As September's crisp temperatures yellowed leaves throughout the Southwest, Paige Claassen stabbed into a shallow pocket, pushed ahead and clipped the chains of what she considers “the hardest route I've ever done.” Claassen projected The Bleeding (5.14a/b) in Mill Creek, Utah, for half a decade before she stuck the crux move ground-up.
Five years ago, Claassen began taking weekend trips from University of Colorado in Boulder to Mill Creek. “I would drive six hours, climb on Saturday and half of Sunday, then drive back,” Claassen tells Rock and Ice. “ I hopped on The Bleeding and it felt really doable. Five years later... I'd fallen off between 100 and 200 times on one of the last moves.”
Despite Claassen's recent success on Just Do It (5.14c) in Smith Rock, Oregon, and Sarchasm (5.14a) in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, she says her siege on The Bleeding was “the longest I've worked on anything in terms of days and number of attempts." Moves on the route slowly mount in difficulty, presenting its suitors with a low-percentage boulder problem at the final bolt.
“I'd fallen off that move so many times that it just became part of my beta.”
The Bleeding is finally complete. 5 years, thousands of dollars in expenses, one or two hundred patient belays from @muttstagram a few sets of draws faded, worn, and replaced, one night of no sleep during last night's insane thunder and lightning storm, humid conditions, and finally it's done. I've never put more effort into a single route as I have this one. Grades aside, it's the hardest route I've ever climbed. It was both an enjoyable and miserable ride, and I'm really glad it's over. Now I can finally move on to other Mill Creek classics. Here's a @richcrowder throwback shot from 3 years ago of the move that spit me off 100+ times. See ya later pocket, I never want to touch you again. @thenorthface @lasportivana @camp_usa @maximropes @smithoptics
Locals told Claassen the move thwarting her redpoint was around V9, though Claassen herself says, “I'm not sure it would be that hard off the ground.” Claassen calls The Bleeding 5.14a, but other sources (such as Mountain Project and blog posts by climbers who have repeated The Bleeding) suggest 5.14b.
Claassen says the fitness she earned from bouldering in Rocklands, South Africa, and cardio from long hikes into Sarchasm's alpine venue may have helped her send The Bleeding, but the route's greatest challenge was psychological, not physical. When she returned to Mill Creek this year, she began to “let go of it."
"I thought, if I never climb The Bleeding in my life, it'll be fine. There's a fine line between pushing yourself and giving yourself some slack." She says that relieving self-induced stress and pressure was key to success.
Claassen is the first woman to redpoint The Bleeding, but she questions whether to define repeats as first female ascents. “Personally, I think [first female ascents] are irrelevant. Some women find them really motivating... but there are some cases in which a woman hasn't even tried [the route] before.”
Labeling an ascent as a first female ascent reinforces the gender gap, Claassen says. “All other sports divide male and female achievements,” but climbers can interpret routes to play to their own strengths.
Nina Caprez, after her ascent of Silbergeier (5.14a) in Switzerland's Rätikon range, says, “When I did Silbergeier it was widely called the first female ascent, but that was never my goal. In my eyes there is no difference between girls and boys, especially on vertical and technical faces like the ones in Rätikon. There is only one difference that matters and it’s between the first ascent and all that follow.”
14-year-old Ashima Shiraishi shatters the glass ceiling of climbing's yesteryear. With numerous 5.14+ ascents, a redpoint of Open Your Mind Direct (5.14d/5.15a) and a repeat of Fred Nicole's Golden Shadow (V14), Shiraishi has accumulated the most impressive résumé any climber within years of her age has ever had.
“In the new generation that's coming up, they don't consider guys to be stronger [than girls],” Claassen says. “What Ashima has accomplished isn't impressive because she's a woman. It's just amazing that she's done it.”
The Bleeding under her belt, Claassen is travelling Utah's desert to sample inspiring lines. While Claassen is committed to no projects on the magnitude of The Bleeding, she may return to the Virgin River Gorge this winter to project Necessary Evil (5.14c). The VRG testpiece still awaits a female ascent, but if Claassen sends Necessary Evil, you might hear the story told differently. Claassen says “I've arrived at the conclusion that I don't need to promote my own ascents as first female ascents.”
Ben Spannuth climbs Cobra Strike (5.14a) and The Bleeding: