Molly Mitchell, at age 22, has already established three unrepeated FAs in her first year of trad climbing. Most people would be surprised to hear that her hardest feats on her climbing resume are her FAs: All Hell Breaks Moose (5.13 R) in Indian Creek, The Spoiled Moose (5.13- R) in Boulder Canyon and Element X (5.13a X) in Eldorado. While her peers are busy ticking off classic climbs from their to-do lists, Molly lives for the thrill of scary faces, thin cracks, and sketchy gear placements. Her main goal with climbing is to push herself and the sport by sending routes people have never touched.
In order for Molly to break into this new facet of climbing, she had to learn from the professionals who had been FAing routes for several years. That’s where Pamela Pack comes into play. Pamela has been a desert dweller in Indian Creek each spring for the past seven years. In those years she’s been exclusively focusing on FAs, especially in her expertise of off width trad routes. She has over 50 FAs total, including American Horror Story (5.13 with an R/X pitch) and The Soul Assassin (5.12+ R). Both, as for many others, have never been repeated.
For over the past month Molly and Pamela have been posted up in Indian Creek projecting and cleaning new routes. Pamela is psyched to get back into what she calls ‘adventure climbs’ in order to create multi-pitches that she says will “hopefully become masterpieces.” So what exactly do these ‘adventure climbs’ entail? It’s more than just a rope and harness. Pamela’s favorite tools of choice are crowbars, safety goggles, toilet scrubbers, respirators, and even leaf blowers. These routes require months of cleaning out the loose rock, dust, and grime, before tackling the free climb first ascent. “There’s a lot of suffering and glory that goes into these routes,” says Pamela. “But then I think the routes have such good stories. And most of them are rarely repeated – they’re too intimidating.”
The irony of it all is Molly and Pamela are far from intimidating. It’s not uncommon to see Molly do a shake-off dance right before climbing a menacing trad pitch, and Pamela tends to laugh off the serious, life-threatening stories in her life. Stories like cleaning routes with collapsing boulders, tackling restraining orders, falling on sketchy gear placements, and suffering through broken limbs, lung fungus, and rabies vaccinations, are all finished with a genuine chuckle on Pamela’s end.
To a climbers surprise, Pamela’s FA success caused troubling times at Vedauwoo and other crags. She has dealt with continuous hate calls, life threats, vandalism, and media hacks from locals who believed she was tapping into their own prestige. Both Pamela and Molly have undergone opposing responses to their dicey climbs. But Pamela reassures her fans that, “I’m not gonna do an X rated route if there’s a chance I’m going to make a mistake.” She continues by saying, “When you’re an athlete and you’re trying to push things and do cool new stuff, people are going to be critical.” The reactions are inevitable, but this doesn’t stop Molly and Pamela from climbing the routes they are most psyched to send. “It makes me more satisfied to conquer something that was as mentally challenging as physical. That’s when you get epiphany kind of moments,” says Molly.
Molly and Pamela focus on a climbing discipline that has slowly lost popularity and accessibility over the years. Climbers typically try hard on sport routes where they can push the limits to 5.15 and above due to assistance from bolts, whereas scarier trad routes require a lot of expense, time commitment, injury risk, and mental dedication. But these trad routes can have perilous notoriety unlike sport climbs. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before more climbing professionals lean toward R/X rated trad routes to prove their mental and physical capabilities. By then, Pam and Molly will be established masters of their preferred art form.