Siegrist Goes ‘Back to the Future’ For One of the Hardest Climbs in the U.S.

One unlikely strip of stone in southern Nevada’s Clear Light Cave yawned forgotten above the desert for decades.

Then, 5.15 climbing machine Jonathan Siegrist showed up. The Las Vegas resident’s tenure in the area has consisted of one prolonged jag of first ascents and notable repeats, and his most recent addition to the guidebooks marks a milestone in the trend.

Back to the Future, 9a/+ (5.15) hammers out one very steep section in the Mt. Potosi cave, which offers “mostly steep, long, and gymnastic” routes, per local crusher Andy Raether.

Siegrist finally knocked out the first ascent two decades after Joe Brooks first worked on the line around 2000. Siegrist, who’s as ardent a student as he is a beastly climber, did the homework for this one. He discovered that the last person to even attempt the route was the legendary Francois Legrand — all the way back in the early 2000s.

Asked why nobody even sniffed at a further attempt on it for such a long time, Siegrist said the following:

“It’s not surprising to me at all that [Back to the Future] went so long without much action. For a long time, the Clear Light Cave was largely forgotten despite having some of the country’s hardest routes. For instance, Francois climbed one of the first 5.14d [9a] routes in the country, Bachelor Party [9a], at the cave back in 2002, and even it still has only been repeated once (by me). More or less the same story with Joe Brooks’ Annihilator, 5.14c [8c+] which has only been climbed 3 times since the late ‘90s! Something about the style, location, and brutality of these old test pieces has not drawn in too many climbers. But I do see a resurgence happening now.”

Blinded by the light

Indeed, climbers need to want it if they’re going to send hard at Clear Light. It’s a long way away from anything — even the closest parking lot at the end of the closest desolate dirt road.

And when you get there, you’d better be ready to pull down hard. Back to the Future revolves around physical climbing that leads to a low-percentage crux Siegrist described with a wild story.

“[It’s] a very dramatic swing out of the horizontal roof on a mono and a small two-finger pocket. There is absolutely no resting in the hard climbing leading up to the crux, in classic Clear Light style,” he said in an email.

He then described a blind move without footholds to a faraway hold that’s impossible to aim for.

“I felt honestly surprised I had grabbed the blind hold and at the same moment I was literally blinded by the sun as I crested around the roof, so it really did feel like a dream!”


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Ever modest, Siegrist signed off with a just-happy-to-be-here comment on Instagram.

“Such a good fight and so happy to contribute to the story of this weird and outrageous climb,” he wrote.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents’ evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.