Photograph by Dawn Kish
John "Verm" Sherman is a legend among us. He pioneered bouldering and invented the V-scale for grading bouldering problems. He also championed the development of bouldering at Hueco Tanks, Texas. Quite a legacy. Here Sherman tells us about climbing "the Strike," ascending all Ten Pins in a single day in the Needles of South Dakota's Black Hills, with local guide Cheyenne Chaffee last summer. Photographer Dawn Kish climbed and rappelled several spires, as well, to document the feat (her tips are coming up next, stay tuned). Sherman is the author of several climbing books, including Stone Crusade, Sherman Exposed, and Better Bouldering 2nd edition (due out in October). See the image in our Extreme Photo fo the Week gallery.
Adventure: For starters, is this type of geological formation unusual?
John "Verm" Sherman: There are hundreds of such spires in the Black Hills Needles, hence the area's name. Molten granite and pegmatite intruded into metamorphic schist in such a way to form fins and spires. The softer schist has eroded away, leaving the spires. In my experience—I've climbed in over 600 areas in the U.S.—this is unique. I have been to other areas with lots of spires, but almost always they are made of sandstone, not granite.
Adventure: Why is this pin called Super Pin? Do they all have good names?
John "Verm" Sherman: Of the 10 Ten Pins, Super Pin and Hairy Pin are the most challenging and dangerous because Pete Cleveland did the first ascents of both and he was determined that these spires would be elite level climbs with very little fixed protection.
Legend has it that he led Super Pin with only one piece of gear and upon reaching the top rigged his rope to descend and pulled it before anyone else could climb it, leaving himself as the only person bold enough to stand atop the spire. Later, climbing legend "Hot Henry" Barber established the line I'm pictured on, which is still very scantily protected, but not the unabashed death route Cleveland's path is. Nevetheless, climbers still debate whether a fall on Barber's line would end your career or not.
On this day my partner was a local guide, Cheyenne Chaffee. We set our belay up high in a notch between Tent Peg and Super Pin with the plan being if I fell, Cheyenne would jump out of the notch down a 40-ft face vertical face below. Timed right, this would pull enough rope through the belay system that neither he nor I would hit the ground. We don't always climb that way.