Seventeen-year-old Harry Edwards doesn’t fit the mold of young climbing crushers we’ve come to expect. He has never been part of a youth climbing team and doesn’t climb competitively, hell, he doesn’t even climb at an indoor gym because there isn’t one within 100 miles of his home. Instead he trains on his family’s homemade wall in the back garden. He’s taken years away from climbing to pursue other interests. He wants to be a chemical engineer. He likes show choir.
Yet despite his less conventional path of progression this teen, hailing from Holbrook, Arizona, may have just established one of the hardest routes in the United States. A little over a week ago, after months of work and getting up at 4:15 a.m. to climb before school, Harry sent Frequency, an arcing line up a curved sandstone arete at his local crag of East Clear Creek. He has given the route a prospective grade of 5.14d. The line, on the Winslow Wall—the most highly-developed section of East Clear Creek—was bolted by Harry’s father, Rob Edwards, who is a longtime climber.
“[The route is] easy to access, the stone is excellent, the movement is bouldery and technical, and the format is impossible to beat: the route presents a crescendo of difficulty capped by what has got to be one of the most incredible dynos in the world of roped rock climbing,” Harry told Rock and Ice.
There are only about 35 routes in the U.S. that with a grade of 5.14d or above. Fifteen of them have yet to be unrepeated. First ascents of this grade by teenagers are scarcer still. Drew Ruana is the only other youth to have first ascents of U.S. 5.14d routes: Assassin at Smith Rock, Oregon, and Brave New World at Little Si, Washington, which he achieved in 2016 at age 16.
“In my opinion, the climbing up to the dyno is 14c, and extremely challenging by itself,” Harry told Rock and Ice, “and then, after a shake, comes the dyno—by far, the hardest move on the route. I don’t think the climb could be easier than 14d.”
Harry may be young but he has plenty of experience in the 5.14 realm and his estimation for the route grade has a solid basis. A few months before his 11th birthday Harry made a first ascent of a 5.14a line, the Christmas Project, at his local crag, potentially making him one of the youngest people to ever climb the grade, although the route awaits further ascents for grade confirmation. Age 12 he climbed God’s Own Stone (5.14a), Omaha Beach (5.14a) and Southern Smoke (5.14c) in the Red River Gorge. When he was 13 he climbed 50 Words for Pump, another 5.14c in the Red, and then established a yet unrepeated 5.14 called Project Perfection, again in East Clear Creek. Shortly after this, despite sponsorship support from various high-profile companies, his passion for climbing dwindled.
“One day, he was chomping at the bit, and the next, he didn’t want anything to do with the sport,” said Rob Edwards. It turns out that Harry had developed a keen interest in show choir (group singing/dancing performances: think Pitch Perfect). “I felt like the King of the Swamp Castle in Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” Edwards continued, “I was trying to talk up some really great objectives, and my son basically responded by saying, ‘But father, I’d rather just sing!’”
For nearly two years Harry didn’t climb at all. His parents and his sponsors, appreciating the importance of not pushing him against his will, let him be. Then, without warning, the fire reignited during a family hike in Antelope Canyon, Arizona, and Harry returned to climbing with fervor, attaining 5.14 routes within a few months, including The Bleeding (5.14b) in Mill Creek and Golden (5.14b) in St. George, both in Utah.
“When he [Harry] learned about Frequency, he got excited and started training harder than ever. It’s been a tremendous thing to see him succeed on it,” said Edwards.
Harry believes that the difficultly of the line lies in the dyno crux, which he considers unavoidable and height-dependent.
“I’m predicting that for a large percentage of climbers who have succeeded on consensus routes in the 14d and 15a grades, the dyno is going to be murderously hard,” said Harry. “It’s such a long move! I’m six-feet tall, I tend to be pretty good at dynos, and it took me forever. I tried it for months without being able to stick it a single time off the hang.”
Now that Edwards has sent his project, what, you may ask, is he working towards next? 5.15a? More first ascents?
No, he’s indulging his other talents and interests, finishing high school and rehearsing for his school musical performance of Les Miserables.