2008 Golden Piton Awards
Twenty-five years into the “bolted revolution” and it’s hard not to feel like elite sport climbing has lost its luster. Link-ups, bouldering starts, and third-try-Beta-flash shenanigans — the mind reels. Then there’s Chris Sharma, who mainly devotes his energies to first ascents with staying power. This year it was Jumbo Love, a 250-foot 5.15b at the remote desert fortress of Clark Mountain, a limestone amphitheater in California.
Establishing a 5.14 crack takes grit. But establishing a crack so thin it barely takes the first knuckle, so sharp you only get three burns per day, and so unrelenting you have to duct-tape key pieces to your harness — well, that takes something else entirely.
Beth Rodden, 28, put that something else to work during her Valentine’s Day FA of Yosemite Valley’s Meltdown, likely the hardest trad pitch in America (and the hardest FA by an American woman). Rodden spent 40 days — between September 2007 and February 2008 — working the route, facing a ligament injury to her hand, a baffling crux, and giant Sierra snowstorms. She was also plagued by doubt that the route would even go: “Basically, I was like, ‘What am I doing here?’” says Rodden. In the end, however, determination (she calls it stubbornness) won out, with Rodden snagging a placing-all-gear-on-lead ascent; the climb remains unrepeated.
- Ethan Pringle, for fast repeats of 5.14 trad climbs, including The Path, Alberta; Cobra Crack, Squamish; and China Doll, Iron Monkey, and Orangutan,Colorado
- Matt Segal, for his FFA of the 25-foot Colorado roof crack Orangutan (5.14-), as well as repeats of Cobra Crack and China Doll.
On January 1, 2008, Paul Robinson, now 21, kicked off a year featuring more than 80 V11 or harder problems with his second ascent of Terremer (V15/V16), at Hueco Tanks, Texas. Shortly thereafter, Robinson placed first at the 2008 ABS Nationals Championships while attending classes at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Then it was Midnight Express (V14), Boulder Canyon, The Fly (V14; on TR), Rumney, and a third-place finish in the Bouldering World Cup in Vail, Colorado — all before bouncing out to the Rocklands, South Africa.
- Lisa Rands, for her January 18 first female ascent of The Mandala (V12), in the Buttermilk, California, and as ascent of Nutsa(V12), Rocklands.
- Tyler Landman, for a storm of hard ticks, including the second ascent of Chris Sharma’s Practice of the Wild (V15), Magic Wood, in late September.
“The ‘Giri Giri Boys’ are badass,” says The American Alpine Journal senior editor Kelly Cordes. “They’re like full-on modern-day samurai.” Translated from Japanese, Giri Giri means roughly “last minute” or “close call,” a philosophy three Giri Giri Boys — Katsutaka Yokoyama, Yusuke Sato, and Fumitaka Ichimura — took to a logical extreme last May 11-18 when they enchained two high-end Denali routes.
Yokoyama, Sato, and Ichimura made their link-up alpine style: beginning May 11, they tackled the Isis Face (Alaska Grade 6: 5.8 M4 A1, 60 degrees; 7,200 feet), to the top of the South Buttress, and then descended to the Kahiltna Glacier. On May 15, they set off via the Slovak Direct (Alaska Grade 6: 5.9, 100 degrees; 9,000 feet), summited on TK DAY, and then descended on May 18. “Among serious Alaska Range climbers, I don’t think anybody had even contemplated an enchainment of that magnitude,” says Cordes. “Such things often take an outsider’s vision.”
- Rolando Garibotti and Colin Haley, for bagging the long-attempted (since the 1980s) Torre Traverse, Patagonia — linking Cerro Standhardt, Punta Heron, Torre Egger, and Cerro Torre from January 21-24.
- Ueli Steck and Simon Anthamatten, for Checkmate (VI M7+ or M6 A0, 85 degrees; 6,500 feet), their April 21-24 alpine-style FA on Tengkangpoche’s North Face, in the Khumbu Valley, Nepal.
When Alex Honnold, 23, one day in September 2007 free-soloed Astroman (V 5.11c) and the Rostrum (V 5.11c), he entered the history books alongside Peter Croft and John Bachar. This April 1, Honnold upped the ante, free soloing Zion’s 1,200-foot splitter-crack testpiece Moonlight Buttress (V 5.12) in 83 minutes. His chalk-shoes-and-iPod ascent was, to hear Honnold tell it, no big deal. But barring perhaps Hansjörg Auer’s 2007 free solo of Via Attraverso il Pesce (aka The Fish ; 5.12c, circa 3,000 feet), in the Dolomites, or Michael Reardon’s onsight free solo of Romantic Warrior (V 5.12b), in the Needles, California, nothing like this had ever been done.
Since 2004, Honnold says he’s free-soloed “thousands of gumby pitches,” this year attaining “a whole new level of comfort in the mountains.” Accordingly, he capped his 2008 tear with a September 6 free solo of Half Dome’s Regular Northwest Face (VI 5.12a; 23 pitches). Honnold, 2007’s Rookie of the Year, has proven himself no mere flash in the pan. In 2008, no other climber came close to matching his solo accomplishments.
- Dave Turner, for his January capsule-style, 34-day sufferfest roped solo of the 4,000-foot Cerro Escudo, in Chile’s Paine region.
- Steph Davis, for her free solos of the North Face of Castleton Tower (5.11a; 375 feet), Castleton Valley, Utah (followed by a BASE jump), and Pervertical Sanctuary (IV 5.10d), on the Diamond, Longs Peak, Colorado. (See Climbing No. 272 p.98 for a Perspective with Davis.)
The 2008 Bouldering World Cup, held in Vail, Colorado, last June 6-7, saw the world’s strongest women — Lisa Rands, Alex Puccio, Anna Stohr, etc. — test their mettle. So many spectators’ reaction when they saw Alex Johnson topping the podium might have been, “Who?!”
Johnson, 19, started climbing in a Wisconsin gym in 1999 and, despite good performances nationally and in international speed events (and 5.13 redpoints at the Red River Gorge and Rifle), long remained under the radar. Vail was her first World Cup, a win she parlayed into serious momentum over the summer and autumn, with sends of two V11s — Chaos Canyon’s Sunspot and Poudre Canyon’s Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves — in her new home of Colorado. Then on August 25, Johnson made a one-day send of the crimpy Clear Blue Skies (V12), at Mount Evans. “I don’t think I approached climbing any differently this year,” says Johnson. “Things just really started falling into place.”
- Jonathan Siegrist, climbing only four years, for redpointing Colorado testpieces like Vogue (5.14b/c), Grand Ol’ Opry (5.14b/c), and Must’a Been High(5.13c R).
- Brad Weaver, also climbing four years, with sends like the Red’s 50 Words for Drama (5.14b/c) and Transworld Depravity (5.14a).
Since taking up climbing in 1968, Malcolm Daly, founder of the Boulder, Colorado-based Great Trango Holdings, has endured more than a few epics. In May 1999, Daly fell attempting a new route with Jim Donini on Thunder Mountain, Alaska, breaking both legs. Daly then waited 44 hours on an 18-inch-wide ledge while Donini went for help; years later, Daly had his right leg amputated below the knee due to continuing complications from the frostbite. Then, in 2004, he was hit with a major heart attack, which he barely survived.
- Climber and doctor Geoffrey Tabin, director of the Himalayan Cataract Project, for introducing an eye-care infrastructure to the Himalaya to combat rampant blindness from preventable or treatable causes.
- Arian Lemal, the “Sweeper of the Summits,” for picking up 1,000-plus-pounds of trash from mountains worldwide, and for raising awareness of trash in the high alpine.