Firstly; a big thank you to Beth for taking the time to answer our questions and to Josh Lowell for letting us use his words and images from the BigUp Blog.
© Beth Rodden
Beth Rodden is 28 years old and lives in Yosemite, California with her husband Tommy Caldwell. She is an exceptionally talented climber, with previous ascents up to 5.14b/F8c (The Optimist - First Ascent) and free ascents of The Nose, Lurking Fear and El Corazon on the legendary El Capitan. Originally from Davis, California, Rodden's first experiences of climbing were with her father in the Sierras. She competed in her first climbing competition aged just thirteen and came third. From there things rocketed and Beth competed in several world competitions alongside other young climbers at the time, including Chris Sharma and her now husband Tommy Caldwell.
Beth has climbed all over the world including The Lofoten Islands, Sardinia and Kyrgyzstan. On the trip to Kyrgyzstan in 2000, Rodden and Caldwell were part of a team that was kidnapped and held hostage at gun point for six days. Caldwell managed to over power one of their captors on a rocky ridge and the four climbers ran to safety. Beth also travelled to Madagascar, where she established Bravo les Filles - one of the hardest big wall routes established by an all female team.
Beth cites her expedition to Madagascar as a turning point. Climbing alongside world class athletes Lynn Hill and Nancy Feagin, Beth changed her life plan; "I decided not to go back to school, for a while at least, and see how it was. You know, I didn't have much money at first." It's easy to draw parallels between Rodden and Lynn Hill; both began climbing at age 13, operate at the very top of the sport and have climbed inspirational free routes on El Capitan.
Beth's new route; The Meltdown is reportedly "significantly harder than the Optimist" and could be 5.14c/F8c+. This would make it one of the very hardest traditional routes in the world, alongside Rhapsody and Cobra Crack and confirms Rodden's status as one of the worlds top traditional climbers.
Josh Lowell of BigUp Productions describes the ascent:
"Beth starts off a crashpad to avoid standing in the water, climbs up about 10 feet and gets the first piece, then down climbs back to the pad. She holds her hands on the rock for about 10 minutes to freeze them, then warms them back up (on Tommy's skin, now that's love...) to get the blood flowing, then goes for it. All the pieces are small, but most are pretty solid. Near the top there are a couple placements that are more psychological, but overall it's not a death route. I think the main problem with the gear is getting it in exactly right - some placements are blind - and also the time it takes to hang while placing it. To make it go faster she duct taped several key pieces to her harness to avoid the extra seconds of unclipping and re-gripping the cams.
The crux is about 20 feet up where the crack is thin and the feet are nothing. Barn-door effect is major. Her sequence involves an ultra-thin two finger lock and some crazy high-steps that are probably impossible for a tall dude with fat fingers, but there are plenty of other options for those with more reach. However none of those are easy either. After about 10 sessions of working it on top-rope Tommy was never able to figure out the moves. I would say that means it's nasty."
Beth Rodden on The Meltdown
© Big Up Productions
I spoke to Beth to find out more about her climbing:
Jack: You say that The Meltdown is the hardest thing you have done (it sounds way hard!). Did it drain you physically and mentally or are you now psyched to push harder and find the next line?
Beth: It did drain me, but I am really psyched still. It did push me further than I've ever been, which is really exciting. I'm taking it easy for a little while because my body needs to recover a little. I tweaked my hand on the route, so I should be smart and let myself heal.
Jack: How did it compare to doing long routes, such as Lurking Fear?
Beth: It is very different than climbing on El Cap. Just focusing on one pitch allows you to be very specific in training and how I climb. I can train specific movement and strengths. Climbing on El Cap requires a lot of other work, hiking, hauling, jumaring, and climbing on all sorts of terrain. You need to stay strong but you also have to condition your body for lots of abuse. Both types of climbing are stimulating, but it was nice to really focus on a one pitch climb and just focus on strength instead of tolerating body abuse.
Jack: Any specific climbers that have inspired you / motivated you?
Beth: My husband, Tommy Caldwell is my main inspiration. He has taught me how to really try hard, it is great. He has so much passion for climbing that it is contagious. Climbers that have fun and love what they do are always fun to be around.
Jack: Do you have any plans to visit the UK to climb? Any UK routes inspire you?
Beth: None on the agenda, but I would love to come there one day.
Jack: And what do you think to the phrase 'Worlds best climber'?
Beth: It definitely does not apply to me, I can improve in so many ways. I think there are so many strong talented climbers out there right now it is really inspiring.
Grade Comparison Table - Bold Routes
The Meltdown is obviously an extremely hard route, but how would it sit with our grading system? Looking at the table on the right: 5.14c lands comfortably in the E10 to E11 bracket. Although The Meltdown may not be 'a death route', the gear is small and very specific and also very blind. These factors are not readily discussed after UK headpoint ascents, and can often mean the difference of several grades to the committed onsight climber. The chances of carrying the exact specific pieces and then being able to place them on lead look slim. Routes such as Leo Houlding's Trauma (E9 7a) are a prime example of this situation, relying on protection that would be impossible to find and place for the onsight leader.
Routes in the UK at a similar level of difficulty to The Meltdown are scarce, but to give a rough comparison here are a few examples of well known routes and their approximate equivalent sport grades (feel free to disagree):
Beth is sponsored by Marmot, Sportiva, Petzl, Metolius & Bluewater
View Beth's Website: www.bethandtommy.com