Nathaniel Soon Ling Wei rounds up the year in climbing numbers...
Was 2022 the best year yet for elite climbing? The numbers most definitely suggest so. There couldn't have been a more opportune year for hard outdoor climbing.
With the Tokyo Olympics having come and gone in 2021, 2022 provided climbers some respite from hectic competition and training schedules, and a long-awaited chance to get back on rock. The end of the pandemic was also finally in sight. International travel was back in full-swing, and the hardest lines attracted a return of the world's best.
2022 has been a record year for hard sport climbing ascents.
A total of 19 9b ascents ties this year with the last, with notable FAs such as Bomba (9b) and Wonderland (9b/+) in Arco, Italy by Adam Ondra, as well as Alex Megos' completion of the long-standing Sharma project, Ratstaman Vibrations (9b) in Ceuse, France. But what exceeded any other year was the number of ascents graded harder than 9b.
If the year belonged to anyone, it had to be the Frenchman Sébastien Bouin. His achievements combined to produce most definitely the best performance sport climbing has ever seen within a year. In spring, he finally clipped the chains of DNA (currently the world's second 9c) in the Verdon Gorge after over 150 days of effort.
Next, he returned to Flatanger over summer and racked up multiple 9b and harder ascents, including the third ascent of Change (9b+, for which he proposed a modest downgrade to 9b/+) and the FA of the 130-metre giant Nordic Marathon (9b/+), which is currently the longest continuous pitch of sport climbing ever done.
Bouin didn't stop there. After a rare repeat of Jumbo Love (the world's first consensus 9b) at Clark Mountain, USA, he made the FA of the route's direct start, Suprême Jumbo Love, and in doing so, established the first 9b+ in the Americas.
Of course, Ondra too was in on the action. Having waited for the right conditions, he managed to redpoint his second hardest route, Zvěřinec (9b+). He has since amassed four or five (if you count Bouin's retrospective upgrade of Move to 9b+) routes of the grade.
It was only a few days later that Ondra did what he does best, by onsighting his fourth 9a, Water World in Osp, Slovenia. 9a currently stands as the highest male onsight grade, with only Ondra and Megos having achieved the feat.
In the same week, Korea's Seo Chaehyun became the second woman to achieve the highest female onsight, with her ascent of L'antagonista (8c) in Montsant, Spain.
2022 also saw the most 9a+ ascents made by women in the same year. Nolwen Berthier got the ball rolling with her ascent of Super Crackinette (9a+) , followed by Anak Verhoeven with No Pain No Gain (9a+) and Seo's second female ascent of La Rambla (9a+). In the UK, Hazel Findlay became only the second British woman to climb 9a with an ascent of Escalatamasters in Perles, Spain.
The year in bouldering has undoubtedly been phenomenal as well, with the greatest number of hard ascents ever ticked — and far ahead of any other year in history.
FAs of new 8C+/V16 problems worldwide became mainstream. From Simon Lorenzi's newest link-up Big Conviction (8C+) in Fontainebleau, France and Nomura Shinichiro's completion of Gakidō (8C+) in Fukushima, Japan to Dave Graham's Euclase (8C+) in Val Bavona, Switzerland and Matt Fultz's addition of Brace For The Cure (8C+) in Rocky Mountain National Park, USA. At the close of 2022, Drew Ruana has added Bookkeeping (8C+) in Colorado's Clear Creek Canyon to the list.
Not forgetting the British duo Will Bosi and Aidan Roberts, who both had their best year on the blocs yet. Bosi established his hardest FA with Honey Badger (8C+) and repeated Ephyra (8C+), while Roberts put up the sit-starts to Isles of Wonder and the classic Vecchio Leone, both weighing in at V16.
But the year was easily American Shawn Raboutou's for the taking. He is the first person in history to have climbed multiple 9A boulders. After his FA of Alphane (9A) in Ticino, Switzerland, he returned home and put down Colorado's longstanding project, Megatron (9A).
Both lines continue to resist some of the world's strongest, but Alphane soon relented. Both Roberts and Bosi managed to make quick work, claiming the second and third ascents over autumn and Simon Lorenzi closing this flurry of ticks with the fourth ascent in December.
To cap things off, several incredible 8B+/V14 flashes also went down. 8B+ remains the hardest boulder grade ever flashed. When Bosi visited Ondra in the Czech Republic, not only did he manage six 8C ascents, but he also flashed Charizard (8B+). Likewise, American Daniel Woods managed to flash Compass North (8B+) in Fionnay.
Although no women ticked the current top-level women's grade of 8C this year, there was some consistency around 8B+ from big names in bouldering such as Alex Puccio (We Can Build You), Brooke Raboutou (Lur) and Katie Lamb (who has climbed five of the grade in the last 18 months). Olympic champion Janja Garnbret made the first female ascent of Bügeleisen (8B+) in Maltatal, Austria, while competition circuit favourite Staša Gejo ticked Mécanique Élémentaire in Fontainebleau - a place not known for soft grades.
Notable big wall and traditional ascents
The trad and big wall corners of the climbing world were also rocked by impressive achievements year-round. More than double the number of E11 or 8c+ and harder trad ascents were recorded in 2022 than in any other year to date.
In the UK, Neil Gresham's Lexicon (E11) in the Lake District became a popular venture. Dave MacLeod made the third ascent in March, and two more ascents by Mathew Wright and James Pearson quickly followed.
In other notable ascents, Anna Hazlett climbed her second E9 with an ascent of The Walk of Life (E9 6c) at Dyer's Lookout in Devon, becoming the first woman to complete the route. On another coastal climb, Robbie Phillips and Alex Moore repeated Dave MacLeod's adventurous nine-pitch Longhope Direct (E10 7a) on Hoy.
Across the pond, Carlo Traversi once again proved his mettle as one of the best in the discipline with his repeat of Magic Line (8c+ trad) in Yosemite. Jacopo Larcher also claimed a rare ascent of Beth Rodden's Yosemite testpiece Meltdown (8c+ trad).
After having sent Empath as a sport route, the young Connor Herson took it a step further by making the first gear ascent of the route. He suggested 9a, making it a contender for the hardest trad ascent to date.
The all-female trio comprising Sasha DiGiulian, Matilda Söderlund and Brette Harrington also made history with their first repeat and first female ascent of Rayu (8c), a 600-metre big wall route in the Picos de Europa massif. Their climb marked the hardest multi-pitch free ascent ever completed by an all-women team.
Eternal Flame (7c+) on the Nameless Tower in Pakistan also got plenty of action. Spaniard Edu Marin made the coveted second free ascent after the Huber brothers. Not long after, Larcher and his partner Babsi Zangerl freed the line in a continuous push over six days, managing to onsight or flash every single pitch. The pair chose to lead alternate pitches, but took turns leading the four hardest crux pitches.
Looking ahead to 2023
2022 has also been a massive year for hard projecting.
Both of the world's current 9cs, Silence and DNA, saw action from Stefano Ghisolfi and Jakob Schubert respectively. Both climbers have already achieved 9b+ and are clearly eager to break into the next grade, and claim the world's first repeat of a 9c.
We got to follow Ghisolfi on the go in Flatanger. His captivating YouTube series showed his rapid progress on Silence. Having found alternate beta on the crux crack boulder, linked the end of the first crux to the chains and sent Move Hard (9b), we can very well expect a repeat of the full line from him very soon.
But before that, we also anticipate news from Ghisolfi as he continues progress on his Excalibur Project back home. The short but extremely intense line is likely to weigh in at 9b+ at least.
We were also treated to an up-close look at the future of the Hanshelleren Cave in Flatanger, as Mammut teammates Ondra and Schubert battle one of the last remaining king-lines, Project Big. With both coming excruciatingly close to sending what would be another 9b+ at least, they have vowed to return to settle their unfinished business soon.
Bouin will also be aiming to top his seemingly unbeatable year. Without competitions in mind and a singular focus of "searching for the mega line", as his Instagram bio reads, we may see him coming back to Flatanger to put serious work into what he has dubbed Move Integral.
A harder variation of Nordic Marathon, Bouin's true vision involves connecting Move (9b+) straight into the second pitch of Thor's Hammer (9a+), both of which he has already done in isolation. The result? A potential 9c. And if he does it, he may be the first in history to complete two of the grade.
Of course, after putting down their 9A/V17 ascents, the best boulderers turned their attention elsewhere. Raboutou travelled to Finland and put in work on the elusive Burden of Dreams (the world's first 9A by Nalle Hukkataival), and knowing of his tendency to sit on big news, we may (or may not) hear about a repeat in the not-too-distant future. He was also joined by Roberts as they explored the Alphane Right Exit, which they suspect may be a step above Alphane, along with several other futuristic projects in Switzerland.
As if the year hasn't been spectacular enough, looking at where things stand, we should probably prime ourselves for an even greater 2023.
Good round up. I liked the graphs!
It would be interesting to see a graph of E10+ by year since some of the routes haven't seen many repeats and there's presumably a little overlap between the grades. I didn't get the impression the year was any more spectacular for hard trad than many other years, but could be wrong.
Nice wrap up, although I would have liked to see some outlooks from the female climbers as well.
Just wondering, the hardest male onsight is 9a+, right? Ondra with Super Crackinette.
And Simon Lorenzi also has two 9A, unless Soudain Seul isn't considered established because of the proposed downgrade by Nico Pelorson?
Supercrackinette was a flash for Ondra, not an onsight.
I counted 5 paragraphs about women and 21 paragraphs about men. Did women really have so many fewer notable ascents? Hoping for some more equal reporting in 2023.