Login with Facebook
Primal Wall Area
Routes Sorted
L to R R to L Alpha
American Life S 
Apollos Crack T 
Godhole, The T 
SGT Baker T,S 
Southbound Pachyderm T,S 
Things that Shouldn't be T 

American Life 

YDS: 5.9- French: 5c Ewbanks: 17 UIAA: VI ZA: 16 British: HVS 4c

Type:  Sport, 1 pitch, 155'
Consensus:  YDS: 5.9 French: 5c Ewbanks: 17 UIAA: VI ZA: 17 British: HVS 5a [details]
FA: Ron Yahne, Travis Rypkema, and Vern Phinney
Season: Depends on how SoDak weather wants to treat you.
Page Views: 659
Submitted By: Wilson On The Drums on Dec 16, 2012

You & This Route  |  Other Opinions (8)
Your todo list:
Your stars:
Your rating: -none- [change]
Your ticklist: [add new tick]
Your opinion of this PAGE:    [0 people like this page.]
american life ****


Best done as 1 full pitch (155ft), but it can be broken up in 2 using the mid route anchors. The climbing is sustained, but perfect for those looking to get into the 5.9 grade. I wouldn't say that there is a distinct crux... a little route finding goes a long way and trusting your feet is essential. If anything, going from the bolt before the mid route anchors to the bolt after the anchors is the crux. Great climbing on great features, get on it!


Park at the Horsethief Lake pull-off. Cross the street towards the guard rail, find the well defined trail and follow it 10-15 minutes. At some point you will stop following the trail (the Primal Wall will be in sight) go down a steep hill, cross the creek, and work your way up to the wall. There are 2 bolted routes on the wall, this is the leftmost.


13 bolts, mid rap anchors, and 1 optional gear placement down low before 1st bolt= 15 draws total. (gear placement down low could be anywhere from BD C4 0.4 to 2)

Photos of American Life Slideshow Add Photo
upper section of American Life. EJ belaying Johnny...
upper section of American Life. EJ belaying Johnny...
upper shot of the route
upper shot of the route
upper shot of the route
upper shot of the route
upper route - EJ following...
upper route - EJ following...

Comments on American Life Add Comment
Show which comments
By Mike Cohen
Jun 25, 2014

This route is listed as a 4-star two-pitch 5.9 in the Busse/Burre guidebook to Rushmore area climbing. I hiked out with my sister to climb it on 6/23/14 and was very surprised to find that the rock on the route was brittle and low-quality. The first bolt is 25 feet up, and I broke two non-crucial holds on the way up to it. I was just a bit perturbed but decided to press on, only to break off a major foothold about 5 feet above the first bolt and take a short whip. At this point we decided to pass on completing the climb. Maybe I just had bad luck and I don't wish to discourage others; but I hope this serves as a friendly warning to people interested in the route that the rock seems less sound than many other nearby Needles routes!
By Nathan Collins
Sep 3, 2015
rating: 5.9+ 5c 17 VI 17 E1 5a PG13

Like Mike Cohen, we also found the rock quality poor. The first bolt is quite high, with a little "real" climbing right before reaching it. Our leader placed gear in the horizontal crack below the first bolt (C4 #2 or #3 and C4 #1). You can clip the first bolt from this horizontal crack, but on the way to getting her feet to the horizontal crack she went right and her foot hold broke off! She hung on her hand holds and didn't fall, but it would not have been pretty if she hadn't held on and hadn't placed the optional gear ...

The original leader got spooked and came down so I lead the route. The climbing was good -- a lot of delicate friction/slab moves, and not always obvious to me -- but I had a large hand hold break off as I was testing it.

I give the route a PG13 rating if you don't place gear on the way to the first bolt.
By B. Climbin'
Sep 20, 2015
rating: 5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c

I found this route to be the perfect escape from my not-so-perfect American Life. I broke no holds, thanks to all the people, who cleaned the choss before I got there, and experienced nothing but total bliss the whole time I was off the ground. I did the whole thing in one big pitch trailing two 70 meter ropes and rapped off without injury or insult. I found the climbing to be a lot easier than many other routes that claim the grade. And I even found an empty turtle shell by the creek...which is a perfect addition...to my ever growing collection of turtle shells. I did sustain an injury while barbecuing later that evening but I don't blame that on the developers. Next time I will be sure to use tongs...while barbecuing that is...not while climbing. Why would anyone climb with tongs? Thanks for a great climb, Ron, Travis and Vern! We'll be back for the other routes soon.
Beyond the Guidebook:
The Definitive Climbing Resource
Inspiration & Motivation
to Fuel Your Run
Next Generation Mountain
Bike Trail Maps
Backcountry, Sidecountry
& Secret Stashes
Better Data. Better Tools.
Better Hikes!