It seems that the more our sport progresses, the younger our prodigies get. 10 year olds are climbing v13 and redpointing 5.14a while 11 year olds jug up El Capitan and redpoint 5.14c. The pool of strong young climbers continues to grow, making it difficult for up-and-comers to stand out.
But when a 19 year old climbs something like Too Big to Flail, it's hard to ignore his age. Too Big to Flail gets a v10 grade (or 5.13d depending on who you ask), which by todays standards is a pretty standard grade. It just happens to be a v10 that is 50 feet high, with precarious feet and slick, small handholds, some of which are very far apart. This means that a climber must not only be physically strong and technically proficient, but also mentally collected and immensely courageous. Located on the Luminance boulder in the Buttermilks, Too Big to Flail has captivated boulderers across the globe with its aesthetic patina and gargantuan size since its first ascent by renowned soloist Alex Honnold in January 2012. Its second ascent was seen by Lonnie Kauk, a climber who has begun to make quite an impression himself in the last few years within the soloing community. Both Honnold and Kauk acknowledged the intimidating and precarious nature of the line.
19 year old Steven Roth, a mechanical engineering student at UC Berkeley, is a recent addition to the Touchstone Climbing athlete team but is otherwise unsponsored and largely unheard of. Largely unheard of, even though he has made ascents, as well as established some of his own lines, of some of Bishops most stout highballs, such as Ambrosia and Footprints. Steven was born in Richmond, Virginia and went to high school in Florida before coming to the Bay Area to go to college. He made the third ascent of Alex Honnold's 50 foot monster-highball Too Big to Flail (v10) on February 9th, alongside Bay Area native and veteran climber Ethan Pringle, who nabbed the fourth ascent shortly after. I was able to ask Steven a few questions last week via email about his impressive send and what he has his eyes on next.
How long did it take you to project Too Big? Had you scoped out the climb before? Tell us about your send experience.
I spent two days at Too Big to Flail. On the first day of the weekend, Ethan and I headed out to the Luminance boulder to check out the climb. After the top rope was set up, Ethan lowered me as I brushed the holds, cleaned off some of the lichen, and started to unlock some of the harder moves. Thirty minutes later I had more or less done all of the moves and it was Ethan’s turn. He did the moves as well but was unsure about the smeary feet. It was getting dark but I managed to send the problem on top rope before it was too dark to see. After a good night's sleep I headed out early the next morning to This Side of Paradise to check it out. The wind was insane! I was getting up to the higher moves but the pads were getting blown everywhere, and the gusts were pushing me off the climb. It was chaotic. The howling wind made it really hard to stand, let alone climb. We decided to meet up with Ethan and Georgie and go out to Too Big. It was much calmer but the weather was warm, a little too warm for any serious send burns. Tim Steele met us out there and we hiked a little less than 20 pads up the hill. At first I was a bit anxious to have more than a couple of people watching me climb but everyone was mellow so that was refreshing. Ethan and I were back at working the climb, this time in the heat. Ethan had "greasy sausage fingers" (his words), and my skin was thin, so climbing in the middle of the day was not ideal. But we got the moves really worked out and sent the climb on TR a couple of times using pretty different beta for the lower hard moves and the upper insecure moves. Ethan was able to figure out really long reaches at the very top while I had to use a couple of small holds that Alex and Lonnie used. It was getting cooler; the dark clouds were rolling in and completely covering Mt. Tom. After my third time sending on TR Ethan lowered me, and I said I was ready. We shuffled some pads, I put on my Solutions and within a couple of minutes I was standing on top. While I was climbing the wind was pretty strong and it sprinkled a little but the conditions were perfect. I was super excited and having Ethan's support was great! He seemed uncertain but after one last TR burn and a warm-up jog he cruised it too!
Knowing that Alex and Lonnie, two greats in technical climbing, had done this climb didn't affect me too much since I really love vertical to slightly less than vertical climbing. It feels amazing to be comfortable on tiny feet, trusting the rubber, without a worry of pumping out.
You've also completed Footprints and Ambrosia--that makes three ascents of arguably some of the most famous highballs in Bishop right now. What gets you psyched on highballs? Would you say that highballs are your passion in climbing?
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Steven. Best of luck to you, and congratulations on the new sponsorship. Bishop looks forward to seeing you again!
Words and interview by Sasha Turrentine.
For more Anthony Lapomardo photos, see the latest DPM article here: http://bit.ly/1cJGbqk