New Sends We Cared About: A WI 6+ Free Solo FA (and more)
We’re launching a new weekly series celebrating a few outstanding ascents that caught our attention recently. We hope you enjoy it.
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What is the news?
If you asked me that question fifteen years ago, I would have harnessed the confidence of youth and declared that if someone climbed a V14 or flashed a V12 it was newsworthy. Likewise with 5.14d and 5.14b sport. I didn’t know enough about trad or ice and big mountains back then to have opinions, but if you’d asked me about them, I’d surely have found a way to express an opinion about what was newsworthy in that world, too.
Nowadays, however, V14 is child’s play. It seems like everyone can climb it. Hell, some crazies can even flash it. The result? Over time, climbing’s media has moved the bar. “A V15 send isn’t news anymore but a V16 is.” “V16 isn’t news anymore but a V16 FA is.” And so on. Yet with an increasing pool of climbers now performing at the highest levels of the sport, these distinctions are (a) growing hard to keep up with, and (b) increasingly unsatisfying to read about, since they pin the story on a number, not an experience.
What do we make, for example, of Katie Lamb’s recent first female ascent of Spectre, a classic and often-repeated Dave Graham line in the Buttermilks? It’s been done scores of times (it has 34 ascents on 8a.nu alone), and the vast majority of ascentionists consider it a measly V13. It wouldn’t even have been news fifteen years ago! And yet the climb is notoriously morpho, known for giving shorter climbers like Carlo Traversi and Daniel Woods significant trouble, and Lamb, who’s not tall, considers Spectre one of her greatest accomplishments. “Freaking out,” she wrote on 8a.nu. “With the jump method—hardest single move I’ve done and proudest ascent to date.”
So is that news? What about Shawn Raboutou’s 2021 flash of that same boulder? (Before you answer, remember that he’s not tall either.) What about 14-year-old French phenom Erwan Legrand’s barefoot (yep) first ascent (yep) of Dévers Sévère (5.14c) last October? Or the fact that Drew Ruana recently claimed the third ascent of a 2016 Daniel Woods line, Everything Gneiss, one-upping Matt Fultz’s humble upgrade to V14/15 by saying that it felt like V15+? Or the fact that last week Quentin Roberts did the FA of a WI 6+, arguably the hardest pure-ice grade in the world? What about the fact that he did it free solo?
Well, that last one certainly feels like news. But we think all the rest are at the very least worth chatting about. And so, in an attempt to make space for stories like that, we’re launching a new weekly series in which we try to celebrate a few outstanding ascents (or—who knows—outstanding attempts) that for one reason or another caught our attention recently. We hope you enjoy it.Section divider
The Dreamtime Boulder Gets Yet Another V16
V16 ascents may be run of the mill these days, but what’s striking here, at least to me, is that the Dreamtime Boulder has consistently been in the climbing news since Fred Nicole did the FA of Dreamtime in 2000 and called it 8C / V15. Though Nicole’s problem was later downgraded, the boulder itself has remained cutting edge as each new generation adds hard new lines in between the existing classics. In the last four years, the boulder has seen two new proposed V16s: REM, established by Giuliano Cameroni in 2019,* and The Story of 3 Worlds, established by Shawn Raboutou sometime in Spring 2022.
*REM was downgraded by its second ascensionist, Paul Robinson, but internet gossipers have suggested, not without cause, that Robinson may be stronger on crimps than he thinks he is. No one has managed a third ascent.
And now? And now enter Yannick Flohé, a 23-year-old German climber who’s solidified himself as one of the current greats with ascents of Off The Wagon Sit (V16), Ephyra (V16), From Dirt Grows the Flowers (V15), and Everything the Light Touches (V15), plus multiple World Cup podiums. Three weeks ago, he did the FA of Return to the Dreamtime, which does the first half of Dreamtime, including the crux jump, then veers right as for Jimmy Webb’s V13, Somnolence. As far as the grade goes, Flohé said on Instagram that “It feels quite easy for 8C+ but comparing it to Dreamtime it’s on another level so the grade seems logical to me.”
Pretty cool that there are still hard obvious links to be done on a boulder that has attracted the world’s best climbers for 20+ years.
Quentin Roberts free soloes the first ascent of a WI 6+ in Michigan
I recently learned that several leading Canadian ice crushers, including Quentin Roberts and the late Marc-André Leclerc, believe that pure WI 7 ice climbs do not exist in nature. Since I’m not an ice climber, I didn’t really know what to do with this statement—or with the fact that multiple WI 7s have in fact been proposed, some of which have been downgraded, others confirmed. But when I learned that Roberts, one of Canada’s leading alpinists, had made the first ascent of Lion Queen, a wild new line on the shore of Lake Superior, and graded it WI 6+, I did understand that Roberts was, in effect, saying that he’d done the hardest pure ice climb he could conceive of.
That news would have been fascinating enough—but Roberts didn’t just FA the route, he sussed it once on toprope and then free soloed it.
The climb tackles an overhanging dagger of thin rattly ice, and maybe he was afraid that the dagger might collapse and kill his belayer. Or maybe he just thought skipping that tedious rope and screws would make it more fun.
Either way, yikes.
A 14-year-old FAs 5.14c/d
Last October, 14 year-old French phenom Erwan Legrand sent two lines graded 5.14c, including the first ascent of Dévers Sévère, which, strangely, he managed barefoot.
“I’ve been climbing barefoot on my wall at home since I was little, but I’ve always climbed outdoors with climbing shoes,” Erwan told 8a.nu at the time. “I had tried this route for three sessions, and I thought it might be easier by climbing barefoot. Then I started climbing barefoot on it and it immediately felt better.”
The endurance test piece involves a traverse through a roof and campus rose-move. Erwan bolted Dévers Sévère, with his father, Francois, a former competition climber who won multiple UIAA World Cups World Championships in the 1990s.
Over the weekend, the kid impressed us again, with an FA of Sans Complexe (8c+/9a-, 5.14c/d) in Buoux, France. We wish we could include more deets here, but somehow Erwan has largely flown under the radar. We’re looking forward to changing that in the coming years.
Raboutou’s Off the Wagon Low gets yet another repeat
News? Maybe, maybe not. But Wientjes—27, German, apparently rather strong—is on a proper tear these days. In addition to sending his first V16, he’s put down three V15s in the last three months, including From Dirt Grows the Flowers, Dreamtime, and Forgotten Gem. In 2021, he did a rare repeat of Nalle Hukkataival’s condition dependent Bugeleisen Sit (V15), calling it “the best line Europe has to offer.” And last summer he flashed Fred Nicole’s crimp testpiece Amandla (V14), which puts him in the very rare class of folks who’ve climbed the grade on their first try.
Jonathan Siegrist finishes 30-year-old project in Nevada
Jonathan Siegrist has finished a longstanding project in Mt. Potosi’s Clear Light Cave, calling it Back to the Future and grading it 5.14d/5.15a. What’s especially cool about this? The climb was bolted and tried by Nevada legend Joe Brooks sometime in the nineties and has languished mostly untried since then. As far as Siegrist knows, the last person to invest real effort into the climb was Francois LeGrand, who fell near the end of the climb in the early 2000s—back when 5.15 had (arguably) yet to reach America.
Siegrist spent most of the winter training, but he used the climb as a ramp, prepping him physically and mentally for his upcoming trip to Spain. In an interview last year, he told me something I like to pass on to my friends: “A catchphrase I’ve used a lot… over the last couple of years is that ‘there’s too much training and not enough practice.’ I see it so often. There’s an allure to doing all these rad circus tricks; it’s cool, and it’s fun, and it does make you feel heroic when you can do a one-arm or hang a small edge or do the crazy jump on the moon board. But the reality, at least for me, is that my ultimate goal is not to do those tricks; my goal is to send. Football players don’t just push around weights in the weight room; they actually practice like on the field, they run drills and they scrimmage. And I think it should be the same for climbers. I think we’ve forgotten that in order to be good at climbing, you have to climb.”
And… That’s it for this week because my fingers are tired.
We could also have talked about Drew Ruana’s FAs of Maxwell’s Demon Sit (V16) and The Fox and the Hound Sit (V15). Or Jorge Díaz-Rullo’s FA of Mejorando la Samfaina (5.15c) in Margalef. Or the fact that, after polishing off La Rambla (5.15a) last month, Michaela Kiersch was too tired to try hard, so she went to Switzerland for a short trip and idly sent a ridiculous number of V10s and V11 and V12s. Etc.
But stayed tuned for more. People do rad things on rock, ice, and snow all the time, and we’re looking forward to chatting about it.