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With so many young climbers breaking into the 5.14 grade, it takes more than a few sends to turn heads. However, volume, especially in a wide range of styles, still commands attention. Margo Hayes and Matty Hong receive our Golden Piton award for sport climbing this year for their prolific and impressive 2016 tick lists.
For 18-year-old Margo Hayes, 2016 was the year of 5.14s—14 to be exact. The recent high school graduate and long-time Team ABC climber started the year off strong by sending Scarface, the first 5.14a established by an American, in Smith Rock in February. That, Hayes said, was the beginning of her goal to send 14 5.14s as a way of learning as much as possible about the grade.
“I consciously work on being positive in life,” Hayes explained. “When I am positive, I’m more productive and open-minded, and that carries over into climbing.”
Hayes’ strength and attitude led her to break both personal and climbing community barriers as she made each of her 14 ticks. She climbed her first 5.14c, Pure Imagination, for the route’s second female ascent, in March. That same weekend she also clipped the chains of Omaha Beach (5.14a) on her second attempt. In June, Hayes sent her second 5.14c, The Crew, in Rifle, Colorado before coming back in August to make the first female ascent of Bad Girls Club, her first 5.14d.
Hayes also excelled indoors, placing first at the U.S. Sport Climbing Open National Championships in March, winning her age group at the U.S. Junior Sport Climbing Championships in June, and earning three gold medals (lead, bouldering, and combined) at the World Youth Championships in November.
“My goals for 2017 include learning more about the environment and climbing outside as much as I can,” said Hayes.
“When I started climbing, 5.15 had just barley been broken into,” said Hong. “It seemed impossible and something I would never achieve. [Sending] 5.15 is a huge milestone in my climbing.”
Hong, the son of 5.14 first ascensionist Steve Hong, grew up climbing in Rifle and along Colorado’s Front Range. After graduating from the University of Colorado Boulder in December, 2015, he decided to focus on climbing and filmmaking for a year, beginning with a three-month trip to Spain.
“I felt ready to push myself harder than I had before,” said Hong, explaining that the extended trip seemed like the perfect time to try Chris Sharma’s testpiece Papichulo (5.15a).
While Hong says Papichulo was his hardest and most memorable send of the year, he certainly didn’t stop there. Hong went on to send 25 routes 5.14a and harder in total, including the second ascent of Fat Camp (5.14d) in Rifle. He then sent two more 5.14ds in Rigle, putting down Shadowboxing and Kryptonite in the same weekend in October. On the east coast, he ticked several 5.14s in the Red River Gorge before claiming the first ascent of Apple Juice Flood (5.14c), a line originally bolted by Jonathan Siegrist in 2011.
As for 2017, Hong is ready to continue pushing himself, with plans to try La Rambla (5.15a) in Siurana on a trip to Spain this February.