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Monday by Mateo: Mr. Midwest

Here, Jane Jackson and Eric Bissell ply their skills on the lower pitches of Mr. Midwest (5.13b; 14 pitches) on El Capitan, Yosemite, a couple weeks after Eric and Cameron King finished the climb’s first free ascent. Consider that the first ascent of this massive (3,000-foot) monolith took 45 days way back in 1957 and 1958; now consider that the same climb, the Nose, has been done in less than two hours. Meanwhile, a host of extremely difficult free climbs like Mr. Midwest make their way up El Cap’s massive flanks, requiring a cool head, a deep bag of contortionist’s tricks for taming the slick, geometrically planed granite, and calves of steel for standing on the world’s tiniest footholds. 

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Monday by Mateo: Rusty Relics

Ever clipped a piece of rusty fixed gear you were sure was older than you—or your parents or your grandparents—and climbed past it with a shudder? Our cliffs are a living museum, which has its upsides and its downsides. Upside: You may very well clip a piton that one of the legends, like Fritz Wiessner or Royal Robbins, placed by hand in a crack decades ago. Downside: That piton has been exposed to the elements all this time, and you have no idea how corroded, bent, or friable it is because all you can see is its grim, old eye staring back pitilessly. You can certainly guess at how reliable the piece is, or better yet, back it up. But...

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Monday by Mateo: Tramway

The desert around Palm Springs, California does not scream “climbing”—it’s flat, hot, hot, hot, and flat. But hard above town rear the San Jacinto Mountains, an alpine wonderland of pine trees and granite blocks. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramways take you from the desert floor at 2,600 feet to a mountaintop at 8,500 feet. It can be 110 degrees when you embark and 70 degrees when you debark. The Tramway bouldering is a maze of white and grey jumbled blocks, coated in eye-catching green and black lichen. It’s easy to get turned around here, especially if you stay late for some night bouldering, so be sure to leave a trail of breadcrumbs or at least chalk so you can find...

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Monday by Mateo: The Needles Fire Lookout

Back in the day when there was a fire lookout in the Needles, high above the Kern River Drainage, California, a kind woman named Margie, who loved climbers, lived and worked there. From her perch, she could see into the heart of the Sierras, from Mount Whitney to Farewell Gap to Olancha Peak, and also directly into the beetling spires of the Needles formations themselves. She watched for fires of course, and relayed messages about fire locations to a dispatcher as needed. But Margie also kept a close eye on the rock jocks in the spires down below. If you stopped by to chat after climbing, she would often have some fresh, piping-hot cookies for you. Unfortunately, the lookout burned...

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Monday By Mateo: Chuck Pratt and Pratt's Crack

Chuck Pratt was the clown prince of Yosemite’s original Camp 4 scene, a climber diminutive instature but prodigious on talent and humor, known for his grace on the rock and his gymnasticfeats of balance and derring-do. As his contemporary TM Herbert recalled in an article forAlpinist, Pratt “used to walk the metal railings at Glacier Point [in the mid-1950s] and any other chains and cables he could find.” Once, when the Colorado climbers Pat Ament and Van Freeman brought their own slack chain to Camp 4 to practice their balance, Pratt stood up on it and began to juggle wine bottles—at least three and maybe four. He was surely one of the progenitors of the modern slack lining movement. He...

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