Ontario climber Pete Zabrok reported on social media that he bumped into Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson while they were working on a new El Capitan free route. Zabrok is currently climbing Reticent Wall, a classic A5 5.7.
“They reckon the route may go at 5.13+, rather ‘easier’ than Dawn Wall at 5.14+, and they hope to finish it this season,” said Zabrok, who has spent well over 700 night on El Cap and has climbed dozens of classic big wall routes.
Not much is known about Honnold, Caldwell and Jorgeson’s line, but keep an eye out for possible news about a new free route up El Cap. In the mean time, enjoy this 2003 article about Zabrok that was published in Gripped’s December/Januayr 2003 edition by Sam Sacks.
Interview with Zabrok
Two things stand out when you meet Peter Zabrok. The first is that he’s goofy in a snaggle-toothed, big-grinned, trying-to-please sort of way. The second is that he’s much smarter than the pages and pages of website propaganda he’s written about himself would lead you to believe.
Still suntanned from his twenty-first ascent and sixth solo up El Cap, Zabrok’s butchered climber’s hands peek out incongruously from a navy blue suit. His hair is conservatively parted to the side and his tie is neatly knotted, but there is something about Zabrok and perhaps it is the stuffed animal attached by a carabiner to his briefcase that leaves you wondering if the tie might be a clip-on. Just days away from haul bags, hooks and hundreds of metres of air, Zabrok is back at his day job as an insurance salesman in Oakville, Ontario. And the toy? A lucky charm he hauls up all of his routes named Pee Wee [sic] the Big Wall Crab.
At age 43, Zabrok has aided many of Yosemite’s walls with younger hardmen like Chris Geisler and Sean Easton. His resume includes such high-end lines as Reticent Wall A5 5.8, Jolly Roger A5 5.10 and Native Son A4+ 5.9. He has summitted El Cap 21 times by 21 different routes, most recently sending Lunar Eclipse A4 5.7 and Scorched Earth A4+ 5.9. But he has also ranted and raved about his career, bolting and an acrimonious divorce, on-line and in print, generating criticism for his brash tirades that has often overshadowed his impressive resume.
“I have a theory,” says Zabrok. “If you are bitchin’, you will have detractors. The hidden message here is that I have so many detractors I could be bitchin’. Or I could be a real jerk. Correlation does not necessarily imply causality.”
Zabrok grew up in Hamilton and hammered out many of the province’s best-loved lines alongside local legends John Kaandorp and Chas Yonge. His career began in 1979 but the bulk of his resume has been completed in what he refers to as his “free climbing retirement,” or the years after his divorce, which appears to have been precipitated entirely by his love of climbing.
One of Zabrok’s most controversial invectives involved a scathing attack on the first ascensionist who bolted Moby Fly, a short wall at the Niagara Escarpment’s Cow Crag which Zabrok wrongly believed had been climbed clean by Dave Lanman. The bout turned into a longstanding feud between sport and trad climbers in the area. Today, with almost 20 years of hindsight, Zabrok is his usual barrel of contradictions, quick to admit his error and just as quick to pounce on the bolting malaise:
“There was nothing I could do to make up my wrong to the guy and he let me off the hook. Praise God and hallelujah,” he says, wiping his brow. And then a moment later, he says, “I believe bolts to be cheating. I believe that the indiscriminate use of bolts can be indicative of cowardice. I believe that if you can’t climb a route from the ground up you should leave it to someone with balls.”
Despite the verbal attacks and the fact that during our two-hour conversation he calls three women including this interviewer, “hon,” there is something charming at work in Peter Zabrok. In addition to his prolific caving and climbing exploits, Zabrok has a dubious alter ego named Dr. Piton, a derivative of his Valley nickname, “Pass the Pitons Pete.”
Dr. Piton, who Zabrok refers to in the third person, is a self-appointed wall doctor who offers advice on big wall climbing on and off-line in exchange for “help” in the form of novices who haul his bags to the base of routes. Much of this know-how comes from a book Zabrok edited by his infamous mentor, Chongo (Charles V. Tucker) who has written a 600-page tome entitled “Chongo’s Complete Book of Big Wall Climbing.”
“Dr. Piton writes cutting-edge big wall technology which has never been published elsewhere,” says Zabrok. “There is a big vacuum in big wall and aid climbing information and Dr. Piton’s fundamentals help more people get to the summit than ever before. When I got to Camp 5 this spring, there were five people waiting with empty bags to carry my stuff to the base. I used to have to pay people to do that.”
Zabrok may be a guru to some, but he’s quick to acknowledge his reputation for sloth. His big wall haul bag includes a ghetto blaster on which he cranks AC/DC, a solar-powered shower, a bottle of Napa Valley cabernet, and several cans of Guinness. He tries to avoid sending more than one pitch in a day and no trip is complete without his coffee press. “One of my goals is to achieve new levels of big wall leisure,” says Zabrok.
But how does Zabrok justify nailing a big wall crack or riveting when he won’t clip a bolt? “That’s actually a good paradox,” says Zabrok. “What am I doing clipping bolts on big walls or placing copperheads or pins – don’t those scar the rock? Yeah, but you haven’t drilled anything.”