Mary Eden on Achieving Life Goals and Sending 5.14a Trad

This article originally appeared on Climbing

On October 14, 2022, I made the first female ascent of Necronomicon (5.13d/5.14a), a 100-foot roof crack on the White Rim in Canyonlands, Utah, first freed by Jean-Pierre "Peewee" Ouellet. I redpointed this undulating hand crack (filled with fist jams, tea cups, hand jams, paddle hands, finger bars, and ring locks) after six working sessions and placed each cam on lead.

Necronomicon's slash grade comes from the crux 12-foot section of No. 0.75 cams. If you can get hand jams, or even thin hands, in the 0.75 section the climber has a significant advantage and the grade is 5.13d. If you have thick palms and have to ring lock, paddle hand, or finger bar the crux, the grade is 5.14a. Unfortunately I possess thick palms, so for me Necronomicon was the original grade of 14a suggested by Jean-Pierre and Tom Paul Randall.

It has been a long-standing goal of mine to join the elite group of women who have climbed 14a on gear, and I've trained my ass off to do so. Here's what I learned in the process.

My journey to Necronomicon

I believe that no one route, season, year, style, or even activity should define who I am as a person. I believe that the tactics I've refined while learning how to achieve my goals across climbing and life are the most valuable byproducts of goal setting. Climbing at my limit has taught me how to set a big goal and break it down into manageable steps, and it has allowed me to confront my most vulnerable self. But despite the tactics and training and mental preparation, climbing at my limit still holds a large likelihood for failure. I strive to leverage each failure into an opportunity to grow as a climber.

When I began climbing in my early twenties, scraping up my first 5.10s, I heard other climbers whisper about next-level crack climbs like Century Crack (5.14b). A climb that hard sounded absurd, and those camp-fire conversations were filled with awe and reverence. I couldn't even conceive what a 5.14 crack would entail--let alone believe I'd ever be capable of the grade. But the seed was planted in my mind and climbing a 5.14a rock climb on gear became a far-off, wouldn't-that-be-neat type of wish.

Female rock climber climbs vertical sandstone crack.
Mary’s first trad lead, when the 5.14 grade was of inconceivable difficulty. (Photo: Matt Pesce)

Even as I grew as a climber and began to tick 5.11 and 5.12, I didn't truly believe that I belonged in that space of elite climbers who could push into the 5.14 grades. Thankfully, I started to question why I thought I wasn't capable of climbing at a high level when I broke into the 5.13 grade. I've always set goals for myself in rock climbing. The first goal was to climb 50 multi-pitches, of any length, followed by redpointing 5.12 in every style (sport, trad, and every size--tips to wide). Then 5.13 trad, and then subsequently 5.13 in every crack size. While achieving these goals I realized that if I ever wanted to actually achieve climb 5.14a, I was going to have to push myself harder, both physically and mentally, than I ever had before.

I decided it was time to put energy towards this lofty goal in 2020, and I embarked on a scouting mission to check out Necronomicon. All the routes on the White Rim have an air of mystery surrounding them and access can be difficult. There are no guidebooks for the area and nothing on Mountain Project, just hodge-podge directions from other like-minded, adventurous climbers. So I set off with a rough estimate of where the crack might be and, after hiking around the White Rim for a half day, eventually saw the crack split the rim under my feet. I scrambled down an easy chimney to get my first look at Necronomicon. The roof crack meets the ground on one end of the cave, spans roughly 100 feet across a 50-foot drop over a drainage (like a sandstone half pipe), and touches back down on the far end of the cave. Looking across the span, I saw a herd of bighorn sheep standing proudly at the farthest end of the route. Looking out I could see that I was a stone's throw and a river crossing away from the popular Indian Creek Creek Pasture campground. I liked how deceivingly close I was to all of my friends climbing in Indian Creek. Being able to look out into Indian Creek while being isolated in the White Rim felt like I was still somehow part of their season. I could think of no better venue to devote myself to a single route.

From the moment I saw Necronomicon, it captured my curiosity and imagination. The surrounding White Rim landscape is unreal--a sandstone layer of wind-blown beach sands, accessible by the 100-mile 4×4 White Rim road. It feels completely unique from all other desert climbing; whereas most desert crack climbs are formed in the vertical sandstone walls of Indian Creek and Moab, the White Rim allows cracks to form on the underside of these roof-like formations. Climbing there feels like you're hanging from the ceiling of Utah's basement.

Mary Eden climbs Utah roof crack with view of desert in background.
Mary Eden on a working burn of Necronomicon. (Photo: Chris Uy)

Necronomicon seemed like the perfect route to devote myself to. It checked all of my boxes; remote setting, beautiful landscape, inspiring line, difficult size, challenging crack-climbing movement, and most importantly: jaw-dropping sunsets. I would 10/10 recommend watching the sunset from Necro. Challenging crack routes in particular appeal to me, because they seem carved out of nature by a master craftsman. I wanted Necronomicon to be the route that ushered me into my next stage of rock climbing; a route that looked impossible, demanded that I raise my skill and strength to match it, and would not succumb until I pushed myself to a mental and physical place that I'd never dared tread before.

It took pure grit and strategic planning to climb my first 14a on gear. I prepared for Necronomicon specifically by climbing No. 0.75 crack test pieces like Tricks Are For Kids, Six Star, The Chief, Optimator, Sacred Cow, and Public Consumption, and during that pursuit I unlocked micro-efficiencies that improved my paddle-hand/big-ring-lock crack technique. Over the course of multiple 5.13 redpoints, I developed a downright mean ability to finger bar and paddle hand up steep cracks.

On Indian Creek's Optimator (5.13-).
On Indian Creek’s Optimator (5.13-). (Photo: Spencer McKay)

I also realized that I needed to fix a nagging right wrist injury--an injury I sustained nearly two years ago from not warming up properly--because I could no longer push my body the way I wanted to. I'd been hesitant to acknowledge my wrist injury out of the fear that I would need to stop climbing, and instead convinced myself that it was tendonitis and I could climb so long as I focused on climbs that didn't aggravate my injury, like offwidths. The pain never left, so I got an MRI and was told I needed surgery. I avoided facing that, too, until I realized that in order to climb the cracks I was dreaming of, I'd need to go under the knife. After my wrist surgery in February 2022 I focused on rehabbing, climbing my anti-styles, and monastically following the training plans developed for me by Lattice Training.

Finally, before heading into the White Rim, I completed a grueling, sweaty, and lonely five-week wooden-roof-crack training block assigned to me by Tom Paul Randall. That block helped me build up the baseline of my roof-crack power endurance so I could arrive at the crux of Necronomicon (12 horizontal feet of 0.75s) with energy to spare instead of an empty tank.

Mary Eden rests on a knee bar after the redpoint crux.
Copping a knee bar after the redpoint crux. (Photo: Spencer Mckay)

When I stepped onto the dirt after "topping out" Necronomicon for the last time, the first thing I felt was satisfaction that I didn't feel physically destroyed. I had prepared myself well enough that actually sending Necronomicon felt very smooth. It wasn't until later that I felt overwhelming relief and gratitude for achieving a dream that I never really believed was possible. There was a time where I'd hesitate to even begin a project this daunting, for fear of failing to see it through. I'm thankful I took that first step and allowed myself to try.

Climbing Necronomicon was an experience that helped me undo years of arbitrary ceilings and limitations I had placed on myself. The first time I saw Necronomicon I felt inspired and scared. Scared because I feared that even if I underwent the process I still wouldn’t be able to climb it. Then along the way I remembered that I like to climb hard (hard being relative) and I want to climb harder simply because climbing well, at my limit, is the most fun thing I have found in rock climbing. I was here to be inspired, to dream, to try hard, and to have fun.

Coming back into civilization after leaving the White Rim, I've been getting asked "What's next?" I know that whatever comes next will be something that continues to capture the playful, wild, or weird part of my imagination. I'd prefer that "something next" to be another route in the heart of Canyonlands, maybe the neighboring 50-meter 5.14b roof crack Black Mamba completed by the WideBoyz in 2019. I don't feel like being the first female to climb Necronomicon is a career-defining moment for me. I know that Necronomicon is not the peak of my physical or mental potential even though it was a beautiful dream. My advice for others is to pour energy into the people and activities that bring you joy as much as you can. Build yourself a genuine community and support system. Set your goals, and work towards them with intention, while enjoying the scenery along the way. And remember that at the end of the day it is just rock climbing, and you should be having fun.

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