Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In



Generation 5.16: 10 Young Crushers That Could Take Rock Climbing to the Next Level

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Thanks to the gym explosion, 9-5ers, weekend warriors, and kids can participate in our sport more easily than ever. As a result, waves of young crushers are coming up through the ranks, with unprecedented access to coaches and cutting-edge training facilities. As climbing is increasingly approached with a performance mindset, it begins to produce the same high-level athletes we see in other sports, sometimes in a few short years. The result is ultra-strong climbers who often retrospectively gain experience outside. At the forefront of the revolution is the youngest generation, climbers up to their mid-20s poised to take us to the next level. Here, we present 10 leading the charge and changing the face of our sport.

This story was originally published in the December/January 2018 issue of our print edition.

Profile: Sean Bailey

Age 21 / Seattle, Washington

Sean Bailey Realization Biographie Ceuse France Sport Climbing Rock
Sean Bailey on Realization (5.15a), Ceuse, France.Savannah Cummins

About to compete in his fifth international competition of 2017, Sean Bailey, 21, reflects on climbing professionally: “The best part is having the freedom to pursue your passion … I feel privileged,” says Bailey. “The worst part is pursuing your passion.” Read the full profile.

Profile: Kara and Connor Herson

Ages 18 and 14 / Emerald Hills, California

Kara Herson Rock Climbing Kids Youth Sport Generation 5.16
Kara Herson at USA Climbing Youth Bouldering Nationals, SLC, Feb 2017. Andrea Laue

By age 14, Kara and Connor Herson had each climbed both the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome and the Nose of El Capitan. Read the full profile.

Profile: Drew Ruana

Age 18 / Redmond, Washington

Drew Ruana Smith Rock Climbing Oregon Forbidden Fruit
Drew Ruana on his project Forbidden Fruit (5.14d+), Christian Brothers, Smith Rock. Jason Bagby

At age 16, on his fiftieth to sixtieth try, Drew Ruana made the first ascent of Assassin (5.14d)—Smith Rock’s hardest route to date. Read the full profile.

Profile: Shawn and Brooke Raboutou

Ages 19 & 16 / Boulder, Colorado

Brooke Raboutou at USA Climbing Open Bouldering Nationals, SLC, Feb 2017. 

Shawn Raboutou ticked Welcome to Tijuana (5.14b) at age 13. The next year, Brooke Raboutou climbed the route at 11. Read full profile.

Profile: Matty Hong

Age 26 / Boulder, Colorado

Matty Hong Sport Climbing Siurana Spain Rock A Muerte
Matty Hong attempts A Muerte (5.14d), Siurana, Spain.Greg Mionske

Not only has Matty Hong ticked V15 and 5.15, but he’s also a talented photographer and filmmaker, contributing to big projects like Break On Through, about Hayes’s ascent of La Rambla, in Reel Rock 2017. Read full profile.

Profile: Margo Hayes

Age 19 / Boulder, Colorado

Margo Hayes Rock Climbing Competition Youth Bouldering Nationals USA Climbing
Margo Hayes at the USA Climbing Youth Bouldering Nationals, SLC, 2017. Andrea Laue

In 2017, Margo Hayes sent La Rambla (5.15a) and Biographie/Realization (5.15a) before she even turned 20. Read full profile.

Profile: Kai Lightner

Age 18 / Fayetteville, North Carolina

Kai Lightner at the USAC Youth Bouldering Nationals, SLC, 2017. Andrea Laue

Eight-time national champion. Three-time IFSC Youth World Championship medalist. 5.14 climber. Olympic hopeful. Read full profile.

Profile: Ashima Shiraishi

Age 17 / Queens, New York

Ashima Shiraishi USA Climbing Open Bouldering Nationals Rock competition
Ashima Shiraishi at the Open Bouldering Nationals, SLC, 2017. Andrea Laue

Ashima Shiraishi is likely the most accomplished climber for her age in history. Read full profile.

Film: How Matt Cornell Free Soloed One of America’s Classic Hard Mixed Routes

"The Nutcracker" explores the mental challenges of solo climbing and the tactics Cornell used to help him send the route.