Friday, September 13, 2013

Above the Clouds

Have you ever had a climb take over your life? I have been obsessed with routes before but this was on a totally different level. I couldn't think straight, I couldn't focus on anything else, I even typed in "Stratus Fear" into, when I was checking the weather forecast at Lion's Head. What made me especially obsessive was the fact that it is mid-September, I'm still busy with work, the season switch could go off at any minute. I also felt like half of my life (training, friends, family) was on hold, waiting for me to send.

The upper headwall of "Above the Clouds" peaks out above the trees.
This route has been quite the process. I think Dave Zieleniewski and I started scoping it out at the end of July. Stratus Fear, the first all trad pitch went down by mid August. Then there was a quiet period. Both Dave and I were kinda lost, unmotivated and fully aware of how much work was still left to equip the bolted extension, taking this monster to the top. Dave finally got the bolt in, we decided to move one around as it would avoid a one move wonder, and a death block (the original Kandoorp line). We found this path after hanging in our harnesses for hours, just staring at the upper headwall. I went to work immediately, cleaning, chalking and meanwhile stressing that the season would soon be closing. Thank goodness for Dave and his mad bolting skills. I went in to bolt it one day and realized that I couldn't even hold a drill up with one arm, which would make it next to impossible to get the final bolt in. Damn girly arms.
Infinite skills

Dave uses his manly arms to get the final bolt where it needs to be.

The first lead attempt was actually terrifying. I was scared to repeat Stratus Fear mostly, fearing that I got lucky before and that I would take the fall in the crux that I feared. I ended up falling on this pitch, in the crux and it wasn't as bad as I had it worked up to be. Sigh of relief. The upper headwall had some great whippers too, drop zone whips! Wooooo. Next climbing day I brought my brother out to Lion's Head for the first time, thought he would get a kick out of watching his big sis fire this 45m rig. I cruised Stratus Fear and fought through the upper headwall, sticking the final crux move. I extended the crux draw too long and was unable to reach down and clip it. Finally I got it in, but it was a fatal error as I pumped out on the grandma move just below the final roof. I was completely heartbroken, I never thought I could fall there.

Me, airborn and most likely screaming in disappointment.

Me and my bro on the lookout

I was pretty bummed for days, knowing that I only had a couple chances left before the weather turned. Sometimes I feel like universes collide, and I was offered a piece of advice from Vikki Weldon that I truly believe was the cure for my heart ache and my overall attitude; "You will not send a route until you have learned the lesson the route wants you to learn". This was advice given to Vikki as she has been battling with a badass multi-pitch route in Yamnuska. I have been following her progress on the route, staying motivated through her fight, feeling as though we were somehow connected through the process. I took that advice to heart, analyzing what was going wrong in my own head. I came to the conclusion, and this is a lesson that I really do need to learn... I need to be patient, embrace the process and live in the moment.

The Stratus Fear  rack

Yesterday the stars aligned. I had to cancel work as the weather was total crap in Thornbury; it rained off and on all day. I decided to fly up to the peninsula on a whim, hoping that by some fluke chance it was different there. The whole drive up was wet and rainy, but the second we hit Wiarton we were graced with blue skies.

When I started up the route I somehow knew that it would be my last trip on the this wild climb. I soaked in the rests and the views, I embraced each move, I enjoyed the ride. When I pulled the final lip, I got to live that moment that I dreamed about all summer... I screamed from the top of my lungs into the ampitheater below me, my cheers bounced off the walls below, echoing into the distance. Then I got to top out the famous Lion's Head Lookout with my dream route below my feet. I stood on top, soaking in that panoramic view for what felt like the last time. Though of course I would be back :)

Two Sterling Ropes for the send. Ditch the first rope at the anchor of Stratus Fear and change over to the second line for the extension to minimize rope drag and to make cleaning much easier. 

Me beneath the dream project, Above the Clouds, 45m of overhanging madness. The rap line is hanging where Above the Clouds finishes. It is also nice to have a 3rd small rope at the top for cleaning. Good luck.

Torrential downpour on the whole drive home. We were literally in a bubble!

Dreams do come true! I have stared up at this climb for years, wondering if it went. It seemed so crazy that such an incredible line, sitting under the most famous feature of the cliff, hadn't gone yet. This is a summer, a climb and a moment that I will remember forever. I cannot thank Dave Ziewlenewski enough for taking the time to equip the upper pitch. I couldn't of done this without his motivation, skills and support. You are my hero forever Dave.

Dave Zuly, the man, the legend.

Also, a MASSIVE thank you is in order for my best friend on earth, Kyle Thomas. Thank you for the epic belays and support!!! You have to deal with me.... I don't know how you do it!!

Kyle Thomas, the best belayer/friend on earth

A new classic for the cliff I love so much. And in my opinion, it is the best route I have been on at Lions Head! It doesn't get better then that for me. The first half is some of the best trad climbing around and the second half is amazing sustained sport climbing that tops out the most beautiful feature of the cliff. It is a "queen line" as my friend Mikey Williams puts it. And I am so honored to be the one to climb it free for the first time. Thank you climbing gods!!!!!!!

Soaking in the views from the base of Above the Clouds.

Dave Zuly sits on "The Lookout" in between cleaning/working burns.

Where did the name come from?
First take note of the cloud theme. "Stratus Fear", "Above the Clouds".
In this area, there are already several classics named after clouds like "Nimbus" and "Cumulus".
We decided to stick with the cloud theme.

On the first day that we rappelled into the line, we excitedly discussed potential route names with cloud themes. "Above the Clouds" was the first name mentioned, as it is the name of a Gang Starr song that both Dave and I love. Then we started to sing the song on the lookout, "Infinite skills create miracles", and realized that the song fit the climb so perfectly in its epic and adventurous nature. I started to hear this song all of the time after that. The first time Dave went up Stratus Fear, his phone started playing it randomly on shuffle. It was raining all around us the day I sent Above the Clouds, but we sat in a bubble, almost like we were above the clouds. This route is also massive, towering high above the other clouds.

The name is just well, meant to be.

I blasted that song at the base of the climb yesterday. Dance party was in full effect!

Check out this article in Mountain Life Magazine about the route:

Take note of the sending shoes. The best climbing shoe ever: La Sportiva Pythons.

Above the Clouds. 5.13a.  Infinite skills create miracles!
Now I can go back to a normal life again!
haha, ya right.


  1. Leslie, your life will never be "normal". It will be "special". Thanks to you and Dave for creating something that will inspire and motivate those around you. Time to celebrate the process as much as the send. There will be more FA's for the "thirty something", I just know it.

    1. Wise words! And I agree, lots more to come in my 30's! I am glad to hear your recovery is going smoothly, thinking about you and Sparky often. Give her and yourself a hug from me please :)

  2. Nice read and the route sounds awesome. So have to get there to get on this and other amazing routes there.

    1. Yes you do Adam! I would love to see you climb this route. Thanks for being such an inspiration to me in Australia! I hope you guys are having an amazing trip so far.