2004 Golden Piton Awards
Lisa Rands, End of the Affair
For traditional cragging—short, gear-protected rock climbing—2004 was a good year. Cracks were popular. Jeff Beaulieu of Quebec finally found the dry conditions he needed to send his backyard obsession, the beautiful overhanging crack of La Zébrée (after watching video footage, our panel of specialist sub-men guesses 5.13b/c for the grade), though he didn’t place the gear on lead. Didier Berthod of Switzerland, who in 2003 established Europe’s hardest crack climb, the roof problem Greenspit, proved he could also crank in Indian Creek, succeeding on a short and heinous overhanging finger crack named From Switzerland With Love (5.13+). Good as these ascents were, our Golden Piton awards for trad — one female and one male — go to two repeat ascents.
Gender notwithstanding, our vote for best trad ascent of 2004 goes hands down to Sonnie Trotter’s repeat of the 5.13d East Face of Monkey Face at Smith Rock. In 1985, when Alan Watts first linked this 130-foot marathon pitch, it was the hardest pitch of free climbing in the U.S., putting Smith on the world map. Watts climbed the route on pre-placed gear — thin stoppers, nests of RPs, and bolts on the final headwall — and stated that someday, someone would pull off a true redpoint of the line by placing the gear on lead. It would take almost 20 years for someone to do it: Canadian Sonnie Trotter.
Trotter worked the line on toprope before his lead attempts, generously leaving the ground-up ascent for the next generation. On his final push he placed the gear on the 5.12 and 5.13- sections of the crack and seam, then upped the ante, envisioning an “all-natural” ascent, by skipping the five bolts that protect the final crux, risking a 60-foot-plus fall as he punched through the 5.13+ enduro crux to the anchors.
Somewhat off the male standard, but an eerie flash of brilliance from a cultish discipline shunned by most women, was Lisa Rands’ ascent of End of the Affair at Curbar Edge, one of British gritstone’s classic E8s. The Brits’ E grades are the most holistic numerical expression of the challenge of an individual rock lead. You generally tick the grade by marshalling serious mental power, for which the Brits have worked out a very precise measurement, but you can also do it with sport-climbing protection, in which case E8 means 5.14a climbing. Note that on toprope, most climbers find End of the Affair to be mid-5.12. The route’s pucker factor, then, is exactly six letter grades’ worth — go figure.
No woman before Rands had ever climbed the E8 grade, and only one, the consummate trad hardwoman Arlie Anderson, had previously led grit E7.