As this year comes to a close, I have to report probably the most impressive feat by an Oregon climber this year. No, this didn’t take place at the world-famous Smith Rock State Park, and no, it didn’t involve a first ascent. It was much more ridiculous than that.
According to everyone I’ve talked to, up until three years ago no rock climber had completed an El Cap Day at The Columns, Eugene’s local climbing crag. An El Cap Day is 3000 vertical feet of rock climbing in a day. As on the real El Cap, most of the climbing is at a moderate level (between 5.7 and 5.10+), with anything harder being replaced by moderate aid-climbing. Many climbers talk about doing El Cap in a day, or an El Cap at their local crags, but very few people actually do it even if they’re capable, experienced climbers. Climbing 3000 vertical feet in a day is an example of managed suffering, and most people don’t like to endure that sort of prolonged discomfort. El Cap Days hurt your feet, your shoulders, and the skin on your hands.
So three years ago, three local climbers in succession did El Cap Days at The Columns, climbing more than 64 routes each in a single day. And until this past summer, 66 routes-in-a-day was the crag’s record.
But then, this past August, Lee Baker (THE Underwear Model) climbed a Vertical Mile, 5,280 feet of climbing in one day. Estimating a mile to be 110 laps at The Columns (where most rock climbs are just under 50 feet in height), Baker climbed 111 laps in a single, summer’s-day push. All of his routes were between 5.7 and 5.10c, although most were in the 5.9 to 5.10a range.
This shattering of the previous record, by more than 50 climbs, was an incredible feat of endurance. Baker started in the early morning, and finished in the hot sun, his only regret being that he didn’t bring enough food or water, and that he drank a large cup of coffee in the middle of his push.
Most pro-climbers have not completed an El Cap Day. In the book Fall of the Phantom Lord, pro-climber Dan Osman talks about doing an El Cap Day at Lover’s Leap but then isn’t motivated enough to endure the suffering. But Lee Baker, who isn’t a pro or even sponsored, took it to another level with his Vertical Mile. He planned and executed a day of climbing that most climbers aren’t even capable of with refined, long-term training.