Ian Dory is inverted. Both feet overhead, the tops of his slippers cocked over the lip of a sandstone roof on counter-pressure smears. He only sticks by pressing hard against those slopers, as if to wring oil from the stone for his evening bread.
The position is improbable, 100 feet off a ledge, 300 feet up the cliff and 700 feet above the white-tipped froth of the Crystal River running high this hot summer evening. Yesterday I watched Ben Rueck fall from this position, letting out a sparrow chirp as he plummeted headfirst like a lawn dart, 30 maybe 40 feet before the rope snapped him back upright, a yo-yo gone haywire.
Now it is Ian’s turn and he is confident, although he fell higher than this yesterday.
The sequence, leading feet first out a nearly horizontal roof, is probably the craziest I’ve seen. Certainly it is the least likely. Twenty-two years ago I scoped the climb and turning the lip seemed so impossible—there were no holds—that I never even tried it. The route sat quietly since then, gathering dust but not growing any holds.
Ian Dory is 24 and will be a dad later this summer. He lives in Fort Collins, three and a half hours west and a bit north of here, Redstone. He’s majoring in economics and hopes to someday leave his 10-acre farm and punch financial numbers. Now though, he is a professional climber with the Wheel of Life
(V15/5.14d) hanging from his lodgepole and was a recent combatant on the TV show American Ninja Warrior. My buddy Jeff Jackson says that Ian is an actual ninja.
“Ian was showing Ben the moves on this boulder,” said Jeff, “and Ben couldn’t see a dime-sized pocket about 20 feet up. So Ian takes out his toothbrush and throws it at the hold. That toothbrush end stuck right in the hold like an arrow. I’m telling you, the guy’s a ninja—for reals.”
Ian and Ben have been working over the Redstein crag the past month, grinding away at a five-pitch 5.14 they hope to complete, I imagine, before the baby is born.
Ben doesn’t feel such pressure. He’s a substitute chemistry teacher from over by Grand Junction. He grew up west of there, around Loma, a patch of desertscape so dire it can only sustain one horned toad per five acres. There, his family raised Clydesdale horses and rented them out to parades. Ben, also a pro climber, travels. On one of his latest outings to the jungles of Brazil he was stooping through a tangle of brush when he knocked off a hornet’s nest that went down the back of his shirt.
He only sticks by pressing hard against those slopers, as if to wring oil from the stone for his evening bread.
“Did it hurt?”
“Yeah,” said Ben and by the way he said it I could tell that even the thought still stung.
About a week ago, or maybe it was two, I didn’t write it down, Ian checked off the first pitch of The Proj. It was a titanic stepped roof that I’d bolted over two decades ago and shrugged off as best left for the future, a generation I was now watching through the window of a Nikon.
This generation, the new one, sons and daughters of my generation, isn’t hung up on a particular ethic. Ian placed a bolt in Australia and an old local chopped it.
“Why would anyone do that?” Ian wondered.
Ian’s generation, suckled on bolts, isn’t afraid to fall, although once over evening suds Ian and Ben had spoken of being at the lip of the second-pitch ninja-squeeze roof, hanging upside down by their toes and feeling uneasy—mildly terrified even.
Back up there today, Ian doesn’t look spooked—he sent the rig an hour earlier, before I’d gotten there. When I’d arrived, puffing over my old-man trekking poles and sweating from the approach, he and Ben had been all grins and saw my disappointment at having missed the shot.
So Ian had gone back up the route just for me for the picture. That’s another thing about this generation. They are helpful, even with the dishes.
Ian Dory is inverted. Both feet overhead. He releases one hand and in a graceful snap adheres to something that I will later have to zoom in on at maximum magnification just to see. He oinks, brings the other hand up, presses, reverses his feet and stands. It is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.
I can't imagine what the future holds.