Thursday, December 12

America's Best 5.14

Not sure exactly why but I'm kind of obsessed with lists. Especially 'best of' type lists and, naturally, the banter surrounding the creation of said lists. What could be a better way to end the climbing day than a table slamming, opinion tossing, beer fueled discussion (read: fierce argument) about the impossibly definitive best?

During a myriad of rainy rest days in West Virginia, me and my good buddy Mike Williams got into the task of scribing our thoughts on what could be the very best 5.14s in the country. A conversation that is easily rousted by the level of quality one finds nestled in the depths of the New River Gorge. What does it take to be a true classic? Is classic merely a creation of consensus? Can time only tell? Is there a possible formula - a list of characteristics required to be deemed a classic - or is it simply a feeling that you have while climbing, something visceral but not quantifiable?

I tried to approach this dire question with logic (not usually my method of choice). Okay, so. A classic must be aesthetic, entirely natural, mentally and physically challenging, consistent, inspiring and perhaps even have an interesting history. Well, pretty much immediately I realized these were not gonna work for me. There were routes on my lifetime top ten that certainly did not satisfy every characteristic, but I couldn't bare to erase them from my list. They were just too damn meaningful or bad ass or amazing. So here's where I started wondering about what other people thought. What would happen if I asked a handful of the country's best climbers what they thought could be the most classic 5.14s in the nation? Would there be clear winners or would everyone's list be different - just as everyone's experience is unique - ??


Joey Kinder states that to him, a classic is defined by, "the style and character of the climbing and the personal connection or story that follows." He goes on to say that every route on his list represents, "lessons, challenges, enjoyment and processes that have fulfilled my life as a climber and shaped my climber's brain."

Mike Williams makes his list based on 7 distinct characteristics. A classic for him must have impeccable rock quality, be totally natural, sustained, have a beautiful or exciting position, good movement, be of a substantial height and ideally have historical significance.

Beth Rodden mentioned that, "I like a striking line, something that is inspiring, sustained and in a beautiful location. Climbing hard is like the cherry on top."


Alright let's get into the meat of this sandwich. I asked a bunch of my friends what they thought. I got the opinion of women, men, trad climbers, sport climbers, old schoolers and new schoolers. I asked first ascensionists. I asked many of the very best route climbers in the country. The only criteria was that you had to have at least tried the route, but not necessarily redpointed it.

Without further ado, here it is. According to 18 pros, these are the very best 5.14s in the country. The absolute mega classics....

Paige Claassen on 'To Bolt' 14a.

Joe Kinder exiting the crux on 'Golden' 14b
UPDATED: TWO MORE CONTRIBUTORS
1st Place
To Bolt or Not to Be 14a, The Dihedrals, Smith Rock, Oregon

Remaining Top 5
Golden 14b, Welcome Springs - Cathedral, Utah
China Beach 14b, Waimea Wall, Rumney, New Hampshire
Grand Ol Opry 14b, Vestibule, Monastery, Colorado
Bleeding 14b, Wicked Crag, Mill Creek, Utah

Runner's Up / Top 10
Golden Ticket 14c/d, Chocolate Factory, Red, Kentucky
Transworld Depravity 14a, Madness Cave, Motherlode, Kentucky
Sarchasm 14a, Ship's Prow, Long's Peak, Colorado
Mango Tango 14a, Lower Meadow, New, West Virginia
Necessary Evil 14c, Blasphemy Wall, VRG, Arizona

Sonnie Trotter on 'Necessary Evil' 14c


States with some of the nation's best 5.14s, in order of volume (according to all votes):
COLORADO -- 15 
California - 8
Utah - 8
Kentucky - 6
Wyoming - 6
Arizona - 5 (VRG... )
West Virginia - 4
Oregon - 4
New Hampshire - 4
Nevada - 2
New York - 2
Idaho - 2
Vermont - 1
Washington -1

Best Rock Type for 5.14 of all votes cast:
LIMESTONE -- 21
Granite - 10
Gneiss - 7
Corbin Sandstone - 6
Volcanic - 6
Dolomite - 5
Nuttall Sandstone- 4
Conglomerate - 3
Schist - 3
Mill Creek Sandstone - 1
Fountain Sandstone - 1
Quartzite - 1

Myself on the exceptional 'Grand Ol Opry' 14b - which in my opinion, is the single best 5.14 in the country.
Well people, there you have it, the maybe-not-super-definitive-but-pretty-rad-anyways list of the very best 5.14s on American soil. Among the top ten voted routes there's a nice mix of old school and new school with routes as new as 2009 and of course as old as they get around here with 'To Bolt' (1986). Length was not an issue for everyone with climbs as short as 40 feet and as long as 120. Almost every rock type is represented in the top ten and basically every angle of steepness, save a horizontal roof. If you can climb up to 14b you'll find all but two of these gems accessible, but the majority (62%) of all the voted routes are only 14a.

My hypothesis was that very few people would actually end up voting for the same routes, because not only is enjoyment quite subjective but also the way that I remember routes has so much to do with my experience with them. All of the variables matter-- what was going on in my life at that time? How was the weather? Was it a struggle or did things come together for me in that moment? Well as it turns out this hypothesis was only partially correct. It seems pretty loud and clear that regardless of all the personal subjectivity some routes really do produce a better experience than others. It's cool to imagine that myself, many of the people listed here, and many more, have all had such a memorable experience on the exact same chunks of stone.

I hope at least a few of you guys enjoyed this nerdy post half as much as I liked putting it together. Thanks so much to everyone who got back to me so quickly and helped me put together this list. Below is the raw data from the 16 different climbers I asked...

Bill Ramsey 
Direct Hit 14a, Mt Charleston, Nevada
Zulu 14a, Rifle, Colorado
Badman 14a, Smith, Oregon
Transworld Depravity 14a, The Red, Kentucky (Personal FA)
Planet Earth 14a, VRG, Arizona
Hold Your Fire 14b, Potosi, Nevada
Supertweak 14b, Logan Canyon, Utah
Golden 14b, Cathedral, Utah

Joey Kinder
Flight of the Concords 14c, Huricave, Utah (Personal FA)
Tiger Blood 14b, Sunset Alley, Utah (Personal FA)
Southern Smoke 14b, Bob Marley, Kentucky (Personal FA)
Center Fold 14b, VRG, Arizona (Personal FA)
Kryptonite 14d, Fortress, Colorado
Stockboys Revenge 14b, Rifle, Colorado
China Beach 14b, Rumney, New Hampshire
Livin Astro 14c, Rumney, New Hampshire
Super Nova 14b, Rumney, New Hampshire
Golden 14b, Cathedral, Utah (Personal FA)
Waka Flocka 14b, Rifle, Colorado (Personal FA)

Ben Spannuth
Grand Ol Opry 14b, Monastery, Colorado
The Bleeding 14b, Mill Creek, Utah
Golden Ticket 14+, Red, Kentucky
Golden 14b, Cathedral, Utah
Necessary Evil 14c, VRG, Arizona
Doubloons 14b, Mt Evans, Colorado (Personal FA)
Power Bait 14a, New, West Virginia (Personal FA)

Tommy Caldwell
Magic Mushroom 14a, Yosemite, California (Personal FA)
The Nose 14, Yosemite, California
The Dihedral Wall 14a, Yosemite, California (Personal FA)
Sarcasm 14a, Ship's Prow, Colorado (Personal FA)
To Bolt or Not to Be 14a, Smith, Oregon
Dunn Westby Direct 14a, Diamond, Colorado (Personal FA)

Chris Weidner
F-Dude 14a, VRG, Arizona
Zulu 14a, Rifle, Colorado
Scarface 14a, Smith Rock, Oregon
Vogue 14b, Industrial Wall, Colorado
China Doll 14a, Dream Canyon, Colorado
Golden 14b, Cathedral, Utah
To Bolt or Not to Be 14a, Smith, Oregon

Peter Kamitsas 
China Beach 14b, Rumney, New Hampshire
The Hardway 14a, Marshfield, Vermont (Personal FA)
Oppositional Defiance Disorder 14a, Silver Lake, New York (Personal FA)
Highline Direct Project, Moss Cliff, New York
Transworld Depravity 14a, The Red, Kentucky
Coal Train 14a, New, West Virginia
Golden Ticket 14+, Red, Kentucky


Beth Rodden
To Bolt or Not to Be 14a, Smith, Oregon
Changing Corners 14, Yosemite, California
Sarchasm 14a, Ship's Prow, Colorado
Meltdown 14c, Yosemite, California (Personal FA)
Grand Ol Opry 14b, Monastery, Colorado


Mike Williams
To Bolt or Not to Be 14a, Smith, Oregon
Mango Tango 14a, New, West Virginia
Coal Train 14a, New, West Virginia (Personal FA)
Galactic Emperor 14a, Tensleep, Wyoming
Trebuchet 14b, New, West Virginia (Personal FA)

Alex Honnold
Necessary Evil 14c, VRG, Arizona
Just Do It 14c, Smith Rock, Oregon
The Green Mile 14b, Jailhouse, California
The Leaning Tower Project, Yosemite, California

Ethan Pringle
All Around Routine 14b, Ibex, Utah
The Bleeding 14b, Mill Creek, Utah
Golden Ticket 14+, Red, Kentucky
China Beach 14b, Rumney, New Hampshire
Transworld Depravity 14a, The Red, Kentucky
Kryptonite 14d, Fortress, Colorado
The Iron Monkey 14b, Eldo, Colorado
Just Do It 14c, Smith Rock, Oregon
U-Haul 14a, Jailhouse, California


Sasha Digilian 
Transworld Depravity 14a, Red, Kentucky
Golden 14b, Cathedral, Utah
Still Life 14b, New, West Virginia
Atonement 14b, VRG, Arizona
Millennium 14a, Maple, Utah


Nick Duttle
Sarcasm 14a, Ship's Prow, Colorado
Grand Ol Opry 14b, Monastery, Colorado
Third Millennium 14a, Monastery, Colorado
The Bleeding 14b, Mill Creek, Utah
The Tube 14b, Red, Kentucky
Golden Ticket 14+, Red, Kentucky
Mango Tango 14a, New, West Virginia
China Beach 14b, Rumney, New Hampshire

B.J. Tilden
Golden 14b, Cathedral, Utah
Lungfish 14b, Rifle, Colorado
Orange for Anguish 14c, Baldwin Creek, Wyoming (Personal FA)
Moonshine 14d, Wild Iris, Wyoming (Personal FA)
Genetic Drifter 14c, Wild Iris, Wyoming
Kill Em All 14b, Wolf Point, Wyoming (Personal FA)

Paige Claassen
Grand Ol Opry 14b, Monastery, Colorado
The Bleeding 14b, Mill Creek, Utah
To Bolt or Not to Be 14a, Smith, Oregon


Matt Wilder
Cheating Reality 14a, Devil's Thumb, Colorado (Personal FA)
China Beach 14b, Rumney, New Hampshire
The Fly 14d, Rumney, New Hampshire
The Bleeding 14b, Mill Creek, Utah
South Face of Washington Column 14a, Yosemite, California (Personal FA)


Jonathan Siegrist
To Bolt or Not to Be 14a, Smith, Oregon
Grand Ol Opry 14b, Monastery, Colorado
Almighty 14b, Teton Canyon, Wyoming
Mango Tango 14a, New, West Virginia
All Around Routine 14b, Ibex, Utah
Necessary Evil 14c, VRG, Arizona
24 Karats 14c, Red, Kentucky (Personal FA)
Sarcasm 14a, Ship's Prow, Colorado
Enter the Dragon 14a, Fins, Idaho (Personal FA)
Dunn Westby Direct 14a, Diamond, Colorado

Drew Ruana 
To Bolt or Not to Be 14a, Smith, Oregon
Scarface 14a, Smith, Oregon
Lost Horizons, Little Si, Washington

Jon Cardwell
Grand Ol Opry 14b, Monastery, Colorado
To Bolt or Not to Be 14a, Smith, Oregon
7pm Show 14a, Rifle, Colorado
The Present 14a, Gorilla Cliffs, Utah
24 Karats 14c, Red, Kentucky
All Around Routine 14b, Ibex, Utah
Necessary Evil 14c, VRG, Arizona


12 comments:

  1. Awesome and inspiring. Good work.

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  2. the fly is even shorter than 40'.

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  3. I meant of the routes in the top 10, 40 ft was the shortest with the Bleeding. True story - the Fly is somewhere closer to 20-25.

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  4. How every climber capable of the 5.14 grade isn't seeking out the all around routine baffles me. The rock at Ibex alone elevates it above anything limestone could produce (and most of what granite and sandstone makes).

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  5. same list for 5.13 and 5.12??

    -Luke

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  6. yeah a classic 5.12 list would be awesome or a specialized list for the Northeast!...trad?

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  7. Your methodology appears to actually produce a ranking which reflects **popularity** (i.e. how many people have been on the route) at least as much as it reflects **quality**. And of course many routes are popular for reasons other than quality (e.g. convenience, "soft", etc).

    If you truly want to focus on the **best** route you should ask the climbers to assign a "quality" ranking (e.g. a score out of 10) so you can assess the quality of the route independently from it's popularity.

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  8. very interesting. btw, rankings of FAs are disproportionately low -- people probably shouldn't be allowed to vote for their fa's to make it less biased.

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  9. ^ agree, except for Timechild, I mean his personal FA list is so stacked he doesn't even mention grand ol' oprey, probably forgot he did it

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  10. wish there was some southern sandstone represented! (north of mason-Dixon line doesnt count)

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  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  12. How is proper soul not on the list? It climbs perfect rock for over a hundred feet and tops out one of the most impressive cliffs I have climbed at.

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jstar salutes your comments! remember: profanity is the tool of the inarticulate