Two of the best American climbers, Margo Hayes and Paige Claassen, have redpointed Kryptonite, the classic Tommy Caldwell route that is considered the first 5.14d in the country.
Hayes, 22, and Claassen, 30, have scored many notable ascents in recent years—Hayes became the first woman to climb 5.15a and has gone on to send two others routes of the grade; Claassen sent two 5.14d’s on U.S. soil in Algorithm and Shadowboxing—but Kryptonite is a special one because of the history.
“It isn’t often that one gets to climb on such a historic route so close to home,” Hayes told Rock and Ice in an email. “I really enjoyed climbing on a route that was so groundbreaking for sport climbing in the United States.”
Claassen echoed Hayes sentiments in an email of her own: “I love iconic routes with history, so as the first 14d in America, Kryptonite had always been in the back of my mind as a goal.”
In a an interview with MountainZone.com way back in 1999, after he made the first ascent, then 21-year-old Caldwell called Kryptonite the most difficult route he had done up to that point. “Necessary Evil took me about nine days and Kryptonite took me about 20,” he said. “I am not sure whether it is 5.14d because I have never climbed anything that hard before.”
In the same interview, Caldwell gave the following breakdown of the 100-foot route: “It has a couple of V9 boulder problems with hard climbing in between. Once you get into the meat of the route there are no good rests. The climbing gets harder as you go up with the crux at about the 80-foot point.”
Caldwell went on to establish Flex Luthor at the Fortress of Solitude—possibly the first 5.15a or 5.15b in the U.S., though he never graded it and it remains unrepeated. Aside from those with Kryptonite in their sights—it has been repeated at least nine times before Hayes and Claassen’s ascent—the Fortress sees little traffic, largely because of the thigh-burner approach—which, after quarantine, was itself a “shock to the system,” to say nothing of climbing 5.14d, Hayes said.
[Also Watch VIDEO: Margo Hayes Sending Biographie (9a+/5.15a)]
“I have grown up considering Rifle as a home crag,” Hayes said, “but I hadn’t ever made the hike up to the Fortress. Now that I have been up there, I understand why everyone says it’s such a wonderful location.” Located just about a 20 minute drive from Rifle Mountain Park, the Fortress sits high up on a mountainside and looks down upon the slowly curling Main Elk Creek and adjacent farmland.
While both Claassen and Hayes have had Kryptonite on their list of climbs to check out for a while, the post-coronavirus lockdown restrictions on travel made it the ideal project for the times. Between trying to frequent emptier crags to maintain their social distance, and looking for a sufficiently difficult challenge in Colorado—but not in Rifle’s more crowded narrow canyon, where both have climbed some of their hardest pitches—the Fortress was perfect.
For her part, Hayes was going up with Matty Hong, who along with Jon Cardwell, had been encouraging her to try Kryptonite for several years. Cardwell ticked Kryptonite in December 2015, and Hong followed suit in February 2016.
Hayes spent a total of six days working the route. She describes it as follows:
The line is really beautiful. It’s long and full of many different types of moves. It is quite bouldery with some knee bar rests between, which I was grateful for! To start the route, you must climb up to a little ledge at the base of the cliff, which is where we hang out. The first part of the route is a 5.12, and then there is a mid-sized hole in the wall where people tend to rest. From there, the route really picks up and you enter the first crux. When I heard that a hold had broken, I was a little bit worried that I may not find a way through it. However, It’s important to accept the impermanence of things. Fortunately, with some creativity, I found a way through that section by using a sequence that I would have otherwise overlooked! A door closes and a window opens, right? Following the first crux, there are a few more tough combinations of moves. My personal crux was probably about half way.
That broken hold? It was a recent event that Claassen had more details about.
“The first day my husband, Arjan, and I tried Kryptonite, Arjan broke a big hold off at the beginning of the hard section,” Claassen said. “The hold left after the break was significantly worse than the hold that broke off, making the setup for one of the crux moves significantly harder. … The route is a bit harder now, but takes the same line (no diversions), and shouldn’t discourage anyone from climbing it.”
Like ships passing in the night, Claassen and Hayes projected the route individually, only sharing the crag a single day—the day Hayes sent. Watching her that day, Claassen was blown away by how different their beta was from each other.
“As I watched Margo cruise Kryptonite on her send, it looked like an entirely different route than I’d been trying,” Claassen said. “From the 5.12 intro, through the 6 bolt crux, to the 5.13 outro, every single move was different from my beta—in a crux, she would go up right hand where I would go left, or she’d use entirely different holds.”
Claassen ultimately adopted some of Hayes’ beta, allowing her to conserve that needed bit of extra energy to hold on to the end. On her seventh day on the route, she too sent. “Finishing Kryptonite was definitely a dream come true!” Claassen said.
Hayes said that Kryptonite was “significantly easier” than the 5.15s she has sent. While she remains unsure whether it is 5.14d or 5.14c, even post-break, she called the route “exceptional.”
“I enjoy this type of climbing a lot, because it is so thought provoking,” Hayes said.