We caught up with athlete Nina Riggio after she and climbing partner Luke Rasmussen were the first people to climb a route on Finnegan’s Peak in the White River National Forest, Colorado.
Nina and her partner Luke climbed along with two other teams, a total of six climbers, in memory of their good friend Logan Jauernigg who recently passed away in a kayaking accident.
What inspired you to want to put up this first ascent?
I was inspired by Logan honestly. I would’ve never been brave enough to put up a first ascent a year ago.
What did you name your route and why?
We named it “Blessed by Juaernigg”. We wanted to named it after Logan because neither me nor my climbing partner Luke would have been there without having been inspired by that kid.
What is the difficulty rating?
It’s a 5.9+.
Climbing routes are graded on the Yosemite Decimal System, a five class system where the terrain in Classes 1 through 4 ranges from easy walking to more difficult hiking. Actual rock climbing begins at Class 5 and is then subdivided with decimals, using both numbers and letters. The divisions range from 5.1 to 5.15, and the use of letters to denote different levels of difficulty begins at 5.10, with “A” being the least difficult and “D” being the most. (Example: 5.10a, 5.11c, or 15.14b) For more information on how routes are graded, click here.
Were you scared?
I was terrified… I can count on two hands how many times I’ve ever trad climbed and in those times I had never built an anchor. With it being a first ascent, the first time any human has ever climbed it, I had to be extra cautious not to knock off all the loose rocks and accidentally kill my belayer.
Having music along with us on the climb helped keep our focus and calm our nerves. We brought along the BRV-1 Speaker. It’s perfect for climbing, small and lightweight, but durable enough to take the beating we put it through.
- Trad climbing is a style of rock climbing in which the climbers place all the gear required to protect against falls, and remove it after the climb is complete.
- A belayer is the climbing partner who exerts tension on the climbing rope so that if the other climber falls, they do not fall very far.
- An anchor is made of several pieces of gear placed into the rock with at least three points of connection. This secures one climber to the side of the rock while they belay the other climber.
How long did it take?
It took us about 3 hours to climb 4 pitches and choose a line on that wall.
- A pitch refers to a steep section of a route that requires a rope between two belays. The leader ascends the pitch, placing gear along the way, then stops to anchor themselves to the belay station.
How did you find the route?
We were staring at it from a distance and really wanted to climb this huge dihedral we could see from afar but had no idea and were betting on it having a crack system, hoping and wishing more like.
- A dihedral is a cliff feature where two planes of rock come together at a right angle to form a corner that can be climbed in.
- A crack system is a natural crack in the rock that splits all the way from the bottom to the top. Depending on the width of the crack, climbers can jam their fingers, limbs, or entire body inside these cracks in order to climb there way up to the top of the wall.
Whats it like being the first human to stand where you stood, to be where no one has ever been before?
Ha, the whole time we were climbing we kept thinking to ourselves “God, I hope we don’t find any pitons, that would suck!” but overall it just felt really cool. We were up there livin’ it up for our friend. We wouldn’t have been there without his mindset and mentality. I wouldn’t have been strong enough a year ago, mentally.
- Popular in the 1950s and 60s, pitons are metal spikes that have to be hammered into the rock. The use of pitons is now a very outdated method of protecting the climbers from falling.
Photo by Nina Riggio
Did you ever get to a point where you considered stopping and going back down? If so, what motivated you to reach the summit?
Yes, the first pitch of climbing, grabbing my way through grass and trees. I was thinking to myself, “Wow, this is what crazy people do.” I guess I’m one of those now. Again, my motivation was Logan. Every time I got scared I just thought to myself, “Logan wouldn’t be scared! What am I doing thinking so much? I just need to do it!”
Whats your favorite part about being on the summit?
We actually ended up on the summit at the same time as the other two teams! My favorite part was definitely being up there with everyone, all my friends. I was so proud to have such an amazing group of friends to share that moment with, especially throwing off a little more of the ashes. It made the experience even more special.
First photo by Bjorn Bauer Photography