I am sitting at a friend’s house in Seattle when Jonathan “J Star” Siegrist decides he will start building a house of cards. Siegrist is fresh off his rampage in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, where he destroyed nearly all the area’s hardest routes in just a handful of tries. Nonplussed, I watch the house rise to an impressive five card-stories tall.
“When I was a kid,” Siegrist says, now whispering as he balances another card near the apex, “I used to tower these things at restaurants as high as the ceiling using coasters.” He then drops a card, and the house falls.
“Building card houses is kind of like technical slab climbing,” Siegrist says. “You have to be delicate, balanced and precise.” As a guy who has climbed some of Colorado’s most technical hard routes, he would know. In just five years of climbing, Siegrist has redpointed Grand Ol’ Opry (5.14c) and Vogue (5.14b), and the trad routes Musta’ Been High (5.13c R/X) and Country Boy (5.13d)—to name a few ticks near his home in Boulder. This fall, Siegrist, on his first trip to the Red River Gorge, drove 19 hours there and headed straight for Lucifer (5.14c), at the time a contender for the hardest climb in the region. He tried it a few times that first day, and redpointed it the next day on his fifth try total. Lucifer was one of three 5.14c’s that Siegrist sent during that three-week trip, but his total tick list—with three 5.14a flashes and over a dozen 5.13 onsights as hard as 5.13c—rocketed J Star straight to local-legend status.
“The Red is my newfound favorite area,” he says. “I can’t wait to get back. It has more potential for hard sport climbing than anywhere I’ve seen in the country. Next time I’m bringing a drill!”
Prior to being a climber, Siegrist was a fanatical mountain biker. “I rode as much as I climb now, or more. I was most interested in freeride, although I did race both cross-country and downhill, where I placed well, but I have never been a gifted competitor. I just loved to ride.”
At 19, Siegrist started bouldering as a way of cross training for biking, and switched gears to climbing. Now 24 and a graduate of Naropa University, Siegrist works as a route setter at the Boulder Rock Club, with a schedule that allows him to climb and travel.
Growing up in Boulder as an only child, he traveled internationally on holiday nearly every year with his family, exposing him to an array of new cultures and experiences at an early age. At 16, he spent the summer alone and abroad in Borneo and Thailand.
“I’ve been all across Europe and Asia and spent some time in Central and South America. These experiences have shaped my life more than anything I’ve ever read in a book or heard in a classroom. I would never be a rock climber if it didn’t involve opportunity to see the world. Thankfully, it does.”