A few years ago, after hucking a quick lap on The Naked Edge in Eldorado Canyon, Colorado, Stefan Griebel and Jason Wells—who held the speed record on the route at the time—were descending via the East Slabs when they crossed paths with a young man humping a big pack up to the top of the route. He told them he was going up to top-rope solo the upper pitches of The Naked Edge, as “he was planning to take down the speed record,” Griebel remembers.
“Jason and I exchanged amused glances and asked if he had climbed it before,” Griebel says, “only to learn that he hadn’t yet led the route. We chatted a bit more, giving him some beta, and when we exchanged names he did a double take and said, ‘Wait are you guys… of course! This is awesome!’”
“I can’t think of a better way to have met John Ebers,” Griebel says.
This past Friday, May 22, John Ebers, 23, and climbing partner Ben Wilbur, 24, set a new speed record on The Naked Edge of 24 minutes 14 seconds, bettering the previous best time set by Griebel and Wells—who died on El Cap in 2018—by 15 seconds.
Watch the Raw Footage of John Ebers and Ben Wilbur’s 24-Minute-14-Second Speed Record on The Naked Edge
At around 6 p.m. Friday evening, Ebers and Wilbur did a warm-up lap in which they walked to the base, climbed the Edge at a comfortable pace, and then walked the descent—nothing too fast, just a leisurely 40ish minutes.
Then they rested a bit. “We wanted to do our ‘hot lap’”—how they refer to their speed climbs of the route—”pretty late so it would be as cool as we could get it,” Ebers says. They pulled the trigger around 7:30 p.m. When the timer started, they jogged up the hill to the base of the 500-foot wall, already wearing their lace-up climbing shoes and racked up with six cams, six draws, three microtraxions and a 26-meter rope.
As Ebers and Wilbur soloed the approach pitches, one of the spectators looking on from the bridge below was none-other than Griebel.
The first real bridge-to-bridge speed attempt on The Naked Edge came in the early 1990s, when Michael Gilbert and Rob Slater recorded a time of 1 hour 38 minutes.
Subsequent speed laps had different starting and ending points, and different records exist for these different variations, but in the 2010s the bridge spanning South Boulder Creek became the standardized start and finish.
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The terrain after leaving and before returning to the bridge entails jogging to the base of Redgarden wall, soloing up to 5.8 on the approach section, climbing multiple pitches of techy and powerful 5.11 at a fast clip, and barreling down the fourth-class East Slabs descent.
The speed record contest really started to heat up in 2013 and 2014 as two teams—one made up of Stefan Griebel and Jason Wells, the other of Scott Bennett and Brad Gobright—began trading the record back and forth, pushing each other to go faster and faster.
In May 2012, Griebel and Wells were the first to climb The Naked Edge bridge-to-bridge in under an hour, doing it in 49 minutes 44 seconds. In January 2013, Bennett and Gobright sprinted did it in 44 minutes.
Griebel and Wells reclaimed the record with a time of 35 minutes 1 second in April 2014. That June, the record went sub-30 minutes for the first time, when Bennett and Gobright went bridge-to-bridge in 29 minutes 53 seconds. Two months later, in August, Griebel and Wells lowered it to 26 minutes 33 seconds, and a month after that, Gobright and Bennett dropped it to 26 minutes 16 seconds. The latter two then lowered their own time to 24 minutes 57 seconds, the first sub-25-minute effort.
That record stood for nearly a year until Griebel and Wells took it back one final time in the tit-for-tat battle, finishing in 24 minutes 29 seconds on September 19, 2015.
In the years since, tragedy hit both teams. Jason Wells, along with his partner Tim Klein, died in a fall while climbing El Cap in the spring of 2018, and Brad Gobright died in an accident while descending from El Sendero Luminoso in El Potrero, Chico, Mexico, in the fall of 2019.
And so Griebel and Wells’ 24-minute-29-second lap from 2015 seemed like it might be the final word on The Naked Edge speed record.
Until last Friday.
John Ebers and Ben Wilbur have been climbing together for about a year. They met on Moonlight Buttress—Wilbur was trying to free the climb over several days, Ebers was gunning for a one-day free ascent—and realized they both lived in the Front Range and had similar climbing interests. “We both like hard trad climbs, big walls, anything that’s a big inspiring line,” Ebers says.
And they both had a soft spot for Eldorado Canyon.
Earlier this year they started climbing The Naked Edge together regularly, doing it twice each week. In the beginning it wasn’t about pure speed, but just another way to get extra pitches in. But one day they decided to see what they were capable of, just for kicks. “We got a pretty quick time,” Ebers says. “It was like 28 minutes. It was the first time where we actually ran the approach and the descent.”
When Colorado’s stay-at-home order to curb the spread of coronavirus went into effect, they took a break from climbing and put their “hot laps” on hold.
As soon as climbing was no longer taboo, Ebers and Wilbur decided to make a concerted effort to break the record. “I had for a while wanted to try it,” says Ebers, but the right time and partner hadn’t presented themselves until he joined forces with Wilbur.
Ebers had learned the ins-and-outs of speed climbing The Naked Edge from local climber Wade Morris. “He taught me how to go about it, all the gear beta and everything, so all the credit goes to him, the master,” Ebers says. “When Wade and I were climbing it together our limit was about 30 minutes, so when me and Ben broke 30 on our first real try, I was like, ‘Now is the time! We can maybe do this!’”
Following their 28-minute run, they lowered their time to around 26 minutes for two consecutive laps, then dropped it all the way to 24 minutes 35 seconds—just 6 seconds off the existing record set by Griebel and Wells.
Up to then they had been trying to “keep it on the DL,” Ebers says. The goal was to keep it casual and fun, and they felt that drawing attention to themselves and making it solely about the record could sully that.
But they knew they’d need an official timekeeper sooner or later. They told Griebel that they’d been throwing down faster and faster times and he was ecstatic for them. “He was like, ‘You guys gotta get me out there to come time you guys and watch or something!’” Ebers remembers.
During Ebers and Wilbur’s 24-minute-14-second record-setting lap, Griebel and Wade Morris were both there taking photos and keeping time, and another friend and local guide, Jason Antin, was also there taking shots. The support from their mentors and friends meant a ton, and as Ebers and Wilbur sprinted back across the bridge with a new record, stoke was high all round.
“It was just satisfaction. That’s the best way to put it,” Ebers says.
“I haven’t experienced so much positive energy in Eldo since Jason died 2 years ago,” Griebel says of watching Wilbur and Ebers sprint up the face.
Ebers says he and Wilbur are fully aware of the inherent dangers of simul-climbing and easy soloing, but that they feel they’ve done well to make speed climbing The Naked Edge reasonably safe.
“There are basically two ways to get faster. You either take gear out of the system, or you get stronger. We aired on the side of, ‘Ok, this is the gear that makes it safe. In order to get faster, we’re going to get stronger.’” We ended up using one less draw in the Bombay Chimney, but there is another cam just a couple feet away, and it doesn’t really make it any more dangerous.”
The question now isn’t if the Edge speed record can go under 24 minutes, but when… and who will be the ones to do it. “I think Ben and I would both like to go put it under 24,” Ebers says. “I mean we’re only 14 seconds away. We haven’t even hit the limit. In running races, just a few seconds feels so difficult, but we were improving pretty quickly.”
And what about Griebel? Might he rack up for a shot at retaking the speed record?
“I’m feeling old and creaky these days, but I know Hans Florine would smack me upside the head if I used that as an excuse not to try and take back the record,” Griebel says. “It is enticing to think about, and I certainly can’t rule it out—the most outright FUN I’ve had rock climbing was projecting the Edge for speed with Jason. But admittedly, there is part of me that cherishes those memories so much I’d rather pass the torch to the younglings.”
And, Griebel adds, the math might just be in John Ebers and Ben Wilbur’s favor anyway. “When Jason and I set the previous record, our combined ages were 82. I think John and Ben’s add up to 47—they have plenty of time and energy to shave another minute or more off! Hope I get to see it again.”
The Naked Edge Speed Records
(Compiled by Stefan Griebel; via Mountain Project)
5/22/2020 – John Ebers, Ben Wilbur – 24:14
9/19/2015 – Stefan Griebel, Jason Wells – 24:29
10/8/2014 – Scott Bennett, Brad Gobright – 24:57
9/24/2014 – Scott Bennett, Brad Gobright – 26:16
8/15/2014 – Stefan Griebel, Jason Wells – 26:33
6/9/2014 – Scott Bennett, Brad Gobright – 29:53
4/22/2014 – Stefan Griebel, Jason Wells – 35:01
4/9/2014 – Stefan Griebel, Jason Wells – 40:36
1/?/2013 – Scott Bennett, Brad Gobright – 44:00
5/?/2012 – Stefan Griebel, Jason Wells – 49:44
12/?/2010 – Scott Bennett, Blake Harrington – 1:13
9/6/2006 – Bob Rotert, Dave Vaughn – 1: 22 (car to car)
1990s – Michael Gilbert, Rob Slater – 1:30 (car to car)
Watch Brad Gobright and Scott Bennett’s Then Record-Setting Lap of 26:16 in 2014