Spending June in the Red River Gorge sounded about as delightful as taking a Bikram’s Yoga class in a tick-infested swamp. Alas, I found myself in Kentucky for about 10 days this month on an actual climbing trip. Prior to leaving, I was dreading the heat, but I assuaged my apprehension by reasoning that, upon returning to Colorado/Rifle, conditions would feel relatively quite good.
I was surprised, if not shocked, to enjoy a series of downright comfortable climbing days in KY. Sweet!
Ironically, now that I’m back in Rifle (at over 7,000 feet elevation) I swear that it’s hotter here than it was in the ass-end of Red River Gorge. Oh, the irony. And unlike Kentucky’s sticky sandpaper stone, even the slightest amount of heat and humidity makes Rifle rock impossible—at least according to all the people who are sure they should be climbing much harder than they do (myself included).
Yet, the heat wave gripping the northern hemisphere of our planet (otherwise known as summer) hasn’t prevented some downright righteous ascents from going down. Here’s a look at what I loosely define to be “this week in climbing,” only meaning that it happened sometime recently.
Hypnotized Minds (V16) Gets First Mullet Ascent
The United States gets to host one or two relatively minor World Cup climbing events each year, with a bouldering comp always taking place each June in Vail, Colorado.
Invariably, many of the world’s strongest international comp climbers descend upon the Rocky Mountain State each summer to lay waste to the following three things, in this order: World Cup plastic; the hardest routes/problems outdoors; and the American climbing ego.
Achieving high marks in all three of these categories is the true measure of success for any visiting Euro. Mostly, these climbers really only give a shit about their competition results. But when the thing the care about most, standing atop the podium, doesn’t pan out, they’ll settle for second best: demolishing one of Colorado’s various soft routes/boulders on their way back to the airport.
In 2011, Ramón Julián Puigblanque came up short, so to speak, on a dyno in the sport-climbing World Cup in Boulder. So what did he do? Cry like a little bitch? Fuck no! He drove out to Rifle and onsighted The Crew (5.14c) without even wearing kneepads.
Last year, Adam Ondra found himself face down in the mat, kicking and screaming over his third-place finish at the World Cup in Vail. Such a piss-poor result seemed to light the fucking demonic hell-beast within, and he promptly drove out to Rocky Mountain National Park and flashed Jade (V14+).
This year, it was Russian boulderer and five-time World Cup champ Rustam Gelmanov’s turn to curb-stomp the American climbing ego after coming in fifth place at Vail.
Wearing skinny jeans and sporting the raddest mullet I’ve ever seen, Rustam easily nabbed the second ascent of Hypnotized Minds (V16), a problem in Rocky Mountain National Park that was first climbed by Daniel Woods, rated V15 and retroactively upgraded by Woods himself after six years of watching others flail on it.
The uncut footage of Rustam’s ascent surfaced on Instagram and the dude makes the problem look like piss. On that count, he had this to say: “I received a lot of questions since the moment I climbed Hypnotized Minds in #rmnp. I will try to answer most popular ones. “Why does it look so easy?” – long time ago I’ve read in one book that master differs from the beginner that he does extremely hard moves with ease and without showing the effort. … And the main question “Difficult or not?” I have two answers: 1) I don’t have the right and the opportunity to judge the difficulty, I don’t have enough experience. This question is to @dawoods89 and to anyone who will climb it later. 2) This route was not extremely difficult for me. It fit me very well and it’s what I like. In reality I would not say how difficult it is.”
Though he doesn’t explicitly downgrade Hypnotized Minds, by saying something is not very difficult for him, he is basically mullet-slapping it down a V-grade. So that makes this problem only V15, I guess? Dammit, Rusty!
The last 15 years have seen a rather slow progression in climbing, with sport grades moving up three notches, while bouldering grades have only progressed by one V grade. I wonder why? Could it be that everyone’s climbing game is now secondary to their social-media selfie game? Or are climbers just getting lazier and less motivated to put up first ascents? Or could it simply be that we’ve reached the limit of human potential on the rock, and now the only thing left to do is pretend to care about each and every infinitesimal creep forward of progression?
Only time will tell. Until then, I’ll be growing out my mullet and losing 60 pounds so I can try Hypnotized Minds, too. After all, it’s not extremely difficult.
Colin Haley’s Big Year Continues
Colin Haley has been having an awesome year, crushing the mountains from Patagonia to Alaska. In January, he took advantage of some incredible rare weather in Patagonia to have one of the most productive seasons ever recorded.
This past month, Haley put the iconic Infinite Spur of Mt. Forager on lap status, climbing it twice in a week, including the route’s first solo and fastest time (12:29). The deal with the Infinite Spur is that it’s as long, scary, and committing as an arranged marriage to a psycho—Alaska’s ultimate test piece.
What’s interesting is that Haley, in this excellent blog, downplayed his achievement by noting that someone like Killian Jornet or Ueli Steck might have no problem shaving significant time off of Haley’s record.
It goes back to that idea of progression. While the progression of difficulty in bouldering and sport climbing seems to be reaching a plateau of some sort, it seems that perhaps alpine climbers have an exciting rise ahead of them, if they can find objectives that challenge them on both the “adventure” and “sport” fronts.
Interestng stuff. And hats off to Mr. Haley for his most incredible year yet! Looking forward to seeing what you get up to next, dude.
SBC Sucks Her Way to the Top
In case you missed it … SBC attaches vacuum parts to her arms and scales a glass building for an LG ad.
Did this video make anyone else think of Dr. Octagon?
Jared Leto: Climbing’s Biggest Fan Boy
I didn’t even know who Jared Leto was until people started telling me “Did you hear that Jared Leto was climbing with such-and-such pro climber?” Now, I see on his Instagram that this person, who is apparently some big Hollywood actor, has fallen hard for climbing and is steadily making his way through the ranks of climbing’s biggest names. The latest: Sharma.
Margo Hayes is the reigning queen of Rifle with her recent redpoint of The Crew (5.14c). This is likely the hardest redpoint of a U.S. sport climb ever completed by a woman. It’s right up there with Beth Rodden’s first ascent of Meltdown (5.14c), a trad climb. Among American female climbers, only Ashima has climbed a harder sport route, with her ascent of Open Your Mind Direct, 5.14d, in Spain. I asked Margo how The Crew compares to Pure Imagination, which was once rated 5.14d but consensus has it down to low-end 5.14c (if not 5.14b), and sure enough Margo said that The Crew felt “quite a bit harder than Pure Imagination (for me).” So, there it is.
Dave Graham lit up yet another V15 with Delirium at Mt Evans. Still an unstoppable force after all these years! So cool.
Jon Cardwell repeated Realization after several years and multiple trips. Jon is one of the most stoked climbers I’ve ever met, and I was really happy to hear about this achievement. Well done, Jon!
Adam Ondra established a new 5.15a in Flatanger: 120 Degrees.
And last, but certainly not least, congrats to the sweetest, friendliest veterinary doctor I know, Heather Weidner, for finishing off her long-term project China Doll (5.14a), sans bolts, making her either the fourth, or seventh, woman to redpoint a pitch of 5.14 trad, depending on how you translate weird-ass Brit grades.