenton NJ; you just don’t mess with him. Our most relevant route contribution you ask? Clearly our 2008 one-day, onsight ascent of The Sickbird Girdle Traverse (four pitches, 5.12b) at the Wall of Early Morning Light at Farley.
Budget (please break into broad categories, i.e., airfare, ground transportation, lodging, food, etc.):
[Budget truncated for clarity]
Boombox and GoalZero solar charger (like Tommy and KJ)
On Oct 29, 2013, history was made when the following report came in via the social medias:
"Yesterday, Paul Handlen and I (aka The Sideboyz) completed the first ascent of “King Snake: the Eternal Mystery”. Dismayed by the privileging of the vertical, we decided to forever change the future of climbing into the past of climbing. King Snake, a 23 pitch (~2,000 ft) 5.11+ A2 girdle traverse of Farley is one of the longest routes in the Northeast, joining the ranks of The Gunks, Cannon Cliff, Cathedral Ledge and others as some of the best side-to-side terrain on the planet. We’ll release a more comprehensive trip report once the media moves their trucks off the front lawn. Thanks to the American Alpine Club - Northeast Region for allowing us all to Live Our [collective] Dreams!"
In a later social medias post, the Sideboyz added, "there are no words to describe this "feat"... only emotions."
Below are exclusive photos shot from
Big UP production's camera crane the Sideboyz' iphones (#solarchargerlikeKJ) during their historic ascent traverse. Read more about New England's best, hardest, longest, and #epicest climb in the next issue of Deadpoint Magazine which hits newstands your computer screen on Dec. 1.
Sometimes you have to go down before doing the horizontal tango. #that'swhatshesaid. Pitch 18 of King Snake: the Eternal Mystery.
Updating the live feed. #funeral selfies.
The crux pitch showing the infamous 'rock tripe traverse' and the equally infamous 'equalized sapling belay.'
Pitch 16 smells like pee. #huberbros?
Like Honnold soloing the Nose, Handlen forgot his chalkbag and had to make due with a fur-lined trapper hat. #newenglandstyle
Handlen pole vaults to a tree branch and barely sticks it. Revolutionary tactics.