At age 14, Kai Lightner has climbed his second 5.14c by sending Lucifer in the Red River Gorge of Kentucky two days ago. After battling with the route’s sharp crimps and pockets over four days, Lightner said what finally separated success from failure was a slight change in beta that he instinctually made on the fly.
“Luckily, my send (technically) did not go as planned before tying in,” Lightner told Rock and Ice in an e-mail exchange. “While on the route, I decided to go for a different hold on the first dyno crux move. That was a much better choice. Then as I approached my last crux move, for some reason my body told me to try a different foot and add a drop knee, and slowly reach (instead of deadpoint) to the hold. It worked!”
After climbing through Lucifer’s two technical cruxes, Lightner had to fight through the remaining 5.13a “mini-jug holds” to the anchors, almost falling twice near the top.
“My fingers were freezing cold and so numb I could barely feel them to grip the holds!” he wrote. “It had snowed the day before and the rock was freezing cold. I was really excited when I clipped those anchors!”
According to Lightner, Lucifer is his hardest send to date, despite having climbed Southern Smoke—also 5.14c—in the Red River Gorge last March.
“This route was outside of my normal comfort zone,” explained Lightner. “Long, overhanging routes with some power or core-intensive moves don’t really rattle me much. I have good endurance. However, a more technical climb on shallow (razor sharp) pockets and crimps introduces new obstacles for me. Obstacles like trying to climb with tape on your fingers due to cuts and bruised skin.”
Lightner is from Fayetteville, North Carolina, and was introduced to climbing in a gym at age seven. With no opportunity for outdoor cragging near his home, Lightner told Rock and Ice in a 2013 interview (Spotlight No. 212) that climbing once a year outside is “a lot.” Instead, Lightner climbs on plastic during the week—traveling 75 miles from his home once a week to train with his climbing team after a full day of school.
When asked if he missed any classes to send Lucifer, Lightner replied:
“My mom [a mathematics professor at Fayetteville State Univeristy] doesn’t allow me to miss school for climbing, unless it’s for a major National or International competition. I attend a public year round school. Approximately every nine weeks we get a three-week intercession break. Unlike traditional schools, we do not get an extended summer vacation. This trip to the Red occurred during my spring intercession break.”
On plastic, Lightner has won his age group in the SCS Youth National Championships in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Outside, despite his infrequent trips, Lightner has climbed three 5.14a’s—Omaha Beach and Transworld Depravity (both at the Red) and Proper Soul in the New River Gorge, West Virginia.
Lightner told Rock and Ice that his next outdoor project is in the New River Gorge.
“There is a route at the New River Gorge, whose anchors have been laughing at me for months,” wrote Lightner. “I have fallen six times on the last move.”
Of the project’s difficulty, Lightner stated:
“The route grade would technically not be my hardest, however, the route style is very different from my favorite types of power-endurance climbs. I’m not going to say the route name, but I will be screaming very loud and proud once I take it down!”