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Alien Wall

I remember the night in 1987 when Jim Donini and Jack Tackle established Predator. My worried mother and other friends dispatched my dad and me to collect Jim and Jack after they had failed to return home at what she deemed a “reasonable time.” It seemed that even those two consummate climbers could not escape the watchful eye and worried mind of my mom. We met them safe and sound on the trail around midnight, and I was enthralled and horrified by their story of a mini-tornado whipping through the canyon, fouling their ropes up. Since then, every time I’ve climbed the Snaz or Caveat, I’ve gazed at the virgin rock across the canyon and promised myself to do something about it. But summer moves into fall and my intentions slip away.

Death Canyon is a special place for me, because I learned to climb there as a kid. Donini taught me the basics of wide cracks as he hauled me up The Snaz. Alex Lowe conned me into wandering around the Omega Buttresses looking for interesting new lines. Tim Toula would leave notes on ledges and in cracks; unfolding them would reveal beta: “PULL DOWN HERE!” or “THIS SLOT PROBABLY HAS SNAKES!” The most special times have been spent with my dad. We climbed Apocalypse Couloir in June, and in July he fired the Snazette variation on the Snaz. At 69 he is a total inspiration and a reminder of what is possible with kindness, patience, and a good attitude.

With all this in mind, Joel Kauffman and I set out on September 2 to explore the south wall. After crossing the creek and shwacking through the alders, we reached the face. The first 150m were easy 5th-class, with a few moderate roped pitches of run-out face climbing. We eventually gained the bench where the real climbing starts. After an initial pitch of 5.6, we veered from Predator onto the steep face to the left. As Joel bravely traversed out, the sun hit the wall, the angle eased, and the climbing got even better. We kept going and climbed the route in seven 55m pitches. The Alien Wall (400m, IV 5.10-) follows a fairly direct line left of Predator, with wild and varied climbing for the grade—steep face-climbing, stem-box corners, thin flakes, and cracks, from cranking fingerlocks to a small offwidth section. Pitch 4 would be a face-climbing classic anywhere, with some of the wildest rock I’ve seen in the Tetons: dense, dark, and solid, with knobs and chickenheads twisted into psychedelic forms. Pitches 5–7 were also stellar. Nine long rappels from trees, plus some downclimbing get you to the base of the wall and back to terra firma. My thanks to Joel for making the climb so special.

Mark Givens (1971–2009), AAC