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20 Canadian Climbing Highlights of 2020

Some top sends this year from WI13 to V14 to 5.15 to bold highballs

Photo by: Mike Doyle of Becca Frangos on Leviathan 5.14a

It was a memorable year in Canada for hard sends, repeats and bold new climbs. From coast to coast, climbers stayed motivated during lockdowns by building home walls and working on close-to-home projects.

There were countless noteworthy sends in Canada this summer, below is a sample from the word of comps, bouldering, trad, sport and alpine. For a list of 10 big international sends visit here. And follow Gripped on Instagram for daily stoke!

Alannah Yip Qualifies for Olympics

In February, B.C. climber Alannah Yip secured her spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after an in intense Pan-American Games. She placed first, followed by Alejandra Contreras and third was Lauren Bair. Full results here. She’ll be joining Sean McColl in representing Canada at the games. Becca Frangos also climbed well in finals, finishing fifth, and was one of five Canadians at the event, along with Yip, Jason Holowach, Allison Vest and Brennan Doyle. Yip didn’t know she was going to the Olympics until Frangos told her back on the ground. It led to an emotional moment at Sender One and to those watching on livestream.

Mission to Mars is First WI13

Yes, you read the right: WI-13; for you non ice climbers, that’s Water Ice 13. Squamish-based Tim Emmett and Klemen Premrl visited B.C.’s amazing Helmcken Falls in February, finding amazing conditions. Emmett and Premrl added another steep spray-ice route with Nadurra Dura, a 35-metre WI12. They then extended their new route and called it Mission to Mars, a 40-metre WI13. It’s the first ever route at the grade. “It’s a natural 40-metre ice climb through increasing steepness with the crux being the last three moves,” said Emmett. “Of all the ice climbs at Helmcken, this is the steepest and overhangs approximately 30 metres. This is the first climb at this suggested grade. I really hope someone else tries it.” Later in the year, Emmett redpointed Apnea 5.14 on Anvil Island, watch here.

Sarah Hueniken’s Ghost Link-up

Sarah Hueniken went for one of the biggest linkups of ice/mixed routes in the Rockies in recent years. “I attempted a long-time dream goal of mine, to link up Nophobia, a five-pitch M10+ WI3 with the six-pitch Cryophobia M8 WI5+ and the four-pitch Hydrophobia WI5+ in a day. It felt unrealistic with the two-hour drive, two-hour ski approach and short daylight hours in January, but one thing I’ve learned this past year is that nothing is impossible with the help of good friends.” She led Cryophobia and Nophobia clean in 11 pitches. “I was a pitch from the top of Hydrophobia when a big water dam broke. Despite it being on the other side of the climb, I didn’t feel that the goal was worth the risk, so the linkup still awaits a full ascent.”

Rebecca Lewis Ouray Gold

The 25th Ouray Ice Festival took place in February with big names competing at one of the oldest ice comps in North America. Ontario climber Rebecca Lewis took gold for women, followed by Albertan Sarah Hueniken in second. In third was Ekaterina Feoktistova. Hueniken finished in third last year. A number of top climbers competed, including Emily Harrington, Nathan Kutcher, Tom Livingstone, Aaron Mulkey and Graham Zimmerman. Lewis said after, “Well shoot, I won firstt place at the Ouray Ice Fest. When travelling to Asia I felt I was under-trained, tired and weak. Two weeks of training did’tt suddenly make me super fit, but it did take off the rust. I didn’t win because I was the fittest or strongest, but because of experience and I knew how to apply my strengths.”

New 5.14 in Mexico

Top Canadian climber Sam Tucker redpointed a new seven-pitch route in Mexico. He graded it 5.14b and named it The Ibiza Club Weapon. He said, “Today I got the first free ascent of the route that Nathan, Ethan, Luke, Tyson and myself have been working on. I am so unbelievably lucky for the team that I got to experience this with. And I am honoured to complete the last two per cent of the gigantic process that was preparing this route to be climbed.” The route climbs one of the many big walls in El Salto, an area with other hard multi-pitch routes, such as the 13-pitch Samadhi 5.13a. Tucker is often based in the Canadian Rockies and has climbed test-piece lines like First Flight 5.14c and the six-pitch Castles in the Sky 5.14a.

Miles Adamson’s New V10 Highball

Canadian Miles Adamson has added a new V10 highball to Bishop, a rarity these days with so many of the obvious lines having been climbed. He called his route Too Tall to Fall, a play on the highball Too Big to Flail V11. Adamson said after, “So excited to share that I have made the first boulder ascent of the Grandma Peabody slab. My line starts on Tiers of Uncertainty, then goes up and left to hit the 5.9 arete lip jugs. Very proud to contribute a line to Bishop highballing, as the first boulder up a famously blank face.”

Becca Frangos Climbs 5.14b

Becca Frangos sent her first 5.14b with A Stressful Day at the Office (ASDATO) 5.14b at Horne Lake on Vancouver Island. The steep line is a variation to the area classic called A Day at the Office (ADATO) 5.14a/b and was first climbed by Elan Jonas McRae. With ASDATO complete, Frangos joins an elite set of female Canadian rock climbers, pushing difficult grades in the sport. “I remember when Marieta Akalski sent Florida in 2014. I was super inspired and wanted to do something like that that someday.” She told us in a lengthy interview here. “I definitely want to push the boundaries of female sport climbing. I just hope to be a good role model for the young female athletes in our community. I hope to be a source of inspiration for female climbers like so many have been for me.” Frangos climbed her first 5.14 earlier in the summer with Leviathan at Acephale

Ethan Salvo’s Ontario V13/14

Toronto-area climber Ethan Salvo has climbed Ontario’s first V13/14 with Rite of Passage Low at Niagara Glen. Salvo told us after his send: “I didn’t want to propose the full 14, even though I logged it at that. That’s what it felt like to me. Soft V14. The reason that I logged it at the slash grade was that no one else has done the stand start. Quite honestly, I think it is harder than I graded it. The crux move, in isolation, is harder than every single move on every power endurance boulder I have done… I am also hesitant to call it V14 because I am sure that there are people out there that are more than capable of it too. Personally, I think it is that hard, but from a media stand point, I don’t want to deal with people questioning me. I don’t want to have to deal with that validation. I am just going to call it what I want. I know someone could do it and be like this is V13. I could totally see that. Someone could also do the stand and be like, I think this is low-end V13 and I would be like, I can totally see that too.”

Evan Hau is First Canadian to Climb 5.15

In June, Evan Hau became the first Canadian to climb 5.15. He made the second ascent of Sacrifice 5.15a in Echo Canyon, a route that he bolted and Adam Ondra made the first ascent of in 2018. The route is in the Coliseum on the Saddle-up wall. The neighbouring route to Sacrifice is Honour and Glory, which Hau made the first ascent of at 5.15a but Ondra downgraded to 5.14+. This makes Hau the likely first Canadian to climb 5.15a, of which there are three of in Canada: Fight Club 5.15b, Disbelief 5.15b and Sacrifice 5.15a. au has made first ascents of many of the Bow Valley’s 5.14 sport routes over the past few years.


Brennan Doyle Climbs V14

The list of Canadians who’ve sent V14 isn’t long, but Brennan Doyle joined it this year. This year, team Canada’s Doyle found himself atop one of the most difficult boulder problem in Squamish’s Top 100: the ultra-classic V14 called The Reckoning. The 17-year-old competition climber came into his own this season with a number of difficult first ascents as well as multiple classic repeats. He told us here after his send, “I think seeing progress makes things fun. So when you are working a boulder and doing new moves and stuff, that makes it fun. You can do that indoors, outdoors, anywhere. Just being around friends and stuff makes it more fun. At the end of the day I want to be able to look back and say, ‘That was a good day,’ but at the same time, I’m not going climbing just to have fun, I’m going climbing to make progress on the routes and the fun comes from that.”

Call of the Sirens 5.14 Squamish Slab

Jacob Cook freed all of the pitches on Call of the Sirens, a five-pitch 5.14a slab on the Tantalus Wall on The Chief in Squamish. Marc-Andre Leclerc told Cook about the project four years ago. The Tantalus Wall is one of the finest pieces of rock above Squamish. The top is shear with few crack systems and a roof guarding the upper headwall. There are dykes that zig-zag and features that catch the climber’s eye. “The crux pitch really tested me,” said Cook about Call of the Sirens, a contender for the hardest multi-pitch slab climb in Canada. “In unlikely sequence of very low percentage moves. This is far from a continuous free ascent. In fact, I’ve sent exactly one pitch every year for the last three years. A continuous ascent would be a true masterpiece of slab wizardry if anyone ever climbs it. Either way, I’m thrilled to have brought some of Marc’s vision to life and I’m proud to leave a testpiece for future Squamish slab pilgrims to try and maybe improve on my style.”

New New Brunswick 5.14

New Brunswick has a number of new hard sport routes at Hampton Marsh that were bolted and climbed this spring. Seb Pacey-Smith is a top Maritime climber who’s established routes like Cipher, likely the hardest rock climb at 5.14c on Canada’s east coast. Hampton Marsh had spurts of development over the past decade with Peter Adamson adding routes to Monster and Main Wall back in 2012. Other climbers like François and Emily Côté, Ian Lingley and the late Cory Hall have developed climbs. Pacey-Smith and friends rediscovered the area’s potential and have added a number of new routes. Some of the new lines include: Balrog 5.14b, Frankenstein’s Monter 5.14a, Pumpkin Head 5.13c, Lockdown 5.13c and Speaking Moistly 5.12b. The topo says: “As with any of the areas in Hampton Marsh, the rock quality is not always the best and helmets are recommended.”

Hammer and the Dance Alpine

Top alpinists Brette Harrington and Tony McLane established The Hammer and the Dance up the north pillar of Neptuak in August. “This line has been on my mind for the past few years and finally it came together,” said Harrington of the new serious line. “We spent one night on the wall and one at the summit. The climbing was continuously demanding and steep till the very top. It was quite serious as we encountered many difficulties around mid 5.11 with lose rock and very little pro.” Harrington spoke to us about climbing in Canada during the pandemic. “One of the coolest things about exploring local mountains and peaks is you understand them and their weather patterns better,” she said. Revisiting alpine zones allows you to better grasp the terrain and how it responds to specific weather and sun orientation. “The more you visit an area [and the longer you stay], the more you become familiar and can expand what you try to climb,” she said.

Em Pellerin Ticks La Zébrée

Emilie “Em” Pellerin, who’s onsighted The Shadow 5.13 trad in Squamish, sent La Zébrée at Mont King in Val-David this summer. It was the fifth known ascent of the steep finger crack. On the fourth of July, Julien Bourassa-Moreau became the fourth person to redpoint the 5.14 trad route. His ascent ended the 13-year drought since it had last been climbed. It was climbed a third time in 2020 by Jerome St-Michel. Pellerin then spent a number of weeks projecting Cobra Crack 5.14 trad in Squamish, which she plans to return to in 2021.

Lucas Uchida’s Big Day

Ontario comp champ Lucas Uchida has a solid year with a number of noteworthy sends. This summer, he climbed The Punt V12, Yung Thugs V12, Bruce Lee V12 (second ascent), and Phoenix from the Ashes V12/V13 in a single day. He also repeated Titan 5.14a at Lion’s Head.

Jen Wright Sends V10/11

In Nova Scotia, Jen Wright sent Horizontal Transformer V10 early in the fall and repeated Carbosauraus V10/11 at Land of Confusion (LOC) this week. Carbosauraus V10/11 was first climbed by Scott Richardson in 2012 and it’s been repeated a handful of times over the years. It was originally graded V11, but after a flash by U.K.’s Louis Parkinson, locals gave it a downgrade. In 2019, Wright sent Kleos V10/11, also at LOC. Having done a number of V9s, it was her first of the grade. Impressive on its own, this send is also remarkable in light of her relatively recent surgery . As a child, Wright had spinal fusion surgery to correct her scoliosis. Only a year and a half before Kleos, she had the metal rods from that procedure surgically removed. She told us that she was “almost completely recovered” when she sent.

Joe Skopec’s New Ontario 5.14+

Joe Skopec established Fire and Blood 5.14+ just outside Kingston, Ontario in spring. He trained twice a day during the covid lockdown. Zach Treanor established the area and the route Skopec would go on to climb. Skopec said, “He bolted it when we first came down two years ago. I never ended up trying it because I thought it was a joke.” The crag location remains undisclosed. Though the crag itself is legally allowed to be climbed at, parking and the approach cross private lands, creating access issues. The first four bolts are in the 5.12 range, but the 50-foot route ramps up in the last 15-feet. After the last good crimps, the you move into a terrible side-pull crux. “You fire up, full extension, to a six-millimetre crimp with two-fingers,” said Skopec. “You hit with two-finger and then you bring your right foot up on a sloping ledge and then you hit a sloping hold. Then you cross your left hand over your right into this hand jam and relax to get the clip.” The route then finishes with a V5. Look for more on Skopec in the next issue of Gripped.

Katana WI6+X

Above Lake Margaret, which is next to Hector Lake below Pulpit Peak on the Icevields Parkway in Alberta, Sebastian Taborszky, Stas Beskin and Dylan Cunningham climbed a new serious 245-metre five-pitch mega ice line they called Katana WI6+X. The east-facing route goes at WI3 60m, WI6R 45m, WI5+ 55m, WI6+X 40m and finally WI6R 45. About the fourth-pitch: “Climb the improbable free standing pillar… first screw after pillar is at 30 metres. Pillar had a two/three-inch unhealed crack half-way up.” It’s one of the hardest pure ice climbs in North America.

New Emperor Face Alpine

Ethan Berman and Uisdean Hawthorn climbed a new route on the famous Emperor Face on Mount Robson in B.C. At 3,954 metres, it’s the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. Their new 2,000-metre route is called Running in the Shadows and goes at VI AI5 M6. “We climbed the whole face in 19 hours from the lake,” said Berman. “We bived on the rirdge and then continued to summit, bivied again on summit and then descended. It was really wild and the conditions were amazing.” Alpinists Berman and Hawthorn are no strangers to the Rockies and have been at the cutting-edge of hard Canadian mountain ascents over the past few years. “On a cool historical note, we followed the original 1974 attempt line through the Jaws, which was subsequently followed by Walsh and Kruk, before heading up and right into a new gully system 14-ish pitches to the Emperor Ridge.”

Stanley Headwall

Raphael Slawinski has been one of Canada’s top winter climbers for over 20 years. In December, he completed a multi-year project on the Stanley Headwall, B.C.’s notorious mixed climbing wall. While he hasn’t named his climb yet, it’s the most difficult on the mountain at M8/9 WI5 150m. More to come in the new year.

Lead photo: Mike Doyle of Becca Frangos on Leviathan 5.14a