West Face of Leaning Tower solo speed record (2002)

[From the archives - sent in by Nick Fowler, January, 2002.]

I seem to constantly struggle to find partners that share the same ambitions that I do about climbing. Either they have jobs and can’t go climbing or they don’t have jobs and have to spend time looking for one. Then there is the issue of matching experience.

Like most weekends, I was going through my list of friends to find a climbing partner to do a push on El Cap or an ambitious Alpine peak. I had just spent my winter break from school sitting around looking for a climbing partner. I had gotten in a day or two here and there but the majority of my break was spent in the city wishing I were in the mountains. School started again the following Tuesday so I was antsy to get some more climbing in. On the phone I went through my usual spiel about why they should blow off life to do some climbing. Frustrated, with no luck I remember telling my friend Mike Kiparsky about the beautiful weather in the Valley right then and with no luck selling him on the weekend, I started thinking of what I could do by myself. I decided and declared “Mike, I’m going to go break the solo time on the Tower.”

I had led the entire climb a hand full of times before, clocking in around 6 to 7 hours each time. My partners had held me up cleaning the pitches each time. I knew the team record was around 5hrs. I figured I could definitely break 6 hrs if I went rope-less. The solo record couldn’t be that close to the team record. I later found out from Peter Coward the record had been slashed to approximately 2 hrs and that the solo time was around 4hrs.

I got packed that night; I knew that except for about 50 ft. of the route I could dispense with a rope, which would cut down on gear. I got in my car the next morning around 4am and arrived in the Valley just before 8am. It was still too cold to win me out of my car for the approach. I decided I would go check out camp 4 see if there was anyone there I knew. I had no luck so I ended up in the Bridal Veil Falls parking lot around 8:30am. With no car in sight I suddenly felt alone as I started up the talus approach. I went through the mental checklist making sure I didn’t forget anything.

I had dressed lightly - lightweight Miconomics for my top and bottom, lightweight pants, a Windstopper fleece, and my fleece hat, that I quickly dispensed with. I brought a pair of shoes for the approach only. I would climb and descend in climbing shoes, which later turned out to be the crux of the climb. I got to the wall, cruised across the catwalk and was at the base by 9:30am. I flaked the rope, doubled it up and tied into both ends so I trailed one loop. I glanced at my watch and started the stopwatch. I flew up the first 2 pitches. Half way up the 3rd pitch, a head blew on a bounce test. That took some scary cam hooking and a sketchy nut to get through. Just before Ahwanhee ledge I threw an oval on a bolt, clipped my rope and taped the gate shut, pulled the slabby free moves and was on top of pitch 4, as I pulled the rope, I looked at my watch. 49 minutes. I drank some water and ate a Gu then pendjied in to pitch 5. Cruised up. Another oval and some tape on a bolt (love to see those big letters ASCA) free climbed to the bolt ladder on pitch 6 and pulled my rope at the start of pitch 7. I knew 7 was long and would eat up time. So I took a minute to catch my breath. For some reason this pitch took me the same time as the first 4, fatigue? Thinking about the head that blew? Who knows?

Got to the roof shortly after (par for the course) grabbed some more water and ate a bar before the sprint to the top. I knew I had some free climbing to do and wasn’t feeling up to the free solo. So I threw a biner and tape on a couple of fixed pieces and pulled in the middle of pitch 10, had to throw a 4th biner in before the exit onto the ledge at pitch 10 and scurried to the top.

I pulled the rope, sat down, and stopped the clock, 3hrs 37min. I thought I had moved slower. So, just past 1:00 pm, I ate and drank the last of it all. I thought I could be down to the car around 2:30pm if I hurried. With snow and wet chimneys slowing my decent, I got to my shoes that I had left at the base (never been so glad to put a pair on) and got down to the car just before 3pm. Starving by this point, I figured I could be at a great Mexican restaurant, in Manteca by 5 for a burrito. And home by 8pm! 16 hours house to house.

In the morning I found out that it was snowing in the valley.


  • Start from car time: 8:30am, aprox
  • Start from base time: 9:27am
  • car-to-car time: 7:30 approx
  • house to house: 16:00 approx. (SF, Ca)

Rack (on a double shoulder sling)

  • 1 petzl Tika
  • 58 meters of 7mm rope
  • 1 ATC end of rout time: 1:04pm
  • 1 Locker
  • 6 ovals (with a small roll of tape)
  • 3 Quick draws
  • 1 cam hook, 1 skyhook
  • 1 black/blue offset alien
  • #5, #6 HB offset nut
  • 6 nuts (small to medium)
  • 1 each- black alien, blue alien
  • 2 each- green alien, yellow alien
  • 2 each- .5 Camelot, .75 Camelot, #1 Camelot, #2 Camelot
  • 2 GUs, 2 Luna bars, 1 liter of water mixed with Carbofuel

--Nick Fowler.