7 Reasons Why 2017 Is Already the Biggest Year in Climbing History

And it’s only halfway over

If you’re like me, July’s arrival is a natural time to drink a half-rack of PBR (gotta stay hydrated!) while laying around at shady crags complaining about the hot and greasy conditions. If you find the motivation to climb through these hellish temps, then good on ya. You’re a better person than me.

Thankfully the rest of the climbing world buckled down and did some serious work in the first half of the year. Between January and June, we’ve seen some of the biggest, baddest, boldest accomplishments in the last few decades. And with the loss of climbing legends Royal Robbins and Ueli Steck, climbing stayed in mainstream consciousness more than ever. Even if every single climber on the planet took a rest day for the next entire six months, 2017 would go down as one of the most notable years on record.*

Here’s why this year kicks every other year’s ass.

I am overwhelmed and humbled by the support I’ve received from the climbing community, and my family and friends near and far. None of us achieves our dreams alone, we do so together, and build on those who have come before us. We are a community that not only supports each other regardless of our backgrounds and differences, but is also one that realizes the importance of respecting and preserving our planet. The climbers at the cliffs in Siurana last weekend came from many nations, and were a snapshot of what the world can be like, one of support, communication, and peace. ??????? Kudos to @honngy for the initial send… up next @jon_cardwell! Thank you @greg_mionske for capturing our try hard moments! ? Xoxo Margo @thenorthface @petzl_official @lasportivana @dogearedjewelry

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Margo Hayes became the first woman to climb 5.15a. Although Josune Bereziartu and Ashima Shiraishi both ticked 5.14d/5.15a, known as “slash grades,” in 2005 and 2015 respectively, 19-year-old Hayes clipped the chains of La Rambla, a confirmed 5.15a in Siurana, Spain, on February 26. Over the course of the previous year, Hayes had focused on climbing 14 5.14s, including a handful of 5.14c’s and a 5.14d, Bad Girls Club in Rifle, Colorado, which was also a first female ascent. “I wanted to climb 5.15 to challenge myself and take my climbing to another level, and I’ve done it,” she said. “I am honored to be one of the many women who have taken climbing to the next level.”

Angie Scarth-Johnson sent 5.14c at age 12. She’s technically not the youngest climber to have sent the grade (at age 11, Ashima Shiraishi ticked the Red River Gorge’s Southern Smoke), but Scarth-Johnson’s tick of Lucifer in the Red is impressive because, well, she’s 12 years old! The Australian climber has been steadily moving through the grades since she became the youngest person in the world to climb 5.13 at 9 years old, after climbing for only two years. The next year she sent 5.14a, followed by 5.14b at 10, making her the youngest to send that grade. In the same week as her Lucifer ascent, she ticked a 5.14a and onsighted two 5.13b’s. She’s the most trigger-happy young gun out there right now.

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Kilian Jornet completed two speed ascents of Everest without ropes and supplemental oxygen in one week. On Sunday, May 21, Jornet climbed 3,748 meters (12,297 feet) from Basecamp (5,100 meters above sea level) to the summit (8,848 meters) in 26 hours, battling stomach cramps and vomiting the whole way. Six days later, after recovering from a stomach bug and using the same Northeast Ridge route as he had earlier, the 29-year-old Spanish mountaineer began at Advanced Basecamp (6,500 meters) and reached the summit (8,848 meters), ascending 2,348 meters (7,703 feet) in 17 hours. It’s difficult to compare Jornet’s ascents with other speed “records,” as there have been different levels of assistance, starting and ending points, and no one has done it exactly the same as him, particularly with zero support. Needless to say—he’s fast.

Alex Megos onsighted 5.14d… again. The German crusher made waves in 2013 when he onsighted Estado Critico in Siurana, the first time anyone had ever sent a 5.14d/9a without any prior knowledge or attempt of a route. In May of this year, he did it again when he onsighted TCT in Gravere, Italy. “Oops I did it again!” he wrote on his Instagram. “When people ask if I can onsight 9a I would say ‘no.’” Adam Ondra has also onsighted 5.14d, and with both climbers sending plenty of other 5.14d and 5.15a routes in only a handful of tries, we suspect it will be a race to the finish for the world’s first 5.15 onsight.

Pro climbers and notable members of the climbing community “climbed the Hill” to protect public lands in Washington, D.C. In May, dozens of climbers traveled to the nation’s capital to stand in front of members of Congress to discuss the importance of public lands, recreation economies, land management agencies and energy policies. In partnership with the American Alpine Club and the Access Fund, Sasha DiGiulian, Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell, Kai Lightner and Libby Sauter told stories and shared photos with regional legislators to show why protecting America’s playgrounds is important. With Bears Ears National Monument and other monuments currently under review for potential shrinking, resizing or rescinding, the public is still awaiting decisions.

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Alex Honnold free soloed El Capitan via Freerider. Without touching a rope or a single piece of gear, and “using only his fingertips and toes!”, the 31-year-old scaled the 2,900-foot 5.13a in 3 hours, 56 minutes early on the morning of June 3. The objective had been in his sights for several years, and he started prepping in earnest last year. After several practice laps on a rope, including working the 17-move V7 boulder problem, he went for an attempt in November, but backed off because it didn’t feel right. But on that June morning, everything lined up and he scrambled up the Big Stone with ease. If this massive undertaking doesn’t all make us feel bad enough, he still did a hangboard workout later that day, after what he described as “four hours of light exercise.”

Same beautiful wall but a much different style… ‘Chaxi’ 9a+ is explosive and much more bouldery than some of its neighbors. Good rests, hard boulders, real crimps! It felt utterly impossible in bad conditions last week but on Saturday everything was perfect for me and I did it. This has been my best three weeks of climbing ever and honestly I’m really proud. I took a completely different approach than usual leading up to this trip and it’s wild to see it actually work. Of course, then today I felt totally desperate in Santa Linya so thankfully the ego never soars for too long. Onward! ?? @javipec photo • @arcteryx @lasportivana @metoliusclimbing @maximropes @climbonproducts @theprobar #catalunya #celebratewild

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And a ridiculous number of 5.15 ascents. A grade that used to be but a dream now gets sent seemingly every week. Here’s an alphabetical-order snippet of the 5.15 ticks from the first half of 2017: Klemen Becan; Jon Cardwell (2); Stefano Ghisolfi (2); Margo Hayes; Matty Hong (2); Alex Megos (2); Steve McClure; Adam Ondra (3); Jonathan Siegrist (3). Mathematically speaking, there are 181 days in the first half of the year, so with 17 sends in that time period, that’s a 5.15 send every 10.6 days—and those are just the ones we all know about it. (If we forgot anyone tell us in the comments!)

2017 Second Half Predictions

  • Adam Ondra is currently projecting a “possible 9c” in the Flatanger Cave of Norway, interestingly titled “Project Hard.” The current hardest route in the world, Spain’s La Dura Dura (which translates to The Hard Hard—I guess spending so much energy working on a climb leaves little brain power to get creative with names), is 9b+ or 5.15c, so a possible 9c is more or less 5.15d. Dude.
  • After free soloing Free Rider, Alex Honnold was spotted cruising 5.14 in Ten Sleep, Wyoming, downgrading everyone else’s projects, and crushing optimistic climbers’ hopes and dreams in the process. Based on his regular hangboard habit, I’m gonna put my money on a hard 5.14+ send (Necessary Evil in the Virgin River Gorge?), or dare I say… a 5.15?
  • Margo Hayes and Angie Scarth-Johnson team up to onsight the Dawn Wall (5.14d) in three hours one morning, nabbing a speed ascent of El Cap in the process, cruise over to Jumbo Love in the afternoon for a double 5.15b onsight, then end the day with a two-hour hangboard session—and that’s on a rest day.


*Yes, we’ve had other very good years in climbing: Lynn Hill’s first free ascent of the Nose made 1994 a standout year, and don’t forget 2001 when Chris Sharma ticked the world’s first consensus 5.15a. 2015 was a biggie when Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson finally freed the Dawn Wall. Last year was notable, too, with Ashima Shiraishi becoming the youngest person and first female to send V15, followed by Nalle Hukkataival’s proposed V17 and Adam Ondra’s repeat of the Dawn Wall. But what other six-month span is so stacked with cutting edge climbing feats? Seriously, I’m asking. Leave your suggestions in the comments below.