The longest a boxing match goes is 12 rounds—and that’s all Paige Claassen needed to KO Shadowboxing, 5.14d, in Rifle, Colorado. After trying the 45-meter route “10 to 12 times in total” over the past seven weeks, the 29-year-old American fought her way to the anchors of Shadowboxing last Thursday evening, October 3.
The Aspens in the mountains around Rifle turned brilliant yellow the weekend before—a surefire sign that the fall climbing season is winding down in the Canyon. Claassen was happy to get Shadowboxing done before the bite in the air became too strong. “It went down faster than I expected which is cool,” she tells Rock and Ice, “and even better since it’s about to get really cold out there.”
Shadowboxing was equipped by Nico Favresse, and first climbed by Jonathan Siegrist in 2011. Siegrist originally graded it 5.14d, but later downgraded it to 5.14c after finding a key kneebar. After a critical hold broke, consensus by those who were trying it anew—including Siegrist, who checked it out again—was that the difficulty was again 5.14d. Jon Cardwell got the second, post-break ascent, and confirmed the grade, making it one of Rifle’s hardest routes.
Claasseen decided earlier this summer that Shadowboxing would be a good route to check out. “I was looking around for routes that would suit me. I struggle with the steep, kneebarring style of Rifle,” she says.
The route has a reputation as a power-endurance testpiece, but Claassen found it more unusual. “It’s not your typical endurance route where your forearms are flaming,” she says, “but all the rests and the cruxes and moves in general are underlings, so it’s about having enough endurance in your biceps.” To train specifically for the route, she did bicep curls, and kept an eye out for the perfect temps when the small, smeary footholds would feel stickier.
Despite technically measuring 45 meters in length, the beginning is a scramble and there are just 8 bolts of really consequential climbing on the route. It has two distinct cruxes: a “burly” mid-route sequence, and a “thin crimpy” section at the top, Claassen says. Thursday was the first time she had climbed from the bottom through the first crux, and she was able to send it that go. “I felt really solid. It wasn’t like a fumbling battle or anything but had to fight super hard,” she says.”
As for the grade, Claassen gives an evasive answer. “I try really hard not to focus on grades because they’re so subjective,” she says. “What’s hard for one person is totally different for someone else. I keep waiting for a route to feel like the next level up. It didn’t feel a level up from other routes I’ve done. But at the same time I think I’m a lot stronger than I’ve been. So I think I’ve improved a lot over the last year or two.”
Claassen had similar thoughts after repeating Algorithm, at the Fins, Idaho, in September 2018, originally graded 5.14d by first ascentionist Jonathan Siegrist. She told Rock and Ice at the time, “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.”
In addition to Shadowboxing and Algorithm, Claassen has redpointed a host of difficult testpieces around the world. She has climbed Just Do It (5.14c) at Smith Rock, Oregon; Necessary Evil, Virgin River Gorge, Arizona; Groove Train, (8c/5.14b), the Grampians, Australia; and Odin’s Eye (5.14c), Flatanger, Norway.
Grades aside, Claassen is intent on finding that next level. “I’d definitely like to try something harder. I love projecting, so throwing myself at something for a big period of time is really fun for me. So would love to find something I can try for a number of months. There’s still room to grow for sure.”