David Roetzel, a 44-year-old outdoor company Gear Rep from Gypsum, Colorado, recently took advantage of the bomber ice conditions in East Vail, Colorado, and soloed 15 pitches of hard ice and mixed terrain in one day. The epic link-up involved climbing roughly 1,010 feet of ice as difficult as WI 5, according to Roetzel.
"I had been thinking about this for around 10 years and this year certain key variables lined up," Roetzel told Rock and Ice. "Literally the biggest one was that the The Fang (WI 5) came in this year in excellent form."
Roetzel had previously soloed The Fang in February, and says he had a "good time" climbing the pitch, so he knew he was ready to attempt the massive solo circuit. Roetzel says he also prepared by climbing hard mixed climbs, and had clipped the chains of an M11 earlier in the season, which boosted his confidence.
On March 13, Roetzel set out early for East Vail, located on the south side of Interstate 70, and methodically began free-soloing ice climbs. Reaching the climbs, which are spread throughout five drainages, also involved hiking 500 vertical feet on average. Throughout the day, Roetzel guesses he traveled approximately 8 miles by foot.
For the most part, the climbing went smoothly. However, Roetzel had one scary moment while soloing his tenth pitch of the day.
"The closest moment was at the top of a relatively easy climb called Pitkin Falls (WI 4)," says Roetzel. "This climb is notorious for having 'egg shell' sections and perhaps 60 feet off the ground, I found myself climbing in 2 feet of snow covering thin, crappy ice when both my feet dropped down 3 inches and stopped just like my heart almost did."
Roetzel then noticed that the ice was beginning to deteriorate.
"Immediately following this I removed my right tool from the snow placement and instantly there appeared a 2-foot-by-2-foot opening in the ice; I could see the rock and the space between the rock and the ice I was on. I was really scared here. I honestly was waiting to feel everything fall away. At this point I looked down twice to a ledge that was about 25 feet below with several feet of snow on it and thought 'I'm gonna jump off this thing before I fall behind it.'"
Roetzel was only eight feet from the top, however, and finally managed to pull it together for the remaining top-out.
Despite the close call, Roetzel went on to solo five more pitches of difficult ice, ending with the 60-foot WI 5 The Secret Cicle.
Of the 15 pitches, Roetzel says the most difficult was The 7th Tentacle (M7 WI 5).
"I had never soloed this route so mentally I suppose this added some pressure," says Roetzel. "It was also cold still when I got on this so there was a fair bit of new, brittle ice to deal with in the first 50 feet. I never got pumped but I was really working for each move."
Roetzel soloed each route with a 65-meter piece of semi-static 7mm rope, coiled and worn on his back, so he could rappel each route.
Here is the complete list of climbs in order that Roetzel soloed on March 13:
1. The Pumphouse 90' WI4
2. The Designator 100' WI4+
3. The Fang 130' WI5
4. The 7th Tentacle 90' M7 WI5
5. Secret Probation 50' M7 WI5
6. The Pencil 50' WI4
7. The Eraser 40' WI4
8. Spiral Staircase 60' WI4
9. Slabbutt 35' WI4
10. Pitkin Falls 70' WI4
11. Firehouse: West of the West 70' WI4
12. Firehouse: East of the West 55' WI3+
13. Firehouse: East of the East 60' WI4+
14. Firehouse: West of the East 50' WI3+
15. The Secret Cicle 60' WI5