Climbing Ascent 2021

Climbing offers the entire climbing world: sport, trad, bouldering, walls, ice, alpine and mountains. In each issue we offer the richest stories on the vertical world you'll ever read, with award-winning photography. Climbing has earned its moniker as the journal of record for climbers worldwide.

United States
Pocket Outdoor Media, LLC


editor’s note

I LOOKED HUNGRY, apparently. And dirty, definitely. In normal circumstances, if a stranger slides a mound of fried pork under your nose, awkwardness ensues. And suspicion. But not then. Somehow, I knew exactly what was happening. He felt bad for me, and he knew bacon would do the trick. It did. Buffet bacon, the kind matted together like flat, greasy dreadlocks. Yumm. “You looked like you needed some bacon,” the stranger had said. I looked up. The man was in his mid-60s, portly, with a kind face and a Southern accent. A splayed red-and-black flannel sat comfortably on wide shoulders. He had laborer’s hands. “Sure do,” I said. He sat down and his wife followed suit, as if it was his idea and she was waiting just to make sure I wasn’t a…

un-freedom of the hills

LAST YEAR A MOUNTAINEERING TEAM applied for a permit from the Sichuan Mountaineering Association (SMA) to attempt an unclimbed peak in the Qionglai Mountains, Sichuan Province, an area in southwest China that includes eastern Tibet. The SMA is the local branch of the Chinese Mountaineering Association (CMA), and is the governing body for mountaineering in the province. With easier access, more technical routes and more unclimbed mountains than Tibet itself, Sichuan sees thousands of climbers, including guided clients, every year. But without a permit, we can’t legally climb any peak over 11,500 feet here, and a new regulation states that unpermitted first ascents won’t be counted as first ascents. Upon receiving its permit, the team summitted the unclimbed and unnamed 17,500-foot mountain, and a few days later in November posted the…

elegy for a rock

MISSION GORGE IS NOT MUCH OF A GORGE, but a place where the San Diego River runs between two escarpments for a few miles on its journey to the Pacific. Coastal chaparral and rock, most of which is fractured and crumbling, cover the canyon walls. Yet stout little outcrops and cliff bands stand amid the rubble, high above the peaceful riverbed, the water little more than a stream. About 50 feet above the river, a narrow and winding road cuts into the east side of the gorge, and from this road sometime in the 1960s climbers spotted a small crag atop a gorge wall. This mottled brown cliff, where the longest route is under 100 feet tall and most are 40 feet, crowns the 700-foot eastern escarpment. If you learned to climb…

the long way out

AMBER WAS GONE. When I realized that my partner for a mid-winter attempt on Tumanguya (Mt. Whitney) had disappeared, the horizon seemed to instantly shrink. The peachy glow of first light on the half-mile-wide granite cirque crackled down to a single point; the mile-long expanse of snow snapped closed like an over-extended rubber band. Suddenly, there was just an undefined hum of orange and the glitter of surface hoar. Where before Tumanguya had stretched into the sky, its tip peeking above Pinnacle Ridge, there was now just a fuzzy, gray void. The crest’s many thousand-foot cliffs around me had become a smudge of rose gold, like something that had been left on a whiteboard too long and now couldn’t be erased. It was just before 8:00 in the morning. Amber Henshaw and I…

under the roof of the world

THE BOULDERS OF SURU lie in the barren land of Ladakh, in the broad Himalayan foothills of northern India. Suru and its seemingly infinite boulders lie spattered at the base of a valley by the same name. A 40-kilometer journey from the mountain village of Kargil will get you to the blocks, whose existence was only discovered in 2011. While snow-capped mountains likely come to mind when you think of the Himalaya, the Suru Valley may have you rethinking. It’s huge boulders have recently captured the attention of Indian climbers. Here, prime boulders sit among the trees while others are surrounded by lush meadows, while still others perch delicately on scree. Pick any compass point, walk and you will dead end at a block. It’s boulder after boulder under blue skies…

banana republic

NEW YEAR’S DAY, 2021. At 2 a.m., I felt like I was under attack. I’d gone to bed early, sore-shouldered after bouldering at the Pali, but concussions and crackling trails of lights woke me up at midnight. On the mainland, Independence Day is the big fireworks deal, but in Hawaii many of the residents don’t even recognize United States sovereignty and don’t celebrate July 4. This is probably because the last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii, Queen Lili’uokalani, was illegally deposed by the feds in 1893 and the native population was subsequently suppressed and decimated and people don’t feel super patriotic. Whatever the reason, July 4 is kind of a dud, but excessive fireworks shatter Hawaii every New Year. I lay sleepless and angry, while 25 yards away my neighbors…