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Canada Has a New 5.15a as Miles Adamson Climbs Semantics

The vertical and very technical route took Adamson several seasons to complete. It's the fourth 5.15 climbed in the Canadian Rockies

Miles Adamson has made the first ascent of Semantics on University Wall east of Canmore and has proposed the grade of 5.15a. He projected the route over several season and sent it this week while using a rope-soloist.

Adamson wanted to see what people thought about claiming a first ascent while using a rope-soloist, and posted a short video on social media saying, “Somehow, sent my project on my fixed rope. I have been looking online for a precedent on whether top roping, or specifically a self-belay, counts as a “free ascent” or a first ascent. Dug through some mountain project threads and found (of course) conflicted opinions.” See the full post below.

Several climbers weighed in, including top Canadian climber Sonnie Trotter, who said, “You free climbed it and it seems as though you’re likely the first person to do that. So it seems reasonable to me that you made the first free ascent. Could it be climbed on lead, sure, could it be climbed free-solo, sure, but you still made the first free ascent in my eyes. Not sure if that helps, but a huge congrats either way Miles. That’s an impressive effort you put into a very tough looking climb.” And former Team Canada athlete, Elise Sethna, added, “Congrats buddy! I say take it! Screw the semantics. Great send bud.”

Adamson, who also once competed for Team Canada, is known for establishing and repeating difficult problems and routes over the years. In Squamish, he completed all 25 of Squamish’s top high-balls, becoming the first person to do so. He made the first ascents of three of the problems while completing the circuit. Then on Jan. 1, 2020, he made the first ascent of Too Tall to Fall, a V10 highball on the Grandma Peabody Boulder in Bishop. 

While he’s known for his bold bouldering, Adamson also made an early repeat of The Path 5.14R trad and grabbed the third ascent of Honour and Glory 5.14+. In summer 2020, Adamson completed the first ascent of the 22-metre Imposter Syndrome in McGillivray Canyon, a route that tilts back just a couple degrees from vertical. About the route, Adamson said, “The crux is difficult to grade. I only stuck the (left-hand) move twice, and the second time I sent the route.” Much like Semantics, the send of Imposter Syndrome took Adamson a few seasons to complete.

“It’s awesome to see University Wall as a full fledged area now since it was only three years ago it had nothing,” said Adamson. The McGillivray Canyon crag now has almost the same number of hard routes as Acephale, with a handful of 5.14s, over a dozen 5.13s, and 10 routes from 5.10 to 5.12+.

A similar example would be the first ascent of Equinox in Joshua Tree, a classic 5.12c crack which John Bachar freed on top-rope in 1978. Bachar is attributed to making the first free ascent, but the first lead ascent goes to Tony Yaniro in 1980.

Canada now has a handful of 5.15s, including Fight Club 5.15b, Disbelief 5.15b, Sacrifice 5.15a and Dark Matter 5.14d/15a. This video shows Adamson taking whips on the crux of Semantics before piecing it together as he narrates his journey to making the first free ascent.

Semantics First Ascent