Climbing hard is difficult, but climbing hard on the international competition circuit while also completing increasingly challenging outdoor sport routes is significantly more difficult. Becca Frangos has been making headlines for her hard sends and comp wins for years and has most recently sent her first 5.14a with Leviathan.
In 2015, Frangos found herself on the top of the Youth Bouldering and Lead National Championship podiums, as well as the Open Lead National Championship Podium. Three years later, she would come 25th in the World Combined Ranking after a successful season. This last year, Frangos made the final round of the Olympic Qualifiers at the Pan-American Championship in Los Angeles. She is 22-years old.
Before she began climbing at the V’sion, an now-gone bouldering gym from Canmore, Frangos climbed at Lake Louise with her parents and family friend, the acclaimed mountain guide, James Blench.
Though Frangos was young and remembers being “terrified the whole time,” her relationship with the mountains and the people of Canmore was integral to creating the person she would grow up to be. “Growing up here shaped my life since I was able to walk,” she said. “I had skis strapped on me since the time I was two. Many of my friends in the community were lucky enough to be surrounded by tons of high-level athletes. Not just climbers, but Olympians. They all called Canmore home and were always offering support and being such positive role models.”
One such example was top climber Sonnie Trotter, who used to coach Frangos. “Sonnie is an awesome friend of mine and we climb together sometimes. It’s cool to be able to have that shape your youth. To have those connections now as an adult has definitely been a fulfilling experience.”
This commitment to the outdoor lifestyle that is so well represented in Canmore appears to breed psych for outdoor experiences. According to Frangos, in high school she and her family would travel to Red Rocks every spring with family friends to take a break from the usual cycle of competition and school.
“From my standpoint it is just a very different experience,” Frangos said. “Outdoor climbing offers an escape from the pressure that I put on myself to always be prepping for competition and the pressure I put on myself to do well while competing. I feel like I don’t have that when I go outdoor climbing. I just go to have fun and hang out with friends, and of course I want to send hard, but that is very much on the back burner. It’s more just about being outside, and enjoying nature, and hanging out, and getting into the flow of things.”
Frangos has been crushing hard sport routes for years, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that she started projecting near her hometown. “I didn’t really get into outdoor climbing in the Bow Valley until I was older, like 16 or 17, just because everything here is pretty hard.”
Though Frangos has always enjoyed outdoor climbing, it was difficult to train for competitions and to get outside enough to climb hard. But she did manage to put down Endless Summer and Fudge Packer in 2018. At 5.13d, the routes are unquestionably difficult, but even still, her focuses remained on competition climbing.
Then came the pandemic.
“I was never really planning on being home too much this summer,” she said. “I was planning on finishing up school at the end of April and staying out in Vic to train for Nationals and Selection Camp for World Cups. Outdoor climbing wasn’t on the radar. After getting home at the end of March, I was kind of in a weird phase of thinking ‘Well, all the competitions are cancelled, I don’t feel like I have any direction or goals, and I’m so unmotivated to just train at home, so wouldn’t it be great to channel the training that I have been doing so far into outdoor climbing, which I love, but never get the chance to consistently do.'”
With that, her season began. “When things started opening up a bit we started to go outside. I kind of went to Echo Canyon and spent some time getting on mid-range 13s, and, surprisingly, things were progressing pretty quickly. I wasn’t really expecting it because it had been so long since the last time I had outdoor climbed. I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll try something harder.’ Leviathan had always been a route I had wanted to try.”
“It kind of came together a bit quicker than I was expecting. It is a route that is known to be quite difficult for shorter climbers, and me not even being fight-feet tall, I definitely went into it expecting it to feel probably impossible. Even if I found my own way through it, it would still be too hard to put it all together. Expectations were low because I didn’t want to be disappointed if I tried it and it didn’t work out.”
With all of that in mind, Frangos fired all the moves on the first day. As she worked the route with Mike Doyle and Dan Beland, the trio sussed out beta that would get each of them to the top of the route.
“It took like five or six sessions and between 15 and 20 tries,” Frangos said. “I hit it two days in a row, at the beginning, when I was really psyched and wanting to work on the moves, but then it just got too tiring. It is really hard on your skin, and I was bleeding after doing two attempts. When I started feeling like I was getting close to sending, I started doing one-day-on one-day-off. I probably needed more rest because I felt really tired yesterday, but that was fine.”
So how does Leviathan climb? Frangos fills us in:
“It’s quite short, like a lot of stuff at Acephale. I want to say it’s around 22 metres. The start of the route is pretty hard right off the ground. Once you find your sequence though, it starts to feel easier, but it is by no means easy, like 5.12d to 5.13a climbing. Then you get a decent kneebar rest to clip an extended draw right before the crux, which is maybe 40-degrees overhanging. The way the Dan, Mike and I do it, I don’t know, I’m not great at putting grades on stuff, but the crux is probably like V11. It then eases off quite a bit for the next three quarters of the route. Good holds, you get it all back, and then there is this big jump one draw from the anchor. Quite a few people don’t actually have to jump it because they are normal sized, but I did. The last draw goes over a lip, and it is kind of a tricky slab, probably a V5 boulder, which probably doesn’t seem that bad, but, pumped, it’s pretty sketchy. Yesterday I was like, ‘Oh god, I’m, gonna fall at the top with my face in the anchor haha.’ It’s definitely a very bouldery route.”
The route itself is a notoriously challenging 5.14a, and even took now-5.15 climber Evan Hau three months of attempts to ultimately complete. It would become his first at the grade.
As far as the crux is concerned, V11 is a hard crux for a route of this grade. According to Frangos, “The regular way most people do it is from the first two holds where you have a kneebar, you get this really weird, toothy spiked hold with your right hand, and then people do this crazy drop knee out left and grab this really crappy intermediate crimp and then bump to quite a good, in-cut flat hold that is way better than everything else. You can match that and that is technically the end of the crux, but then there is one more quite hard move before it rolls over into the easy climbing.
“What I did from those first two holds, is I went out right a little bit below the tooth, and grabbed the tooth with my left hand, and then managed to find a tiny dimply thing in the rock with my right hand. And then get my feet out left on a super scummy toe-hook to come into an intermediate crimp and then bump left into that good hold. It ends up being like eight to nine moves, where the regular way is like four moves.”
Having taken this route down in just over two weeks, Frangos is now looking forward to her future projects, indoors and out. She told us: “I still love to compete, and it is definitely something I see myself doing for a long time. I guess my immediate goal for the next few years is to qualify for Paris for the Olympics in 2024. Now that they are splitting Speed away from Bouldering and Lead, it definitely suits me a lot better. I guess that wasn’t really on my radar until quite recently.
“The Olympic qualifiers in Los Angeles in March went really well, I thought, ‘Maybe I could make this work.’ I would also really like to make a Lead World Cup final. Lead is definitely my favourite discipline. And in terms of outdoor climbing, I would definitely love to keep pushing myself on sport climbs, but I would also like to diversify a bit more and get into some hard-multi-pitching, crack climbing and trad.”