Jason Kehl has been climbing for over 13 years and an artist for just as long. Climbing has always been a good creative outlet and his vagabond lifestyle and penchant for danger have fueled his adventures over the years. Jason's evolvement in the climbing world reflects theses ideas and he is willing to share them with whoever is willing to listen.
A pro climber that has been living on the road for the past 10 years, Jason always seems to find adventure. His highballing escapades have been well documented, including some amazing first ascents like- Evilution in Bishop, Ca and becoming the first person to solo 5.14d with his boulder ascent of The Fly in Rumney New Hampshire. You can also see what he is up to via his website www.cryptochild.com.
Three years ago, I tried a beautiful roof project at the tip of the east spur in Hueco Tanks. At the time, the zone was somewhat new and was just becoming popular. There were a bunch of undone lines everywhere, on some of the most solid, perfect stone that I’d ever seen in Hueco. The first thing that caught my eye was the obvious, massive roof that greeted you as soon as you approached the area. It actually looked like there might be enough holds to link all the way to the top. We threw ourselves at it for about an hour, to no avail. The roof moves were hard but not impossible. The lip encounter was going to be the real challenge, which was bullet-hard polished rock that didn't seem to have any holds. This looked like a worthy objective, but little did I know, this was just the start of what would be the longest engagement in my climbing career.
Like I was saying, the lip was pretty blank and it’s funny how sometimes just a little chalk will turn the smallest imperfection into a "usable" hold, and by that I mean “barely usable.” That’s exactly what I found, one of the worst slopers I’d ever seen. This was the only way to get through the seemingly impossible crux. After 15 moves just to get to the lip, the crux begins with a powerful slap to the sloper, then you cut your feet and try to get a blind heel scum above your head and rock back to an edge with double rows of very sharp teeth. This was the most frustrating move on the problem, because you can’t see the hold and you only have a couple seconds to get the heel on perfect and go, before you burn out. I probably fell on this move over 100 times. Most of the time I wasn't even tired and the heel would slip and I would be ejected to the ground once again. I tried to stay positive each time I went out there, being happy if I was able to learn even the smallest amount of beta, but there were definitely days I left in rage. Working something for this long requires a lot of patience and at times I often wondered if I was going to have enough.
The end of my first season ended tragically. I had just had my best burn on it falling at the crux and getting back on and going to the top. Now I knew it was possible, until I jumped down from the boulder and my knee gave out instantly. It was an old knee injury and I hadn't actually had an ACL in a couple of years. I tore and flipped my meniscus which didn't allow me to straighten my leg until I had surgery the next month. I slowly limped out of the park that day wondering when I would be able to get back to this and how long it would take to recover from the surgery. I was unable to climb after the surgery for at least 3 months and after that it was another 3 to slowly rehab the zombie leg that I was now left with. Getting back into climbing was super intimidating.
It’s always hard to go back to any activity after an injury and not remember how you should be performing. Looking down at my atrophied right leg, I thought back to the project and how the entire crux revolves around a difficult right heal hook. I began to get scared, and knew I was going to have to do some serious strengthening if I was going to get back to where I was last season.
When I arrived back at Hueco the next season I knew it was going to take a little getting used to; not only the climbing but, more importantly, falling on my newly attached ACL. It was a slow process but towards the end of the season I was finally comfortably on the rock and started to make progress once again on the project. On my best day, I fell from the last move as my hand dry-fired off the final sloper. “It doesn’t get much closer than that,” I thought. I knew physically I was strong enough again to do it but I think my mind was taking longer to catch up after the injury. In the weeks that followed, I wasn't able to reach my high point and my psyche was fluctuating up and down like a roller coaster. One of my last days I woke up ready. I talked my Swiss friend Alex into taking me out there as early as possible, but the morning was cut short when I split my finger wide open while trying to rip apart a tuna can to prepare my lunch. It took almost a week to heal up enough that there wasn't blood gushing out of it while I was climbing. So we were headed out early once again to beat the sun with hopes high. As soon as we arrived at the project, the winds instantly picked up and it even began to sleet. We could hardly stand and the pads were getting tossed all over the desert. I gave it my best effort but it was impossible to concentrate with the wind and the top out was getting wet. Fed up with it all, we packed up but then the sun quickly reappeared. By now the crux slopers were blazing in the sun. I was beginning to wonder how much a person can take and, “Was it all really worth it?” Someone or something was making it very clear that this rock doesn't want to be climbed. It didn't matter anymore and the season was over.
This year I came back for a third season, and I wasn't leaving until I settled the score. Hueco is not exactly the most low-key climbing area and a lot of other people were interested in the project. This was also an added stress. After putting so much time into something like this, it would be nice to finish it up myself. To try a project this long you have to be sick in the head, obsessed or something of that nature. I guess you have to be to deal. Ok, time to get serious. At my earliest, I was getting up at 6:00am, so I would have enough time to wake up, warm up, and get out there before the sun came and eventually the heat. Progress was going great this year, but it was almost the end of the season and I had now fallen 8 times from that last move. The stress was starting to build and I couldn't imagine coming back to the same thing next year. Send it, or give up and lose my mind. Not the best option really, so I figured I would just keep trying. At first, I'm usually a little hesitant about pain but after a couple of goes I start to get into it, forget that I am only made of clay, and enjoy ripping the flesh. It doesn't matter, it will all grow back and pain is only temporary. On March 6th, I went out to the project, warmed up well, smiled, took a deep breath, pulled on, and climbed all the way to the top without making a sound until the last move, which I barely stuck. I found this interesting because on previous attempts I was screaming and fighting most of the way. It didn’t feel easy like sometimes things do when you try them so much. Everything just worked out and fell into place. That is something that is almost impossible to recreate and now I realize it was well worth the wait.
Click the image below to watch video of the first ascent of Seventh Circle.