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Thirty Pitches For Her 30th

Hannah Bodenhamer took them on in the burly land of Indian Creek

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The idea of 30 pitches in a desert day seemed “insane” at first to Hannah Bodenhamer, seasoned climber and Moab, Utah, local though she was. So in January she tried 15 in a day, then the next month upped it to 20—and after 12 that day thought it was impossible: “My feet and hands hurt so badly.” But after a rest, some encouragement and a hug from Ben Riley, her boyfriend, she knocked out eight more.

This is really going to hurt…

“Once I realized it was feasible,” she says, “the planning really began.” Sunday, April 28, after a few changes for weather, would ultimately turn out to be go time.

Turning 30 is a big deal, and Bodenhamer, previously working as a physician assistant in Grand Junction, Colorado, and now in Shiprock, New Mexico, wanted to do something unusual to mark the occasion. Another impetus came from a friend, Ausrine “Ellie” Paulauskaite,  who had managed 28 (sport) pitches on her 28th birthday.

Bodehamer wanted to do her pitches in the desert “because I love it there.” She was only able to speak to Rock and Ice by email, in short segments, while serving some of her regular 13-hour hospital shifts—perhaps an element in her endurance?

Her father, Jim, first took her to the desert when she was a toddler, and then to climb in Castle Valley/Indian Creek for the first time when she was 14.

“I’ve been going out there with him and his ‘Sendy Seniors’ crew almost every year for the last 16 years,” she says by email. “It has become a very sentimental place for me, as I feel this is where I really got to know who my dad was.”

Hannah made an Excel spreadsheet of intended climbs, and refined it over a couple of months, choosing Donnelly Canyon, Battle of the Bulge and the Supercrack area at Indian Creek for their concentrations of 5.10-5.11s. She brought friends’ names onto the spreadsheet, to lead pitches and set topropes: “There was no way for me to lead all 30 in a day.” That process took another month, with changes up until the week before the event.

We all need the help of some Sendy Seniors. Roger Schimmel, Al Torrisi, Jim Donini, Jim Bodenhamer, the birthday girl, Sarah Spaulding, Chris Archer. Chico the dog (blue backpack) in background.

In all, some 15 friends, from Moab, Grand Junction, and Basalt, with Jim Bodenhamer’s crew extending from the Front Range to Ouray, showed up to help.

“The Sendy Senior crew initially consisted of my dad, John Sherman, Chris Archer, Sarah Spaulding, Roger Schimmel and Al Torrisi,” she says. “Everyone was able to make it out except John Sherman, who ended up having surgery the day before my birthday due to an injury out in Yosemite.” Ah, but: They ran into Jim Donini, grand master, who took Sherman’s place.

On event day, Hannah took two pairs of shoes, one to start out and a larger pair to accommodate swelling over the hours, and wore her approach shoes on as many climbs as possible. She used crack gloves, which reduced gobies but could not stave off bruising.

Any discussion of such an event must, of course, consider the potential problem for others when numerous topropes are left up for hours. While objections are justified, she did have an interaction and mitigation plan. It was: beer.

Hannah says: “I knew it was peak season in the Creek and that there were likely multiple parties at these very popular cliffs, so my boyfriend and I bought a case of Tecates to offer any climbing party willing to let me do a quick toprope lap. Obviously we hauled a cooler up to keep them cold. This was by far the most effective plan that we had all day. I think I traded eight to 10 Tecates for about five out of the 30 climbs … and the other parties were psyched to have a cold Tecate!”

With Ben Riley, event teamster and co-planner.

Friends (mostly the Sendy Senior team) arrived the night before to hang topropes. Hannah’s father belayed the first 10 pitches, from 7:00 to about 9:30 a.m., at the Battle of the Bulge area. They pulled the ropes, left them for friends (as planned) to collect, and headed on. After a second breakfast in camp, she hiked up to Supercrack Buttress and got in eight more pitches between 11:00 and 1:00. After a lunch-ibuprofen-moleskin break, she left at 3:00 for the last 12 pitches at Donnelly, finishing at around 5:30 p.m.—hours earlier than expected.

Andrea Cutter, who traveled from Basalt in support and strung up one route, describes the closing scene. “I watched her father do the final route with her up this little tower. He taught her to climb when she was 14 years old.” She laughs, half in embarrassment, in saying, “I’m choking up a little just thinking about it.” Ben Riley was on the top as well, all three enjoying some pink champagne.

Says Bodenhamer: “For me, this day signaled 16 years of desert climbing with my dad. He belayed me for my first crack climb, my first lead, my first tower. He was there for the first pitch that day and for the 30th. It was so emotional and so awesome to be surrounded by people who had committed to a long day of climbing just so I could toprope 30 pitches, lol!”

She calls the marathon “one of the best days of my climbing life.”

Cutter, a desert regular, also spoke to its pure athleticism.

“She nailed it,” Cutter says. “To do seven or eight routes at Indian Creek is exhausting. Crack climbing is hard on the body and on the skin, even through tape. It’s a great testament to her athletic strength and willpower. Also, she was smiling the entire time.”

Also Read


… about the great climber and birthday-challenge leader Steve Edwards, who had far too few birthdays but lived a grand and ebullient life. Scroll down to February in the above link for the entry on him.