Climbing News: Passing of Royal Robbins, Wins for Ashima and Kai, Jeff Lowe, and Notable Ascents

Story 1: Climbing pioneer and legend, Royal Robbins dies at 82

Royal Robbins
Photo: Tom Frost

Rock climbing pioneer and legend, Royal Robbins (1935-2017) passed away on Tuesday, March 14 at age 82, reportedly after battling a long illness.

Royal, a visionary of climbing’s Golden Age era in the ’60s and ’70s and the intrepid leader of the clean climbing movement, has undoubtedly left an indelible mark on the history of rock climbing.

This California native developed the sport as we known it alongside fellow trailblazers, Yvon Chouinard, Tom Frost, and ethical adversary, Warren Harding—establishing countless first ascents of now iconic routes in Yosemite Valley and throughout the world.

A select few of his noteworthy ascents:

  • 1952: First ascent Tahquitz Open Book (First 5.9 in U.S.)
  • 1957: First ascent Northwest Face of Half Dome, Yosemite
  • 1961: First ascent Salathe Wall of El Capitan, Yosemite
  • 1962: First ascent North Wall of Sentinel Rock, Yosemite
  • 1963: First ascent Direct Northwest Face Half Dome, Yosemite
  • 1967: First ascent of Nutcracker, Yosemite (using only chocks and natural runner)
  • 1968: First solo ascent of El Capitan, Yosemite via the Muir Wall

In 1968, Royal and his wife, Liz, then went on to create Royal Robbins—a lifestyle apparel company for rock climbers and adventurers, which continues to operate today. He also authored a number of climbing books throughout his career, including Basic Rockcraft and his biography, To Be Brave.

Royal will be sorely missed by the climbing community, but forever honored and celebrated.

Story 2: Ashima Shiraishi and Kai Lightner take first at 2017 Sport National Championship

Young talents, 15-year-old Ashima Shiraishi and 17-year-old Kai Lightner, earned titles as sport climbing champions at the 2017 Sport Open National Championship held in Denver, CO this past weekend.

With little surprise, Ashima pulled off a perfect performance; flashing or onsighting every route at every stage of the competition. And for Kai, this is his second title, the first of which he won in 2015—also earning an impressive second place in 2016.


Top sport performers included:

Men’s
1. Kai Lightner
2. Jesse Grupper
3. Drew Ruana
Women’s
1. Ashima Shiraishi
2. Margo Hayes
3. Brooke Raboutou
Top speed performers included:

Men’s
1. John Brosler
2. Libor Hroza
3. Max Hammer
Women’s
1. Claire Buhrfeind
2. Amanda Wooten
3. Grace McKeehan
Check out the complete footage of finals for both sport and speed:

Story 3: Jeff Lowe awarded 2017 Piolet d’Or Lifetime Achievement Award

Known for his cutting edge alpine achievements, Jeff Lowe will be awarded the 2017 Piolet d’Or Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual event in April—joining the ranks of Reinhold Messner, Doug Scott, Robert Paragot, Kurt Diemberger, John Roskelley, Chris Bonnington, Wojciech Kurtyka, and Walter Bonatti.

Lowe—regarded as a mountaineering visionary—established over 1000 first ascents, paved the way for modern ice/mixed climbing, and helped develop vital gear innovations for the climbing world. Contributions to gear improvements included the introduction of the tube-style belay device, as well as design modifications to crampons, ice screws, and other ice climbing equipment.

Among his long list of notable first ascents (many of which are rarely repeated), include:

  • 1971: First ascent of Moonlight Buttress, Zion National Park, UT
  • 1972: First winter ascent of Grand Teton’s West Face, WY
  • 1973: First ascent of Northeast Corner, Keeler Needle, Sierra Nevada, CA
  • 1974: First ascent of Bridal Veil Falls, Telluride, CO
  • 1979: Solo ascent of Ama Dablam, Nepal
  • 1991: First ascent of Metanoia, on Eiger’s north face (solo, without bolts)
  • 1994: Octopussy, Vail, CO

Perhaps Lowe’s greatest achievement, however, was a failure: his 1978 attempt with his roped team on Latok 1 in Pakistan—where they were forced to turn around just 150 meters below its never-before-reached summit. Despite the many attempts since theirs over the past several decades, no team has ever reached that point again.

Jeff, now confined to a wheelchair in hospice care due to an “unknown neurodegenerative process,” maintains his passion for life and a positive attitude, noting on his website:

“These days I am often asked if it doesn’t feel especially unfair to be stricken in this way when my life was so centered on the exact physical and mental abilities that are now so diminished, or completely gone. Although I do miss those things, instead of feeling bitter over the loss, I can’t help but be forever grateful for the gift of fifty fantastic years. Whatever time I get from here on is gravy. I’ll continue to ‘Have fun, work hard, and get smart’ to the best of my abilities.”

See the second ascent of his elusive routeMetanoia:

Story 4: Formerly closed bouldering area reopens at Hueco Tanks

Thanks to efforts by the Climbers of Hueco Tanks Coalition and other local climbing advocates, the Five Bimbos bouldering area of East Mountain in Hueco Tanks, Texas has been reopened to climbers.

In 1999, Hueco Tanks State Park had originally closed this area due to environmental destruction caused by human traffic.

To ensure the hard work and access to such climbing areas remains, please abide by guidelines and considerations outlined by the Coalition on their Facebook page:

Notable ascents

Jonathan Siegrist nabs second ascent of 5.14d at Mt. Potosi

At Nevada’s steep cave of Mt. Potosi, Jonathan Siegrist has been on a sending storm, with recent ascents of Reverse Polarity (5.14b), Mixed Emotions (5.14a), and Bachelor Party (5.14d), a route which he earned the second ascent of after its establishment in 2002.

Nothing like a savage double mono roof encounter at the bitter end …

He described of the route on his blog.

Michaela Kiersch’s Red River Gorge rampage continues

Michaela Kiersch continues to have a hell of a year taking down .14s at Kentucky’s Red River Gorge.

With her inspiring ascent of the Golden Ticket (5.14c) already in the bag, and an ascent of Twenty Four Karats (5.14c) earlier this month, this dedicated full-time college student returned this past weekend to put down Southern Smoke (5.14c) and Fifty Words For Pump (5.14c).

Not a bad weekend, Michaela! Keep it up!

Wow!!! Just sent 50 Words for Pump (5.14c) in 4 tries!!!! Best week ever!!!! Time for 🍕🍕🍕 . . @rockynclimbs

A post shared by Michaela Kiersch (@michaelakiersch) on

Babsi Zangerl sends her first 8c+ in Siurana, Spain

Austrian all-around crusher, Babsi Zangerl closed the chapter on her battle with the Chikane (8c+) at the Can Piqui Pugui in Siurana, Spain—a route known for its technical and crimpy sequences. This marks her hardest sport climbing ascent yet.

In her modest Facebook announcement she had this to say:

Jernej Kruder repeats .14d sport route and Sharma’s V15 testpiece in back to back days

Slovenian climber, Jernej Kruder had quite a streak of climbing outside of Barcelona last week, where he repeated Bi herri, barokka bat (5.14d/9a) and Chris Sharma’s bouldering testpiece, Catalan Witness the Fitness (V15/8c).

In October, Kruder made headlines when he achieved the second ascent of Es Pontas—Sharma’s deep water soloing project in Mallorca that he established in 2006.

Fuuuuu*k yeah!!! Yesterday I managed to make a third ascent of this very beautiful route Bi herri, borokka bat 9a, at Cova del ocell. Just before I sent it, I gave a good try in Catalan witness the fitness, 8c boulder test piece from @chris_sharma. Unfortunately I fell on the last moves, which are not harder than 7a. Today I came back for revenge and got shot down for 3 times after the crux move. Without any pressure and with very tired body, I gave it another go. Again stucked the hardest move, but somehow found just enough of aggression to pull out every piece of energy I had left, to finish this 22 moves boulder line. It was unbelievable! Making 9a route and 8c boulder in 2 days is just something wonderful 😆 • 📷 @greg_mionske • @sloveniaclimbing #morphoholds  #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing #bouldering #scarpaclimb #scarpaspa #scarpaslo #duravida #instaclimb #strong #igslovenia  #adventure #extremesports #adrenaline  #achievement #sLOVEnia #rockclimbing

A post shared by Jernej Kruder (@kruderjernej) on

Nathan Kutcher establishes hardest mixed route in Alaska

Canadian climber Nathan Kutcher has established Contra (M13-), the hardest mixed line in Alaska and among the most difficult in all of North America.

Kutcher visited the Keystone Canyon area during the Valdez Ice Climbing Festival and scoped out the 20-meter line on a 25-30-degree overhanging wall, which bears very few features on hard, slippery rock.

In an interview, he told Rock and Ice,

It’s hard to say Contra was fun because the moves are so difficult and insecure. I always felt like my tool was going to pop off and I was going to take an out-of-control fall. I guess hard routes are usually ‘Type 2’ fun.

Kutcher also recently repeated Saphira (M15-) in Vail, CO, which he suggested isn’t “anywhere near its proposed grade” and believes Contra stacks up as similar in difficulty.


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