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Hardest, highest, fastest, best—it’s human nature to submit our “ests” to the test. Is it an ego thing? A crude exercise in nationalism? A magazine scam for commercial interests? You could play it that way. But how boring. And futile. In the end, we appraise others’ achievements and compare them to our own weekend-warrior world for one reason: to be inspired.
So once again, in the name of inspiration, and with no slight intended to the hundreds of other top-flight climbers who busted ass and blew us away on the steeps this year, the editors of Climbing present our annual Golden Piton Awards, for the 2010 performances we found most inspiring in the various vertical disciplines. And the winners are…
Endurance Rock Climbing
We had prepared an impressive tick list that clinched this Golden Piton for Alex Honnold, but when we asked him to name his toughest feats of 2010, his No. 2 day wasn’t even on our radar: the 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell in Arkansas, when Honnold climbed 130 pitches from 5.8 to 5.13, averaging 5.11. This bested Tommy Caldwell’s stunning 2009 performance, “which,” Honnold said, “was the proudest moment of my life.”
At Squamish, British Columbia, swinging leads with Will Stanhope, Honnold linked four full-length free routes in about 14.5 hours, with no falls for either climber. With Sonnie Trotter, Honnold also made a near onsight and the first one-day ascent of Logical Progression, a sustained 28-pitch 5.13a on El Gigante in Mexico.
But it was in Yosemite that Honnold truly endured. With Sean Leary, he linked the Nose, Salathé Wall, and Lurking Fear in just under 24 hours, which he called “pretty crushing—90 pitches or so, 9,000 feet of descent, 15 hours of non-stop simuling/short fixing.” Honnold’s “Triple” followed a record-setting speed solo of the pearl of Grade VI enchainments, the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome (23 pitches) followed by the Nose (31 pitches). His total time was a little over 11 hours—about nine hours less than the previous record.
Success emerges slowly for alpine climbers—it’s rare to see teenage stars burst on the scene as they do in rock climbing. To succeed—to survive—an alpinist must build on a multi-year foundation. Kyle Dempster, 27, started climbing as a boulderer and sport climber, got interested in wall climbing in Yosemite Valley, and at age 23 did a big-wall first ascent on Baffin Island. We first took note of Dempster after a climb—a survival mission—in Pakistan in 2008: a 21-day solo ascent of the west face of Tahu Rutum. He bailed in darkness and storm after completing the wall, a couple of hundred feet below the 21,493-foot peak; during the descent, he went without food for five days. Dempster’s major breakthrough came in 2009, when he joined an expedition to the little-explored Chinese Tien Shan and completed three first ascents, including the 8,500-foot north face of Xuelian West with Jed Brown and Bruce Normand, a climb that won a Piolet d’Or in 2010. He returned to China this October and November, and with Normand did two more major new routes (see page 18), cementing his reputation as one of America’s most successful young alpinists.
Says Normand: “The three words that sum up why Kyle succeeds on hard routes in the big mountains are solid, solid, and solid.”
Dempster is part owner of a coffee shop in Salt Lake City and also works as a guide. Fresh back from his arduous recent expedition to China, he said in late November, “I’m not at all burned out on alpine climbing. I feel pretty comfortable and pretty capable on 6,000-meter peaks, and I’m ready to push it a little higher.”
Enzo Oddo, the 15-year-old French climber, for climbing his age with an ascent of Realization (5.15a). Hayden Kennedy, 20, for an incredible, globetrotting year that included big routes in the Sierra, Bugaboos, China, Patagonia, the Diamond, and El Cap, not to mention 5.13 or harder in Indian Creek, Rifle, and the Red (this kid’s Piton is coming soon, for sure).
Yashushi Okada and Katsutaka Yokoyama
Mt. Logan’s 8,500-foot southeast face was one of the great prizes of North American alpinism, perhaps the biggest unclimbed wall on the continent. And the face is just part of the challenge: From its top, it’s another 3,000 vertical feet to the 19,357-foot east summit of Logan, Canada’s highest peak, followed by a 20-mile ordeal of a descent along the avalanche-prone east ridge. The Alaska/Yukon veteran Jack Tackle had attempted this line twice, in 1999 and 2007. It was the climb he dreamed of more than any other. So, when Katsutaka Yokoyama contacted him about the route, Tackle was reluctant to give up its secrets, but eventually decided to share his photos. The two Japanese acclimatized by climbing the east ridge and found the eight-day round trip so trying that they vowed to find another way down. In early May, they started up the southeast face and climbed it in three very long days, then continued to the east summit the next day. Given the loose rock and other dangers on their ascent line, they felt they had no choice but to descend the east ridge once again, but fortunately other climbers had left fresh tracks that greatly eased the pain.
We were super-impressed with these climbers’ technical mastery and Arctic survival skills, and with their humility and respect for those who came before them. In a thankful email to Tackle following the climb, Yokoyama wrote: “It’s too much honor for me to get such a great line and share this route with you. We named the route I-TO, which means thread, line, relationship.”
Colin Haley and Bjorn-Eivind Årtun, for their new route on Mt. Foraker in Alaska. Chad Kellogg, for his solo new route on the south face of Aconcagua. Robert Jasper and Roger Schäli, for their free ascent of the historic John Harlin Route on the north face of the Eiger.
Adam Ondra, 17, of the Czech Republic, won the sport climbing Piton last year and, well, he’s showing absolutely no sign of peaking. Traveling widely to pick off the world’s hardest sport routes, he is almost singlehandedly solidifying the ninth grade. He completed at least a dozen ascents of 9a (5.14d) or above in 2010, of which half were repeats, including the second ascent of Chris Sharma’s Golpe de Estado at Siurana, Spain—an atypically long (for Ondra) 14-day effort that gave us the world’s first “confirmed” 9b (5.15b).
Ondra’s other 5.15s were the fi rst ascents of Goldrake (9a+/5.15a), an open project at Cornalba, Italy, and L’entrange Ivresse des Lenteurs (5.15a), another project at Céüse, France. Notable in Ondra’s 2010 travels was a visit to the U.K., where he repeated two Steve McClure 9a’s, and a stint in Madagascar featuring some impressive big-wall onsighting and 1,000-foot 5.14 first free ascents. On the other end of the size spectrum, Ondra repeated two V15 boulder problems in just two days at the end of November, despite being, as he said on 8a.nu, “mostly a sport climber.”
Charlotte Durif, the French woman who became the first female to onsight 5.14b. Paige Claassen, for completing three 5.14 routes, including the first female ascent of a 5.14b/c in Colorado, in 2010.
Tim Emmett and Will Gadd
Was it a media stunt, a contrived line that never should have been bolted, or a breakthrough for ice climbing? Whichever, it was an eye-opener. Acting on a hunch that the frozen spray behind 463-foot-high Helmcken Falls in British Columbia might be climbable, Tim Emmett and Will Gadd traveled to the remote site in late January and discovered blobs of ice plastered to a stadium-sized, 45-degree-overhanging wall. The ice was too thin and fragile to protect with traditional gear, so the two men bolted a 90-foot route, just a quarter of the way up the daunting cliff. They called the resulting pitch Spray On and rated it WI10—three grades harder than any other pure ice climb.
Predictably, the blogosphere went ape, with some lauding the effort and imagination, and others deriding the bolts and the stratospheric rating. And though many argued that you can’t grade a bolt-protected route by the water-ice system, Gadd said Spray On required skills unique to pure ice climbing, plus the endurance to chop pick placements and the power for M10 mixed climbing moves. (Gadd was certainly fit: Earlier in the month, he climbed a 130-foot vertical pitch in Ouray, Colorado, 194 times in 24 hours.) Of Spray On, he said, “This is what I dreamed ice climbing was going to become back when I was 17 years old: steep, athletic, and wildly difficult.”
Bayard Russell, for the FA of the Painted Wall Icicle, a much-eyed prize in New Hampshire. Austrians Albert Leichtfried and Benedikt Purner, for WI7 new routes at home and in Norway.
It has been quite a year in bouldering for many climbers, but especially for Daniel Woods, the 21-year-old, Boulder-based über-crusher whose accomplishments have been as impressive in scope as in difficulty. In February 2010, Woods made the first ascent of The Game (V16), finally shouting “game over” to a project that had routed many a hard climber over the years. At Hueco Tanks, Texas, Woods repeated Terremer (V15), a razor-sharp Fred Nicole problem, and established Desperanza (V15), a sit start to Nicole’s Esperanza. Add to this list the first ascents of two more V15s in Colorado: Hypnotized Minds and Warrior Up. Woods also dominated nearly every comp he entered, winning the ABS Nationals, the bouldering World Cup at the Teva Mountain Games, the UBC Outdoor Retailer pro comp, and The Spot’s Battle in the Bubble in Boulder. And, to cap it off, he did the second ascent of Jaws II (5.15a) at Rumney, New Hampshire, one of the nation’s hardest sport climbs. And through it all, Woods remained an all-around nice kid, ever-vocal about how lucky he feels to be a pro climber, and never took himself too seriously—which makes it a lot more fun to be a fan.
Angie Payne, for her ascent of The Automator (V13) in Colorado, making her the first woman to climb a confirmed problem of that grade. Anna Stöhr, of Austria for dispatching Riverbed (V13) in Magic Wood, Switzerland, just weeks later. Paul Robinson, for his sit start to the Buttermilks’ Rastaman Vibration, which he called Lucid Dreaming (V16).