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The Cousin of Death is New Five-Pitch 5.13+ Trad Climb

And the copper mine that threatens First Nations land in Arizona

Late in 2020, Lor Sabourin redpointed Cousin of Death, a five pitch, 5.13+ trad route in northern Arizona. The first free ascents of each pitch were by Joel Unema, but he had yet to link them all in a push. The route was established by Unema and Blake McCord, read more about it here.

Sabourin wrote a must-read blog about the send here, in which they said, “The Cousin of Death felt like an improbable goal for the season. Each of the crux pitches was above my hardest redpoint grade, so sending them in isolation would be a challenge in itself. On top of that, the climbing was thin and insecure. Linking every pitch together in a single day would require precise execution, luck, or a combination of the two.”

The blog includes Sabourin’s an essay called Five Ways to Lower Barriers to Joy in Climbing, which include “grounding yourself in body awareness, practicing defenselessness, leaning into fear in small steps, becoming your body’s ally, and celebrating learning.” Sabourin also said, “Each pitch had felt like the limit of my ability to complete. I didn’t know what it would take to link them together. Part of me wanted to cycle back into the comfort of training so that I didn’t have to deal with the uncertainty. The other part of me knew that I would be crushed if I didn’t give it a go.”

Oak Flat at Risk

A rugged patch of land known as Oak Flat in the Tonto National Forest is sacred ground to the San Carlos Apache Tribe. The 740-acre area wit oak groves and steep cliffs is a place where they’ve gone for centuries for religious ceremonies.

The land is scheduled to be transferred to Resolution Copper, a company controlled by two foreign mining giants, and turned into one of the largest copper mines in the country. The San Carlos Apache Tribe is fighting back in court. Resolution Copper has poured $2 billion into the project.

In 2018, the federal government swapped land with the mining company to protect a historic site close to Oak Flat. In the late 1800s, a band of Apache warriors discovered a secret trail to the top of a mountain and camped there in attempts to protect their land from settlers. After several weeks, the cavalry discovered their path and attacked the Apaches. The survivors saw they were surrounded, and rather than surrender, turned to the edge of the steep cliff and jumped to their deaths. Today, the place is called Apache Leap. Twelve tribes worked with the Forest Service and a mining company to save Apache Leap. Resolution Copper got 142 acres of privately held land to forgo 697 acres of unpatented mining claims that became the Apache Leap Special Management Area. There are alos a number of rock climbs in the area.

Resolution Copper plans to extract the copper using a method known as block caving, which over time will cause the ground to collapse and create a pit nearly four kilometres long and 300 metres deep. Oak Flat, along with its petroglyph-covered walls and Apache burial sites, is set to be swallowed up in a crater deep enough to hold the Eiffel Tower.  The federal government has temporarily paused the transfer of land to the mining company. Learn more below.