This Week in Climbing …

It’s been a somewhat disappointing fall. A large workload, and some unseasonably wet rock, has kept me off the sharp end of the rope and at the blunt end of my laptop keyboard for the past two weeks. Rocktober hasn’t been kind to me … or my belayer. She’s been waylaid with a knee injury and an inconclusive MRI that suggests cartilage damage.  The doctor wants to get in there and scope it out—meaning he hasn’t done his homework and doesn’t actually know what’s wrong. At least there’s backgammon and football …

BrooklynLately I’ve been living in the future. Preparing for and dreaming about better days to come. This is a recurring theme for me around this time of year, perhaps in response to the foreboding nature of winter’s knock. Leaves grow sparser, nights grow longer. I find myself dreaming about future, brighter days—you know, the time when I can really enjoy life and not feel so overwhelmed all the time.

The irony, of course, is that this powerful mindset isn’t actually in the future. It’s already right here within me, within us all. There’s no time to enjoy life like right now.

No sends for me this Rocktober. I guess it’s time to get out to the desert!

Castleton Tower. Ivory Tower (5.13b) takes the arete where the white and red rock meet. FA by Chris Kalous and Sam Lightner Jr. Photo: David Clifford
Castleton Tower. Ivory Tower (5.13b) takes the arete where the white and red rock meet. FA by Chris Kalous and Sam Lightner Jr. Photo: David Clifford

Elsewhere, crushing is happening. Let’s take a look:


Pete “Wide Boy” Whittaker Footnote Flashes El Cap

The Wide Boyz Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker have once again emerged from their U.K. training dungeon to pay a visit to the United States and lay the hurt on our good old American stone. This time, they set their sights on a flash of Freerider, El Cap’s “easiest” free climb at 5.12d/13a. (Check out their blog for the full report.)

Wide Boyz

Here’s how they did it: the two climbed the Freeblast. Descended. Came back. Jugged up to Heart Ledges. Climbed the next six pitches. Spent the night, and faced the infamous “Teflon Corner” (5.12d) / “Boulder problem” (5.13a) fork. Whittaker went for the Boulder Problem pitch; fell; came back to the belay. He then went for an onsight of the Teflon Corner, and made it. Tom seconded, but slipped.

If you don’t count his fall on the Huber Boulder Problem pitch, Pete Whittaker successfully flashed an El Cap route. This is Freerider’s second “footnote flash”—i.e., a really impressive flash ascent that must qualified with one or two pesky details worth mentioning.

In 2009, the Cedric Lachat of Switzerland nabbed Freerider’s first footnote flash. He logged one fall on the Boulder Problem pitch, came down and onsighted the Teflon Corner instead—just like Pete Whittaker.

Lachat also climbed the first 10 pitches of the route, known as the Freeblast, and descended to the ground, only he stayed there for 10 whole days. It’s unclear how long Whittaker and Randall spent on the Valley floor after climbing doing the Freeblast, but I assume it was just one night.

The Wide Boyz are claiming a flash of the route, but the modern day Valley Christians are saying, “Not so fast, my wittle wide-cwimbing fwends.

It depends on how you define a flash of El Cap. To many, that means no falls … at all. And it also means ground-up. Probably most people will agree that the pinnacle expression of an ideal onsight or flash of El Cap would be to climb truly ground-up (i.e., no returning to the ground; no using fixed ropes; and no stashing food/water on the route). And of course to climb it with no falls, with one person leading every pitch, or with a team of two both leading and following free, and no falls for either one.

Cedric Lachat and now Pete Whittaker have both come equally (and impressively) close to achieving this ideal. But so far, a true ground-up flash or onsight of El Cap remains undone and open for the taking for whenever Adam Ondra decides to pay Yosemite a visit.

El Cap

Ever since “Team America” visited the Gritstone and made a mockery of England’s tiny, contrived rocks, the Brits have been bloodthirsty for redemption. Meanwhile, Americans have held fast to their position of completely not giving a shit which country has better climbers because we know it’s us. Perhaps this explains this comment on a U.K. climbing forum about the news of the Wide Boyz’s Freerider ascent:

“Barack Obama, can you hear me? Barack Obama, I have a message for you in the middle of your campaign. We have kicked the USA out of the Climbing World Cup.

Barack Obama, as you say in your language in the boxing bars around Madison Square Garden: Your boys took a hell of a beating!

Um … What?

In my opinion, probably the most impressive Freerider send to date is Ethan Pringle’s effort last spring. In one 36-hour push, Ethan climbed the whole thing ground up and either flashed or onsighted every pitch but one (he fell once; came down to the belay; then redpointed the pitch). His one fall cost him all the glory, but the fact that he did all that climbing, leading everything, in 36 hours is absolutely incredible—and oddly unsung.

Anyway … good job to the Wide Boyz! I truly do find their motivation, determination and grit inspiring. This video really captures what makes these two climbers so rad:

(Read more at a cool feature on Casio)

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 7.57.11 AM

Now get back to your training dungeon!


Sasha DiGiulian makes the first female ascent of blah blah … HOLY SHIT LOOK AT THIS WALL!


Impressive effort by Sasha DiGiulian and Edu Marin on Viaje de los Locos, a 5.14a big-wall in Sardinia that they both free-climbed this summer for its second ascent. Very proud effort by both climbers. I wrote a story about this ascent for both Red Bull and Red Bulletin. Sasha overcame some tough circumstances to climb this route, including her father’s sudden and recent death. The cruxes were reachy for her. And there was some rather run-out climbing, such as a 5.12c slab pitch that had only two bolts in 90 feet (Sasha worked up the courage to lead this on the day of the send.) Super proud effort.

Dat wall tho… (Photos by Christian Pondella/Red Bull Content Pool)

Sasha  DiGiulian - Action

Sasha  DiGiulian - Action


EiterAngie Eiter Sends 9a

Speaking of girls wearing the latest Red Bull fashion …

Angie Eiter just sent Hades (9a), in Nassereith, West of Innsbruck. This makes her the sixth or seventh woman to climb the grade.

As more women continue to climb 9a, I wonder who will be the first female to climb 5.15a? And which route will be the one?

.For more on the current state of female climbing, let’s turn to articles like this one …


50 Shades of Female Climbing:

This is the opener to an article that just appeared in the  Mercury News.

Ask most any woman why she rock climbs, and you’ll get some version of the same answer — it’s raw, empowering freedom.

When she climbs, she’s acutely aware of her body and its strength; she’s outside in the silent back country, with only the rock and a harness full of gear; she’s reaching into crevices and swinging her heel over ledges as she works her way to the top to take a gratifying look below her, breathing a sigh of relief.

The last time I read something about climbing that made feel this way (i.e., made me feel “funny”) was Spiderman Dan’s famous “Romancing the Stone” in Rock and Ice:



Honnold Free Solos Heaven (again)

After onsight free soloing this route a few years ago, Honnold has returned to chuck a lap on Yosemite’s airiest pitch for a commercial for his website, and also to continue to rub it in everyone’s face that he really is much, much better than everyone else.

Jimmy Chin also has a cool BTS post about working on this commercial. I was happy to see them using a jib arm instead of a helicopter drone to get those aerial shots. Less likely to crash into the athlete that way …




This Week in Climbing may, or may not, appear every week. 

  • Pewtle

    As a Brit who lurks at UKC, my first response to the “Barack Obama…” post was the same as yours – an “err what?”. Not a clue what he was banging on about, and not very sporting to say the least, but super effort by the Wideboyz though.

  • Daniel

    I found it odd that Ethan’s ascent did not get more attention. Really inspiring ascent! And is Ethan now kicking himself because he could also have tried to do the teflon corner to save the flash after he fell in the huber pitch?

    First female 5.15? La Rambla? Alizee Dufraisse? But is it really 5.15? And what about Josune Bereziartu’s ascent of Bimbaluna?

  • Chris Kalous

    Since we are discussing the obfuscation of once specific terms like flash and Onsight, how about big wall? Seven pitches is a big wall? The Manure Pile will be happy to know it almost makes it. If you pitch it out old school, the Naked Edge is a big wall. Man, I was big walling way earlier than I thought.

    Good to know that the 1st Flat Iron, roughly the same height as the Sardinian wall (which I’ve seen close up, by the way) is a big wall.

    Or are we just saying it a big, ahem, wall? And not a Big Wall? Because that wall in Sardinia is indeed big. But maybe not Big.

    A One Fall Flash (TM) on a Big Wall or a big wall? On sighting a big wall not as cool as an OFF on a Big Wall?

    Let’s call the whole thing off.

    • haha … Totally. I’ve been waiting for a rope company to make me a 6,000-foot rope so I can top-rope the Salathe as a single-pitch rock climb before I try leading it. You want to be my belayer for that one? “UP ROPE!!!” “WHAAAAAAAAAAT??”

  • Toby_Archer

    I think the “Barack Obama…” thing is a rather sweet reference to a Norwegian football (yes, I mean soccer) commentator’s rhapsodic reception to his national team’s victory over a supposedly mighty England. He changed into English to yell “Maggie Thatcher! Lady Diana Spencer! Winston Churchill! Your boys took one hell of a beating tonight!” But this did happen probably 30 years ago so will be lost on the young, and – being about “soccer” – all Americans.

    • Ah

      • Toby_Archer

        I actually looked it up – it was 1981! The commentator shows that he knows his British political history considerably better than your average Brit does as well, although Scandos are often like that (embarrassingly well-educated, multilingual and erudite, that is).

        • Petejh

          The 2nd goal was clearly offside. Jammy fish-eaters.

  • James

    Brit climbing ace James Mchaffie flashed to the Salathe Headwall earlier this year, crushing the boulder problem. He could have claimed the first true flash of El Cap but went for the harder route.