Chris Snobeck from Denver recently sent The Mustang P-51, an M14- in Colorado.
Story by Sam Sala
Tying in, Chris flashes me the same laser-focused, yet serene smile I’ve seen so many times, the one that always seems to tell me this will be the go that counts. This burn, his second of the day, will be the one that ends in me paying out slack for the victory whipper. I’d seen this smile earlier in the spring of 2015 just before he ticked off The Lightning P-38 (M13-); another one of the prolific Will Mayo’s hard mixed lines at the storied Vail Amphitheater, in Vail.
Inspired by the iconic WWII fighter that defined agility wrapped in toughness, The Mustang P-51 more than lives up to its namesake. After starting off with an 20-metre WI5/M6 “approach,” up Jeff Lowe’s classic, Seventh Tentacle, Mustang banks hard right and sets into the business of crossing the amphitheater’s awe-inspiring, 25-metre-long roof. Working through sequence after sequence (after sequence after sequence) of inversions on delicate limestone edges and tenuous pockets, Chris floats his way past Vail’s sentinel ice pillar The Fang, which looms within kicking distance.
Here, the route intersects several of North America’s toughest climbs, The Lightning being among them. The tension is huge for the next few moves as the transition into The Lightning is one of several notable cruxes along the way. He makes the huge reach to a chewed out groove, plants the soles of his fruit boots firmly in the roof above, and releases slowly, careful to keep his tool torqued hard to hold its fragile placement and to avoid pinching a hand, which was the undoing of his first try earlier in the morning. Having belayed Chris through multiple redpoints of The Lightning, I breathe a huge sigh of relief as he shakes out, once again in familiar territory.
He’s only traversed about half of the roof at this point though and his dogfight against gravity and time is far from over. A few encouraging shouts from the now enraptured spectators, and he is weaving through the draws once more. He reaches a tiny weakness in the roof which leads to the upper reaches of the amphitheater and takes a few moments to shake again, recollecting his strength. He will need all of it, plus miles of concentration here as the only way out is via a series of lock-offs in a dirty smear of thin, steep ice.
He disappears around the corner and for several tense seconds we wait in total silence, craning up to catch even the slightest bounce in the rope that shows movement. It slides once, twice, three times to the end of route, then the “WOOO-HOOO!!!!” rings out. I yard out a few arm loads of cord just before he hits eject and casts off into the void. Lowering to the snow and ice below, he looks as if he’s parachuting down, like so many downed enemy pilots that went up against the P-51; except this time, it’s The Mustang that has gone down.