Highlights of 2014: the year in climbing

Posted by Alex Messenger on 22/12/2014
Goodbye 2014. What will 2015 bring?

As the year ends, it's time to see how it measured up for climbers. From pushing sport-climbing limits to punishing link-ups, what will 2014 go down in climbing history for? Here's what we think.

British women demolish 8c

British women smash through the limestone ceiling.

After spending the winter walking in Patagonia – not the best training for hard climbing – Hazel Findlay casually headpoints Fish Eye at Oliana, Spain, winning the 'race' to a British female 8c.

"The day I did it, it was actually a bit too hot, but I'd rested for two days and I felt fresh. It felt really easy." – Hazel Findlay on Fish Eye.

Still, the first British 8c remains unbagged, until Emma Twyford braves some very British summer weather (Hurricane Bertha and driving rain) to climb Unjustified (8c) at Malham Cove. Unfortunately, her ascent re-ignites chatter of a downgrade, leaving the question: who will tick the first confirmed 8c on home soil?

"I knew I could do it, but I was nervous about it being wet as it was raining heavily on the drive. This took the pressure off though; all I could do was give it my best shot." – Emma Twyford on climbing Unjustified.

In the autumn, that question is decisively answered by Mina Leslie-Wujastyk, who’d given up competition climbing to focus on rock. Taking advantage of cooler weather, she powers up her tough project: the 25m-long Mecca Extension (8c) at Raven Tor in the Peak. Try downgrading that.

"The high grade jumps are tough because (especially in the UK) people are very careful about over grading, so it really has to earn its position." – Mina on climbing Mecca Extension.

WATCH: Mina Leslie-Wujastyk climb Mecca Extension on BMC TV

Fever pitch on the Grandes Jorasses

Social media meets stellar conditions for a wave of late-season ascents

After a wash-out summer, the north faces of the Droites, Grandes Jorasses, Nant Blanc and Grand Pilier d’Angle are perpetually plastered in slowly transforming snow and névé – when they could even be seen. Then, on August 26, an exceptionally warm storm hits. With rain falling to over 4,000m, the snow already present is “Ben Nevised. Insane ice-smears everywhere!” says Grande Jorasses guidebook author Julien Desecures.

Word escapes via social media. The guardian of the Leschaux Refuge at the base of the Grandes Jorasses posts photos every few days on Facebook, and by early September the refuge is overwhelmed at each good weather window. Traffic reaches fever pitch on the classic routes: on 12 September, nearly 100 people are climbing on the Grandes Jorasses North Face, with 30 climbers alone on the Colton-MacIntyre (V, WI5+, M4+, 1,000m).

Many of the hardest routes on the face are climbed in record times: Korra Pesce and Martin Elias climb Directe de l’Amitié in only two days; Ben Guigonnet and Fred Degoulet link the Gabarrou-Silvy on the Aiguille Sans Nom, descend the Aiguille Verte and then climb the Bonatti- Vaucher, all in only three days. Veteran soloist Remi Thivel sets off alone from Montenvers to climb the Polish Route on the Jorasses, then continues to traverse the Jorasses - Rochefort Arête to the Torino and then the next day soloes the Grand Pilier D’Angle. Not to be left out, ex- French parapenting champion Julien Irili takes the first lift up the Aiguille du Midi. He flies down to the base of the Jorasses (with a wing weighing just 1.3kg) at 10am, climbs the Colton-Mac solo in 3hr 35 and then flies off the summit to reach Chamonix at 4pm. #timeforabeer

"It's amazing to see the Colton-MacIntyre become so popular after all these years. I think it's great that lots of people are doing lots of high-standard routes now." – Nick Colton, who first climbed the route in 1976.

WATCH: Ueli Steck soloing on the Grande Jorasses in 2008, on BMC TV

Enchainment fever sweeps the UK

Big-wall-trained US beasts test their skills in Patagonia. Not to be outdone, the UK’s best trad climbers become gripped by enchainment fever

It’s better together. In February, awesome Americans Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell spend three days constantly simul-climbing and teetering up and down 5km of granite to claim the first ascent of the much-coveted Fitzroy Traverse in Patagonia. The staggering stats of the route, over Cerro Fitz Roy (3,405m) and its satellite peaks, include 4,000m of vertical gain.

This achievement didn’t go unnoticed over here. On one of the longest days of the summer, James McHaffie gets up early, ticks more Lakeland E-numbers than most climbers do in a lifetime (all solo) and makes it to Oddfellows in Keswick for last orders. In total, he bags 160 E points over 2,976m of climbing.

Not to be outdone at their very special speciality, in the autumn, Pete Whittaker and Tom Randall climb every Brown and Whillans route on east and western grit in a day. With 130 pitches of climbing (up to E6), 23.6 miles of off-road running between 17 crags (they're not actually into running, by the way), 6,000 calories in bagels and nuts and 22hrs 36mins of sweating, they make anything we've ever achieved seem small and meaningless.

Meanwhile Will Copestake paddles round Scotland in winter and climbs all the Munros, Rob Woodall completes all the Marilyns and Lorraine McCall becomes first woman to tick a continuous round of the Corbetts. Phew. Enough already.

"We didn't really get a ton of sleep and didn't recover a lot. Each day I kind of felt like I was grinding down to dust." – Alex Honnold on the Fitzroy Traverse.

"When you go out and do three or four good routes, that’s a good day, isn’t it? Now imagine doing that times 30." – James McHaffie.

"Well, that was one of the very hardest things Pete and I have done. Bedtime now!" – Tom Randall.

WATCH: James McHaffie soloing at Reecastle, on BMC TV

WATCH: Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker in No Sleep till Bakewell, on BMC TV

Strawberries finally squashed

Two Brits step into the history books with ascents of the 30-year-old Ron Fawcett Tremadog test piece

After biding his time for a few decades, Steve McClure finally steps up to the plate and makes the first British on-sight of Strawberries (E7 6b). The route's history opened with a battle between 80s legends John Redhead and Big Ron, and since then it’s only been on sighted by Stefan Glowacz, Jorg Verhoevan, and Hansjorg Auer.

“I’ve never been so scared getting on a route. I was petrified. But this could be around F7b+, which normally wouldn't even come close to worrying me!” – Steve McClure on Strawberries.

Another of our rock stars, Emma Twyford, stood at its base and chalked up in autumn. The route has seen attention from several of Britain's hardcore female traddists, but Emma was the first to tick it.

“I took a few lobs on previous attempts. I don't think it's significant, but a good personal achievement!” – Emma Twyford on Strawberries.

The scene is set for 9c

The cutting edge of sport climbing continues to slice through the grades

Even by his own supreme standards, Czech cranker Adam Ondra has a cracking year. Not content with dominating on real rock, Adam Ondra becomes both bouldering and leading World Champion – a feat no one has previously been able to achieve. On routes, his tally now makes three 9b+ first ascents and three 9a onsights; on the boulders, two 8C+ ascents and two 8B/+ fl ashes. He even takes time out in May to tick some grit: on-sighting three E7s whilst standing on his head.

Yet, he’s not alone up there in the 9a-osphere. After spending spring making one-day ascents of Frankenjura 9as, Alex Megos heads to Céüse and sends Biographie (9a+) in three tries. That’s progress: in 2001 it was the world’s first-ever 9a+, taking Chris Sharma several weeks, over several trips through the years, to make the first ascent. We’re well on the road to 10a.

"I can imagine, easily, routes of 9c. I can describe them, and I think I have even bolted some that could have such a grade." – Adam Ondra.

The summer of Shauna

The Runcorn Rocket powers up to make history – again and again

Shauna Coxsey becomes the most successful competition climber in British history, gathering a haul of bouldering World Cup medals, including a couple of long-anticipated golds, coming fourth in the World Champs and closing the season ranked second in the world. GB teammate Michaela Tracey comes sixth in the World Champs, and it’s the first time in history that two female British climbers both make it to a World Championship final.

While on “holiday” mid-season, Shauna sends New Baseline at Magic Wood in Switzerland – a problem that Dave MacLeod described as “one of the most iconic hard problems on the planet” – becoming the third woman in the world to boulder 8B+. Why wasn't she “sunbathing and chilling” as planned? Because it was raining; she crushed in between showers.

Shauna tops off an amazing year by scooping  second place in BT Sport Action Woman Awards.

"I had prepared myself to get totally shut down. I was amazed that in my first session I was able to figure out most of the moves." – Shauna Coxsey on sending New Baseline.

WATCH: Shauna climb New Baseline, on BMC TV

Pembroke pushes trad forward

Pembroke gets some hard core attention, resulting in the firstever flash of an E9 and a new super route

Japanese climbing legend Yuji Hirayama watches a Hard Grit DVD and gets pysched for UK trad, so James Pearson and French wife Caroline Ciavaldini take him on a mini Welsh road-trip to sample prime E8 and 9s. James makes the first ever flash of an E9, Something's Burning (E9 7a) in Stennis Ford, and Yuji leads John Dunne's controversial route The Big Issue, clipping one peg and one thread. It could be the best style the route’s ever been climbed in.

A few days later, Neil Mawson ticks the hardest route ever climbed in Pembroke: he thinks Choronzon is E10/8b+ but says only repeat ascents can confirm. If you fancy trying, it breaks down into a bold, cruxy 7c+/8a then a shake-out and a cluster of gear. Then it's a nine-move Font 7b+ section to a pumpy gear placement. A few more tricky moves lead to a no-hands rest. After that it's around E4/5 to the top. Good luck.

"My aim when I went looking for this route in 2011 was to find a difficult challenge on trad gear. I certainly got that!" – Neil Mawson.

"I thought UK trad climbing was real climbing. You have to find the balance between being brave and not being kamikaze." – Yuji Hiramaya.

WATCH: Neil Mawson climb his Pembroke E10, on BMC TV

Brits bring it

From Yosemite's big walls to the Indian Himalaya, Brits have been exporting good style

In autumn, on-form Pete Whittaker makes the first one-push flash ascent of the mega-route Freerider on El Cap, Yosemite with his partner-in-crazy-epics Tom Randall. But what does that mean? It means he tied on at the bottom of this classic 32-pitch 5.12d route, chalked up, gulped and climbed it in one go. He did fall once: on a harder variation on pitch 24, but then he sent an alternate pitch first go.

"Freerider has a lot of cracks and chimneys on it, which suits our style. I was pretty nervous setting off, even on the easy pitches, as I didn't want to blow it." – Pete Whittaker.

Not to be outdone, everyone’s favourite taxman, Mick Fowler, climbing with Paul Ramsden, makes the first ascent of the North East face of Hagshu (6,515m) in the Indian Himalaya, more than 20 years after first setting eyes on it.

"The call of Hagshu has been answered. Our climb proved to be pleasingly memorable, and Paul and I couldn’t help but spot another urge-giving objective while on the trip. The Himalaya just keeps on giving; it’s a great time to be a Himalayan alpinist." – Mick Fowler.

Also in the west, Nick Bullock and Will Sim teamed up, making the second ascent of the extremely remote 1,000m House/Anderson route on Mount Alberta's north face. Nick reckons that more people have stood on the moon than on Mount Alberta: it has four established lines, two of which have never been repeated.

"Even some of the Greater Ranges areas have been reduced to holiday destination because of modern communication. I’m glad to say that alpinism in Canada appears to be way behind." – Nick Bullock.

WATCH: A clip of El Cap Exposure , on BMC TV

What was your standout moment from 2014? Let us know @Team_BMC. 



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