And on a trip to Mount Potosi with Alex Honnold a few years ago, Sonnie fought up
a 5.14 second try partly because it was the pair’s last day in the area, but mostly because, he says: “I needed to remind him that even though in his
eyes I’m ‘old and married,’ I can still get up steep rocks.”
How many climbs have people pulled off simply thanks to external factors or pressure? I’ve done it myself, just barely flashing a crack climb in Joshua
Tree because impending rain prevented any procrastination. But that’s normal stuff. Climbers have a vast and varied history of external motivators
that created efforts out of, as it were, thin air.
In his memoir Revelations, the former British and world climbing star Jerry Moffatt writes about standing at the belay below Little Plum,
a project at the physical and forbidding Stoney Middleton, when Neil “Noddy” Molnar pointed to the road below.
“Look,” Noddy said, as recalled in the book. “It’s Kim and Dougie. … They’re watching you, Jerry.” Kim Carrigan, then Australia’s best climber,
and the strong local Dougie Hall had also tried to free the route.
“I know,” the young Jerry answered.
“Get up and try it, then.”
“I don’t know, it’s …”
“Go on Jerry!”
Moffatt flung himself up the bouldery moves, held all his weight on a matchbox edge, and finished the pitch. Later he returned to work on the route’s second
pitch, which contained a six-foot overhang and which almost no one had even tried to free. Moffat fell at the roof every time his feet cut loose, and
began to doubt that the pitch would go.
Handily, the same thing happened as before. Below appeared Geoff Birtles, then editor of the great British magazine Crags. Birtles himself had
once co-authored the hardest climb in Britain, with Tom Proctor in 1968: Our Father (E4 6b with a bouldery start), also at Stoney. No polite
silence attended his approach.
“Get on with it,” Birtles shouted at Moffatt, as described in the book. “Stop messing about.”
The next passage describes the moment:
‘Geoff Birtles is watching,’ I told myself. He had written about me a few times in his magazine but never seen for himself what I could do. I wanted to show Birtles that I was the man.
Moffatt summoned “every muscle in his body,” controlled the swing, lunged, and pulled the powerful roof. Free climbing Little Plum (E6 6c / 5.13a) had been his dream. It was probably the hardest route in the UK at the time.
Who else? Who among us has (or who among us hasn’t) gained purely situational, perhaps base, motivation?
I ask around on Facebook, and one reply is from Laura Snider, a science writer from Boulder: “I did my very first lead because my partner said he’d give
me his car (it was an old Toyota Celica but I didn’t own a car at all, so I was psyched) if I onsighted a climb. It was Totally Tammy at the
NRG, which at the time was rated 5.8.” But everyone around knew the route, today given 5.10a, was a sandbag. Laura got up the route, but “it wasn’t
even close to an onsight.”
That guy knew that his car was perfectly safe.
From Angelo Ghiglieri, a California climber: “I’ve heard of people sending out of fear from a bad belay.”
As to the story about him and Sonnie at Mount Potosi, Alex doesn’t even remember the “old and married” joke
(the two were 25 and 32 at the time), but clearly recalls the resultant feat: “Sonnie did Mon Pote Assis [5.14a] second try. It was really
impressive, one of the most impressive efforts I’ve ever seen. His feet cut in the crux, like while he was literally holding the worst hold of the
route, and he just karate-kicked them back against the wall and kept holding on.”
Honnold continues, “I’m all about the external motivators. I often bet dinners on onsight efforts and things like that. I like that, because win or lose,
it’s all good. Either way your partner puts in an awesome effort and you both go out to dinner. Everyone’s happy.”
What was the last funny or odd external reason you—or a friend—climbed something?