Less than two months after Brittany Goris got the first female ascent of City Park, a notorious 5.13d trad climb first freed by Todd Skinner in 1986, another woman has sent the same route. Shanjean Lee clipped the anchors of the Index, Washington testpiece on September 3, becoming the seventh person to send the route, and the fourth to complete a true redpoint by placing all gear on lead.
Lee first set her sights on climbing City Park years ago, but at the time she didn’t feel a sense of urgency around it. In between her work as an orthopedic surgery resident in Portland, Oregon, she had other more pressing projects. ln 2015, she got the first female ascent of Thin Red Line in Washington Pass (5.12, 11 pitches). Then she freed Liberty Crack in Washington Pass (5.13b, 12 pitches) and Cruz del Sur in Peru ( 5.13a, 20 pitches), both of which she did in 2016.
And then she heard about Goris. “Hearing about Brittany brought [City Park] back to the forefront for me,” Lee says. After a total of ten days on the route including five lead attempts, Lee put the climb to bed herself.
For Pacific Northwest climbers, City Park looms large, its reputation built around the infamously sparse protection, heinous pinky-locks and a colorful history. When locals heard that Todd Skinner was attempting to free the climb in the 1980s they poured grease in the crack to try to stop him. Skinner burned out the grease with a blowtorch, and eventually succeeded on what was, at that time, the most difficult crack climb in the U.S.
Lee sending the climb so soon after Goris achieved the first female ascent brings to mind other examples of how, once someone breaks a barrier, others seem propelled to pass through it as well. Like how after Margo Hayes became the first woman to climb 5.15 when she sent La Rambla, two others did the same within months (Anak Verhoeven on Sweet Neuf and Angela Eiter on La Planta de Shiva). Or, outside of gendered- and climbing-specific barriers, how after Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile, John Landy ran one just 46 days later. It begs the question: Once a barrier is broken, does it become easier for others to follow suit?
It sure seems that way, and that’s how the story is often told. Then again, maybe who breaks the actual barrier is simply a question of who the stars align for at the right time. “There are a lot of factors that go into somebody being successful at something,” Lee says. The back-to-back sends of City Park are perhaps most similar to when Michaela Kirsch got the first female ascent of the historic 5.14c sport route Necessary Evil, in the Virgin River Gorge, and then Paige Claassen sent it the next day. “I honestly think either of them could have been first,” Lee says.
Having someone else work on your project can definitely be motivating, and Lee says Goris also gave her a couple of key tips: to superglue her tape, and how to navigate a tricky gear placement (the beta: skip the gear and just run it out). But, when it comes down to it, sending a route like City Park requires a whole lot of self-driven try-hard. Lee says this was one of the first climbs that she really worked on her own, taking most of her burns on a mini-traxtion.
Writing down and mentally rehearsing the moves was also a key part of her process: Lee posted an Instagram video that her partner, Mikey Schaefer (who was the first person to redpoint the climb in 2006), snuck of her pantomiming the crux on the plane when they were returning from the Free Solo premier at the Telluride Film Festival. They came back from the festival a day early so Lee could get back on the route. “It was actually crazy, because I figured out new beta when I was doing that pantomiming,” she says. Beta that clearly worked: she sent the next day.
Lee says the accomplishment has particular personal significance because she is freshly recovered from a stretch spent battling injuries. Since she climbed Cruz del Sur, much of her time was refocused on developing other skills, like snow travel and backcountry skiing. City Park was the first hard rock climb that Lee has put her mind to for a couple of years.
“It was like, ‘Oh, sweet, I can rock climb still,’” she says. Yes—she certainly can.