Beth Rodden's Meltdown: The Interview
On February 14 (Valentine’s Day), Beth Rodden made the first ascent of what’s likely Yosemite’s single hardest traditional pitch: Meltdown, a 70-foot 5.14 crack at Upper Cascade Falls. Rodden placed all eight pieces on lead, duct-taping pieces two through fiveto her harness for rapid-fire plugging on the technical tips seam. Her ascent marks the culmination of 40 days of work and a battle with snow and rising melt water from the nearby falls that made conditions a huge part of the battle. Meltdown likely ranks as the hardest traditional pitch in America, and is the hardest ascent (and first ascent) by an American woman.
“For the longest time, it was hard just to get up to the crux without falling,” says Rodden. The business comes at 20 feet, four pieces up, with small offset TCUs protecting a powerful crank off two-finger tips locks to a workable gaston. Because the wall sees little sun, Rodden would go through a pre-climb freezing/thawing ritual to habituate her hands to the cold stone, plugging into the crack for 10 minutes on the ground, and then warming her mitts against her belayer (her husband, Tommy Caldwell). Rodden linked through the crux around New Year’s Day, but then a barrage of snowstorms and rising waters kept subsequent efforts sporadic. Rodden and Caldwell live near Yosemite and stayed fit on their home wall, which Rodden would also use to warm-up before heading out to try Meltdown.
Valentine’s Day, Rodden’s second time ever linking through the crux from the ground on lead, marked the ascent. Above the crux, the climb takes a difficult rightward span to a resting flake, and then follows face and seam climbing to anchors above. (Ron Kauk drilled the anchor bolts some time ago and had attempted the crack.) Meltdown is unique in that there are no pin scars, as the line was never an aid climb; it is also the only route near the Falls.
Rodden has yet to firmly grade Meltdown, but Caldwell, who tried the line on toprope over the course of 10 sessions, says it’s harder than any other Yosemite 5.14 pitches he’s done, including the Changing Corners (5.14a) on the Nose (VI 5.14a) of El Capitan, and the crux on his free version of the Dihedral Wall (VI 5.14a), on the same formation. As a marker, Rodden has established 5.14b (The Optimist, Smith Rock), freed the Nose (VI 5.14a), and onsighted the Phoenix (5.13a, also in Yosemite). In terms of world standards, Meltdown is one of the hardest traditionally protected pitches around. Rodden tried Meltdown on toprope for a month before giving lead attempts, alternating sharp-end and TR burns thereafter.
Climbing No. 267 will offer a special first-person report on Meltdown from Rodden. Meanwhile, we caught up with her for a brief Q & A:
Climbing: Tell me a bit about the crux…
Rodden: The crux is about 20 or 25 feet up. Here, I’d place an offset purple/blue TCU, my third piece. It took me a while to figure out my sequence – at first, I was trying to do this big move, but could never stick it on lead. One day, I grabbed these two really small, flared openings that Tommy can’t use, and it worked. Basically, you take a right-hand pinch, get the two-finger fingerlocks, and make a powerful move to a pretty good gaston.
Climbing: What happens above there?
Rodden: Above there I faced a pretty hard section getting into that flake – a big move on poor feet. It was pretty darn hard for me. Then you get a rest, shaking out on the sidepull flake, where you double up a purple and a blue TCU. Above that, you have face climbing into this seam, where you place a #4 Stopper. At the top of seam, there’s a big move to this jug, and then 5.12 face climbing to the top.
Climbing: You guys were shoveling snow off the base of the route before attempts, too, right – after the snowstorms came in?
Rodden: Yups, lots of snow shoveling – every time I got close again, it would start snowing. [We learned that] the Sierra snow is not like Colorado snow – it’s cement.
Climbing: And the route is all natural, too, as in no pin scars?
Rodden: It was funny almost no one had tried the thing, but it hadn’t even been aided. So, yes, it was cool there were no pin scars, even though the locks flared like they were pin scars. Also on the climb, the rock is a different kind of granite than what you’re used to in Yosemite — really rough, and not so polished like El Cap
Climbing: How many belays do you owe Tommy now?
Rodden: I owe Tommy a lot right now – although it’s probably equivalent to just one trip up El Cap.
Date of Ascent: February 14, 2008
Source: Beth Rodden, bigupblog.com