Meltdown: Beth Rodden’s Unrepeated Yosemite First Ascent

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Beth Rodden Yosemite Meltdown Trad Rock Climbing
Photo: Corey Rich (Aurora)

“There comes a time in everyone’s climbing life when they find a route that really captivates them. I don’t think it is limited to just one, or even two or more. But for every climber there are routes that get their attention for whatever reason—history, aesthetics, movement, the unknown,” Beth Rodden said. On Valentine’s Day in 2008, Rodden redpointed Meltdown, a 70-foot 5.14c fingertips crack near Upper Cascade Creek in Yosemite, after 40 days of projecting, making it the hardest pitch in the Valley at the time. [Seven years later, the Dawn Wall claimed that title at 5.14d.] Despite numerous attempts by strong climbers, including Ron Kauk, who bolted the anchor and initially attempted the line, the difficult climb remains unrepeated.

“The few months prior to Meltdown, I wanted to repeat some of the single-pitch climbs around Yosemite and give my body and mind a break from the demands of El Cap climbing,” Rodden said of her objectives back then. She had devoted a decade to climbing on El Capitan, making free ascents of Lurking Fear (VI 5.13c), El Corazon (VI 5.13b), and the Nose (VI 5.14a), but she was ready to see how hard she could climb on shorter routes. Meltdown was mentally and physically difficult, with small bumps for feet, ultra-technical movement, finicky gear (the largest piece was a ¾” TCU), and winter storms around the falls (she had to shovel snow just to get to the base). She took a break after a month of projecting to boulder with friends and increase her power and overall strength. When she returned to the route, the repetitive attempts on the crux at 30 feet caused damage to the ligaments in her hand, but Rodden persisted.

“In the fall, Upper Cascade Creek has a calming white-noise charm to it, but as the river grows, it creates an intensity that highlights the countdown of days until the route becomes unclimbable due to spray and wetness,” said Rodden. “I was barely able to do it before the waterfall got too big.”

Eight years later, Rodden and her husband, Randy Puro, split their time between the Bay Area and Yosemite with their two-year-old son, Theo.

Of her current goals she said, “To spend as much time with Theo as possible in my favorite place in the world, Yosemite.”

[Update: On November 7, 2018, Carlo Traversi made the coveted second ascent of Meltdown. Watch it here.]

Location: Yosemite Valley, California
Type: Trad
Grade: 5.14c
Length: 70 feet
Notable Attempts: Ron Kauk, Carlo Traversi, Enzo Oddo, Tommy Caldwell

  • Want to learn to climb trad and attempt Meltdown yourself? (It might be a few years before you send.) Check out AIM Adventure U: Intro to Trad, an 8-week course by IFMGA guides Rob Coppolillo and Marc Chauvin.