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Operation Hooker: Wyoming’s Hard Big Wall

In 2013 Nik Berry, Dave Allfrey and Mason Earle hiked into the Wind River Range in Wyoming to explore the free-climbing potential of the area’s remote alpine faces. 

Having forgotten to bring a topo of their objective, they found themselves on an old Mount Hooker aid route put up by Steve Quinlan.

The group were so inspired by the line that they committed themselves to climbing it clean in what would be some of the hardest big-wall free climbing in North America.

Unfortunately bad weather forced them to retreat from their 2013 attempt, but undaunted they returned a year later to try again.

When you think of hard big wall climbing it’s easy to imagine long days of portaledge boredom and tightly rationed food supplies.

Mason Earle, Nik Berry and Dave Allfrey’s experience on Wyoming’s Mount Hooker is slightly different. Despite working one of the toughest and, in terms of altitude, highest routes in North America, the boys spent large portions of the expedition in relative comfort.

With ropes fixed to their high point, they were able to practice the route at their leisure, (which for Nik meant all the time), returning between attempts to relax at base camp. Mason’s main goal of the trip was to free the route’s 5.13d/8b crux pitch which climbs a blank, technical seam on the mountain’s face.

After days spent perfecting the thin moves of this A3 beauty, Mason was finally rewarded with a successful ascent.

Cold temperatures can often be a climber’s friend, increasing friction and turning once impossible holds into viable options.

Too cold however and the risk of numb extremities can limit a climber’s chances of success as they struggle to maintain both concentration and grip. During his push attempt on ‘Sendero Luminoso,’ Nik Berry was tested to his absolute limit as cold winds sapped his strength and precision on the crux pitch.

However, with a little luck and a serious amount of effort, Nick managed to maintain his composure; putting the climb together in a single continuous push. This marked the first time that the route, an old Steve Quinlan aid line, had been successfully free climbed.

Nik’s success came, in no small part, thanks to his fellow team members David Allfrey, who climbed with him on the push and Mason Earle, who climbed all of the route’s pitches clean during separate sessions.

Mount Hooker was the scene of the first grade-six big wall free-climb outside of Yosemite. It was climbed by Todd Skinner, Paul Piana, Galen Rowell and Tim Toula in 1990 and called Jaded Lady 5.12.

In the summer of 2015, Jesse Huey, Hayden Kennedy, Mike Pennings and Whit Margo visited the Mount Hooker area and climbed a number of the area’s esthetic routes. Read about their trip on the Arc’teryx blog, here.