Photo Gallery: Nina Williams, Michaela Kiersch, and More

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Photo: Julie Ellison

Climber: Shelma Jun
Route: Bowling Pin (V4)
Location: Buttermilks, Bishop, California

In 2014, then 32-year-old New Yorker Shelma Jun started an Instagram account named Flash Foxy to inspire and connect with other women climbers. Two years later, Flash Foxy held their first Women’s Climbing Festival in Bishop, California. This year, the event returned to the East Side of the Sierra with 300 women attending panel discussions, clinics, slideshows, and stewardship projects. As Jun puts it, Flash Foxy’s goal is to “create a space where women can feel inspired, supported, connected to each other, in a place where conversations can happen to take down barriers to climbing as well as overall in their lives.” Jun hopes to expand the event in coming years and has been at the forefront of addressing the sport’s changing demographics—in particular, the increase in minority and female climbers—speaking at the American Alpine Club and the Access Fund on redefining access and the socioeconomic and gender barriers to climbing. See The Week Women Dominated Climbing for more on this year’s event.

Photo: Nicolas Favresse

Climbers: Siebe Vanhee, Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll, Nicolas Favresse
Route: El Regalo de Mwono (5.13c; 1,200 meters)
Location: East face of Torre Central, Torres del Paine, Patagonia

Nineteen days of Patagonian suffering, rationed food, freezing temps, and difficult free climbing brought Siebe Vanhee, Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll, and Nicolas Favresse the first free ascent of El Regalo de Mwono, established by UK climbers Paul Pritchard, Simon Yates, Sean Smith, and Noel Craine in 1991/92 at VI 5.10 A4. After fixing the first three ropelengths on the steep, continuous crack line, the team committed to the wall, climbing capsule style and completing the route in 26 pitches, placing no bolts and using small wires for protection. On February 14, their fifteenth day on the wall, the team summited, yet the 5.13 thirteenth pitch (pictured, with Vanhee on lead), a slight variation to the original line, remained unfreed. With dwindling rations, the trio returned to their portaledges and waited out four days of storm to try the 30-meter tips crack. “It’s not the obstacle that makes the suffering,” O’Driscoll said. “It’s the attitude toward the obstacle.” On day 19, Favresse freed this money pitch, completing a team-free ascent of the wall. The trio descended, hiked out, rode a bus to Puerto Natales, and slept under the stars, until the middle of the night when rain ripped them from their sleep.

Photo: Tara Kerzhner

Climber: Michaela Kiersch
Route: Southern Smoke (5.14c)
Location: Red River Gorge, Kentucky

In late February and early March, over an eight-day window, 22-year-old Chicago native Michaela Kiersch doubled her number of 5.14c sends. The DePaul University science major ticked off her fourth, fifth, and sixth 5.14c’s with Twenty Four Karats, Southern Smoke, and 50 Words for Pump, the first at the Gold Coast, the latter two at Bob Marley Crag. “It must have been these Starbucks drinks I’m into,” Kiersch said, referring to the Doubleshot Energy drinks she downs on the seven-hour drive to the cliffs. Finished with her rock goals for the season, Kiersch competed at USA Sport Climbing Nationals the weekend after her big sends, placing fifth. She’ll return to the Red where she’s hoping to climb a few projects before heading to Ceüse for the summer.


Photo: Tom Frost / Aurora Photos

Climber: Royal Robbins
Route: The Nose (VI 5.9 A2), El Capitan
Location: Yosemite Valley, California

On Tuesday, March 14, California rock-climbing and big-wall pioneer Royal Robbins, perhaps the leading light of American climbing’s Golden Age, passed away at age 82. Robbins pushed free-climbing standards to 5.9 with his 1952 ascent of Open Book in Tahquitz, California. Five years later, he made the first ascent of the Northwest Face of Half Dome with Jerry Gallwas and Mike Sherrick, America’s first VI big wall. With his wife, Liz, Robbins established the classic Nutcracker (5.8) in Yosemite, where they used passive protection, climbing clean, instead of bashing in rock-harming pitons. He taught many climbers critical ropework and climbing techniques through his books Basic Rockcraft and Advanced Rockcraft. In 1960, Robbins along with Joe Fitschen, Chuck Pratt, and Tom Frost made the second ascent of the Nose (pictured) without siege tactics. Through his climbing, Robbins defined big-wall style, climbing with few bolts and total commitment. “Getting to the top is nothing,” Robbins said. “But the way you do it is everything.” He is survived by Liz and his children, Tamara and Damon. See Royal Robbins: The Kingpin of Yosemite’s Golden Age for a full obituary.

Photo: Nayton Rosales

Climber: Nina Williams
Route: Ambrosia (V11/5.14 X)
Location: Buttermilks, Bishop, California

On Tuesday February 28, Nina Williams made the first female ascent of Ambrosia, a 50-foot V11 (5.14 X) on the Grandpa Peabody Boulder in the Buttermilks, California. In the early 1990s, California climber Tommy Herbert drilled anchor bolts above the problem to try it on toprope, and named it Ambrosia after the food of the Greek gods. In 2009, Kevin Jorgeson made the first ascent, ropeless, climbing through difficult moves to a rest hueco at 17 feet then tackling the upper section of V6/5.12+ climbing. Over four days of effort, Williams lowpointed the route on toprope until she had done it twice from the second move to the summit. She wanted to complete a trifecta of highballs on Grandpa Peabody including the 50-foot Footprints (V9) and the 55-foot Evilution Direct (V11), both of which she’d already sent. At the end of February, she hiked 15 pads to the base and casually climbed Ambrosia. A few days later, she taught a clinic on fear management at the Flash Foxy event.