Everyone has a project, here are six that have caught the world’s attention.
There are more climbers than ever heading to the hills, searching out old classics, sending new testpieces and pushing the limits on cutting edge projects. From the hardest sport route to the hardest boulder, and from the hardest mixed climb to the most committing alpine face, is 2014 the year one, or all, of these routes will be climbed?
Latok I, Pakistan
With over 30 attempts, the North Ridge of Latok I is perhaps the most sought after alpine ridge in the world. Here is a history by Michael Kennedy.
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July-September, 1975 – A Japanese team led by Makoto Hara circumnavigates the Latok group via the Biafo, Simgang, Choktoi, Panmah, and Baltoro Glaciers. Avalanches and rockfall prevent any significant attempts.
July-August, 1976 – A Japanese team led by Yoshifumi Itatani attempts the couloir between Latok I and Latok III (Latok East), reaching about 18,700 feet before turning back in the face of serac fall.
August-September, 1977 – An Italian team led by Arturo Bergamaschi investigates the route attempted by the Japanese in 1976, but decides it’s too dangerous. They make the first ascent of Latok II from the Baintha Lukpar Glacier.
June-July, 1978 – Americans Jim Donini, Michael Kennedy (Canadian by birth but resident in the United States), Jeff Lowe and George Lowe attempt the 8,000-foot North Ridge, climbing capsule-style and spending 26 days on the route. They reach a high point of about 23,000 feet.
1979 – A Japanese team led by Naoki Takada makes the first (and to date only) ascent of Latok I via the South Face. After a lengthy siege and fixing much rope and three camps on the rock buttress left of the couloir between Latok I and Latok III, six members reach the top on two separate days. June-July.
July, 1982 – British climbers Martin Boysen, Choe Brooks, Rab Carrington and John Yates attempt the North Ridge twice, the second time to a high point of about 19,000 feet.
July, 1986 – Norwegians Olav Basen, Fred Husoy, Magnar Osnes, and Oyvind Vlada attempt the North Ridge, fixing at least 600 metres of rope and reaching a high point of about 21,000 feet after 18 days on the route. They spend another 10 days in heavy snow before giving up.
July-August, 1987 – French climbers Roger Laot, Remy Martin, and Laurent Terray fix rope on the first 600 metres of the North Ridge, and encountering heavy snow, turn back at about 19,700 feet.
June, 1990 – British climbers Sandy Allan, Rick Allen, Doug Scott and Simon Yates, and Austrian Robert Schauer make a number of climbs in the area, but don’t attempt their primary objective due to “the difficult and dangerous snow conditions and the forbidding appearance of the pendulous snow mushrooms adorning the North Ridge of Latok I.”
July-August, 1992 – Jeff Lowe (U.S.) and Catherine Destivelle (France) try the North Ridge, encountering huge snow mushrooms on the route. Carol McDermott (New Zealand) and Andy McFarland, Andy MacNae and Dave Wills (Great Britain) reach about 19,300 feet on the route during two attempts the same summer.
July-August, 1993 – Americans Julie Brugger, Andy DeKlerk, Colin Grissom and Kitty Calhoun attempt the North Ridge, turning back at about 18,000 feet in the face of bad weather.
August-September, 1994 – British climbers Brendan Murphy and Dave Wills try the North Ridge, reaching a high point of about 18,300 feet on their second attempt.
July-August, 1996 – Murphy and Wills return, reaching about 20,000 feet before a dropped rucksack forces retreat. Two subsequent attempts are thwarted at 19,300 feet by poor weather.
August, 1997/1998 – Americans John Bouchard and Mark Richey attempt the route three times, the last with Tom Nonis and Barry Rugo, reaching a high point of about 20,000 feet. Unlike previous expeditions, they report high temperatures and dry conditions, which resulted in “considerable melting and rockfall from high on the face.” They follow the rock pillar from the bottom of the route, finding superb climbing up to 5.10. Bouchard, Richey and Lyle Dean return the following year for another attempt, but never get on the North Ridge due to bad weather.
August, 2001 – Wojciech Kurtyka (Poland) and Yasushi and Taeko Yamanoi (Japan) have a permit for the North Ridge but never attempt it due to poor weather. Stein Gravdal, Halvor Hagen, Ole Haltvik and Trym Saeland (Norway) reach about 20,500 feet after 15 days on the route.
2004/2005/2006 – Twin brothers Willie and Damian Benegas (Argentina) try the North Ridge three years in a row. The first two years they encounter much snow and bad weather during their attempts in June and July; they find drier conditions in August 2006, but a major storm stops them at about 18,000 feet.
August, 2006 – Maxime Turgeon and Louis-Phillipe Menard (Canada) attempt the futuristic North Face, retreating from 17,400 feet in the face of dangerously warm conditions. They turn their attention to the North Ridge, but are turned back at a similar altitude by deep, fresh snow covering the previously dry rock.
Attempts after 2006:
2007 – Bean Bower and Josh Wharton
2008 – Josh Wharton and Whit Magro
2009 – Colin Haley, Dylan Johnson and Josh Wharton
Sisu Project, Finland
Boulderer Nalle Hukkataival announced over three years ago that he had found a boulder in Finland, “All I can say at this point is that it is the hardest boulder problem I have ever tried in my entire life. It’s still difficult to say if it actually goes or not,” said Nalle, arguably one of the world’s strongest climbers.
Devils Thumb, Alaska
Guy Edwards and John Millar, both experienced climbers from Vancouver, disappeared on the 2,000-metre face in mid-April, 2003, during a week of unsettled weather and frequent avalanches. Officials called off the search after repeated helicopter forays revealed no trace of the missing pair.
Since 1977, 13 expeditions have travelled into the shadow of the Devil’s Thumb to attempt the coveted first ascent of the steep northwest face. “It is a dangerous and difficult face that rarely, if ever, comes into condition,” says Dieter Klose, who in 1982 made it halfway up the route, higher than anybody else alive. As Klose says, “It’s a sanctuary where only the birds may alight, and then only so long as the avalanches deign.”
For an excellent history of the face see Klose’s story, The Fickle Face.
Somos Comosomos, Spain
Adam Ondra has been working on his new project, Somos Cromosomos, in Jaén, Spain. The route is 30 meters long and consists of a 20-meter section of 5.15a followed by a second 10-meter, 5.14d, with the crux at the top. Could this be the first 5.15d?
Mega Mixed Route, Canada
The location of this climb has not been publicized, but when it is climbed it will likely be the hardest mixed route in North America, if not the world.
The Dawn Wall, Yosemite
For seven years, Tommy Caldwell and friends have been projecting The Dawn Wall on El Cap. In late 2013, the team made significant progress, freeing the difficult Pitch 15 at 5.14+. For more on The Dawn Wall, see here.