Mile of Mojo Mission Report!

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I had a notebook with me to keep track of the routes climbed (so I didn't repeat any), the total footage (so I didn't lose count), and the time I sent each route so I could keep track of tempo and keep it for reference later.

You don't want to ignore your instincts though. They're absolutely essential to your survival, but at the same time, you don't want to let them rule you. I awoke optimistically and was buoyed through the approach by the presence of a friend, but ultimately... once I was left alone... My confidence faltered. Even though it had returned, I didn't want to throw that initial feeling away entirely. So I set myself towards a route which was on-point off the deck but eased for the finish. I figured the small holds on the first pitch would begin readying my fingers to pull hard, and the two easy pitches to the top from there would let me move fast, stretch the body out, and raise my heart rate for a proper warmup.

"Toxic Shock (5.9)" 350ft. The Crux is about 80ft up, and I've never climbed it with a rope.

1 route - 350ft accumulated - Completed 8:37AM


John tells me that I have to report this as an onsight. I'd rather call it free-solo redpoint, or perhaps "Onsight-ish." I've never tried it with a rope, but I attempted the onsight solo two years ago and backed off just before the crux 40ft up. The mile day was only the second time I tried the route, but the first time I ever tried the crux, and the upper pitches were all unknown.

40ft off the ground, I made a hard luge to a small but positive crimp. From there I slammed my hands into deep hand jams that alternated between thin hands and perfect hands, the climbing was physical, pumpy, and overhung. I carried the fatigue of that low crux with me through another hundred feet before the relentless overhang turned to sub-vertical 5.7 meanderings to the top. That first pitch really was an exercise in mental control!

Supercrack (5.11d) 400ft

2 routes - 750ft - 9:33AM


The next route I had onsighted with a rope the day prior, and I clipped the only bolt from the crux holds like an idiot while hauling a double-rack up to #3's.... once I ditched the gear it felt 5.7! And that's how it should be if you're soloing. If it feels harder off the rope than it did when you were protected, then you've made a terrible mistake, and you need to rethink you the decisions which got you up into this situation. Ten out of ten absolutely would repeat!

"Full-Tilt Boogie ( 5.11+)" 300ft, Crux at 250

3 routes - 1050ft - 10:16AM


I love this climb, but I climbed the wrong damned route while looking for it a few years back. I found the correct route with John the day before. Super classic climbing, once again, it felt much more comfortable once I ditched the rope!

This lap was absolute peace for me. It has a couple of V2 boulder moves on crisp edges before a good rest followed by jugs to the top, three hundred feet off the floor. Absolutely sublime!

"Pinball Wizard (5.11)" 300ft, crux at 250

4 routes - 1350ft - 10:44AM


Another great one, I onsight-soloed this route years ago, and it went well enough, but I could really feel my progression as a soloist as I was climbing on this route. All of the footholds felt so much larger this time! I still have not climbed Julia with a rope.

Julia (5.10b) 500ft, Crux at 100

5 routes - 1850ft - 11:20AM


Once upon a time I toprope-soloed this one to rehearse it, and have been soloing it ever since. Super classic climbing, crux begins about 30ft off the ground. I have never led this route.

Help Mr.Wizard (5.11a) 400ft, crux from 30-60ft

6 routes - 2250ft - 11:55AM

“Help Mr. Wizard (5.11a)” Mind if I pass? I’ll give ya some snickers!!

“Help Mr. Wizard (5.11a)” Mind if I pass? I’ll give ya some snickers!!

My next target was "Straight and Narrow," but there was a party mid-lead when I arrived and passing them would have been utterly rude, plus... I didn't want to risk anyone falling on me!

I asked around to find the start of "Construction Job (5.9)" and started up the wall. For whatever reason, I've never been a huge fan of CJ, so I stopped on a rock mid-way up the wall and checked Mountain Project on my phone. I remembered there was an alternate finish at 5.11b, and the MP notes said "Big moves on big holds!" Well, that sounded like a good time to me, so I detoured up the left angling seam of Golden Rule and got rowdy! Two 5.11- cruxes 250ft off the ground! Onsighting this still counts as one of the most rad things I've done in my climbing career. At least in terms of generating my own stoke!

Onsight - Golden Rule (5.11b) 400ft, crux at 250

7 routes - 2650ft - 12:43PM


By this point, Andy Toms had arrived with his camera. Last time I happened to bump into him, and he got some great shots, so I saved most of the routes that are visible to hikers until he arrived. BTT felt the easiest it ever had, and by this point, I'd become entirely comfortable soloing in the steeps. I've climbed this once with a rope, and have been soloing it ever since

This is the moment where Andy captured that fantastic shot where I'm hanging one-handed from a roof three hundred feet above the floor. You know, the one I'm using for my logo! It looks extreme enough on its own, but as often, the truth is stranger than fiction! That photo was taken eight routes into the day, after a half-mile of accumulated vertical and six hours of non-stop motion.

Built To Tilt (5.10b) 300ft, Crux at 250

8 routes - 2750ft - 1:13PM


After traveling through the other three routes in the Tilted World, I had looked over at "Tommy Gun" enough to know it would be casual, especially without the weight of a rack and rope. And besides, if it turned out awful, I could always bail on one of the other variations to the top. Nevertheless, this route felt absolutely peaceful and relaxed, all the roof jugs of Full Tilt Boogie with none of the cruxing! If I didn't know any better, I'd have said it was 5.7!

Onsight - Tommy Gun (5.10) 300ft, crux at... hardly felt like it had a crux!

9 routes - 3250ft - 1:44PM


At this point, all of the 10's are behind me except for "Straight and Narrow," I was a bit tired, but I was cruising on momentum knowing that anything difficult was already completed. I onsight soloed this route a few years ago, and have only climbed it with a rope when guiding friends up the climb.

This is where the cramps kicked in. About two hundred feet off the deck my biceps began cramping. I cruised through the easy finish and shook them off on the way down.

Dopey Duck (5.9) 350ft, crux is a pumpy section from 100-200

10 routes - 3600ft - 2:16PM


The climbing went slowly on this one, I onsight soloed it two years prior and still have never roped up on this route, so I hardly remembered anything about the climb.

I picked this one to go next because I was worried about those cramps. The crux was fingery and very close to the ground, maybe only twenty feet. Given that I'd shaken the cramps off on my run back to the base of the wall, I knew I could get through that crux before they came back.

After about a hundred and fifteen feet, my biceps started springing back into my chest like T-Rex arms after every move. But I knew how to deal with this from horseshoe hell! So I started climbing slower, making sure to twist my body and use technique to de-load my biceps and stretch them out by rolling at the shoulders and twisting at the hips to make forward progress up the wall.

That worked like a charm, I got rid of my bicep cramps entirely and... replaced them with cramps in my obliques instead. I didn't even know you COULD get cramps in your obliques! So I went back to my biceps, until they cramped up again, and then reverted to twisting motion.

All this while dusting loose pebbles and lichen off of every hold [Describe detailed on podcast]

Early Times (5.9) 350ft, crux at... the whole thing felt like a crux because of the shenanigans I was having to pull on this damn thing!

11 routes - 3950ft - 2:58PM

Soloing Dopey Duck with John, in my neverending mission to corrupt the youth of America

Soloing Dopey Duck with John, in my neverending mission to corrupt the youth of America

At this point, I took a LUNCH BREAK DANCE PARTY of about fifteen minutes to down some extra snacks, and extra water. I wasn't quite out of the woods yet, I had one more climb of difficulty to contend with, and it was a STEEP one!

I flowed through the first pitch, arrived fresh at the crux, and flowed around it like water. I sprinted up to the top, and the bicep cramps returned for the last fifty feet.

This was the big moment, the last hard climb was done! Now I just had to stay motivated and keep moving! With 3 hours left till sunset, and 3 routes remaining, I knew the day was won. I onsight soloed it two years ago and still have never roped up on this route.

Straight and Narrow (5.10a) 400ft

12 routes - 4350ft - 4:07PM


To try and get rid of those bicep cramps, and to be able to climb without pulling on things, I'd saved a couple stemming routes for later in the day to use as recuperation

Maginot Line (5.7+) 400ft: 13 routes - 4750ft - 4:43PM

Little Corner (5.6) 500ft: 14 routes - 5250ft - 5:25PM


Given the burly liebacking, this was not the smartest finish, on account of my bicep cramps, but it was the most poetic! Paradise Alley was the first thing I ever climbed in Linville, the first thing I climbed at Shortoff, it was my first solo at shortoff, and my first multipitch solo on the east coast. Paradise Alley was the first time I shared a rope with Lohan... In other words, I've made a lot of personal firsts and personal friends on this route, so I saved it for the last route of the day! I crossed the mile marker on the way up this one, it continues to hold a special place in my heart.

The first time I climbed this route, I surveyed the world around me, and I just knew that fun times would be had here... Little did I know just how much fun was in store for my future... Shortoff Mountain is pure magic, and this route was my entry <3

Paradise Alley (5.8+) 450ft

15 routes - 5700ft - 6:12PM

The view from the top, with a little bag of mojo

The view from the top, with a little bag of mojo

Given that route-lengths aren't ever measured accurately if you ever ask me... I'll tell you that I did "a bit more than a mile," perhaps we'll call it the "Mile Plus." All I know is that I certainly covered enough rock to secure the full vertical mile, even if some of the routes turn out to be shorter than advertised. After eight years of dreaming, I didn't want to be robbed of my goal through a damned accounting error. For those of you who like to talk in "pitches per day," I'm afraid I don't have a number for you as I still haven't roped up on most of these routes.

A note on onsight soloing:

I onsight-soloed a few things on this trip, and in particular, I onsighted a "legitimate" 5.11 multipitch climb ("Golden Rule" 5.11a) This achievement is special to me. If you climb 5.11 in your favorite style, you can walk up to almost any crag and expect to find lines to climb and have fun. If you can onsight 5.11, you can expect to have a good time at any new crag you visit. My preferred style is free solo multipitch, so being able to onsight-solo a 5.11 multipitch route is a beautiful thing because it means that I can have fun at any new crag I visit. It's not that I expect to be able to onsight-solo any 5.11, that's sheer hubris! There are still 5.8's I wouldn't solo at all, let alone onsight. That's what makes it unique; it must be practiced much more carefully, so it's a rare achievement. I don't expect to onsight 5.11 multipitch climbs with any regularity (yet), but the fact that I can do it on rare occasions means I'm able to have more fun on my own terms.

It's particularly special because onsight-soloing is much less likely to succeed compared to a regular solo. With most solos, I have a pre-flight checklist of sorts. It has to feel just right, and there are numerous preconditions required so that I know I can climb the move no matter what happens on the way up. For onsight solos, I have more of an in-fight checklist. When onsight soloing I have to go forward with the assumption that there will be a fucked up move high on the wall, so the calculation changes drastically. When onsight soloing, I'm not asking if I can climb the moves effortlessly, I'm asking if I can down-climb the moves effortlessly. That way, if I find the fucked-up move high on the wall, I can still get back down to the ground safely. Since down-climbing is harder than up-climbing, it's much more likely that I'll veto an onsight solo part-way up and reverse to the ground.

You know the climbing is hard when folks pause to post from Instagram during the crux pitch!

You know the climbing is hard when folks pause to post from Instagram during the crux pitch!

After all, the purpose of any solo is to get back down to the ground safely. Sometimes that means sending, topping out, and walking back down... Sometimes that means reversing your moves.

Sport climbing is a different discipline from gym climbing, and it requires a different evaluation of risk. Trad is different from sport, and Multiptich is different from both of those, and bouldering is yet another discipline with its own unique risk assessment. Free-soloing is another discipline, it has its own evaluation of risk, and onsight free-soloing is a separate discipline from the usual soloing of rehearsed routes. It has its own different rules for assessment of risk. In other words, if you practice it right, it's not any more risky than rehearsed soloing. It's just different.

Final Notes:

Eight years spent dreaming of gnar, logging onto the internet and checking every news source for the latest and greatest in climbing... I never had to set my home page to the Climbing Narc, because I'd go to the website five times a day anyhow! Every time I go into REI, my mind starts to wander, and as I'd start to dream of the gnar again, I'd pick up another copy of "Climbing Magazine" and "Rock and Ice" (I'd always buy both at the same time). Always I'd be hoping to hear of the next, newest, gnarliest solos.

It seems that I'm not just dreaming of gnar these days, I'm living it. I'm currently doing the things I've been reading climbing magazines to hear about. I'm doing all of the things that I once labeled as "impossible"... it makes me dizzy if I think about it too hard!

“If you don't solo, you'll never get it. But once you have soloed, you get a piece of it. Once you've soloed a lot, you've really got a piece of it. Once you solo every day... NOW you understand”

Michael Reardon


There is a continuum... Climbers who've done a solo, those who solo, and then there are the soloists. The soloist progresses in climbing with a focus on mastery, we don't just want to get by on the moves we make, we want to own them. Three years before this mile day, I'd admitted that I was a soloist, not merely one who solos. I'm not getting stronger to redpoint harder and harder things. I'm getting stronger because I want to feel more and more relaxed in a broader variety of more difficult terrain. That is the end goal. Because of that, and the past three years of practice, I felt on this Mile day that I was finally starting to "get" this whole soloing thing.

Once again, that's the toughest part: Admitting you have a goal, and committing to that goal. Once you do that, the rest falls into place because your choices become clear.

And It all started ten years ago, falling and failing on 5.8's at the climbing gym. Because of that, I've often said that I have no natural talent. Nothing in climbing ever came easy to me, everything I gained has been hard won through blood, sweat, and tears.... but I put in the work, and I earned every last bit of it. I just never stopped never stopping. Then in Yosemite, it was all taken from me in an instant. But it turns out, if you're determined enough, and dedicated enough, all you have to do is put in the work, and you can get a lot back. It might not be the same as it was before, but that's just because you have a new starting point. I still have no sense of equilibrium, and I'm deaf in m left ear, but I'll be damned if I'm going to let those things stop me!

You know... it's taken me a long time to admit it...but... Maybe I'm talented after all. My talent is drive and determination, which is fortunate because that's a talent that can be shared and given freely. My main hope is that I can use this Mojo to help others... That's why I've started this podcast. I firmly believe that if I can achieve my goals, you can too. The only thing unique about myself is my drive and determination, and I'll give away every ounce of it that I can!

Austin HowellComment