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In Love With “Jedi Mind Tricks” (M13/14): An Amazing Day for Marianne van der Steen and Dennis van Hoek

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In Dutch we don’t often use the word “amazing.” Actually, I don’t even know how to translate the American-English version of the word into Dutch.

“Geweldig” would be close. But still geweldig is quite modest.

To describe the day that Dennis van Hoek, my partner, and I had the other day, well, you need English to describe it. It really was amazing. Where to begin…

***

The Ouray Ice Festival was over and now it was time for the real rock and ice. Dennis and I took an extra rest day because I had a plan in my head: I wanted to onsight The Mustang (M14), or maybe even Saphira (M15-), in Vail, Colorado.

[Also Watch VIDEO: Lucie Hrozová on the First Ascent of Saphira (M15-)]

At our hotel in Glenwood Springs the night before, I couldn’t sleep, I was too excited…

Van der Steen and van Hoek on the approach to God’s Cave. Photo: Dennis van Hoek.

…but when we woke up we learned I-70—the road that would take us to Vail and those climbs—was closed. Our whole plan—ruined.

So we made a new plan. We would go to Lake City, and try the ultra-classic Jedi Mind Tricks. It is about M13 or M14, and when Jared Ogden and Ryan Nelson made the first ascent in 2002, it was one of, if not the, hardest mixed climbs in the world. Scotland’s Scott Muir made the first repeat in 2006. He skipped the whole competition season just to climb it.

So my goal: Try to onsight Jedi Mind Tricks.

We drove out to Lake City, found a hotel, and the next morning walked into the remote God’s Cave—the site of Jedi Mind Tricks. While gathering beta about the approach before we started, a guy who’d climbed there told us, “It is just around the corner, like 15 minutes after the Lake City Ice Park.” His description was the mother of all sandbags—the approach is at least two to three hours! We skied in three miles per the proper instructions in the guidebook. Waist deep powder and falling snow made progress slow. It took five hours to find God’s Cave in all (after a wrong turn).

My hands were frozen. Shivering, I took off my puffy pants and jacket (it’s impossible to climb in that Michelin Man suit). I tried to warm up, and then got right on Jedi Mind Tricks—no sense wasting time.

Marianne van der Steen on Jedi Mind Tricks (M13/14). Photo: Dennis van Hoek.

I got to the traverse along the roof’s lip. I found a rest, and went on… Gosh, I was cold. It took energy to just move in the blowing wind. But I wanted the onsight badly. After a reverse stein pull in the roof, a side-pull, and some figure-fours, my vision was half-blurred; I couldn’t see straight, but I kept going. My hands felt more numb with each move. Finally, I peeked just over the lip and I could see the tiny bit of ice at the end. I switched hands, shaking out and holding on with the other, switched, shook out the other hand. I did this every move. I felt it was almost done, my fingers were so numb, my body so tired after hours and hours in 0-degree fahrenheit conditions.

And then I fell. My hands just couldn’t hold on any longer. I was only three clips from the end. I could almost touch the anchor. As I lowered, the feeling of failure hit me super hard. The perfect onsight was gone forever… I felt deflated, tired, frozen, disappointed, weak.

***

A few days later—after winning the Lake City Ice Fest!—I went to bed early. Dennis and I were going to go back for round two at God’s Cave. We woke up to even colder temps than the last time. It was -2 degrees in the sun. Skiing in on the approach felt more like being on Denali than in Lake City.

As I prepared to try Jedi Mind Tricks again, I noticed Dennis was preparing the camera near me in the back of the cave. Why back here? I thought, as I put my shoes on. We won’t get any good climbing shots, will we?

Marianne van der Steen after the big moment. Photo: Dennis van Hoek

And then he walked over in front of me. He had a funny smile on. He got down on one knee. He took my hands. “Marianne, wil je met me trouwen?” he asked. No translation needed: This phrase is just as good in Dutch as it is in English. “Yes!” I said, my vision blurring again, this time from tears.

Dennis and I have been together for nine years, but with this small act, now we were about to make everything official. And it was perfect: the ice, the rock, the alpine setting, the sun, the snow. Everything we love was there around us. All the things that brought us together, challenged us, and helped our love grow. And in God’s Cave!

Too cute. Photo: Dennis van Hoek.

But now I had to climb. I already knew the moves from a few days before, so now I just had to keep the pump at bay and finish it off.

I easily climbed through the crumbly cold rock on the lower part and then a few long moves to the rest. As I rested, I shouted down to Dennis what the holds were like, where the best feet where, when to make big moves, where to move slowly—he wanted to try to flash the route after me, so every piece of beta would help.

I climbed onward. Soon I was executing the moves that I had failed on, and before I knew it I was on the upper vertical part, standing on my front points and able to rest and shake out. I moved off of side pulls and clipped the final quickdraw. I reached the tiny bit of ice at the end, swung into it, and climbed up the final grassy, muddy top section—there wasn’t an anchor!   I down climbed and lowered off from the last draw.

I had climbed Jedi Mind Tricks! “Give her a bit of sun and some positive vibes and she just climbs everything,” Dennis—or my fiancé as I can call him now—shouted from below.

Marianne van der Steen climbing Jedi Mind Tricks (M13/M14). Photo: Dennis van Hoek.

All that was left was for Dennis to try to flash it. He decided to climb in DTS—Dry Tooling Style—without figure fours. After ten bolts, having lost a lot of energy down low because of some spooky loose blocks, he gave up. He hung there, disappointed.

After he lowered, we sat in the sun, ate, drank some water, and discussed everything that had just happened. We laughed, completely happy.

The sun went down and Dennis tied in for a second go. He climbed powerfully, confidently, making big moves with ease. He moved through the roof, pressing with one foot and letting the other dangle loosely. He passed the spot where I had fallen on my onsight attempt. I kept on screaming to him, encouraging him on. He was on the headwall, then the ice, then the mud.

He reached the anchor-less top, and jumped back, smiling ear to ear. He had just done Jedi Mind Tricks in DTS second go. Could this day get any more amazing?

Awwww. Photo: Dennis van Hoek.

But then I thought, If Dennis did the route DTS, I should too. So I warmed up again and started up. I smiled as I made the moves I now knew well, moves where I had previously thought I needed figure fours. Sometimes a foothold crumbled, but I hung on. I screamed my way through the roof, keeping as much tension as possible throughout my body. I passed the lip. Just a few moves more, and… Yes! I had climbed Jedi Mind Tricks in DTS.

Later, after we skied out and went to the brewery to celebrate, we let everything sink in. The beautiful scenery in Lake City, the climbing, the successes, and the love.

Geweldig? No. Amazing.


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