Wild Dreams: Climbing, community and accomplishment on a Mount Erie first ascent

Wild Dreams: Climbing, community and accomplishment on a Mount Erie first ascent

Story and photo by Mallorie Estenson

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Chris Weidner at the crux moves on Wild Dreams. Mallorie Estenson photo
Chris Weidner at the crux moves on Wild Dreams, Mount Erie. Mallorie Estenson photo

Looking out at the Cascade Mountains to the east, the Olympics to the west, dense green forest below and blue skies above, Chris Weidner chalked his hands at the base of a climb in a landscape rich with memories.

On Friday, July 3, 2015, Weidner made his mark in Mount Erie history when he made the first free ascent of Wild Dreams, 5.13a, one of the hardest established climbing routes on the rocky dome south of Anacortes. In other words, Weidner climbed an extremely technical route without any falls.

The route begins on a tiny ledge 100 feet off the ground in what Weidner calls a “magnificent position” just beneath Erie’s summit. It was a hot day, but the climb was shaded and a cool breeze allowed his attention to focus exclusively to the challenging moves ahead. He had spent the previous afternoon examining the rock, determining the precise sequence of feet and finger placements needed to execute the climb. The night before, he visualized each of the moves between the belay at the bottom of the route to the safety of the anchor at the top.

Taking in the surroundings, Weidner’s mind flooded with memories. “I’ve had special moments everywhere I can see,” he said. “I just feel lucky to be able to travel up here to spend enough time to see the best views of any climbing cliff I’ve ever been to.”

In future editions of the Mount Erie guidebook, Wild Dreams’ description will likely bear a customary nod to the person to seize the first ascent. It won’t be the first time Weidner’s name appears in the guide.

On the first page after the table of contents is an essay titled “Dallas Kloke: My Mentor, My Rock,” which Weidner wrote. Kloke died in September 2010, at the age of 71, when a loose rock dislodged on The Pleiades in the North Cascades, and caused him to fall. He first set foot on Mount Erie in 1961 and spent countless hours at the mountain running, hiking and establishing new climbs.

Weidner was 17 when he met Kloke, who has had a lasting impact on him. Kloke was known for keeping meticulous records of his climbs; Weidner knows that he has climbed exactly 347 routes rated 5.13a or harder. At 52, Kloke needed a younger partner who could keep up with his brisk pace in the mountains; 40-year-old Weidner guides groups of teens up Mount Baker.

“Ultimately, what matters most to me about climbing is the relationships you build with your partners.”

Kloke wrote a handful of guidebooks for climbing Mount Erie, the most recent of which he published in 2005. A 2013 edition bears a note from Kloke: “Erie doesn’t have the best rock or longest routes, or a high level of difficulty; but it’s unique. The scenery is beautiful and most of the time you have to do some hiking and scrambling to get around. I hope you enjoy your climbing on Erie.”

Following his first ascent and reflecting on his climbing career, Weidner said, “Ultimately, what matters most to me about climbing is the relationships you build with your partners.”

He and Kloke built their relationship on the summits of more than 80 mountains, from British Columbia to Colorado. Weidner likens Kloke and his love of Mount Erie to the hub of a wheel of which he and his partner, Jim Thompson, among other climbers, are spokes.

Thompson belayed Weidner on his first ascent and helped author the 2013 edition of the Mount Erie guidebook, “Rockin’ on the Rock.”

“I’m glad he sent it,” Thompson said, which is climber-speak for climbing a route without a fall. “Several people have looked at it and tried. Hard climbers just don’t come to Erie; that’s just the truth.”

Besides the exceptional challenge of the route considering the average difficulty of most of the routes at Mount Erie, Weidner perceived a unique community dedicated to the area.

“It’s neat to be able to do a first free ascent where there just aren’t that many really hard established climbs,” Weidner said. “I just needed to be invited by Jim to give it a try.”   x

Mallorie Estenson is a climber, writer and photographer based in Bellingham. She lives her life on the cusp of being considered a dirtbag, and likes it that way.