Story by Mason Earle /
There is a circus net that lives in my attic. It’s 50 feet long and twenty feet wide, made from cheap paracord and old climbing ropes. I built it specifically for climbing––like a giant crash pad for free soloing. My original vision was to use the net to free solo a big roof crack in Canyonlands, which ended up being one of the most outrageously fun things I’ve ever done. After the project, the net was folded up in a haulbag and carried up to its residence in the attic, waiting patiently for its next assignment.
It takes a motivated crew to rig the net, so I kept my eyes open for new “net” opportunities and the right vibe to make it happen. My girlfriend, Ally, had been suggesting that we set it up under Trench Warfare, SLC’s notorious offwidth roof crack. It seemed like a good idea, so this summer when my good friend, Pat Kingsbury, was in town we got the gear together and mobilized.
The hike up to TW is bushwhacky and arduous, even without the massive pile of gear we were toting. Pat joked that we were carrying a 70lb circus net up to Trench, “to save the weight of bringing our harnesses.” Hilariously true. The hike ended up being the crux of the setup, with the rigging being quite simple. After a few hours we had the net ready to go, equalized between 17 different anchor points. It’s always spooky crawling onto the net for the first time, but after rolling around for a few minutes, we were confident that it was good to go. Word got out that we had the net set up, and our group quickly grew. By the end of the day we had a big crew hanging out, and everyone was able to get on the route just as easily as you would walking up to try a boulder problem. No gear, no ropes, no hanging in your harness––you simply got your feet up into the roof and started shuffling. Falling onto your back was a little scary, but the catch was nice and soft.
With such a positive reception from the community, we decided to leave the net up for a couple days so more people would have the opportunity to thrash themselves above the net. Both Pat and I were able to climb Trench over the net, and on our final day I was able to climb it reverse from the lip to the start, then right back out to the lip. Granted, it was easier not having to place gear, but my feet and shins were ruined after that effort! Local offwidth legends Danny Parker and Ashley Cracroft also joined in on the fun, as well as a long list of other local climbing enthusiasts.
Hanging out with friends under the net, watching each other flail and grovel, I began to see that there might be more to this whole net idea than I originally thought: what I had originally designed as a one-off stunt evolved into more of a community-supported project, where lots of people were able to give it their best effort and have a silly good time. Over the course of three days, Trench Warfare saw more action than it probably had in the previous year. It was really fun to have so many people get to try a crazy route like Trench in this unique style. I don’t know what the future holds for net climbing, but I’m sure the net won’t stay up in the attic for long.