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Beth Rodden’s 5.14c Trad Test-Piece Meltdown, Sees Rare Ascent

"Chapeau Beth, thanks for the inspiration," said Jacopo Larcher, one of the world's top trad climbers who made the third ascent of the Yosemite crack this week

Photo by: Andrea Cossu

Top Italian all-round climber Jacopo Larcher has made the third ascent of the iconic trad test-piece Meltdown in Yosemite, one of the world’s hardest trad routes at 5.14c.

Located in Cascade Creek, it was first climbed by Beth Rodden on Valentines Day in 2008. Countless climbers learned about Rodden’s amazing ascent thanks to it being featured in the film Dosage V from Big Up Productions. Notable attempts were made by Ron Kauk (who bolted the anchor and first tried the line), Enzo Oddo and Tommy Caldwell assured the climbing world that the grade was on point.

Meltdown went unrepeated for a decade, until Carlo Traversi redpoinited it in 2018. When Rodden made the first free ascent, she’d already climbed several Yosemite big wall free routes, such as Lurking Fear VI 5.13c, El Corazon VI 5.13b and the Nose VI 5.14a.

Larcher first tried Meltdown in 2016, when he spent two days working out the beta. He returned this month, brushed the holds and spent seven days piecing it together. He then sent, placing all of his gear on lead. Larcher is spending the month of November in Yosemite, filming for a new documentary series about the world’s hardest trad climbs called How Hard Is Hard? that is is due out in 2023.

Jacopo Larcher projecting Meltdown. Photo by Andrea Cossu
Jacopo Larcher projecting Meltdown. Photo by Andrea Cossu

After her first ascent, Rodden wrote an article for Climbing, in which she said, “There comes a time in everyone’s climbing life when they find a route that really captivates them. I don’t think it is limited to just one, or even two or more. But for every climber there are routes that get their attention for whatever reason—history, aesthetics, movement, the unknown. The few months prior to Meltdown, I wanted to repeat some of the single-pitch climbs around Yosemite and give my body and mind a break from the demands of El Cap climbing. In the fall, Upper Cascade Creek has a calming white-noise charm to it, but as the river grows, it creates an intensity that highlights the countdown of days until the route becomes unclimbable due to spray and wetness. I was barely able to do it before the waterfall got too big.”

Larcher shared these thoughts about Meltdown: There are many hard trad climbs around the world, but very few have become iconic. For me, Meltdown was definitely one of those. I don’t know why, but it somehow had this mysterious aura. I remember watching the movie of Beth’s incredible first ascent back in 2008; at the time I didn’t know much about trad climbing, and I couldn’t really understand the significance of the route and her achievement at that time. The route just looked so beautiful, yet completely desperate to me. Something unthinkable for me to consider climbing, at the time.

Some years later, when I started to get more and more into this aspect of climbing, I began to realize that her achievement was ahead of its time. Since her first ascent, not much about the route had been heard, which was not so common for a well-known climb situated just in the middle of Yosemite Valley. There were rumours about some of the world’s best trad climbers having tried the route over the years, but no-one found success. People even created the myth that route had such thin jams, that it was impossible for climbers with normal fingers. All that added some mystery to the route, until Carlo Traversi, in 2018, finally claimed the second ascent of Meltdown, confirming Beth’s incredible achievement and proving all the “excuses” were wrong.

Jacopo Larcher sorting gear below Meltdown. Photo by Andrea Cossu

I had my first taste of Meltdown in 2016, when Babsi [Zangerl] and I checked out the route for two days in between some El Cap action. We were both surprised by the beauty of the line, as well as its difficulty. It definitely wasn’t about thin finger jams, but about some very powerful lay-backing on extremely bad and glassy footholds. After those two days, I was even more impressed by Beth’s ascent back in 2008.

We regularly visited Yosemite in the following years, but our focus had always been on the bigger walls, so we hadn’t gone back on Meltdown, even though the line has always been in the back of my mind. As I’m currently working on a documentary about the different styles and ethics in trad climbing, this season I finally committed to go back to the Valley without my big wall gear, in order to climb some classic single pitches and to get on Meltdown again.

Luckily, this time I immediately had some more positive feelings working on it. The footholds were still terrible and the route hard, but I somehow felt like a more mature (trad) climber. I was very surprised yet motivated, when I managed to top-rope it clean on my third day trying it this year. After that, I naively thought it would go fast on lead, but placing the gear adds some extra spice to it and it definitely makes the route significantly harder.

On my fourth day of lead tries I had to pull out a big fight and dig deep in order to reach the anchor. The easier upper parts always felt good on top-rope, but it definitely felt different when coming from the ground. Usually, while head-pointing hard trad routes, the actual send go feels smooth, which is obviously a nice feeling, but on this one I had to fight very hard and was very close to falling in the upper part, which somehow made the experience even more unforgettable. It was definitely one of my favourite moments in climbing.

I would like to highlight once more what Beth did in 2008, which was way ahead of the times, both in women and men’s climbing history. I honestly believe the shorter you are, the harder this route gets, and yes fingers size doesn’t matter. Chapeau Beth, thanks for the inspiration.

Carlo Traversi on Meltdown


Lead photo: Andrea Cossu