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Kai Lightner encourages a young climber at Memphis Rox climbing gym in Tennessee. (Photo: Julyanna Carvalho)
Kai Lightner encourages a young climber at Memphis Rox climbing gym in Tennessee. (Photo: Julyanna Carvalho)

Racial inequity, Covid, messy politics of this election year … climbing headlines just haven’t been a priority in my column lately.

And they’re still not.

However, I thought I’d share four of climbing’s recent highlights if for no other reason than to remind us that the human spirit still thrives — even amid the chaos of 2020.

Lightner, who turns 21 this month, poses for an Adidas photo shoot at Central Rock Gym, Massachusetts. (Photo: Alex Peacher)

1) When teenaged Kai Lightner won the U.S. Lead National Championships in 2015, and then again in 2017, he didn’t exactly look the part. He’s a black climber standing 6-feet, 2-inches tall, with a shy smile and the wingspan of an NBA player.

This June, Lightner started a nonprofit called Climbing for Change. His goal is to diversify the climbing industry and to make it more inclusive for underserved communities. On he is quoted as saying, “We want to see diversity in all forms of the industry, not just with athletes. This includes guides, route setters, employees at climbing gyms, anything you can imagine.”

Climbing for Change will essentially rewrite the script, so that anyone on that climber’s podium — even a tall, black teenager — will look the part.

2) Catherine Destivelle will be the first woman ever to win the esteemed French prize for alpinism, the Piolet d’Or (Golden Ice Axe), for Lifetime Achievement, after 11 men since 2009. This specific prize rewards someone whose career has inspired generations of climbers.

Destivelle is one of few climbers to have mastered such diverse disciplines as competitions, solo ascents (with and without a rope) and high-end alpinism. Between 1985 and 1988 she became the first woman to climb 5.13b and 5.13c.

In the 1990s the French climber returned to her true love: alpinism. She made several notable female firsts in the Alps, including solo winter ascents of the feared north faces of the Eiger, Grandes Jorasses and the Matterhorn.

Destivelle, now 60 years old, will receive her award next month at the Ladek Mountain Film Festival in Poland.

3) Three years ago Adam Ondra established the world’s first 5.15d, while Angy Eiter made the first female ascent of 5.15b. In the last three weeks, two sport climbers have finally matched these benchmarks from 2017, albeit on different routes.

In late July, 19-year old Italian phenom, Laura Rogora, climbed Ali Hulk Sit Start Extension (5.15b) in Rodellar, Spain, becoming the second woman to climb this grade. Rogora, who qualified for the 2020 Olympics, has also made at least seven first ascents of routes 5.14c and harder.

Alex Megos, a 26-year-old German climber, spent roughly 60 days over the last three years on a route called Bibliographie in Céüse, France. On Aug. 5 he finally succeeded on the world’s second 5.15d.

4) Locally, it’s been a productive summer up in Rocky Mountain National Park. In mid-July, Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold enchained 11 alpine rock routes, all on different peaks, for an outrageous 36.5-hour outing they call the Continental Divide Ultimate Linkup (CDUL). In all, they climbed about 65 pitches up to 5.11 and gained 20,000 vertical feet in 25 miles.

Local speedsters Wade Morris and Stefan Griebel bested a 21 year-old record for climbing the Diamond (900 feet up to 5.10) of Longs Peak on Aug. 4. Unbelievably, they completed the round-trip (trailhead-to-trailhead) in 3 hours 53 minutes and 59 seconds.

Also on the Diamond, I freed a new route that I and Bruce Miller established over the past 4 summers called Gambler’s Fallacy (5.13b, 9 pitches). On Aug. 9 I led all the pitches with Miller supporting. We’ll swap roles next week for Miller’s free attempt. This is now one of the hardest routes on North America’s highest elevation big wall.

On the same day, Phil Gruber and Josh Wharton climbed a new, single-pitch variation to The Honeymoon Is Over called Beethoven’s Honeymoon (5.13a). And last Saturday, Brooke Raboutou climbed Jade in Chaos Canyon, her first V14. This places her among relatively few women worldwide to have climbed that grade.

Raboutou, of Boulder, was also the first American climber to qualify for the Olympics. I hope, in some small way, these glimmers of light from the climbing world will remind us that one day we will overcome these dark times.

Contact Chris Weidner at Follow him on Instagram @christopherweidner and Twitter @cweidner8

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