15 November 2023

Jon Cardwell does the FA of Wind Up Bird (9b)

Jon Cardwell, who previously has done four 9a+ graded routes, has made the FA of Wind up Bird (9b) at The Fortress of Solitude after projecting it for around 50 sessions.

Can you tell us more about the process of completing this route?
I suppose the process began like any other first ascent. It was back in winter 2016, Carlo Traversi and I saw potential for a new line to the left of the famous Flex Luther. We hiked up in epic snow and started the process of bolting the route. Carlo helped me put in the bolts and first belay at about 25 meters – where I finished on Saturday. This alone was the original vision and an incredible climb by itself. After that time, I kept going back to work out the sequences which felt impossible at first because it is so bouldery but as it usually goes I started to figure things out. At one point later that year I was convinced by Steve Hong to keep bolting up the wall because there was so much more rock so I decided to rappel off the top and explore the new terrain, I ended up bolting a mega 80 meter pitch. After I did that I realized that this is something special so that motivated me to keep trying.

The first goal was to send the first pitch, which turned out to be more epic than I expected. I spent around 20-30 days between 2017-2022 working on that pitch which I realized by itself would push me further than any other route I’ve tried before. Finally, this year after a not so great performance in France this spring, I made it a goal to prepare myself in the best possible way to show up at the crag in my best shape. After a long training period over the summer and working on some new projects in New Mexico I felt in the right shape and all I had to do was show up and keep trying. After 10 days I was able to finish it on Saturday! It was a beautiful moment, and probably the most I have ever tried while climbing. I’m still here for a few weeks so while I have the shape and motivation, I will keep working on the extension. When that’s completed I’m almost certain it will be one of the hardest routes in NA.

How hard is the 55m extension?
I’ve done the moves on the 2nd pitch but it wasn’t completely finished. I actually went up yesterday and added a bolt and cleaned a bit more, I’ll get to work on climbing soon!

As for the grade of the first pitch, I know it’s at least 9a+ and possibly 9b, and as you know with first ascents it’s always tough to assign a grade, especially when it’s likely the hardest thing you’ve done. It’s also a much different style than the 9a+ I’ve done before, much more bouldery and intense. About 7c to a good rest, then 7C boulder directly into 8A+/8B boulder, medium rest into 7C+ boulder and then some sketchy 7c+ climbing after. Maybe if more people come try it I can get a better idea? Carlo is probably my best reference on the grade!
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