Speed climber, alpinist and Estes Park climbing ranger Quinn Brett broke into the world of hard free climbing with a rare ascent of Spaceshot (5.13a) in Zion National Park, Utah this May. “I’ve
realized that I can climb 5.13,” Brett tells Rock and Ice, “It’s pretty groovy, and it’s pretty enticing to bring that to a bigger venue.”
Spaceshot, a popular nine-pitch aid route first climbed by Ron Olevsky and Dave Jones in 1978, saw its first free ascent in 2005 from Mark and
Mike Anderson. Since its free debut, Spaceshot has seen only a few free ascents, from leading bigwallers such as Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold.
The route is sometimes climbed as a linkup (both aid and free) with other Zion walls, which is how Brett stumbled upon it: “I think it first came on to
my radar when I attempted a speed climb, four walls in a day, with a friend Buster,” Brett reminisces. “He led the first block but while I was jugging
past it I thought: that’s where the free variation is, that looks pretty good actually. I think it was in 2013.”
Brett is no stranger to the steeps, having linked the Nose (VI 5.9 A2) and Lurking Fear (VI 5.9 A2) on El Cap in 22 hours with Libby
Sauter, and climbed seven Yosemite grade V and VI routes in seven days with Josie McKee. She broke the female team El Cap speed record in 2012, and
has established first ascents from Rocky Mountain National Park to Patagonia.
Since she began climbing, Brett has been drawn to the free style. “I think that’s always been in the back of my head,” she says, “I’ve been up the Nose a bunch of times and I’m always trying to free climb as much as I can.”
Spaceshot, a mere 800 feet, is short—for a big wall—but still a stout outing. Brett states: “It’s a lot of hard free climbing. But
pitch wise, yeah, it’s not 30 pitches.” The nine pitches of free climbing are consistently difficult, with a pitch of 5.13a and three 5.12 pitches—one
of which receives an “R” rating. While the routes in Zion as shorter compared to other big wall destinations, “that’s ok,” Brett says. “The adventure
is still there.”
Brett spent a total of 10 days projecting Spaceshot between the spring of 2016 and May 2, 2017, when she completed the free ascent. Max Barlerin,
who did the first ascent of the Colorado Route (5.11c 500m) along with Brett and Mike Lukens, worked the route with Brett, but was tired from
a big wall free climb when the time came for the send burn. Barlerin belayed and Brett led all the pitches.
Spaceshot is in direct sun for most of the day, which forced Brett to break the climb in
to two days of morning shade. The 5.12 pitches after the crux are difficult, and it took several attempts for Brett to redpoint some of the higher
pitches in rising temperatures.
Brett began climbing in Zion in 2010, and enjoys the laid-back attitude that is rarely found at climbing epicenters. She credits the feel to the small
size of the climbing community. Reflecting on Zion, Brett says, “I love that it’s quiet. There’s no scene. I love Yosemite Valley, and I love everyone
there, but it can become chest pumping. ‘What’d you do? What’d you do?’ In Zion you can come and go without that. The climbing scene is so little there,
and the town is so beautiful, and the Virgin River is just healing.”
Brett already has her sights on harder climbs. “Last summer I was working on The Honeymoon is Over with Madeline [Sorkin] so I’m going to put
some effort into that again,” she says. “There’s always objectives in Yosemite I would like to square with. I’m just looking ahead to the future, trying
to keep being well rounded and doing new routes. I might go to Baffin next summer.”