Sunday, December 3, 2023

Nine days on a cliff and no going back

Yosemite climbing legend Kurt Smith shares his adventures Thursday in Virginia Beach

Photo courtesy of Kent Mountain Adventure Center –

When a team prepares to climb one of the many “routes” up the 3,000 feet of the granite cliff known as El Capitan, they plan on being on the wall for three to five days.

Each climber has two ropes, one tied around the waist to catch them if they fall, and another attached to the “haul bag,” pulling up to 100 pounds of food, water, sleeping bags and other gear behind them.

The first climber leads a pitch, which is approximately a hundred-foot section of rock. After the lead climber secures the pitch, the haul bag is hoisted up, and the second climber “cleans” the pitch, removing the protective equipment and joining the first climber. It’s slow and arduous work.

In 1996, Kurt Smith set out to climb the challenging route known as Zenyatta Mondatta (named after the 1980 Police album) all by himself.

The Zenyatta Mondatta route at El Capitan. Photo by Cheyne Lempe –

Kurt Smith grew up in Lake Tahoe and moved to Yosemite right out of high school. He spent three quarters of each year living out of a van near the national park, climbing almost every day, then worked all winter to earn enough money to do it again.

All in all, he climbed for 15 years until he became a professional climber, then did that for 15 more.

“Climbing is a super addicting thing when it grabs hold of you, and you’ll go as far and wide as you need to. It’s been a good run out playing on the mountains and the rocks,” Smith tells us.

Smith’s solo climb was one of his biggest challenges.

“I spent nine days on El Cap by myself doing all the work. It was challenging. No partners to lean on, no going back. Deal with whatever what you have to deal with. A route like [Zenyatta], you can potentially risk really bad falls. I was challenged mentally and physically. Cleaning the gear, hauling all the gear. It was an amazing experience.”

Yukon Tears
In 1994, Smith joined two other climbers to climb Mt. Proboscis in an area of the Yukon known as the Cirque of the Unclimbables.

“The name of the route we put up is called: Yukon Tears and was 18 pitches long or roughly a 2000’ route,” Smith told us.

“We got dropped off by a helicopter and spent 6 weeks in the mountains to climb this new route. It was epic. I will talk about this adventure and few others that span back to 1979 when I first started climbing.”

Mt. Proboscis, Yukon Territory, Canada. Photo by Jeff Jackson.
Kurt Smith on Pitch 12 of Mt. Proboscis. Photo by Jeff Jackson.

Virginia Beach Event
On Thursday, September 21st, Smith will visit Great Outdoor Provision Company at the Hilltop East Shopping Center location from 6 – 8 pm. Smith brings a compelling slide show along with more in-depth stories about Yukon Tears, Zenyatta Mondatta and many other climbing experiences.

Smith will also be showcasing many products from the Italian mountain equipment and clothing company Salewa.

Smith has been using Salewa backpacks, equipment and clothing for years, appreciating the quality of the product so much that he became a professional representative of the company.

Over 80 years in business, Salewa is well known internationally, but is bringing some new products to the United States for the first time. Great Outdoors Provision Company is one of only 18 retailers in the country selected to offer the new Salewa products.

In addition to Smith’s presentation, Great Outdoor Provision Company will be serving cold beer from Bottlecraft and various food offerings. Smith, for one, is a big fan of GOPC and is looking forward to the event.

“I’ve been working with those guys since I started repping various outdoor equipment 13 years ago. GOPC is really supportive and they are super connected to their community,” said Smith.

“I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of the folks I’ve seen here before. I’m going to show up early.”

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