Solo on the Sharp End: David Roetzel leaves the rope at home to complete 15 Vail ice climbs in one day.

Monday morning in mid September. I’m at my home office when photographer David Clifford sends over a file containing images of David Roetzel ice climbing in Vail, Colorado, on March 13, 2014.

I open them up, pause for a moment, then do a double take—wait, is he climbing all these routes including The Fang (130 feet, WI5) without a rope? I wanted to know more.

I knew right away how serious the routes in David’s pics were. I’d spent several years climbing in Vail and had walked by many of the routes—once right after a major one crumbled to the ground nearly striking a passing climber.
“I wanted to solo all 16 pitches that day but the last route had really dried up,” Roetzel tells me. “Three of these have mixed starts.”

Roetzel admits to the dangers, like soloing The 7th Tentacle (90 feet, M7 – WI5). “Soloing pure ice in good shape is really calming and peaceful, but it has potential for chaos,” he says. “Mixed climbing is more stressful as holds break, and tools slip as your pick is not buried in ice. I really enjoy it—too bad it’s [really] dangerous.”

He’s pleased with his accomplishment and relieved: “Now that I did it, it’s something that is checked off the list.”

East Vail is David’s local ice crag. He’s been climbing there for nearly 15 years. Last year he soloed The Fang for the first time and that’s when the switch went off. “I started really thinking about this plan that I had for a long time,” he said.

This was also a chance to put his physical strength and stamina to the test. “I’ve learned over the past few years in training that I can keep getting stronger.” Originally from Akron, Ohio, 44-year-old Gypsum local Roetzel is a rep for Petzl, 5.10, Leki Trekking and CU Belay Glasses. His repping job allows him the flexibility to climb as he likes. Additionally, he has a degree in kinesiology, which he still studies to this day.

In 1988, at age 18, he split to Colorado for the skiing and started climbing rocks in the spring of 1989 in Eldorado Springs and Boulder Canyon. He started climbing ice in winter of ’97-’98. Before repping, Roetzel was an ice-climbing guide in Vail. He soloed some rock, but he preferred to solo vertical ice.

“I‘ve read every book on training for climbing and my background in kinesiology has helped me to understand the concepts,” he credits for his success. That, and “psyche and motivation are the key ingredients. You gotta make it happen.”