INTERVIEW - Jonathan and Bob Siegrist on the Dunn-Westbay 5.14a

US climber Jonathan Siegrist is renowned for his hard sport climbing ascents, with repeats of La Rambla 9a+ in Siurana, Le Cadre Nouvelle 9a and the iconic Biographie 9a+ at Ceuse, as well as multiple first ascents around the world. However, growing up with a climbing father and living in close proximity to mountains has also encouraged him to sample some larger-scale objectives.

Jonathan and his father approaching the wall, 148 kb
Jonathan and his father approaching the wall
© Cameron Maier

Jonathan recently made the second free ascent of the original Dunn-Westbay route on The Diamond, Long's Peak, Colorado - a 5.10 A3+ aid route established in 1972 by Jimmy Dunn and Billy Westbay - partnered by none other than his 66 year-old father Bob.

The granite wall - which begins at an altitude of around 4,023m and tops out at over 4,267 metres - was first freed in full by Tommy Caldwell and Joe Mills in 2013. The crux 5.14a pitch is 80 metres in length and is situated at an altitude of 4084 metres, likely making the Dunn-Westbay the hardest multipitch rock route above 13,000ft in the world to date. Jonathan's ambition and dogged determination to climb this route - which clearly holds significant personal meaning as well as being a cutting-edge alpine ascent - inspired me to ask him some questions. Even Alex Honnold was impressed, commenting on Facebook:

'Everything about this is awesome! Way to go Jonathan Siegrist - so cool to send such a hard route with your dad!
Climbing 5.14 at altitude is no joke...'

Your history with Long's Peak goes back a long way. What were your first impressions of the mountain as a kid, when you climbed there with your Dad?

I was born in Wisconsin and lived in the farm country of Norway and later in a flat Tennessee before moving to Colorado, so for a long time our summer visits to Rocky Mountain were my only exposure to the mountains. Long's Peak was always the biggest and baddest in the Park - so I revered it as essentially the Mt Everest of my little world. 

Tell us a bit about the other lines you've climbed on the Diamond with your Dad - Yellow Wall and The Honeymoon is Over. How did they inspire you to overlook the exhaustion you felt each time and get yourself back up there for an even harder challenge?

The Yellow Wall was my first route up the Diamond when I was 19. I followed every pitch, fighting my way up. Next was D-7, also with my Dad, and this was one of the first times that I took the sharp end. I lead the crux pitch and I just remember getting pumped out of my mind! I loved the long, exhausting days up there. The next mission was actually ‘Eroica’, again with Dad. This route neighbours the ‘Honeymoon’, and I was keen to have a gander over at it on our way up. Well it turns out that climbing 5.12 on the Diamond is no joke! We epiced on the route, barely finishing, swapping leads. I was definitely climbing 5.14 at the time but I still got my ass totally kicked on this route. I think it was on this day I realised how much work it would require to really climb well on this mountain and I think that challenge motivated my return for the Honeymoon several years later. 

Jonathan Siegrist repeating the Dunn-Westbay 5.14a
© Cameron Maier

You spent six weeks on the Dawn Wall with Tommy Caldwell in 2012. What did you learn, from both Tommy and the experience itself?

I learned so much, really too much to write here. Mostly it just took me WAY outside of my comfort zone. I was up there with my climbing hero and that really helped push me to kind of step over the edge - both literally and figuratively. Tommy is so dialed on climbing walls but also he has a little bit of a cowboy attitude about it all. At the beginning of the trip I was so intimidated by everything and so stiff and calculated. By the end I started to loosen up and just go for it. This is the best thing that I took from the experience. 

You were involved in the rescue of another party whilst climbing with Tommy on The Diamond, when you first tried the line with him. Did this affect your motivation for climbing in the area at all?

Such an intense day! The Rocky Mountain Rescue guys were so so good at what they do. I was amazed at the kind of care they could administer in the worst possible location. I often think about how selfish and pointless my pursuit of climbing can be - it was cool on this day to feel like my skills were potentially helping…maybe even helping to save a life! We hustled and helped as much as we could. It was just a good reminder that shit can go wrong. When you spend too much time taking risks you can forget about the reality of the mountains. 

Your successful ascent wasn't as smooth as it could have been, with multiple falls. Does this make it more fulfilling in some way?

Oh absolutely. If I had walked the route, of course I would have been stoked, but it was like every hour I felt the send slip away and then in a rush come back into reality. By the end I was so exhausted mentally and obviously physically. I would not change anything looking back. 

Your Dad is 66 years old. How did he find the experience, and how did having your Dad play such an important role in the climb help to keep you giving your all?

Well having him there was huge for me. My Dad has seen me fail and succeed so many times throughout the years - and supported me regardless. I really, really wanted to climb this route with him, but he was afraid that he was holding me back and actually quite hesitant to go up there with me. So I knew that as the day went on, if I failed after we had tried so hard, it would be really difficult mentally to mount enough stoke to try again as a team. I think he worked really hard and honestly tried as hard as I did. It was awesome. 

How does the difficulty of the Dunn Westbay compare to other multipitch routes you've climbed, at altitude or otherwise?

Well this route is mostly about the crux pitch, which is by all means one of the most demanding pitches I have ever climbed. The pitches afterwards are certainly not easy (especially when they are wet!) but they are so so much easier than the crux. This is without question the hardest day I’ve ever had on any wall. Who knows how different it would have felt had the climbing gone more smoothly? But in the end I’m so stoked that I had the experience that I did. There were several times when I was certain I would fail, like, 100% sure the effort was over...but then I would climb another pitch somehow. 

Are there any other lines on Long's Peak that you've got your eye on, existing or potential?

For sure! I will always want to climb The Diamond. There are easier routes that I would love to do still. And much more. But for me the season is over, it has already snowed up there three or four times since I did the route. 

You started climbing after trying out bouldering as cross training for downhill mountain biking. Were you competing or performing to a high level? What made you eventually switch to climbing? Did the downhilling give you any transferrable skills?

I was pretty fast yeah but not at a very high level, just passionate about mountains and riding bikes. I’ve always said (and still do) that I think mountain biking - especially downhill - is more fun than climbing. What it lacked for me though was the sense of accomplishment that I get from climbing. I thrive on the cycle of hard work rewarded by success. I never found the same kind of experience with riding. But damn, opening up on steep single track with a cushy bike and feeling the earth rumble beneath you…this is a kind of excitement I will never experience rock climbing. 




You perform to a high level across multiple disciplines, How would you define yourself as a climber: do you prefer one discipline over the others?

I guess I just consider myself a rock climber. Climbing up rocks! Sport climbing has for sure been my primary focus for years but as I get older my enthusiasm for it is starting to fade. I really love it all but I hope in the next few years to do more and more trad climbing and walls. 

What's next for you, and your Dad?

I am going into bouldering mode now for a month, trying to get snappy and powerful for some fall sport climbing goals. Damn bouldering is hard! My Dad is getting stoked to try his hardest sport climbing project in Wyoming next week. We’re heading out bouldering together in Rocky Mountain National Park today.

Read Jonathan's excellent blog with full details about the climb here.

Jonathan is sponsored by: Arc'teryx, Climb On, EpicTV, La Sportiva, Maxim Ropes and Metolius

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