Persona Incognita, Episode Two: Greg Troutman
What if the best climber out there was not the strongest?
Not the most daring. Not the most heavily sponsored. Not the most photographed or written about. Not the guy or gal with the most social media followers, or OR shows under his or her belt.
What if the best climber was someone who was right under your nose, all along? Someone you had never even heard of before?
Today, I want to share with you one great climber who may fit that bill. But I also want you, for the sake of the article, to rethink your notion of what makes a climber great.
Let’s pretend for a moment that we live in a different world. Let’s pretend we live in a world where the criteria we have for judging climbers is not grades, but adventures. Where the best climbers are the ones who explore the most, who quest the most, who seek out new terrain and suffer through long or difficult approaches the most.
I’m not trying to say some other climber you have heard of isn’t great. I’m not trying to discredit anyone, or take anything away from some other climber you have heard of. I’m just trying to say: think outside the box. For a moment, imagine this other world.
For just for a moment, imagine being runout over your gear on desert sandstone; wondering whether it will go or not; not knowing because, after all, what lies in wait is terra incognita. For just a moment, let’s get to know Greg Troutman.
How long have you been climbing?
I started climbing 10 years ago, but my passion for it began when I moved to Utah in 2009, and climbed Castleton. I was instantly hooked. The southern Utah desert is one of the most amazing places I’ve been and has shaped a lot of who I am today. For better and worse, I have never been the same.
When did you put up your first new route?
I started putting up routes in the desert with some friends a few years ago, but none of them were “mine.” I was just helping out, but I did learn a lot in the process. Then, about 2 years ago I bought a power drill on a whim and started to just hike around. I assumed that best-case I would put some anchors on top of some no-star choss-pile, but I secretly dreamed that I might find a multi-pitch desert classic to an unclimbed summit. I did a lot of exploring, but eventually what I found far surpassed my initial dreams. When your dreams come true, you question if you’re still dreaming.Which are your top three? How many new routes have you done now?
I’ve established about 15 – 20 routes so far, ranging from 1 – 5 pitches. Most of them are located in the same general area. They are all pretty decent, but my favorites would have to be Deprivation 29 and Whoa Dude!
1.) Deprivation 29, 4 pitch, 11+: Such an amazing line! Wild face climbing, laser cut cracks, party ledges, and a beautiful (previously) unclimbed summit. The second pitch is a fierce 35 meter 11+ that keeps coming at you. The name is a spin-off of Levitation 29 in red rocks, but we called it Deprivation 29 because it was established at a time when my climbing partner, Mark Evans, and myself were working ridiculous hours, but still couldn’t stay away from this line. I would work a 16 hour overnight shift, drive down to the desert, climb all day, and then usually stay up late around a campfire pushing the sleep deprivation to the 29 hour mark. Then I’d wake up the next morning just in time to drive back for another 16 hour shift. I was obsessed with finishing this project. I couldn’t stay away. 2.)Whoa Dude! 3 pitch 10+: Every pitch is different and great climbing, and again the FA was to an unclimbed summit. The first pitch was established by Mark Evans in one of the wildest leads I’ve ever witnessed. Traversing into the unknown, placing garbage gear blindly at his feet, and blowing holds, the consequences of falling were massive yet he continued on because retreat seemed to be the greater of two evils. “Whoa Dude!” It’s now bolted and cleaned, and although it’s still an attention grabber, it feels like a totally different climb. However the FA is one of those climbing memories that is burnt into my soul. That’s why I love this shit. It’s for the days that you won’t ever forget. I could go sport climbing and clip bolts all weekend, and it would be great fun, but it won’t bring a smile to my face when I’m 90 years old.
How do you feel about publicizing your FAs?
I haven’t publicized any of my routes yet. I will in time. I’m not done developing the area and many of the routes are unfinished. I have an irrational fear that if I do post my routes that the area will become popular and overrun with climbers. However, I’m sure the reality of the situation is far from this and once I’m done exploring the area I will share the information publicly.
Route development is an art. If you painted the world’s greatest masterpiece, you wouldn’t just keep it in your garage next to old boxes of VHS tapes. You would want to hang it in a gallery or a museum, to share it and inspire others to have the same connection with the rock that you had. I’m not trying to say that I’ve created the Mona Lisa of rock climbing, I’d probably more-so describe most of my routes as the splattered mess on Jackson Pollock’s floor after he has completed another one of his neutrally numbered pieces.What has surprised you while putting up new routes?
In my search for new routes I was surprised how much unclimbed rock there still is. I am also consistently surprised what goes. What appears “impossible” from the ground, usually goes free at a reasonable grade.
If you’re looking to put up new routes of your own, the first thing I would suggest is a good pair of binoculars. One of my favorite parts of putting up a new line is the search. Scanning cliffs for crack systems and potential ways to link them.
What motivates you to put up new routes?
One of the aspects I love about putting up new routes is the guidebook-less approach. No beta, no preconceived grades, no mountain project spray, just rock climbing in its purest form. Picking out creative lines on amazing features. It’s an extremely fun and rewarding process.
There is also undeniably a sense of ego attached to “being the first”, to summit the tallest mountain via the hardest route and say “look at what I have accomplished.” However, I think for now the point is to share that feeling, that experience with friends and others that will appreciate it in the same way that you did. When you stand atop an amazing summit for the first time in all human history, there is a special feeling attached to that. Something similar to what Neil Armstrong felt when he filmed the first moon landing in a Hollywood basement.What advice would you give to someone wanting to put up a new route of their own?
It depends on the area and the route. When I was climbing new routes in the Wind River Range, it was just a simple matter of starting at the bottom and climbing to the top. There is just so much good rock out there. Find a line and go rock climbing.
When putting up routes in the desert, it’s a lot more work. The routes are much more of a “fixer-upper” than anything else. But I really enjoy the work. It makes you more attached to the route. The before and after of some routes were really surprising, pulling a diamond out of the rough. Not to say that we haven’t found virgin laser cut splitters in perfect stone, but they are usually guarded by bands of choss.
Choss is probably the most dangerous part of putting up new routes. “Use everything, trust nothing” is the motto. When a mini-fridge size block strikes the earth from up high, you really see and feel the power of mass times gravity (mXg). It’s nothing to be taken lightly.
The shitty part is that I love it. Chossineering that is. It adds a level of consequence, skill, and fear that you don’t get with many established climbs. At the end of the day, I kind of wish I liked sport climbing more.
I guess that it’s a microcosm of myself. The ever present battle of wishing that I was content with being more normal, embracing the stability of a 9 – 5 job and finding joy in being part of the local soft ball league. Stuff like that. Instead I choose to live in this world of dramatic highs and lows.When I’m putting up a new route, it usually goes as follows:
Step 1: Find a worthy-looking objective. Explore, explore more. Use binoculars and google earth.
Step 2: Get to the top in the best possible style. Roll heavy because you never know what you’re going to need. That being said, I’m notorious for cursing my past self for leaving the wide gear in the car. It’s also important to paint your bolts. Most of the time we are climbing in beautiful wilderness settings. No one wants to look at a beautiful cliff and see a line of shiny metal bolts. This could also negatively affect climbing access in the future. Unpainted bolts are also targets for gun toting red-necks.
Step 3: Clean top down. Toss dangerous blocks and scrub cracks. For cleaning out cracks I’ve found that a toilet brush works really well. Never put your packs or ropes at the bottom of a route. One loose block can core shot your rope in 6 places and crush your victory beers in an instant.
Step 4: Enjoy the fruits of your labor. Bring the sending rack and the summit supplies and have fun!
Step 5: Name your route. I’m pretty bad at this step. I find naming routes a lot like thinking of a Halloween costume. I randomly come up with great ideas all year, then October 30th rolls around, and I got nothing. Usually just stick with the first thing that was blurted out, like “Whoa Dude!” or “Yeah Dude!”
Greg lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he splits his time between working in a hotel, resoling shoes, and climbing as much as he possibly can. While the Utah desert may be his favorite place to seek out new terrain, his travels have taken him all over the mountain west. If you like many of those awesome pictures scattered throughout this article, follow Greg, or Mark Evans on instagram.
Do you know an incredible climber that nobody ever talks about? Do you want to tell their story? Well, what’s stopping you? Send an email, and get in touch! I have at least one other climber cued up for the Persona Incognita series. But I don’t know everybody. I think it’s a really cool idea, but if it’s going to keep going, I’m going to need help… So get sending!