Ethan Pringle has been putting some serious effort into Jumbo Love recently. That's the 5.15b "king line" bolted by Randy Levitt and first climbed by Chris Sharma in 2008. Since Sharma's send, no one else has climbed the route, which tracks for 250 feet up the center of the severely overhanging 3rd tier of an area known as Mt. Clark, on the Nevada-California border. Pringle is no stranger to Mt. Clark or to Jumbo Love -- he worked the line with Sharma back in 2007. Now, he's back, and dedicated to sending one of the world's most epic sport climbs. Pringle was nice enough to send us some background and reflections on his recent experiences on Jumbo Love:
Views of Mt. Clark. Photos by Ethan Pringle.
I had climbed at Clark numerous times in 2004, when I lived in Vegas for eight months, and a couple times after that in '05 and '06. I'd always try Tusk, Randy Levitt's mega-endurance 5.14a/b on the right side of the 3rd tier (also known as the Monastery), some other stuff on the 3rd tier, or we'd climb on the 2nd tier on Read My Lips and No New Taxes. I remember considering a possible route heading out the middle of the 3rd tier where Jumbo Love goes... maybe Randy had even sunk some bolts into the first half, but from the ground it just didn't seem like there were enough holds. I guess Randy knew there were. Either way, I got a voicemail from Chris Sharma in early May of 2007 saying he was staying with Chris Lindner in Vegas, trying this incredible project at Mt. Clark, and that I should come down and climb on it with them. Getting that message must be every climber-youth's dream! I didn't have anything on my schedule so I joined them, of course.
I spent about a week in Vegas with the two Chris' climbing at the 3rd tier, mostly on Jumbo Love. I don't think I made any links on the route of any kind on that trip, but I did do all the moves individually and figured out some better beta for Chris to use on some sections (he uses some whack beta sometimes). I also did the FA of the extension to the Wall of Glass, which clocks in around 5.14c and is still unrepeated.
It was then that I decided I wanted to do Jumbo Love some day. I planned to come back at a later date, when I had more time to work on it. I was inspired by my line, but Jumbo Love has the total package: fun moves linking holds that barley exist up an otherwise blank wall, from the bottom to the top of the cliff. Plus, it's something of an anomaly for the US (shouldn't climbs like this only exist in Europe???), and, technically, it's in California! I came back in November of that same year after sport climbing in Europe and I was in pretty good shape. I made some good links on the route, linked up to the red point crux section from the ground once, and even got Dave Graham up there for a few days. That trip ended with me breaking off a not-so-key hold up high on the route and gouging a huge flapper in my fingertip. It was getting cold anyway, and right after that Chris [Sharma] emailed me asking me, very politely, if I'd give him a chance to try for the FA before I snaked it from him. Somehow, he got the idea, from someone, that I was actually close, which I was not. Of course I was fine with that, and I ended up fracturing my heel at the Buttermilks that winter, anyway, which put me out for most of the spring. Then Chris came and sent Jumbo Love that September, 2008, so things worked out the way they should have. And for some reason I didn't get around to getting back on the rig until now.
Ethan Pringle sticking the drop-knee-to-mono crux on Jumbo Love (5.15b/9b), Chris Sharma's 250-foot super-route. Photos by Eric Foss.
On this trip I've definitely made some faster progress. Day one was spent just putting up the draws and doing some of the moves and sections, but no serious tries from the ground or to link any big sections. On day two, I made it through the lower crux with the drop-knee move to the mono on my first real attempt from the ground, but fell up higher on a big left-hand deadpoint to the three-finger pocket that marks the start of the redpoint crux section. That progress was encouraging, and having that first crux feel so doable 75% of the time was a good feeling. The crazy deadpoint to the right-hand pinch in the first crux is probably the hardest single move on the route. The drop-knee-to-the-mono move that follows is hard too, but I can do it almost every time I stick the pinch, as long as my left foot doesn't pick too early before I get my fingers in the slot well enough to hold the swing. It's more intimidating than anything, because you're kinda run out there and you have to take this enormous swing, putting almost all your weight, plus momentum, onto the left-hand mono (I actually stack two fingers in it). It's really committing, but the 'mono' is a good hold, and even though I'm always a little surprised that I held on after kicking my feet back on, I can always take one deep breath there before continuing. And yeah, I guess it looks pretty cool...
The run-outs are pretty big on Jumbo Love, the biggest being the one through the first crux. The way Chris was trying the top of the overhang before he switched up his beta didn't afford him time or energy to clip the last, like, three draws, so that was a huge runout. But now there is easier beta, going a little farther to the left, and with that beta you can clip and even rest for a second mid-way though the red-point crux. Even though the falls are safe and not incredibly big, it's still in the back of your head. We used to skip a few draws just for fun and have the belayer give us yards of slack, and take enormous falls -- 60-plus feet. But I'm not doing that so much any more. No reason to tempt fate that way.
It's really, really dry out there, which can take its toll on your body. Your lips get all cracked, bloody boogers clog your nose, and your hands and feet get all dried up. I think the best way to do it is to camp at the 2nd or 3rd tier, which saves you energy, time in the sun, and allows you to get an earlier start. When the weather is hot, the best conditions are around noon or one o'clock, when the wind is still blowing. In the evening, the wind can die and the air gets stagnant and heats up.
Pringle taking an airy whipper on Jumbo Love. Photo by Damon Corso.
On the five trips I've made to Mt. Clark this season, I've climbed with five different people. I'm really lucky though, because the person I'm staying with here in Vegas has a Jeep (my Element definitely cannot make it up there), and she's been letting me take it even when she can't go with me (thanks Audrey!). You need high clearance and 4-wheel drive to make it up there. My friend Derek is coming down to climb with me for a short stint next week. Psyched!
I was already in pretty good bouldering shape, so I sort of just decided that I would gain the necessary endurance just by climbing up there on the route and doing the hike over and over. I needed to put in the time up there anyway, to refine my beta and work on the headwall section, which I hadn't even tried at all until a few days ago.
A note about upper headwall: in the video Progression, which shows Chris sending Jumbo Love, they edit out 98% of the climbing above the crux of the route, on the headwall section, but it is not easy up there! Just after you gain the jug at the lip, you can rest and recover a good amount, but you're still just hanging on your arms so you definitely can't get it all back. Right off of that rest there is a difficult boulder problem on crimps to pull the lip, probably about V9. This boulder problem culminates in a hard stab from a slopey side-pull crimp to a right-hand incut edge (this move is shown in Progression). I could definitely see myself falling off of this move coming from the ground, especially if I was greasing off even just a little bit or wasn't able to recover at the rest after the red-point crux. AGHHHHH! And after that part... well, I'd say it's probably about a 5.13c route featuring max extension reaches between sharp, slightly chossy flakes and cryptic sequences, and some holdless mantles into scoops thrown in for good measure. Plus the draws are at least 15 feet apart... . It's good fun up there! Oh, yeah, and you can't see or really communicate with your belayer at this point.
Projecting a route like this requires all of your attention, and having to devote all of your attention to a route like this can get really tiring really fast. At some point, you just want to get it over with. Of course, afterward you feel a mix of relief and loss. Relief that you're done and the epic is over, and loss that this magnificent line doesn't require your presence anymore. But for me, I think I'll have to take a nice long break from serious route projects for a little while after this. Like Randy Levitt said, "It's like a limestone El Cap." Obviously, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but it does sort of convey the amount of work required to complete a project of this caliber.