A Date With Death
David Harrington succeeds on a climb that held his attention for 30 years. With a little help from his friends.
My dad first introduced me to top-roping when I was eight years old. I was a skinny little kid that was scared of heights and would agree to these outings only because I enjoyed spending time with him. Fast forward a few years and by my early teens I was leading multi-pitch in my Sandia Mountains and more than obsessed with climbing. Around that time, a futuristic route had been established by local legend, John Duran: A Date with Death (5.13c). I would look at pictures of him on that line and dream, but never entertained the idea that I’d be able to climb it. By my early 20s I had finished college, started a family, and began my career in the cancer treatment field. Life was busy and climbing amounted to a couple of outings each year. In my late 30s I regained having spare time and got back into climbing, soon finding that same obsession I had in my teens. I was regaining strength and drive to push myself harder and harder. However, I was almost 40 … could I really get back to the strength of my youth?
When COVID hit in 2020, I turned to projecting to occupy my time and sent my first 5.13 trad line just before turning 40. Suddenly, my lifelong dream of climbing A Date with Death seemed possible. I immediately started work on it and after a few sessions of TR work began to lead it. I must have had 10 lead attempts that season, falling on the last move for many of them. By October, the wall was too cold (it is at 10,000ft and north-facing) and I shifted to the mindset of skiing and training for the next season of attempts.
I’d known of Rob Pizem and his training ethic for some time, and his ability to balance being a family man, pro climber, teacher, and coach, was always inspiring. I reached out to him and we moved forward with a six week training plan that was as much about honing my mind as it was my body.
Just three weeks into the plan, I sent A Date with Death. I remember arriving at the last move more fresh and in control than I’d ever been. I knew at that moment that it was happening and thinking about it makes me tear up to this day.
Ascent #6 was this Summer by my buddy, John Watt. John is a sport climber and this was his second-ever trad lead. His first was a 5.5, and he thought A Date With Death might be his last.
I felt complete, joking with friends and family that I could die happy and fulfilled. However, obsession kicked in and the very next day I started projecting a line just 15 feet to the left that was unclimbed. This thin seam looked like it would go on small gear, but it took me over two months to convince myself that a fall wasn’t necessarily a death sentence. Using all of the mental and physical fitness I’d gained because of Rob, I snagged the first ascent of Medicine Man (5.13d PG-13) on August 15, 2021, followed by two of my friends sending within the next seven days.
In these last two years I’ve learned that with the right effort, we are capable of much more than we could imagine. I don’t know if I’ll ever top Medicine Man in terms of difficulty or seriousness, but the day after I sent it, I started searching for the next line. Obsessed.
Obsessed – a word that can sometimes be seen as negative . For people who are driven to excel, however, obsession means focus, dedication and an intense drive to achieve their goals. Rob Pizem is one of those people.
This is Rob Pizem (high school teacher/husband/pro climber/dad) and as I don’t get out to climb as much as I used to, I still love to be a part of someone’s journey toward progressing as a climber. I write personal climbing training plans (2 or less per month for the past 15 years) for those who seek me out and put up with an interview. These people must be willing to work on their technical and mental skillset in addition to their overall climbing fitness. I don’t have a website and I make it kind of a pain for you initially. This is because I like to work with those clients who are truly willing to improve, and because I already have a full-time job that takes up most of my time.
When David contacted me about his goal/route I laughed. Not because I thought it was easy or hard, but because when I received his personal stats (body type, years climbing, strengths, job description etc.) I thought of one person, ME! Knowing myself I had a great idea of how to help him. It was truly satisfying learning about his goal and how important it was to him. When he was quickly able to complete it after beginning his plan, I was ecstatic.
All of my plans are designed with all of your personal needs in mind. After watching you climb, testing your physical/mental strengths in a variety of ways, and blending all your training tools together, a plan is created. Each week of the plan is loaded with opportunities to practice a particular skill that will improve your climbing based on your personal time constraints, needs and goals.
I feel my approach to training is different than others in that it’s not just about gaining strength or fitness – that doesn’t make you a better climber – but I seek to develop a climber’s technical tools and mindset and to coach them to how to see where they need to continue to improve as their goals and life changes. Your plan is “your” plan and will allow you to have the tools to address the current projects and future ones in a safe and efficient way.