Enjoy unlimited access to Climbing’s award-winning features, in-depth interviews, and expert training advice. Subscribe here.
After taking silver in the overall Lead World Cup this year, South Korea’s Chaehyun Seo, 19, spent a highly productive few weeks in Spain, where she made the second female ascent (after Margo Hayes) of La Rambla (5.15a) and then onsighted L’Antagonista (5.14b), becoming the second woman to onsight the grade after Janja Garnbret onsighted Fish Eye and American Hustle in Oliana last year.
Seo was raised by climbers. Her father owns the Seo Jongkook climbing gym, in a southern region of Seoul, and throughout her childhood the family made annual pilgrimages to the world’s most famous crags, including Kalymnos, the Red River Gorge, and, in 2018, Rifle, Colorado.
It was in Rifle, at age 14, that Seo ended up on the American climbing media’s radar. Following in the footsteps of one of her chief role models, Margo Hayes, Seo sent Bad Girls Club, a 5.14c previously climbed by Hayes, after two weeks of effort, and then went on to make quick ascents of Simply Redlined (5.14a) and Waka Flocka (5.14a/b). In a 2018 story about Seo’s Rifle trip, John Burgman concludes with the line: “Seo is not sure what the future holds, but again citing Margo Hayes as one of her favorite climbers, Seo wants to continue pushing her limits with future trips around the world… saying, ‘I’m thinking of giving La Rambla a shot.’ ”
But she didn’t do so right away.
Instead, in 2019, she turned her attention to competitions. During her freshman year on the World Cup Circuit, at just 15 years old, she won the overall Lead title. In the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, she took second to Janja Garnbret in the woman’s Lead final (placing eighth in the combined format). And this year, she took silver in the overall Lead title.
But in early November, with the competition season over, Seo finally turned her attention to La Rambla. Though it was the main goal for the trip, she needed just seven tries over five days to climb the route, and (jokingly) told Climbing that for her the crux was the first crack section (roughly 5.13c): “It was super scary and hard to believe my [feet],” she said.
To date, fewer than ten women have sent 5.15.
Two days after her send, in the nearby conglomerate crag of Montsant, she onsighted L’Antagonista (5.14b)—becoming the second woman in history to onsight a confirmed route of the grade. (Charlotte Durif onsighted Le roi du pétrole at Pic Saint Loup, France, in 2010, but it’s since been downgraded to 5.14a).
The onsight took nearly an hour. After spending some 20 minutes shaking out 115 feet up the route, below the final crux, Seo realized that she “was getting pumped even though I was resting,” (as told to 8a.nu) “so I thought that this is the last chance that I can do the crux. I just grabbed the pocket hold and made a cross over to the bad sloper and I just barely made it.”
Later that day, she also onsighted Hidrofobia, which was originally graded 5.14a but seems to be settling in at 5.13d. The route, an endurance monster on pockets and cobbles, has a long history of first try sends—having been flashed by Katie Brown in 1999 and onsighted by Josune Bereziartu in 2006.
What’s next for Seo?
“I want to try Biography in Ceuse and some 9b’s,” she told Climbing. “But for now, I have to prepare for the next [competition] season!”
- Related: How Janja Garnbret Beat Everyone By Preparing for the Worst
- Related: What Ondra and Puccio Do Won’t Work For Your Training