Climbers Get Blasted by Sandstorm 1,000 Feet Up

Honnold and Wright battling wind on wall

Renowned climbers Cedar Wright and Alex Honnold don’t like to make it easy on themselves. After summiting all of California’s 14,000-foot peaks in an expedition aptly named “Sufferfest,” the duo started planning Sufferfest 2. The climbers set out to climb 45 of the most iconic rock towers in the American Southwest desert and bike from tower to tower—in just three weeks—as part of a National Geographic grant. Not too surprising from someone who calls himself a “crazy, madman explorer,” as Wright does.

While the partners could plan somewhat for the combined 12,000 feet of vertical climbing and the nearly 800 miles of biking, they weren’t planning on being blasted by sandstorms for three weeks straight. Wright recalls, “We really were expecting fun-in-the-sun climbing; I got a sunhat and a bunch of sunscreen. Then one second you’re on the side of this cliff enjoying beautiful climbing and then you look out in the distance and you’re like, ‘Huh, what’s that giant, black, foggy cloud out there?’ And three minutes later you’re inside a heinous sandstorm. You feel like you’re going to battle.”

Missing out on a mean tan wasn’t the only contingency of the storms. “One of the dangers of wind is that your rope can get blown around the mountain, and you could be in a serious situation where you can’t retrieve your rope. It could mean you don’t come back down the mountain, you just get stuck up there for days,” Wright says.

Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright battle the wind while climbing rock towers in the American Southwest desert.

Navigating the 1,000-foot spires—wind or no wind—was complicated by the apparent lack of structural integrity. “At its worst, desert tower climbing is not rock climbing, it is mud climbing. You are literally climbing vertical mud. You look up and the mud is —> Read More