Paige Claassen had one goal this September: climbing Algorithm (5.14d) in the Fins, Idaho. Just six days into working on her project (plus two days last May) and three days into the month, Claassen clipped the chains and became the second person to climb the Idaho test piece, a cool six years after Jonathan Siegrist made the first ascent.
Rock and Ice caught up with Claassen via phone today to chat about her impressive ascent, her thoughts on the grade and what the rest of the month has in store for her in Idaho.
Q&A with Paige Claassen
First of all, congratulations on Algorithm. For those of us who don’t know, can you tell us a little bit about the climb?
Sure, Algorithm is about 40 meters long. It starts up a 13a called Son of Discovery and then it traverses right for about three bolts and then heads up to the top of the wall. The traverse is sustained, delicate footwork. The crux is trusting your feet and finding your balance. There are some good rests in positive huecos followed by hard boulder problems. It sort of goes on like that. That is my favorite style of climbing. You really have to find your feet, trust your feet and believe you are going to stay on the wall. You have to get it right because if you take too long to readjust you are going to fall.
Was this your first 5.14d climb? How did it feel to accomplish such a huge goal?
I don’t know what to think of the grade of this one. I did it a lot quicker than most of my other hard routes. To me it felt comparable to a lot of the 14c’s I’ve done. It’s a second ascent so the grading is always tough. I don’t want to claim it as my first 9a because I am not sure about the grade. But still, it is pretty cool to be able to say you have climbed that grade. I also feel pretty fit right now so it’s hard to compare routes like this to other routes when you were a different climber. Really, the grade doesn’t matter too much to me. Either way I am super stoked to have climbed such a beautiful line.
How did you settle on Algorithm as your project? Had it been in the back of your mind for a while now?
It’s a really proud route. It has been in my head for a while now. It’s a beautiful line. And I like choosing really specific projects. I try to choose routes that I am going to enjoy working on for a long time. It was the right route for me at the perfect time and in the perfect location.
Did you talk to Jonathan Siegrist about the climb at all before you started projecting?
Yeah. He was psyched that I wanted to try it. The route hadn’t seen much action since he climbed it in 2012. Only one other person has been on it since I think? When you establish a route and put so much effort into it you want to see other people climb it and enjoy it. But we didn’t really exchange much beta on it. He is enthusiastic and super supportive and really wanted to see what I thought. It’s always cool to see people on the climbs that you love.
To finish Algorithm in six days, plus two in May, you must have been pretty proud of your effort. Were you surprised to send it so fast?
Yes. Super surprised. We had planned on being here until the end of September and I even thought I might have to come back in May to finish it off. I just didn’t know how hard it would be. But five days in I linked from the bottom to the top crux. That was the first link I had made on the entire route. Before that I was just hanging all over the place. That gave me some confidence. But then you have to convince yourself you can do it. I took two rest days and kept telling myself that I can do the moves and that I’ve done the moves. I kept telling myself that those little feet were bigger than I remembered. After that I expected to have a few more days of work to put in but I ended up doing it my first try of the day. I think you get the most satisfaction from routes that you really struggle through and since I didn’t really have that this is a new one for me. But I am still just excited to have climbed it!
Did you change up your training at all in preparation for this route or was it business as usual for you leading up to the climb?
My training has changed a lot the past year. Starting in August I began weight trained and started to eat a lot of protein. I felt a huge boost in my climbing that I hadn’t seen before and this past year I really tapped into a new area of my climbing. For Algorithm specifically, I didn’t really know how to train for it because it’s so vert. I hangboarded and campused for it. Other than that I climbing and trained in the gym. I actually really like training. I don’t mind being in the gym and putting in time. I think Algorithm was hard to train for because a lot of it is trusting my feet. That comes more from experience and not really from training. I’ve climbed some pretty technical sport climbs that require precise feet so I think that helped a lot.
You mentioned that you were as mentally tired at the end of the route as you were physically, can you tell me a little about what goes into preparing mentally for a route like this?
I always draw a route map on my projects. It came from being really bad at remembering beta. I’ve gotten better at that over time but I still draw maps. It helps me remember specific sequences and feet, even if they are just smears. This is part of my visualization process. It helps me think of a foothold as a foothold and not just a smear. The beta map is great for that. For Algorithm you’re not just pulling hard, you are thinking about intricate sequences. By the time you get to the chains you are mentally exhausted.
In your Instagram post you said that you nearly fumbled the top, what happened there? What was going through your head and how did you manage to hold it together?
I botched the top and had to make some things up as I went. There is no chalk up there and I had only done it like two or three times I think. I didn’t want to fall and mess up the “easy” part even though it isn’t that easy. We sometimes tend to get excited towards the end but you can fall anywhere. It doesn’t matter how “easy” a topout it. It’s not over until you clip the chains.
Algorithm was your goal for September. Since you accomplished it only a few days into the month, are you shifting your focus towards another September goal?
There are so many routes at the fins! We are psyched to stick around until the end of September and climb for fun. I have a stacked list for the month of things that might not look as impressive in terms of grade but still feel just as hard. But, yeah, the pressure is definitely off and we are excited to just climb.
First ascent of Algorithm by Jonathan Siegrist