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15 Unforgettable Climbing Moments From 2021

From huge alpine climbs and hard new bouldering problems to rockfalls and downgrades, there was never a dull moment

It was a big year in the world of climbing, with hard new routes, historic competitions and epic alpine climbs. The pandemic certainly had an affect on some travel, expeditions and organized events, but that just led to more ascents by climbers close to home and away from the gym.

Fitz Roy Traverse

In the days after turning 40, legendary Belgian climber Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll soloed the Fitz Roy Traverse in Patagonia. He climbed the 2014 line by Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold in reverse and called it the Moonwalk Traverse. The Fitz Roy Traverse follows the skyline of Cerro Fitz Roy and its six nearby peaks with a vertical gain of 4,000 metres over the six-kilometre range and goes at 5.11b.

Dreamcatcher 5.14d Sends

Paige Claassen made the first female ascent of Dreamcatcher 5.14d in Squamish in September. Fellow American Michaela Kiersch was quick to follow it up with another redpoint becoming the second woman to climb the classic Squamish sport climb.

K2 in Winter

On Jan. 16, 10 Nepalese mountaineers left high camp at 1 a.m. and reached the summit at 5 p.m. after having stopped 10 metres below so they could all reach the top together. No individual was listed as first. The climbers were Nirmal Purja, Gelje Sherpa, Mingma David Sherpa, Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, Sona Sherpa, Mingma Tenzi Sherpa, Pem Chhiri Sherpa, Dawa Temba Sherpa, Kili Pemba Sherpa and Dawa Tenjing Sherpa.

Bronwyn Hodgins on Golden Gate 5.13

Squamish-based Bronwyn Hodgins has freed the 36-pitch Golden Gate 5.13a on El Capitan, which is huge send for the history books. In 2018, she became the first Canadian woman to free a route on El Cap with Freerider over five days with Jacob Cook supporting. Read Hodgins story about it here.

Tokyo Olympics

There were too many great moments from the first-ever Olympic Sport Climbing event to choose just one. Jakob Schubert’s celebration after winning bronze and bumping Adam Ondra off the podium and Janja Garnbret’s gold medal stand out as just a few.

Hard New Quebec Big Wall

Cap Trinité is one of Canada’s most famous granite big walls. It rises above the Saguenay River in eastern Quebec and is home to a number of aid and hard free routes. In summer, Tom Canac finished a multi-year solo-aid route up the wall and called it Le Temps Suspendu A3- 280 m. His exaltation to complete the route is clear in his lengthy and detailed route report that you can find here. Canac thanked fellow Quebec climber Hugo Drouin for his book Roche Ice and Fleurdelisé, which inspired him to take on the three-year challenge of learning about the techniques required to pull off such an impressive feat. The pitches go: 5.10 30m, 5.10 15m, 5.9+ 20m, 5.11 20m, 5.9 A2 40m, 5.4 A2 30m, C1 40m, A2 40m and A3- 40m.

New 5.14d/15a in Squamish

Ben Harnden made the first ascent of a climb called Dark Matter at The Laboratory in Squamish. He suggested 5.14d/15a for the grade. If it stands, it will become the first slash grade of its kind in Canada, the hardest in Squamish, and the most difficult route behind Fight Club 5.15b, Disbelief 5.15a and Sacrifice 5.15a in the Rockies. Harnden is one of Canada’s strongest climbers with repeats of Dreamcatcher 5.14d, Cobra Crack 5.14, The Bull 5.14R and Family Man 5.14b. In 2017, he completed the Squamish Trifecta: a 5.14 sport route, a 5.14 trad route and a V14 boulder.

America’s First V17

Daniel Woods made the FA of Return of the Sleepwalker, the first V17 in America, in April. Sleepwalker is located in Red Rock Canyon, just outside of Las Vegas, and more specifically, in Black Velvet Canyon. The V16 boulder problem had its first ascent in December 2018 by Jimmy Webb at V16 and repeated by Woods, who then added six more moves. Last winter, Woods had climbed Sleepwalker V16 nearly 20 times, with four coming in one session, before opening Return of the Sleepwalker V17.

5.15d Downgrade to 5.15c

In August, Stefano Ghisolfi made the second ascent of Bibliographie in France, which Alex Megos made the FA of in 2020 and gave 5.15d. Ghisolfi made quicker work of it than Megos and graded it 5.15c. Megos then agreed with 5.15c. About the grade, Ghisolfi said, “I know I can climb a 9c [5.15d], but for a route to be that grade it needs to be much harder than the existing 9b+s [5.15c’s], and Bibliographie for me isn’t.” Megos replied with, “I underestimated how much of a difference it makes to know you have the right beta. On Bibliographie I thought I had good beta until I came back a season later to completely change it again. And that happened twice. So in the end I probably spent the bigger part of 60 days figuring out beta, changing it again and not being sure that I can do it… I became more and more convinced that it had to be harder than anything I’d ever done before.”

Miho Nonaka Goes from 5.13a to 5.14+

Miho Nonaka, who won the silver medal in women’s combined at the Olympics, climbed the classic Mr. Hyde 5.14c in Céüse, France. Nonaka reported that her previous best was a 7c+ or 5.13a. She jumped six letter grades. Nonaka started climbing at the age of nine after her mountain climbing father introduced her to their local gym, and her first world cup was at age 17. At the Olympics, she competed strong in the speed finals, and reached two zones in bouldering which put in her in a good position heading into lead, where she finished in fifth. “It was really tough mentally and physically, but I’m really happy to have won a medal with Akiyo,” said Tokyo native Nonaka.

At 10 He Climbs 5.14c

American 10-year-old crusher and Team ABC climber Bayes Wilder sent Southern Smoke 5.14c at Red River Gorge. Found at Bob Marley Crag, it’s Wilder’s hardest ascent to date. At one week shy of 10 1/2 years old, he may be the youngest to climb the grade. Bayes sent on his third day on his fifth attempt, seventh if you count the two tries it took him to do Ultraperm 5.13d, which shares the finish. This was the last full day of their trip and it seemed like the send was low probability, according to his father, Matt Wilder. “However, he did great on his first burn of the day but fell because his fingers numbed. The second burn was by no means perfect, but he persisted and made it to the end. Definitely one of the most impressive things he’s done to date.”

Janja Garnbret Onsights Two 5.14s

Olympic gold medalist Janja Garnbret onsighted two 5.14b Oliana sport routes within a week this fall. First was the famous 50-metre-tall Fish Eye 5.14b which was the first-ever female onsight of the grade. Shortly after Fish Eye, Garnbret onsighted the neighbouring route American Hustle 5.14b. The first ascent was by Sam Elias in 2014. According to 8a.nu, Cedric Lachat is the only other climber on record to have onsighted Fish Eye and American Hustle. Part of Garnbret’s warm-up for her second 5.14b onsight was climbing the lower section of La Dura Dura 5.15c. It’s reported that she stuck a crux dyno to a two-finer gaston.

Chantel Astorga Solos Cassin Ridge

Chantel Astorga, one of North America’s leading alpine climbers, made the first female solo of the Cassin Ridge on Denali in spring, which she followed up with a ski down the West Rib and Seattle Ramp. She climbed alone up the famous ridge to the summit of the 6,194-metre peak in 14 hours and 39 minutes. Most climbers take a number of days. She reached the summit on June 14. The speed record belongs to Colin Haley in 2018 when he soloed it in eight hours and seven minutes. This was not the first time Astorga has pushed the limits in Alaska. In 2018 with Anne Gilbert Chase, they climbed Slovak Direct as the first all-women team, and only the ninth to ever succeed on the hard line. In 2015, her and Jewel Lund became the first all-women team to climb the Denali Diamond.

Solveig Korherr Repeats Ontario 5.14

German climber Solveig Korherr became the first woman to climb Titan 5.14a at Lion’s Head this fall. Earlier this year, she climbed her first 5.14d with La cabane au Canada at Rawyl in Switzerland. After Ontario, she travelled to Red River Gorge where she climbed a number of test-piece 5.14 routes.

Squamish Rockfalls

Nobody could’ve predicted the amount of rock that would fall from the walls around Squamish this summer. The rockfalls forever changed classic routes, closed access and demolished trees. In June, there was a rockfall on the Grand Wall, in early July there was one on Photophobia Buttress, and later in July there was a massive one that destroyed a few pitches on the classic Black Dyke route. Another major rockfall took place in September in the North Walls, watch below.

Top west coast climber Matt Maddaloni has established a number of climbs, four of which have been damaged by rockfall over the past few years. After the Black Dyke rockfall, he said, “Four routes in only a couple of years. The Black Dyke with its unreal Gargoyles pitch plus the big wall route Pan’s Labyrinth insane horizontal roof gold cams pitch and earlier next to this rock fall one of my all-time favourites that only a few ever got to repeat, the amazing 5.11 finish to Northern Lights, Chilkoot Pass. Happy to be still alive on this planet, though!”

Have a fun and safe New Years!