Canadian climber Sarah Hueniken just sent her second M11 route this week. She is the first North American woman to climb at the grade. Will Gadd belayed Hueniken and offered some interesting comments on the ascent and on the history of women's mixed climbing.
Hueniken sent her first M11 on December 4—Neolithic in Haffner Cave, British Columbia.
"There's a full wing-span move across a flat roof right off the start—it's tricky to set your tools, then it's tricky again to get into the iron-cross wing-span move, really powerful," Will Gadd tells Rock and Ice. Gadd climbed the route himself for the first time 10 years ago. "But the crux is releasing the first tool and holding the huge swing onto the tool at the lip. I've seen some 'ascents' where the belayer stopped the swing, but Sarah took a heels-over-head swing for real. It was a very legit ascent."
"Both routes didn't feel great on the starting moves, but you just have to keep holding on and trying and hope that you can shake out on something further up," Hueniken told Rock and Ice.
Just a week before Neolithic, Hueniken also sent the M10 route Caveman in Haffner Cave. Shortly thereafter, she went on to place second in the women's lead division at the Bozeman Ice Breaker Competition. On Tuesday, December 11, she climbed the M11 route Northwest Passage Hyalite Canyon.
"I'll probably get slapped for saying this, but to me it looks like women generally have a harder time with difficult mixed climbing than men," Will Gadd says. "In sport climbing the difference between the top men and women is much less. So to me Sarah's sending spree (and I don't think it's over yet, I believe she has M12 fitness right now) is an especially cool step forward. I hope it psyches some other women—and men—to go harder!"
Hueniken says that all her recent sends have been for training. "All this mixed climbing was really to train for spray ice at Helmcken Falls," Hueniken states. "I went last year and realized I knew nothing about climbing upside-down and vowed that if I went back I would learn and practice beforehand. I still hope to go there in January and climb some of those routes."
While Hueniken is the first North American woman to climb M11, Ines Papert of Germany became the first woman to climb M11 when she finished the route Mission Impossible in Italy in 2003. She also did a first ascent of Into the Wild, an M12 route in British Columbia.
"This is rare, seeing women sending hard mixed routes. congratulation to Sarah," Papert says in an email to Rock and Ice. "But in general, I don't like publishing 'first female ascents' because if a male climber repeats the routes I put up, nobody says it was the first male ascent, right?"