How to Put Up Your First First Ascent? Go Big or Go Home

  • 3 min read

Felipe Tapia Nordenflycht had never tried to get the first ascent of anything. In fact, on this particular trip to Zion National Park in November 2020, he had only meant to tag along and take photos of his climbing partners (Lane Mathis, Dakota Walz, and Sam Stuckey) as they worked to establish a new line. But when the team pulled up alongside a sheer, unclimbed 900-foot face in Zion’s Kolob Canyon, Mathis ended up handing Nordenflycht the rope.

“Felipe, you’re up,” he said. For a moment, Nordenflycht stared.

“This is a collaboration,” Mathis said with a grin. “So go do some onsighting, and put your name on the route.”

Zion’s Kolob Canyon offers sheer walls, good rock, and a striking setting. Photo: Felipe Tapia Nordenflycht 

Ultimately, that pitch would become the first of a brand-new, remarkably consistent 8-pitch route, which the team officially opened in December 2020 and dubbed New Ewe (5.11+). Offering an even mix of crack and face climbing, divided by large belay ledges, and finishing atop a pyramidal summit,New Ewewould have all the makings of a classic.  

But when Nordenflycht first tied in, he had no idea that the route would be a success, or even if the first pitch would go. He had, however, heard all kinds of stories from the other three, who, along with Collin Turbert, had just finished establishing an 800-foot 5.12d calledBig Game Hunter elsewhere in the canyon. Those stories had featured sketchy gear, long runouts, and hand-drilling bolts and hammering pitons on lead. But Nordenflycht was an experienced trad climber in his own right, and this untouched first pitch—a 100-foot corner ending in an off-width crack—looked just his style. Still, venturing into the unknown felt “a bit intimidating,” Nordenflycht recalls.

“I started taping up, and I could feel my heart beating so hard,” he says. “But [my partners] were super patient and supporting me all the time.”

Dakota Walz uses aRockie Talkie to coordinate with his partners. Separated by 100+ foot pitches, the radios were essential for streamlining communications. Photo: Felipe Tapia Nordenflycht 

Nordenflycht had first met Walz in Golden, Colorado, in October of 2020. The two were Instagram friends, and Nordenflycht had reached out to ask if Walz wanted to climb sometime.

“What are you doing in a half hour?” Walz had shot back. Shortly after, the two tied in at the Anarchy Wall in Clear Creek Canyon and found they worked well together. Less than a month later, they were headed to Zion.

About halfway up the first pitch ofNew Ewe, Nordenflycht’s heart rate had relaxed, and he was finding his rhythm. Just as he was beginning to enjoy himself, he heard a loud crack—a flick of the rope had knocked loose a cantaloupe-size rock, which hit Mathis right on the helmet.

Mathis was unharmed, but the sudden rockfall, common during route development, left Nordenflycht shaken. He lowered. Walz took the sharp end, sending the pitch.

Adventure-climbing essentials: crack gloves, pitons,Rocky Talkie radios, and a double-rack of totems. Photo: Felipe Tapia Nordenflycht

Unfortunately, that first trip was cut short not long after. Stymied by storms, early-season snow, and the demands of their full-time jobs (Walz is an EMT, Mathis edits for a film company, and Stuckey works in wilderness therapy), the team ultimately made three separate trips out to Kolob Canyon. 

On their final trip, Nordenflycht decided he was ready to take the lead again. He opened the fifth and sixth pitches of the route, this time without incident.

On December 11, Nordenflycht, Walz, Mathis, and Stuckey pulled over the canyon rim after 5 total days of effort, having officially established the first free ascent ofNew Ewe. All but one of the route’s pitches fall between 5.10 and 5.11+, and every pitch is equipped with bolted anchors.

(From left to right) Walz, Nordenflycht, and Stuckey after topping out New Ewe. Photo: Lane Mathis 

Walz and Mathis also establisheda variation for the fifth, sixth, and seventh pitches, for which they’ve claimed a grade of 5.12- R (there are no bolted anchors on the variation).

“Topping out was a total relief,” Nordenflycht says. “We never expected to go there for three weeks. But it was a totally amazing experience, and I couldn’t have hoped for better partners.”

Next up for Nordenflycht?

“I’m looking forward to doing more first ascents in the future,” he says.

You can find more of Nordenflycht's photos at 

The topo of Mathis, Walz, Stuckey, and Nordenflycht’s latest route: New Ewe (5.11+). Photo: Felipe Tapia Nordenflycht

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