"Don't look down," goes the old saying. Jes Meiris loves looking down — even when she's suspended 3,000 feet in the air, with only...
“Don’t look down,” goes the old saying.
Jes Meiris loves looking down — even when she’s suspended 3,000 feet in the air, with only ropes, her skills and nerves of steel to get her off a rock.
It’s a love that drew her to California’s Yosemite National Park in June, when she and a friend spent two weeks hauling themselves up and down one of the greatest climbing walls in the world, El Capitan’s The Nose.
They liked it so much that Meiris and Quinn Brett, of Estes Park, Colo., set the new female world record for speed on the climb, ascending in 10 hours and 19 minutes.
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It was the latest feat for a woman who learned to climb at an age when most kids learn to ride a bike and swim.
“I’ve always loved it. I’ve always been comfortable at heights and enjoyed getting above people and hanging off the ropes, and the movement, the very gymnastic movement of climbing,” said Meiris, 30, of Colorado Springs, Colo.
She started rock climbing at 5, introduced by her parents, who are also climbers. When she was 12 her parents built an 18-foot climbing wall in their house.
After college “every vacation became about climbing,” she said. She moved back to Colorado Springs and began working as a climbing guide and instructor, and even coaches the competitive climbing team at Colorado Springs’ Fountain Valley School.
El Capitan, she said, has always called her.
“El Cap is the biggest granite monolith in the world. It’s stunningly beautiful,” she said.
And The Nose is the premiere route, with a dizzying amount of exposure and a 3,000-foot plunge to punish any mistake. She first climbed it in 2010, spending two weeks practicing and learning the route.
After meeting Brett, they decided to climb it together, soliciting sponsorships to raise money for S.O.S. Outreach International, a Vail, Colo.,-based nonprofit that connects youths with outdoor activities.
“Climbing, in my opinion, is a somewhat selfish sport,” Meiris said. “We wanted to make it be about something besides us, besides our objective.”
Her competitive nature drove her to break the record, spending two weeks repeatedly going up and down the rock to practice. On June 10 the women took what was supposed to be a last practice run. But they were making such great time they decided to push it.
They used a technique known as “short-fixing” — one person climbing ahead to hook up the rope, the second climbing directly up the rope with a locking hand tool. Other climbers let them pass. And when they reached the top and realized they had beaten the women’s record by 23 minutes, they celebrated with a beer some hikers had carried up.
“It was great. It was awesome. We were elated and also relieved,” she said.
“We don’t have to climb The Nose again. We can if we want to, but we don’t have to.”
They may “have” to. The old women’s record had stood for only eight months, and someone is bound to come along and break their new one. That’s fine with Meiris. She thinks she can shave up to an hour off her time.
Not that she expects to come anywhere near the men’s record of 2 hours and 45 minutes. Men take more risks, she said, and have been speed climbing The Nose for many more years.
Sigrid Meadows, who climbed the forbidding Montezuma’s Tower in Colorado’s Garden of the Gods with her daughter on a recent afternoon, said she watches Meiris with a sense of pride mingled with terror.
“It’s amazing because I know what it takes to do these things. I am incredibly proud of her,” said Meadows.
But, she added, “I had to go on Valium while she was doing The Nose.”
Meiris is already eyeing the next challenge, which she will work into her seasonal routine of living in Colorado Springs in winter and “out of my car” in summer. She and Brett may try to become the first women to climb all the walls over 1,000 feet in the nation.
“Don’t tell my mom, but this is only the beginning.”