The Peanut Gallery: The 50 Greatest Climbing Achievements...By Americans in the Last 25 Years

By Julie Ellison ,

Julie “Peanut” Ellison is the Editor at Large for Climbing. She often gets worked up about things she reads on the Internet and then falls asleep mumbling to herself about it. The Peanut Gallery is her monthly column.

El Cap photo by daveynin/Flickr; CC BY 2.0

With so many notable ascents recently, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look back at climbing history and compile the biggest achievements in our sport. Then I realized that between global alpine, trad, sport, bouldering, big wall, ice, and competition achievements, there were way too many first this's and biggest that's to make a truly comprehensive list. But I made one anyway. Here's my subjective, snarky, and not very factual ranking of the greatest climbing achievements by Americans (and one Canadian) in the last 25 years. 

50. Chris Sharma sends La Dura Dura (5.15c), March 2013.

He sent it after Ondra for the second ascent. While it might've been the hardest rock climb in the world at the time, you know what they say: Second place is the first loser.

49. Alex Honnold climbs Too Big to Flail, a 55-foot V10 in Bishop, California, January 2012.

Far more impressive is the stack of 34 pads he gathered for the ascent. Where did he find so many pebblewrestlers willing to sacrifice perfect sending temps in Bishop to go watch him climb some huge slab route?

48. The world’s first grade VII free climb, Cowboy Direct, is established on Nameless Tower in Pakistan, 1995.

Todd Skinner, Jeff Bechtel, Mike Lilygren, and Bobby Model, all from Wyoming, spent 60 days on the wall to establish this 33-pitch climb. I can only imagine the B.O.

47. Two climbers complete the first ever naked ascent of the Nose in a day, June 2017.

Exposed nipples + 3,000 feet of granite = Yowzas.

46. Miranda Oakley breaks women’s solo speed record on the Nose, August 2016.

She did it in 21 hours, 50 minutes. In that time she could have watched the Honey Badger YouTube video 430 times. Or she could have made 1,310 servings of minute rice. Or she could have taken one long-ass nap.

45. Cicada Jenerik becomes the first climber to ever “boulder her age,” by sending V10 at age 10, December 2004.

But what about all the 20-year-old bouldering bros who act like 10-year-olds? Does bouldering your inner age count for anything?

44. Actor and musician Jared Leto climbs with Alex Honnold and Jimmy Chin, May 2016.

I always thought climbing needed more hair gel and black eyeliner.

43. After two attempts over two days, Julie Ellison clipped the chains on Vitamin K, a 5.12a/b in Ten Sleep, Wyoming, July 2017.

Is this an impressive climbing achievement worthy of this list? Absolutely not. I just wanted to spray.

42. Tommy Caldwell and Joe Mills free the Dunn-Westbay, a 5.14a route on the Diamond on Longs Peak, August 2013.

Imagine what Tommy Caldwell could have accomplished if he applied his motivation and dedication to something that actually mattered, like cancer research.

41. Steph Davis free solos the Diamond on Colorado’s Longs Peak four times, July-September 2007.

During her first solo of the Casual Route (5.10-)—she eventually did the Casual Route again, as well as Pervertical Sanctuary (5.10+) twice—Davis reportedly ended up on the route after taking a wrong turn on a rest day hike.

40. Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and Renan Ozturk successfully climb the Shark’s Fin route on Meru, October 2011.

Proving that all it takes is three Himalayan expeditions, a stroke, a few avalanches, and hundreds of thousands of sponsorship dollars to make mountaineering history.

39. Josh Wharton and Kelly Cordes nab first ascent of Azeem Ridge on Great Trango Tower in Pakistan, July 2004.

With not enough food, gear, water, clothing, or rope, the ascent of this 7,400-foot 5.11 R/X route was done in what Cordes called “disaster style.” See also: deadline week at the offices of Climbing magazine.

38. Bollywood embraces ice climbing with the movie Shivaay, October 2016.

Plus 10 points for self-arresting in a cave while sliding down a vertical ice and rock wall going 60 miles an hour. Plus 10 more points for doing it in jeans. Minus infinity points for removing the leg loops from your harness and wearing it backwards.

Note: Shivaay was not made by Americans, but it sure was enjoyed by Americans. So, close enough.

37. First ascent of 50-foot Bishop highball Ambrosia (V11) by Kevin Jorgeson, January 2009.

What’s your Dawn Wall? Oh, wait…

36. Angie Payne becomes first woman to climb V13, August 2010.

There are tweens climbing V15 and half a dozen ladies cruising V14 now, so just like car phones and pogs, I’m going to defend this achievement as “but it was cool at the time.”

35. Katie Bono sets women’s speed record on Denali in 21 hours, 6 minutes, June 2017.

As the first and only speed ascent by a woman, meaning no other person without a penis has even attempted it, the impressiveness of this achievement should be left up to the internet masses who have no idea about the physical, mental, and emotional fortitude it requires. What say ye, armchair mouthbreathers?

34. Sasha DiGiulian becomes first American woman to climb 5.14d with her ascent of Pure Imagination, October 2011.

Then Daniel Woods and Adam Ondra flashed it and downgraded it, so where does that leave us?

33. The mainstream media blitz during and after the Dawn Wall ascent, January 2015.

Cue super-awkward encounters between big wall climbers, aka weirdos who literally live on the side of a mountain to escape interacting with other people, and smiley, over-zealous talk show hosts.

32. Man attempts to climb Trump Tower to get a private meeting with the future president, August 2016.

Ohhhh, so that’s “negative press covfefe.”

31. Chris Sharma sends Mallorca deep-water solo route Es Pontas (5.14d/5.15a), September 2006.

Sharma’s battle with this route had all the fixings of a Spanish soap opera: a tan shirtless dude, big falls off a cliff, and lots of unintelligible screaming.

30. Tommy Caldwell and Beth Rodden climb the Nose for its third free ascent, October 2005.

Third place is cool and all, but do you remember who won the bronze medal for any sport in any Olympics ever? Me neither.

29. The movie Cliffhanger with Sylvester Stallone comes out. May 1993.

Ridiculous and technically inaccurate, yes, but the sport climber in me gets sexually aroused by the thought of that bolt gun. BOLT THE PLANET.

28. Dan Osman speed solos Bear’s Reach in 4 minutes, 25 seconds at Lover’s Leap in California for Masters of Stone 4, 1997.

Not only did this film inspire a generation to make 5.7 unnecessarily dangerous, but it also means we got the pleasure of seeing Alex Honnold wear a mullet wig and play air guitar.

27. Jess Roskelley and Clint Helander establish one of the longest alpine routes in the U.S., the South Ridge of Mount Huntington in the Alaska Range, April 2017.

The 8,500-foot traverse of five major peaks was given a rating of Alaska Grade VI, M6, A0, 95° snow, so that’s like, what, V8?

26. Dude in a wetsuit climbs California’s Morro Rock for marriage proposal then requires rescue, April 2016.

A stupid stunt actually results in the first full-body sticky rubber suit. Offwidth climbers rejoice.

25. The release of the movie Vertical Limit, December 2000.

THIS. AND THIS:

You’re welcome.

24. The Alex Lowe Foundation starts the Khumbu Climbing Center to offer proper technical training to Sherpas in Nepal, 2003.

After they've climbing Everest as guides for decades, the school teaches Sherpas how to climb…

23. The Gimp Monkeys, a group of disabled climbers, climb El Cap via Zodiac, June 2012.

Obviously the weight savings of two missing legs and one missing arm was the main factor behind their success.

22. Chris Sharma sends Jumbo Love (5.15b), September 2008.

The best American climber (at the time) climbs the hardest climb in America (at the time, and also now). #makeamericagreatagain

21. Psicobloc Masters Series introduces deep-water soloing as a form of competition in the U.S., August 2013.

Perfect, another way for my mom to be terrified by what I do in my free time.

20. Mason Earle sends potentially hardest pure crack climb (5.14) near Moab, Utah, March 2015.

The crack was so thin that he would remove his right shoe mid-climb to jam his toes. That’s gross, dude. People put their hands in there. 

19. Canadian Jason Kruk and Hayden Kennedy chop most of the bolts on the Compressor Route on Cerro Torre in Patagonia, January 2012.

Who cares that they made an impressive ascent of this incredible spire; let’s have belligerent internet arguments about something that will never directly affect us!

18. Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold complete the crazy long Fitz Traverse in Patagonia, February 2014.

They won a 2015 Piolet d’Or award, or “golden ice axe,” for their ascent. What a silly prize for people who obviously already own ice axes. 

17. Chris Sharma gets the first ascent of Biographie/Realization, the world’s first consensus 5.15a, July 2001.

Even though it had been called Biographie since it was bolted in 1989, Sharma renamed it Realization upon his ascent. Yay, American imperialism! 

16. Citibank features rock climbing in a national commercial, June 2012.

Alex Honnold belays by gripping the rock in front of him instead of the rope, Katie Brown calls a harness a “belt” and a rope “nylons,” and the background music includes the lyrics “somebody left the gate open.”

15. Sasha DiGiulian develops a climbing emoji, June 2017.

Finally I can convey all the intricate feelings and emotions that the word “climbing” cannot express.

14. Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell climb the Yosemite Triple Crown (El Cap, Half Dome, Mt. Watkins) in less than 24 hours, May 2012.

This accomplishment would have been much cooler if it included aspects of the Triple Crown horse race: big-ass hats, mint juleps, and manure.

13. Honnold’s solo repeat of the Triple Crown, June 2012.

Honnold proves he’s the Paul Simon to Caldwell’s Art Garfunkel, giving him the middle finger in front of the whole climbing world. “Hey, I know we did this impressive thing together, but guess what? I didn’t need you at all.”

12. Daniel Woods climbs The Process, a V16 in Bishop, January 2015.

Bravo on the send, Daniel, but The Process? It’s like naming a route “The Route” or a climbing magazine "Climbing.”

11. Alex Puccio wins her 10th Bouldering Nationals, February 2017.

Puccio, now a cyborg, had her knee, neck, and spine replaced with bionic parts to beat out 15-year-old wunderkinds in climbing comps.

10. Chris Sharma stunt-doubles as Johnny Utah in the Hollywood remake of Point Break, December 2015.

Finally, Sharma gets recognition for what really matters: his body.

9. Beth Rodden sends Meltdown (5.14c), Yosemite, February 2008.

This route has thwarted many a strong male climber since its first ascent 9 years ago, but they all definitely could have done it if they were small, light, and had tiny fingers like Beth Rodden. And were Beth Rodden. 

8. Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson climb the Dawn Wall, January 2015.

In the 7 years it took Caldwell to finally send this line, I graduated college, moved across the country, got a full-time job, raised a dog, and had two boyfriends. All they did was climb some dumb rock.

7. Climbing officially becomes part of 2020 Tokyo Olympics, August 2016.

In other news, “What the f*** is speed climbing?” is the month’s top Google search.

6. Lynn Hill gets the first free ascent of the Nose on El Cap, 1993.

For the next 24-plus years, the ascent would serve as hackneyed proof that women can climb hard, much to the chagrin of Beth Rodden, Margo Hayes, Ashima Shiraishi, Alex Puccio, etc.

5. Lynn Hill goes back to climb the Nose free in a day, 1994.

Why didn’t she just do it in a day the first time?

4. Cedar Wright and Andrew Burr’s “Boogie ‘til You Poop” video is released, August 2010.

The video of Jason Kruk shitting himself in an offwidth would go on to become the most-viewed climbing video of all time, more popular than any successful ascent. Think about that next time you try to get sponsored.

3. Ashima Shiraishi becomes the youngest person and first female to climb V15 with her ascent of Horizon in Japan, March 2016.

When I was 14, I was a freshman in high school who wore white tube socks with Birkenstocks and played Snake on my brick phone. Pushing the limits of climbing is cool too, I guess.

2. Margo Hayes climbs La Rambla, the first 5.15 by a woman, February 2017.

I don’t wanna be “that guy,” but I’m pretty sure the route is actually 5.14d.

1. Alex Honnold free solos Freerider on El Cap, June 2017.

He did it on June 3, which is my birthday, so I consider this a personal gift to me. Thanks, Honnold, you shouldn’t have! I’d also like to point out that June 3 marks 31 years of me not falling off El Cap, yet no one invited me on Jimmy Kimmel.

Follow Julie Ellison on social media: @joolyhart

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