Jacopo Larcher makes rare repeat of Meltdown, 5.14c

© Jacopo Larcher

Jacopo Larcher has made the third ascent of Beth Rodden's trad test-piece Meltdown, 5.14c/8c+, in Cascade Creek, Yosemite Valley. 

Larcher first attempted the route in 2016, when he spent two days trying out the moves. During his current trip, he spent an evening cleaning the route, and seven days working out the moves on top-rope, before eventually completing the route on Tuesday this week. On his successful attempt, Larcher placed all of his gear on lead.

The route, a seventy foot fingertip crack, was first climbed by Beth Rodden in 2008, and featured in the film Dosage V. In grading the route 5.14c/8c+ Rodden identified it as one of the hardest trad climbs in the world, a claim that is well supported by the fact that it has received only two repeats in the subsequent fourteen years. It was only four years ago - a decade after Rodden first climbed it - that Meltdown got its second ascent, and first male ascent, at the hands of Larcher's Black Diamond team-mate Carlo Traversi.

Speaking shortly after his ascent, Larcher had this to say about the route:

'There are many hard trad climbs around the world, but very few have become iconic. For me Meltdown was definitely one of those. I don't know why, but it somehow had this mysterious aura. I remember watching the movie of Beth's incredible first ascent, back in 2008; at the time I didn't know much about trad climbing, and I couldn't really understand the significance of the route and her achievement at that time. The route just looked so beautiful, yet completely desperate to me. Something unthinkable for me to consider climbing, at the time.

Some years later, when I started to get more and more into this aspect of climbing, I began to realize that her achievement was ahead of its time. Since the first ascent, not much about the route had been heard, which was not so common for a well-known climb situated just in the middle of Yosemite valley'.

'There were rumours about some of the world's best trad climbers having tried the route over the years, but no-one found success. People even created the myth that route had such thin jams, that it was impossible for climbers with normal fingers. All that added some mystery to the route, until Carlo Traversi, in 2018, finally claimed the second ascent of Meltdown, confirming Beth's incredible achievement and proving all the "excuses" were wrong.

I had my first taste of Meltdown in 2016, when Babsi and I checked out the route for two days in between some "El Cap action". We were both surprised by the beauty of the line, as well as its difficulty. It definitely wasn't about thin finger jams, but about some very powerful lay-backing on extremely bad and glassy footholds. After those 2 days I was even more impressed by Beth's ascent back in 2008!'

Despite having travelled to Yosemite regularly since 2016, Larcher's focus was always on bigger walls, and he didn't return to Meltdown until this most recent trip, which is being filmed for a forthcoming documentary about the world's hardest trad climbs. It was this film that finally guided Larcher back to Meltdown for the second time.

'As I'm currently working on a documentary about the different styles and ethics in trad climbing, this season I finally committed to go back to the Valley without my big wall gear, in order to climb some classic single pitches and to get on Meltdown again.

Luckily, this time I immediately had some more positive feelings working on it. The footholds were still terrible and the route hard, but I somehow felt like a more mature (trad) climber. I was very surprised yet motivated, when I managed to top-rope it clean on my third day trying it this year. After that, I naively thought it would go fast on lead, but placing the gear adds some extra spice to it and it definitely makes the route significantly harder.

On my fourth day of lead tries I had to pull out a big fight and dig deep in order to reach the anchor. The easier upper parts always felt good on top-rope, but it definitely felt different when coming from the ground! Usually, while head pointing hard trad routes, the actual send go feels smooth, which is obviously a nice feeling... but on this one I had to fight very hard and was very close to falling in the upper part, which somehow made the experience even more unforgettable. It was definitely one of my favourite moments in climbing!'

Larcher took a moment to draw attention to the efforts of Rodden in putting up such a difficult line so long ago, and to dispel the suggestion that Rodden's height and finger size made the route significantly easier for her.

'I would like to highlight once more what Beth did in 2008, which was way ahead of the times, both in women's and men's climbing history! I honestly believe the shorter you are, the harder this route gets... and yes: finger size doesn't matter! Chapeau Beth, thanks for the inspiration'.

Whilst the gear on Meltdown is said to be good, and the climbing relatively safe, the difficulty of placing gear on lead comes through the fact that all the pieces are small, and many of the placements are blind.

Whilst translating American trad grades into British grades is not an exact science, the difficulty of the climbing alone suggests that Meltdown would be at the upper end of the scale. We interviewed Rodden, and took a deeper look into the question of E grades shortly after her first ascent back in 2008, linked below.

'How Hard is Hard?', featuring Larcher's third ascent of Meltdown, is due for release in 2023. If you can't wait quite that long, then check out the video below for Carlo Traversi's second ascent of the route, ten years after Beth Rodden's FA.

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