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2018 In Review: A Year In Climbing

2018 was—to put it mildly—a wild year for everyone, and the climbing community was no exception. Impossibly difficult problems were sent, a raccoon made an ascent of a St. Paul office tower, and public land protection became a topic of national discourse. Here at The Cliffs, we’ve announced the addition of our first indoor gym in Brooklyn and changed up our routesetting system. Read on for our recap of the climbing world of 2018!


There were several seemingly impossible climbs completed this year: Adam Ondra onsighted Smith Rock’s Just Do It, America’s first 5.14c, and became the first person to flash 5.15a with his ascent of Super Crackinette in the French Southern Alps; Kaddi Lehmann sent Swiss problem Kryptos, making her the second woman in history to send a V15; Alex Megos and Stefano Ghisolfi sent Perfecto Mundo, marking them the third and fourth people, respectively, to ever climb 5.15c; Daniel Woods made the first ascent of Rocky Mountain National Park’s Box Therapy, the eighth V16 in the world, followed by Shawn Raboutou sending Low Start to Off the Wagon, Switzerland’s first and the world’s ninth V16.

Kaddi Lehmann on  Kryptos , V15 // Photo via  Instagram

Kaddi Lehmann on Kryptos, V15 // Photo via Instagram

Other feats of note include Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell setting the speed record on The Nose of El Capitan with a time of 1:58:07, and Alex Puccio taking home the gold in the women’s division at the IFSC Bouldering World Cup in Vail, Colorado—for the second time.


Yosemite feature films reached new heights in 2018: Free Solo and The Dawn Wall both made their debut this year documenting two separate ascents of El Capitan.

Free Solo, directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, covers legendary climber Alex Honnold on his quest—and success in—climbing El Capitan’s Freerider without protective equipment. This documents the first free solo of this nearly 3,000-foot Yosemite face, which Honnold completed in just under 4 hours. The New York Times justifiably declares that this climb “should be celebrated as one of the great athletic feats of any kind, ever,” so if you haven’t seen Free Solo yet, now is the time.

Alex Honnold on  Freerider  // Photo via  National Geographic

Alex Honnold on Freerider // Photo via National Geographic

The Dawn Wall is a thrilling film about Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson marking the first free climb of the nearly 3,000-foot Dawn Wall of El Capitan between December 28, 2014, and January 14, 2015. Directed by Big UP’s Josh Lowell and Sender Films’ Peter Mortimer, The Dawn Wall follows the six years Caldwell spent planning and practicing his route along several 5.14 pitches—and his and Jorgeson’s final ascent. Add this beautiful film to your must-watch list!


Members of the Cliffs community headed to Horse Pens 40 in Alabama this October to take part in the second annual Color the Crag, the first climbing festival that celebrates diversity in climbing. Hosted by NYC’s own BOC Crew along with DC-based Brown Girls Climb, Color the Crag is working to increase access and exposure to historically marginalized communities by building relationships, encouraging leadership, and providing positive representation of climbing and physical activity among populations of color. Read the blog post about the long weekend written by our scholarship winner, Janine, here!

Color the Crag // Photo by Fabian Santiago

Color the Crag // Photo by Fabian Santiago


The midterm elections have come and gone, and the results are generally good for the climbing community. As Republican Utah Congressman Rob Bishop—a vocal opponent of the Antiquities Act and Bears Ears National Monument—leaves as chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, he is expected to be replaced with Democratic Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva, who is known for his strong focus on conservation efforts, Native American rights, and public lands. Additionally, with the new bipartisan Congress, we hope to see more checks and balances to bring important laws such as the Antiquities Act, the Roadless Rule, and the National Environmental Policy Act to the forefront in order to maintain protection of our land. Use your voice to speak out to lawmakers and fight for public process of public lands.

Access Fund continues to further their mission to conserve climbing areas and advocate for climbers: in a historic move, they are attempting to legislate and legitimize fixed anchors in Wilderness areas by writing it into federal law. This move is working to minimize conflicts around land management and unsubstantiated climbing restrictions—and to protect climbing access across the country. Learn more and sign up for alerts when they need you to activate your voice here!


The American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) welcomed Angela Hawse to their team as the president of the board of directors. She has over 35 years of guiding experience, is one of the owners of Chicks Climbing and Skiing, and was the sixth American woman to earn her International Federation of Mountain Guide Association certification, the highest level of certification attainable by professional mountain guides. We’re excited for what she brings to the industry!

Angela Hawse // Photo by Randy Gaetano

Angela Hawse // Photo by Randy Gaetano

Over at The Cliffs, we cheered on three of our members, Adam Payne, Emily Gray, and Phillip Kaminski, who competed at the IFSC Paraclimbing World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria this September. They crushed it!

Largest USA paraclimbing team in history // Photo via  Instagram

Largest USA paraclimbing team in history // Photo via Instagram


2018 was an exciting year for routesetting at The Cliffs. We launched our new Vertical Life app, which allows you to grade, rate, and track routes and problems at the gym. This allows our community to self-regulate the consistency of grades and helps us reach objectivity. Check out our crash course on using the app here.

Additionally, we put grades back on the boulder problems a week after they go up, adding back the convenience of having grades right in front of you while keeping the positive outcomes of keeping grades off; returned to more specific YDS a/b/c/d grading of routes; and transitioned to having volumes on for all climbs in order to give you a cleaner, clearer, and more organic way of climbing. All of this is to continue to deliver the most exciting and challenging climbs for you!

Sample screenshots of the Vertical Life App

Sample screenshots of the Vertical Life App


2018 was a jam packed year for our events calendar! We hosted a lot of firsts: our first annual blood drive, first dog adoption event with Bidawee Animal Shelter, first adaptive climbing instruction course with Paradox Sports, and our first meetup appreciation night.

Thanks to our generous members, we also raised thousands of dollars in lost and found chalk bag sales for charities around the world and collected goods + materials for indigenous women in California and for Hurricane Maria relief services.

Other exciting events we put on include our several rad movie nights, the Tristate Bouldering Series, Global Climbing Day, Reel Rock Fest, and various events with Alex Honnold, Jimmy Chin, and Kevin Jorgeson. We can’t wait for an even bigger events calendar in 2019!


Young Women Who Crush, a climbing and leadership development program created by The Cliffs and Discover Outdoors Foundation, concluded its first school year this June with a trip to The Gunks. The girls put their climbing skills to the test on real rock and wowed us with their strength, joy, and courage.

This school year, YWWC returns with an expanded program of 25 high school girls from three different schools. The girls have perfected their belay skills and are working on climbing technique, projecting, and conquering their fears. Returning YWWC alum are taking on leadership roles as mentors to the new cohort, sharing skills, knowledge, and encouragement with their peers.

This season of YWWC will culminate in two outdoor trips in the spring: a climbing day trip and an overnight camping trip, which will provide the girls with a more comprehensive outdoor experience and allow them to put their outdoor ethics and Wilderness First Aid skills into practice. To support YWWC, you can make a tax-deductible donation here!

Young Women Who Crush

Young Women Who Crush

The Vikings Youth Team had a great bouldering season, with our kids showing incredible progress in just a few months. We brought a record number of climbers to the regional championship in Hadley, MA and placed 4th in the Western New England region! Eight Cliffs Vikings are moving moving onto the Divisional Championship in Stamford, CT in January.

In addition to youth competitions, we also had three climbers represent The Cliffs at the USA Climbing National Cup Series in an effort to qualify for this year’s Open National Championship. As the National Cup Series wraps up, we hope to see them at Nationals in February!  

The youth team wants to thank The Cliffs community for all of your support all season long—if you see any of the climbers or coaches around, please feel free to say hi!

Some of our Vikings at Nationals // Photo via  Instagram

Some of our Vikings at Nationals // Photo via Instagram


In June, the nation watched in awe as a raccoon (dubbed the MPR Raccoon) made her way up the 25-story UBS Plaza office tower in St. Paul, Minnesota. The thrilling saga of the raccoon’s free solo was documented heavily on social media as she spent hours climbing up, down, then back up the building—surpassing the normal 20-30 feet that raccoons normally climb—until finally topping out and being transported back to the ground safely. Phew!

Overall, 2018 was groundbreakingly noteworthy, and we couldn’t have done it without our community. Everyone here has been an amazing presence in The Cliffs’ life, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for us all. We hope you’ll stay along for the ride; see you in 2019!

We dedicate this post to legendary and local climbers we’ve lost too soon: Jeff Lowe, widely regarded as the finest alpinist of his generation, Yosemite Golden Age climbing icon Tom Frost, and avid Cliffs climber Priel Schmalbach.

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Originally posted 2019-10-23 17:37:05.

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