UKC

2021 - A Year of Climbing News

The second year of the pandemic was another strange one. The year began with another lockdown in the UK; climbing walls were shut and advice was to stay local - another tough time for anyone who loves the outdoors. But there were some positives throughout the year, in particular, a renaissance of hard trad, climbing's debut at the Olympics, and an abundance of young climbers performing brilliantly indoors and out.

Whilst next year is certain to be far from normal, there are many things to be excited about in the world of climbing, as highlighted by our round-up of 2021:

January

Stefano Ghisolfi Climbs Erebor

Italian climber Stefano Ghisolfi kicked off the new year with a hard first ascent near Arco, Italy. He began working the route after the first lockdown in 2020 and despite the long time needed to redpoint the route, he stopped short of grading it 9b+ and opted for the slash grade: 9b/+.

First Winter Ascent of K2

A ten-strong all-Nepali team made the historic first winter ascent of K2 (8611m). Featured in the new Netflix documentary 14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible about Nims Purja (one of the team), it marked a significant departure from the traditional role of Sherpas as porters, to leading their own expeditions on major ascents – and it was about as major as you can get.

February

Simon Lorenzi Proposes Font 9A

In February, Belgian climber Simon Lorenzi climbed the long-standing project sit-start to The Big Island at Coquibus Rumont in Fontainebleau. Bouldering heavyweights Jimmy Webb and Jan Hojer have both seriously attempted the project in the past but ultimately, it was the Belgian competition climber who pipped them to the post.

At 5ft5/168cm, Lorenzi is probably the shortest climber to have ticked The Big Island and for the sit start, he had to focus on stretching and use different beta for the upper section. He also used an unconventional technique of placing a book under a kneepad to help stiffen it and lengthen his leg, after previously attempting it with blocks of wood. He named the problem Soudain Seul after the book.

Reverse Fitz Traverse Solo for Sean Villanueva O'Driscoll

Sean Vellanueva O'Driscoll made the second ascent of Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold's Fitzroy Traverse in Patagonia, tackling the 5km line solo and also in reverse.

March

Will Bosi Climbs King Capella (9b+)

In March, Will Bosi made the first ascent of King Capella in Siurana, Spain, grading it 9b+. On the same trip he also made first ascents of a 9b, a 9a and an 8C boulder problem, along with a few notable repeats. Read more about his astonishing time in Spain below:

Soudain Seul Repeated

It didn't take long for the world's second Font 9A to get repeated. 23-year-old Nico Pelorson had been working on the problem since 2019 and was in contention for the first ascent. Like Lorenzi, Pelorson also strapped a book underneath his kneepad, we still don't know which though.

April

Font 9a for Daniel Woods

Another Font 9A was climbed at the start of April as Daniel Woods made the first ascent of his long-standing project: the sit-start to Sleepwalker (Font 8C+) in Black Velvet Canyon, Las Vegas. There seemed to be no doubt that the problem, Return of the Sleepwalker, would be a 9A given the attention the stand start had seen from many of the world's top boulderers.

After his ascent, Woods said:

'It's all just a game people... and I play the game. The game is how comfortable can you become with your own insanity.'

Tom Pearce Repeats North York Moors Horror Show

15-year-old Tom Pearce made the 3rd ascent of Franco Cookson's Divine Moments Of Truth (E9 6c) at Kay Nest in the North York Moors.

Tom started climbing with his dad at the age of 5, but only discovered leading routes at the end of the first lockdown last year. His first headpoint was Black Night at  Wainstones. Since then he has 'poured everything' into climbing and has focused, in particular, on the North York Moors.

Molly Thompson-Smith Climbs Font 8B

Molly Thompson-Smith became the fourth British woman to climb Font 8B with an ascent of Keen Roof (f8B) at Raven Tor (Miller's Dale). She would go on to climb another two later in the year. She said:

'I've only started thinking about and trying harder boulders/routes recently, so it was a nice confidence boost to keep trying things that I think will be too hard for me!'

'Nice to prove myself wrong every now and again.' 

Molly Thompson-Smith powers through Keen Roof 8B.  © Molly Thompson-Smith
Molly Thompson-Smith powers through Keen Roof 8B.
© Molly Thompson-Smith

First Font 8C in Wales

Eliot Stephens climbed the sit-start to The Origin (f8B+) at Dinas Rock to make Wales' first Font 8C. The sitter adds roughly Font 8A+ into The Origin.

This was the 29-year-old's 3rd Font 8C after climbing Arzak (f8C) and From Dirt Grows The Flowers (f8C), both in Switzerland. He's been an important figure in the South Wales bouldering scene for several years and has continued to develop the hard bouldering in the area. 

May

Eder Lomba Repeats Batman

Sheffield-based Basque climber Eder Lomba made the second ascent of Steve McClure's Batman at Malham Cove. It was Eder's second 9a after an ascent of Rainshadow – another of Steve's routes.

Hard Multi-pitch for Sasha DiGiulian

After five hip replacement surgeries, American climber Sasha DiGiulian made a stunning return to form by climbing Logical Progression – an 850m 5.13-. She spent 7 days on the wall; 5 days climbing, 1 rest day, and one day abseiling. It was the first female free ascent of the big wall.

Steve McClure Flashes Impact Day

Steve McClure started his trad season off with a flash of Dave Birkett's Impact Day (E8 6c) (E8 6c) on Pavey Ark in the Lake District. The route is known for its sustained, bold climbing on crimps and relies heavily on pegs. Steve explained that the route had been a candidate in his mind for a flash attempt for some time:

'I'm looking for what is going to give me the most fulfilling challenge; I want to be pushed as close to my limit as possible. But I'm realistic about danger and risk, and for this route I needed to know a little about the bottom, just to know how the holds were. Good chance I would have onsighted it, though maybe not. I'm absolutely happy with my style. To work it and headpoint it would also have been great, though I'd have been taking the easy route really.'

Steve clipped into one of the pegs and surveying ahead  © Neil Gresham
Steve clipped into one of the pegs and surveying ahead
© Neil Gresham

James McHaffie Completes Extreme Rock

James McHaffie completed the monumental achievement of climbing every route in Ken Wilson and Bernard Newman's Extreme Rock. He had spent years ticking off the 180 routes in the book and finished on the 26th May with an ascent of Jerry Moffatt's Revelations (8b) at Raven Tor.

photo
James McHaffie on the Prow
© Nick Brown, Jul 2013

photo
Caff on the crux move of Master's Wall.
© John Bunney

June

Second Ascent of Olympiad for McClure

Another month, another hard trad repeat of Steve McClure. This time, he was down in Pembroke making the second ascent of Neil Gresham's Olympiad (8b). Neil originally climbed the route as an 8b deep water solo, but Steve decided to place gear, making the route an E10 6c.

Prisoners of the Sun by James Taylor

James Taylor climbed a new E10 7a on 'The Painted wall' in Rhoscolyn, naming it Prisoners of the Sun (E10 7a) and suggested French 8b as a suitable level of difficulty. He commented at the time:

"I think its the responsibility of the first ascensionist to name and grade the route and to not suggest a grade is a total cop-out in my eyes. It is hard to grade something that's at your limit, but I feel you have to just try and be honest about your experience. It's also worth remembering that the climbing community works with a consensus grading system, so E10 7a is only a proposed grade for now and the consensus grade will come over time and repetitions."

In September, Jim Pope repeated the route making use of his competition fitness. Whilst Jim didn't suggest a downgrade, he did say he had an 'E8 6c experience.' Only time and more ascents will help the grade to settle.

Will Bosi ticks Northern Lights

Belayed by Ben Moon who bolted the line, Will Bosi joined an elite group of climbers (Adam Ondra and Alex Megos) to succeed on Steve McClure's Northern Lights (9a) (9a) at Kilnsey.

Shauna Coxsey announces competition retirement

Just prior to the delayed Tokyo games, Shauna Coxsey announced that the Olympics would be her final competition appearance of a senior career that spanned over a decade and included 30 World Cup podiums, 11 gold medals, and an MBE.

Hazel Findlay Repeats Muy Caliente!

Hazel Findlay repeated Tim Emmet's 'Muy Caliente!' (E10 6c) (E9 6c) at Stennis Ford in Pembroke. The route features an outrageous 9m run-out and technical climbing. Hazel's was only the second woman to climb the route after Babsi Zangerl in 2017.

July

E3 for Jesse Dufton

Blind climber Jesse Dufton onsighted his first E3, Internationale (E2 5c) at Kilt Rock on the Isle of Skye. He had previously 'non-sighted' - as he describes his style of ascent - E2 in August 2020, with an ascent of Forked Lightning Crack at Heptonstall. Just two weeks later, Jesse climbed another E2 (Auricle) 'non-sight' at Bamford. In 2019, he led the Old Man of Hoy.

Jesse Dufton 'non-sights' Internationale E3.   © Molly Dufton
Jesse Dufton 'non-sights' Internationale E3.
© Molly Dufton

Pure Dreaming for Andrea Chelleris

12-year-old Andrea Chelleris climbed Pure Dreaming (9a) in Arco, Italy, on his 19th attempt. The young Italian climber is yet to settle on his main sport and last winter won a gold medal in Slalom at the Italian Nationals.

August

August marked the start of the Tokyo 2020 games and climbing's inaugural appearance at the Olympics. It was a debut that no one could have anticipated with the games postponed by a year and no spectators allowed at events.

UKClimbing's Natalie Berry attended the event sharing daily dispatches, keeping the world up to date with running commentary on our social media accounts, and providing in-depth reports every night.

The games were a huge success for the sport and climbing certainly captured the imagination of the public; whilst the climbing was on, #SportClimbing was the top trending Olympic sport on Google.

In the men's event, Spanish climber Alberto Ginés López was the first men's gold medalist, and in the women's, the unstoppable Janja Garnbret cemented her position as the greatest climbing competitor of all time by adding Olympic gold to her back to back World Championship Golds, eight overall World Cup titles, a clean sweep of the 2019 Boulder season - the only person to ever do so - and a triple World Championship win in the same year.

While the action was undeniably exciting, there were questions about the suitability of the Combined format which included Lead, Boulder and Speed. The scoring system was tricky at the best of times and athletes seemed to have little idea where they were on the scoreboard. The format has already changed for Paris 2024 with Speed getting its own medal and the combined format being dropped.

Olympic Climbing starts tomorrow and Shauna Coxsey Interview
Day 1 at the Games - Men's Qualification, Our Favourites and Speed Climbing Explained
Day 2 of Sport Climbing - Women's Qualification, Medal Favourites and Bouldering Explained
Day 3 of Sport Climbing - Men's Final and an Interview with Routesetter Percy Bishton
Day 4 of Sport Climbing - Women's Final Round-Up

Bibliographie Repeated                 

Alex Megos' Ceuse masterpiece, Bibliographie, was repeated by Stefano Ghisolfi. The 28-year-old Italian climber spent most of the summer working the route and went on to suggest the grade may be closer to 9b+. Megos graciously agreed and we're back to waiting for the world's second 9c route.

Gold for Hamish McArthur

Great Britain's Hamish McArthur (19) won gold in the IFSC Junior Boulder and Lead World Championship in Voronezh, Russia. A month later, he picked up a bronze in the senior Lead World Championships in Moscow. All eyes will be on Hamish over  the next couple of years leading up to Paris 2024.

Ashima Shiraishi Climbs Jade

20-year-old American climber Ashima Shiraishi ticked her long-term project, Jade (Font 8B+), at Upper Chaos Canyon, Rocky Mountain National Park. Writing on her Instagram, she said:

'I poured my heart into this bloc over the span of a few years, and finally overcoming this one was a special moment.'

Northern Lights for Josh Ibbertson

17-year-old Josh Ibbertson made the fifth ascent of Northern Lights (9a) (9a) at  Kilnsey. Josh and his younger brother Jack were born to climbing parents and soared through the grades together as kids. Josh redpointed 8a at age 10, 8a+ at 11, 8c and 8c+ at 13 and 9a at 16 with his ascent of Rainshadow at Malham Cove. 

September

5000 First Ascents for Gary Gibson

Prolific new route Gary Gibson climbed his 5000th new route over the summer. Number 5000 came at Harpur Hill - a regular haunt for Gary - with an ascent of On the Stroke of 5000 6a. 

He told UKC: 'Reaching the magic number of 5,000 was something I never thought I'd achieve, especially with my current health complications. I had to have an operation on a trapped ulnar and median nerve in my right arm, which hasn't been successful. Then it was compounded by having a blood clot in the right side of my brain, a stroke in other words, which means I have no sensation in either hand!'

Gresham completes long-term project

On September 4, Neil Gresham made the first ascent of an E11 7a at Pavey Ark. Lexicon (E11 7a) crosses briefly through the easier climbing on Impact Day E8 6c, but includes an independent start and finish, making it a new, distinct line.

Just two weeks after, Steve McClure repeated the route, after taking a fall down the length of the crag during an earlier attempt. You can watch both ascents in Posing Productions' Brit Rock Tour.

9a flash for Megos

Alex Megos rejoined the rock climbers in spectacular fashion by flashing Klem Loskot's Intermezzo XY gelöst (9a). The 28-year-old German climber was the first person to onsight the grade in 2013 when he waltzed up Estado Critico in Siurana, Spain. Since then, he onsighted another 9a, TCT at Gravere, and flashed Underground (8c+/9a) in Arco.

E9 6c for Anna Hazelnutt

American-climber Anna Hazelnutt repeated Once Upon a Time in the South West (E9 6c) (E9 6c) at Dyer's Lookout, Devon. Impressively, it was one of Anna's first trad routes. She told UKC:

'The working process was a bit unusual, seeing as it was the first time I was placing the majority of these gear sizes. Having only really placed gear on 5.9s, these micro sizes were completely new to me.'

Classic Rock by bike for Anna Taylor

At the end of the month, Anna Taylor became the first woman to complete a continuous round of the 83 routes featured in Ken Wilson's iconic book Classic Rock. Cycling between each route, Anna covered 1500 miles and climbed over 10,000m.

October

Another ascent of Bibliographie

American climber Sean Bailey made the third ascent of Bibliographie, skipping the grade of 9b entirely. He commented:

"Easily the hardest battle I've waged with myself. I've never been so obsessed."

9a First Ascent for Laura Rogora and first repeat of Erebor

Laura Rogora made the first ascent of Iron Man in Trentino, Italy, grading it 9a. Shortly after, she made the first repeat of Stefano Ghisolfi's Erebor in (9B/+) in Arco – the hardest redpoint by a female climber.

It's been an exceptional year for the 20-year-old who ticked up to 9b/+, won a World Cup in Chamonix and competed in the Olympics.

New E10 by Robbie Phillips, quickly repeated by MacLeod

Robbie Phillips has added a new E10 7a to Duntelchaig crag, Invernesshire, which he has named 'What we do in the Shadows'. The line leads up Nosferatu - an E8 6c established by Robbie in 2020 - before heading directly to the top of the crag, rather than following Nosferatu's rightwards-trending crack. Dave MacLeod repeated the line shortly after Robbie's ascent.

Watch the video of Robbie's ascent below:

Flex Luthor Repeated

Matty Hong made the long-awaited second ascent of Tommy Caldwell's Flex Luthor at the Fortress of Solitude, near Rifle, Colorado. Hong believes the route to be around 9b in difficulty, which would make it one of the first of the grade.

Deep Water double for Jakob Schubert

Jakob Schubert followed up his Olympic bronze by climbing the Chris Sharma deep water solos Alasha and Es Pontas in Mallorca. Alasha was unrepeated and Schubert thought the climb warranted a grade of 9a.

November

Long-awaited ascents from Will Bosi

Will Bosi made the long-awaited first repeat of Steve McClure's Mutation (9a+) at Raven Tor (Miller's Dale). Will commented on his ascent:

"Finally! This was by far and away my longest project on a route and I am so happy to clip the chains. It is so typical of the redpointing game that the route went down on the last go of the day with little expectation that I would send it! Full credit to Steve McClure on an amazing first ascent and for establishing a climb with such amazing moves."

He suggested the route should be upgraded to 9a+ but also mentioned he wouldn't argue with 9b…

A week later, Will made the first ascent of the Brandenburg Gate project at Raven Tor, which has attracted attention from some of the country's strongest climbers. He graded the route 9a+.

Tengkangpoche's (6487m) North-East Pillar by Tom Livingstone and Matt Glenn

Tom Livingstone and Matt Glenn made headlines when they climbed Tengkangpoche's (6487m) North-East Pillar in the Khumbu region of Nepal. Tom and Matt used some stashed gear and beta from Quentin Roberts and Jesse Huey, which led to an internet debate around the ethics of high altitude mountaineering.

Garnbret becomes first woman to onsight 8c

Olympic gold medalist Janja Garnbret became the first woman to onsight an 8c sport route by climbing Fish Eye at Oliana, Spain. The grade of 8b+ had been onsighted by several women but was first achieved by Josune Bereziartu in 2006. The 22-year-old Slovenian climber has accomplished nearly everything in the world of competition climbing and there was a great deal of speculation over what she could achieve when she turned her hand to rock.

Hard Cheese for Craig Matheson

Craig Matheson reported that back in May he made the first ascent of Hard Cheese (E10 7a), describing it as one of the 'hardest climbs' of his life. The route used a combination of innovative tactics which you can read about in Craig's write up below:

The Fast Clip in action  © Craig Matheson Collection
The Fast Clip in action
© Craig Matheson Collection

Megos and Schubert repeat King Capella

Both Alex Megos and Jakob Schubert repeated Will Bosi's King Capella in Siurana, Spain. Megos declined to offer his thoughts on the route but said he did find a sequence that was easier for him.

Schubert suggested the grade may be closer to 9b but either way, Will Bosi managed to put up a route that took two of the world's best climbers several days to repeat.

Trieste for Brooke Raboutou

Brooke Raboutou has climbed her third Font 8B+ with an ascent of Paul Robinson's Trieste in Red Rocks, Nevada. Writing on her Instagram, she said:

'Damn, it feels good to stand on top of a boulder that pushed my physical and mental limits a year ago. Coming back, I felt much stronger and was able to let go of expectations and lighten the pressure I put on myself the previous trip. The process of pushing myself and growing from it is one I will forever admire and continue to chase. Onto the next project!'

Watch a short film of Raboutou on Trieste below:

December

Immortal E11 7b

Franco Cookson finally released some details on his new route at Maiden's Bluff, North York Moors, that's featured in Alastair Lee's film Fall Theory. He named the route Immortal and graded it E11 7b. Writing about the route, Franco said:

'The new line at Maiden's Bluff and the North York Moors' new hardest route. It's a fabulously aggressive micro route, with the difficulties being fairly short lived, all hinging on a handful of desperate micro crimps, super sketchy feet, exact body position, as well as timing for the lateral lunge. The penalty for failure is a fall onto some rubbish skyhooks on soft sandstone, with a large drop below. Right up to the point of commitment, I had no idea whether I'd summon up the required cocktail of courage and madness to actually go into the one-way tunnel. It was one of those life-defining moments.

'The resultant climb is as physically hard as any of the safe outcrop E10 Trad routes in the UK, but with obvious far bigger consequences if you fail. It feels like more than a single step harder than these, but the boundaries between grades above E9 are so undefined and shifting all the time, it's impossible to say. This certainly feels like the wrong route to give any bigger number to - it's short and weird and whilst fully independent and great climbing, it's not a king line and on snappy rock. It's also a really risky route to grade. There are loads of variables that could easily change or turn out not to be as bad as I think, which would render it a bit easier, although still probably harder than E10? The hooks COULD hold, holds could change, someone might survive the fall etc. The fact remains though that it's hard AND really dangerous, in a way that I've not found anywhere else. I suppose only repeats will tell...'


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