This week, Michaela Kiersch conquered “Necessary Evil,” a 5.14c nestled in Arizona’s Virgin River Gorge and regarded as one of the most challenging climbing routes in the country.
Kiersch clutched the title of first female ascent (FFA) of the route, but was shortly followed by Paige Claassen – who completed the route the very next day.
Necessary Evil was designated as the “hardest” in America when Chris Sharma pioneered the route in 1997. Since his first ascent, only a handful of climbers – all male – have sent it. Surprisingly, the short list does not include legendary climber, Alex Honnold, who has described the route as “old-school” and incredibly hard, particularly for anyone of a short stature. Kiersch and Claassen ignored the height requirements for this ride. Standing at 5’1” and 5’6” respectively, these two women prove mighty things come in small packages.
Kiersch’s FFA tails a multitude of historic feats for women in rock climbing over the past year – Margo Hayes’ first female ascent of a 5.15a, on La Rambla, in February 2017; Anak Verhoeven’s first ascent of a new 5.15a route in September 2017; that same month Sasha DiGiulian became the first woman to free-climb Mora Mora in Madagascar, to name a few.
But it isn’t just the first female ascent of Necessary Evil that’s fascinating; it’s Claassen’s second female ascent that occurred within the subsequent 24 hours.
It shows women are out there and they’re pushing harder, climbing higher, and breaking ground.
We’re seeing the presence of women in rock climbing grow exponentially, and more female climbers means more female ascents. We are seeing a surge in headlines featuring “first female ascent” and many female climbers are becoming household names akin to Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell, and Chris Sharma.
Climbing has been a “boy’s club” for far too long and women are making up for the lost time. These momentous accomplishments indicate advancements on the female front of climbing, and furthermore, it signifies the much-needed leveling of the playing field. While we still encounter cases of misogyny and inequality in the climbing world, there has been substantial progress made, and in such a brief amount of time.
This headway doesn’t just affect women in climbing; it’s impacts women in all sports.
Such success and development spreads optimism to other male-dominated sports like skiing, snowboarding, surfing, and mountain biking – where women continue to shake things up but there’s still obstacles to overcome… Exhibit A: Sexism in Big-Wave Surfing Isn’t Dead via Outside Magazine.
Kiersch and Claassen’s ascents are a welcomed kick-off to what is sure to be another revolutionary year in climbing. Rest assured, you’ll be seeing more women making history – from the crag and beyond – in 2018.