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20 Climbing Highlights of 2022 – What a Year!

From V17 and 5.15d to remote big walls and El Capitan in a day - 2022 was a year to remember

What a year! There were more sends of 5.15, hard boulders and remote big walls than every before. There are far too many accomplishments to fit them into one list. Below are 20 highlights from around the world in 2022. Stay tuned for a list of highlights in Canada and by Canadians.

Shawn Raboutou and V17

Shawn Raboutou had a big year with the first ascents of two V17 problems. After he announced his send of Alphane V17 in August, rumours swirled that he had actually sent another V17 as well. He eventually put those rumours to bed with the announcement of his first ascent of the longstanding Megatron project in Colorado’s Eldorado Canyon. He gave the problem a grade of V17, which is currently the highest V-grade in the world. Megatron has been a long-term project for several top climbers, including Daniel Woods and Drew Ruana. In 2017, Woods established a stand start version of the problem, Tron V14. According to Woods, the full Megatron links seven moves of solid V15 into the 10 moves of Tron V14 without any rest in between. Alphane has now been repeated three times.

Rayu Repeat

Matilda Söderlund, Sasha DiGiulian and Brette Harrington made the first repeat of Rayu, a 15-pitch 610-metre 5.14b, on Peña Santa in Picos de Europa, Spain. The trip started with Harrington leading each pitch using aid and free techniques. With a slightly accurate topo and a blank limestone wall, Harrington led the team to the top and fixed the ropes. As the team switched to trying to free each pitch, Harrington helped the others with tricky trad placements. The route was established by Iker Pou, Eneko Pou and Kico Cerdá over five weeks in 2020. It follows several hard pitches that involve bold climb, tricky gear placements and spaced bolts. The first half of the route is mostly 5.12. The crux pitch is high on the wall. “Second ascent and first female ascent,” said Söderlund. “This also marks the hardest graded big wall achieved by a female team… The route is mainly trad climbing, making it very adventurous and exposed at some places.”

Honnold’s Traverse

In fall, Alex Honnold established a roughly 60-kilometre traverse that included 14 Red Rock multi-pitch routes, hiking and scrambling for well over 7,000 metres of vertical in a 32-hour push. He called the traverse Honnold’s Ultimate Red Rock Traverse or HURT. He’s no stranger to limit-pushing traverses, as in 2015, he received a Piolet d’Or for his 2014 traverse of the Fitz Roy range in Patagonia with Tommy Caldwell. HURT is the most difficult technical traverse ever soloed in North America.

Beth Rodden’s Yosemite Test-piece

Top Italian all-round climber Jacopo Larcher 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.

Amity Warme: El Cap in a Day

On April 10, Brent Barghahn and Amity Warme started up El Capitan just after midnight and then climbed to the top of the 32-pitch Freerider 5.13a in 18 hours and 16 minutes. They simul-climbed 24 of the 32 pitches, only falling a few times. In 2021, Warme freed the 36-pitch Golden Gate 5.13b over five days and freed Freerider ground-up over several days. On his blog, Barghahn goes into great detail about their preparation, gear list and includes a marked up topo. Barghahn talks about their unsupported ascent: “all supplies for the ascent are carried on route by the climbers themselves. No pre-stashing or dumping of gear.” With the ascent, Warme became the fifth woman to free El Cap in a day. Lynn Hill freed The Nose in a day in 1994, then Steph Davis climbed Freerider in 22 hours and 15 minutes in 2004. Then in 2011, Mayan Smith-Gobat climbed Freerider in 14 hours and 10 minutes. In 2020, Emily Harrington sent Golden Gate in 21 hours and 13 minutes.

America’s First 5.15c

Sébastien Bouin made the first ascent of Suprême Jumbo Love in California at 5.15c, making it the hardest rock climb in North and South America. Bouin, who made the fourth ascent of Jumbo Love 5.15b the previous week, repeated the line but linked it with a direct start that was first tried by Chris Sharma in 2010. Sharma made the first ascent of Jumbo Love in 2008, and it was repeated by Ethan Pringle in 2015 and Jonathan Siegrist in 2016. The direct variation adds 20 metres of 5.14d before joining Jumbo Love, which was the world’s first confirmed 5.15b. Jumbo Love was bolted by Randy Leavitt, who was with Bouin during the send of the direct.

“Some special moments up there, in the cold and the wind,” said Bouin. “There was whole lotta love for climbing, the people and the desert. This route and this place have been on my mind since I started I climbing. Finishing this trip by sending the direct start couldn’t be more perfect.” Bouin said that he nearly fell off the final slab of the 70-metre climb, which he said is tricky and requires careful climbing after such a long and pumpy route. “The first 5.14d is quite tricky, and it’s easy to fall, even if you have the power,” he said. “Then you have this Jumbo Love crux, where it’s definitely possible to fall, even if you have the power, if you miss the one finger pocket.” Bouin said that you need to move efficiently because you need “energy to link all the pumpy parts to reach the lip of the overhang.”

Seo Chae-hyun Climbs 5.15a

In November, South Korean climber Seo Chae-hyun climbed La Rambla 5.15a in Siurana, Spain. The steep route took her only five days and seven tries. Chae-hyun has been one of the most formidable climbers on the World Cup circuit, often making finals and even besting Olympic gold medalist Janja Garnbret. Chae-hyun  onsighted 5.13b at 11 years old, sent Omaha Beach in 2016 for her first 5.14a and then sent Bad Girls Club 5.14+ at 15. She’s taken home four straight World Cup gold medals and won the World Championships last year. On Feb. 26, 2017, Margo Hayes sent La Rambla and became the first woman to climb 5.15a. “Amazing!!!!” said Hayes in response to Seo’s news. “Congratulations girl!” Seo is the second woman to redpoint La Rambla. The route has had nearly 30 sends to date – the first was by Ramón Julián Puigblanque in 2003.

Three days later, Chae-hyun onsighted L’atangonista 5.14b, a 60-metre monster pitch in Monstant, Spain. With this send, Seo is the second woman ever to onsight the grade. Last year, Janja Garnbret onsighted Fish Eye and American Hustle, two 5.14b lines in Oliana. Seo said she fought hard for nearly an hour on the climb. Earlier in the day, she onsighted another impressive route, Hidrofóbia 5.13d.

No Pain, No Gain for Verhoeven

Anak Verhoeven climbed No Pain, No Gain 5.15a in Rodellar, Spain, which was first climbed by Dani Fuerte. It took her just over a week of project days. In 2017, she became the first woman in history to establish a a 5.15a with Sweet Neuf. “I had an encouraging first send attempt in which I fell high up, right before coming out of the roof,” said Verhoeven about No Pain, No Gain. “Sending felt within reach. But then a weather change was predicted, and I felt some extra pressure because I knew the rain was coming. Consequently, the conditions were not ideal, but heavy air and no wind are still better than wet holds. So, I went for my second redpoint try and felt solid. I was focused, but not as nervous as during my first try a few days before.”

Verhoeven sent Las Meninas 5.14d/15a in Spain in September and Jungfrau Marathon 5.14d in Switzerland back in summer. She won three World Cup golds and eight silvers before retiring in 2019. According to 8a.nu, she’s now climbed 16 routes 5.14+ or harder. “Lots of things could make me fall, but I tried to climb in a relaxed way nevertheless,” said Verhoeven about No Pain, No Gain. “When I reached the end of the last crux, I fought to stay on and managed to keep going. A big rest brought relief and gave me the energy for the last tricky boulder. And then I clipped the chains. A few hours later it started raining.”

Empath 5.14d/15a Trad

Connor Herson repeated Empath for his second time, the first using bolts and the second using trad gear. It might be the hardest trad send to date as the grade has been suggested by several top climbers as 5.15a and 5.14d. “What a stunner,” said Canadian trad climber Sonnie Trotter who’s known for sending bolted routes on gear. Herson, who’s the youngest climber to free The Nose 5.14 on El Cap at 14, had applied some crack climbing techniques without wearing any tape or jam gloves on his first send of Empath while wearing borrowed shoes.

Empath is found in California’s Tahoe and was first climbed by Carlo Traversi, one of America’s top trad climbers, at 5.15a in 2020. It was quickly repeated by James Webb, Daniel Woods and Nathaniel Coleman who all agreed with 5.15a. Three more climbers went on to repeat it, including Keenan Takahashi, Ethan Pringle and Herson.

Everyone agreed Empath was 5.15a until Pringle’s send. Using jammies and sticky rubber gloves, Pringle said, “I could see it feeling like 15a with the beta the first four ascensionists used, especially in sub-optimal conditions. But, with my height, my highly-refined crux beta, decent crack skills and jammies, it feels on par with other higher-end 5.14+ routes I’ve done or tried this year, like Kryptonite or Made in Time. Obviously difficulty is so subjective, and can range wildly depending on body size, experience, conditions, and so many other factors.” In 2021, Herson made the first ascent of Kilogram 5.14- in Tuolumne where he started climbing at a young age.

Eternal Flame Repeat

In summer, Edu Marin made the second free ascent of Eternal Flame on Nameless “Trango” Tower in Pakistan’s Karakoram range. The 650-metre route has 24 pitches and tops out at 6,251 metres. Marin climbed the famous big-mountain route with his father and brother. “I have spent 28 days on the wall and I have sent it in a single push,” he said. “Being the three together at the top of the Nameless Tower has been incredible.” Alex and Thomas Huber made the first free ascent in 2009. Marin, who’s established a 14-pitch 5.15a, had attempted Eternal Flame on a previous expedition. He said, “Eternal Flame is the beginning of a new path for me.” Shortly after Marin climbed Eternal Flame, Barbara Zangerl and Jacopo Larcher sent freed it over six days. They onsighted every pitch of the route, 22 this year and the first two in 2021.

El Cap Free at 21

In April, French climber Soline Kentzel, 21, and Sébastien Berthe, 28, freed Golden Gate, a 36-pitch 5.13a on El Capitan’s southwest face. Kentzel is a 5.14 sport climber but had only recently learned how to trad climb, plus this was her first big wall. They swapped leads on the lower pitches up to 5.11 and both led the 5.12 and 5.13 pitches, including the Monster Offwidth. They reached the 5.12 down-climb on pitch 14 on day three then were forced to rest to wait out bad weather. The made their way through the upper cruxes and reached the A5 Traverse crux pitch on day nine. They reached the summit that afternoon.

“We went through some epic snow storms and rain showers which made surviving on this wall a true challenge,” said Berthe. “During these forced rest days we had to squeeze in the really small portaledge we brought, constantly trying to avoid being wet first and frozen after. One of our sleeping bags even became totally stiff and icy. But we could keep the motivation really high and got back to climbing as soon as the wall was dry. During the sunnier climbing days, the ice was melting from the top of the wall throwing impressive ice chunks on us. Every 5 minutes, the lottery was on: we had to stop climbing, stick ourselves against the wall waiting for these pieces of ice to fall all around us. The level of dedication, commitment and perseverance Kentzel brought into the whole process of discovering trad and crack climbing is huge and it has been truly inspiring to witness her evolve.”

Ondra’s Crazy Week

After a strong year, including the first ascent of Wonderland 5.15b/c in Arco, Adam Ondra went on to have one of the craziest weeks of hard climbing by any climber ever. First he made the first ascent of a climb that he calls the “second hardest route of my life,” with Zvěřinec 5.15c at his home crag of Moravian Karst in Czechia. “Even though it’s 9b+ [5.15c], which is the same as Vasil Vasil, I think this is quite a bit harder, but I don’t think it’s hard enough to get a 9c [5.15d],” said Ondra in a voice recording sent to Gripped. ” I was projecting this route in April, as it’s close to home and my wife and I were expecting our baby boy, who was born at the start of May. It’s too hot in summer, so I returned this fall. November had cold nights and hot days, which meant the rock was cool and damp. Today, on Nov. 20, it was around freezing during the day and overcast. The friction was good and thanks to having warmed up at home, I didn’t get any numbness in my fingers. I’m very happy to climb a 9b+ [5.15c] after a long time.”

Three days later, Ondra opened a new V15/16. He started the day by flashing Vnitřní svět vítězů V12 at his home crag of Moravian Karst, Czechia. He then drove over to Sloup where he found a project that he worked on in the spring in good condition. This problem, named Pohár Nesmrtelnosti (or Cup of Immortality in English), can be either V12 or V14 depending on how low the climber starts. Top Czech climbers Martin Stranick and Štěpán Volf both sent the V14 version this year. Pohár Nesmrtelnosti ends with a drop off in a nondescript area of the cave. In the spring, Ondra worked on an extension of the problem by linking its final hold to an obvious rail feature using a tricky kneebar. He believes this extension alone is V11 or V12. After climbing the very pumpy V14 version into the new V11/12 exit, Ondra named the problem Pohár Nesmrtelnosti (prodloužení)—or Cup of Immortality (extension)—and gave it a grade of V15/16.

Ondra finished his week with a 5.14d onsight of Water World 5.14d in the Osp Cave in Slovenia. On 8a.nu, Ondra suggested that the route is likely lower-end 9a, especially with kneepads, but that that the unobvious nature of the climbing made it a difficult one to onsight. Water World was not Ondra’s first 5.14d onsight, but it is his first in over eight years. In July 2013, he was the second climber in history to onsight 5.14d with his send of Cabane au Canada in Switzerland. Alex Megos was the first to onsight the grade with Estado Critico in Siurana, Spain in March 2013. Via Instagram, Ondra summed up his send of Water World: “9a’s are still quite rare, 9a’s that are good or at least possible to onsight are even more rare. This time it was one of those rare moments when the perfect route, conditions and shape got aligned.”

Ratstaman Vibrations

In summer, Alex Megos made the first ascent of Ratstaman Vibrations at Céüse. He gave the 35-metre route 5.15b and sent it shortly after winning bronze at the Briancon World Cup. After returning to the project after the comp, he sent on his second day. “First day back on the route felt really good and already on the second day of this trip I had the perfect send go,” said Megos on Instagram. “Rastaman is one of those mythical routes for me.” Rastaman Vibrations was bolted by Chris Sharma and had been tried by several climbers, Megos first attempted last year. The project became well-known after a 2012 Petzl video of Sharma bolting the line and working the bit moves, like the sideways dyno. Megos went on to establish another new 5.15b and flashed 5.14b.

Will Bosi’s V16

Will Bosi completed the first ascent of what may become recognized as the U.K.’s most challenging boulder problem. After the most successful season of the 23-year-old climber’s career, Bosi continued to push the limits by developing the hardest boulder problem in the peak district. Bosi’s first ascent of Honey Badger V16 came after a V14 flash of Charizard, and 18 ascents of boulder problems graded V13 and harder on a trip to Moravský Kras in Czechia. At 17, Bosi became the youngest british climber to send 5.14d with his ascent of Rainshadow. In 2020, Bosi became the first Brit to climb 5.15b abroad with his ascent of La Capella.

“The boulder starts right at the back of the cave which means it climbs through the steepest part, which is like an 80-degree roof maybe,” said Bosi. “The climbing is super powerful. Although the holds are a relatively okay size at this point, the moves are really difficult. Not only is it powerful, but it’s also pretty technical, which is cool, and this section sort of ends after about seven moves.”

Peru Big Walls

A lot of hard climbs went down in Peru this year, with two being some of the most difficult big wall terrain in the Andes. Top alpinists Josh Wharton and Vince Anderson have made the first ascent of a difficult new line on the impressive Jirishanca in the Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru. The two Americans, who’ve climbed big alpine lines in the Canadian Rockies, spent three days climbing the 1,000-metre-plus face. “We completed the long standing open project Italian Route which had never been climbed to the summit (just to the ridge),” Anderson said. The climb goes at a grade of 5.13a M7 WI6, which might be the most difficult alpine climb in the range. It came with “lots of psychedelic snow climbing.”

And over on the east face of Peru’s Siula Grande, which had never been fully climbed, a team opened a new route to the top. In a single push from July 11 to 16, Spanish climbers Bru Busom and Marc Toralles established Ànima de Corall, which they say is the hardest climb they’ve ever done. They graded the climb at 7b (5.12) A3 AI5 M6. Toralles established a route on Jirishanca in 2017, read more about it here.

5.14 at Eight Years Old

In November, eight-year-old Yunxi Chen redpointed China Climb 5.14a at the White Mountain crag in Yangshuo, China. With this send, she likely becomes the world’s youngest person to climb 5.14. The 30-metre route overhangs by 30 degrees and features Yangshuo’s famous karst mountain limestone dotted with huecos, pockets, tufa pinches, and blobs. Born in July 2014, Chen is a third grade student in Shenzhen. Last year she sent her first 5.12a, the youngest child in China to do so. Sending China Climb took her six months of effort. Between training sessions in Shenzhen, she travelled to Yangshuo with her father to work the route whenever possible.

Chen is not the first young climber to send China Climb. In May 2021, Meini Li, aged 10 at the time, became the youngest person to send the route. In early January 2022, nine-year-old Ziheng Qiu ticked the route, breaking Li’s record. Then, in May 2022, a young boy from Shenzhen, Wang Zishuo, sent the route at an age of eight years and nine months. Chen was approximately eight years and four months at the time of her send. After Qiu’s ascent, Logan Barber who equipped China Climb in 2006, had this to say about the route: “It was the first 5.14b in China but later downgraded to 5.14a. I never managed to climb the route. Its amazing how standards are rising so fast.”

Nolwen Berthier Skips 5.14d for 5.15a

French climber Nolwen Berthier, 28, repeated Super Crackinette 5.15a at Saint Léger du Ventoux. Her previous most difficult route was 5.14c, so she skipped 5.14d. In 2020, Berthier climbed La Ligne Claire in Verdon Gorge for her first 5.14c. Around the same time, she made the first ascent of Stay Kratom, Stay Safe 5.14b in Saint Léger. Berthier worked on the steep and powerful Super Crackinette in 2021 and returned this year after training for the crux mono-pocket. Super Crackinette rose to fame after Adam Ondra made history with his flash, becoming the first climber to ever flash a 5.15. It was first climbed in 2016 by Alex Megos.

Bayes Wilder’s 5.14 Day

A month ago, Bayes Wilder, 11, finished up a climbing trip to Spain, and what a trip it was. The young American started off by onsighting his first 5.13b (8a), Pollastre de Granja. In the following days between projecting harder routes, Wilder sent a variety of 5.13’s including Meconi 5.13b, Pur et Dur 5.13c, and Esau Directe 5.13c. On Nov. 23, he flashed Freeman 5.13b and Sargantana Killer 5.13c all in one day. Two days later, November 25th, was undoubtedly the most impressive of the trip. He started the morning at Santa Linya on his project La Fabelita 5.14b. He fell low on the route on his first two attempts of the day. On his third attempt, he sent the route. Because it was still early in the day and he amazingly still felt fresh and strong, his family made the long drive back to Margalef so Wilder could work on his other project, Mistic 5.14b.

After re-warming up on a 5.11b, Wilder sent Mistic on his first go of the day. As if ticking two 5.14b’s in a day at age 11 isn’t impressive enough, he ended the day by flashing a 5.13b, Dr. Feelgood. To cap off his time time in Spain, on the last day of his trip he sent Variente Vampiros 5.14a. You can watch his sends of La Fabelita 5.14b and Mistic 5.14b in the videos below.

DNA 5.15d FA

Along with making the fist ascent of Suprême Jumbo Love at 5.15c, Sébastien Bouin had one of the best years by any rock climber. He made the second ascent of Change 5.15c, the first ascent of Nordic Marathon 5.15b/c and the first ascent of DNA 5.15d at La Ramirole in the Verdon Gorge. While he acknowledges that it might be downgraded, he also goes into detail about why he gave it 5.15d. In 2017, Adam Ondra climbed Silence in Norway and gave it 5.15d. Silence was the only 5.15d until 2020 when Alex Megos made the first ascent of Bibliography and suggested 5.15d. The following year, Stefano Ghisolfi downgraded Megos’s climb to 5.15c, which Megos agrees with. Bouin bolted DNA three years ago and reported that he tried over 250 times over 150 days before getting the first ascent. The 50-metre overhanging route starts with 5.14c, climbs through a V11 and V12 problem and heads into another 5.14c sequence. Bouin, who attempted Bibliography, says it’s similar but more physically demanding.

“There would be two possible scenarios, 9b+ [5.15c] or 9c [5.15d],” said Bouin. “Choosing 9b+ [5.15c] would be playing it safe. Choosing 9c would be taking a risk. I have been playing it safe since 2014 on this cliff by proposing very tight grades. And in the end, nobody has repeated one of these routes.” Bouin has made first ascents of several hard routes, many of which are yet to be repeated, including La Rage d’Adam 5.15b/c, Beyond 5.15b/c and La Cote d’Usure 5.15a. In 2019, he repeated Move 5.15b/c, first climbed by Adam Ondra. “Despite these doubts, I take the risk of proposing the highest of the grades,” said Bouin. “The 9c [5.15d] should be taken as a proposal, which now needs other climbers to give their opinions – to confirm or to adjust.” Read the full report about the possible 5.15d here.

Théo Blass Climbs 5.14d

Théo Blass became the youngest climber ever to send 5.14d, while on the same day, his sister Alizée Blass climbed her first 5.13b at nine years old. Théo made history last winter when he became the youngest to climb 5.14c. At only 12 years old and nine months, Théo redpointed Trip Tik Tonik 5.14d at Gorges du Loup, after trying it for around 10 sessions. The previous youngest climber to send 5.14d was Gianluca Vighetti, who was two months older than Théo. Théo said that he dreamed of climbing 5.14d at a younger age than when Adam Ondra climbed the grade, which was 13 years old.  He began to work on Trip Tik Tonik in 2021, and returned this year with his family for two weeks.