First of the Grade

So I’m embarking on a little history mission to view the progression of climbing, and specifically Free-Soloing. As part of that research I’m compiling a list of when the known milestones in soloing have taken place. Below we have the work-in-progres, if the climb is in Bold then it is noted as the first free-solo of that style at that grade. Italics signify the first ascent of a climb at that route.

*Note: This is a work in progress, and I know there are gaps in the timeline. If you know anything that could be added, please let me know! I do not consider myself to be an authority on this subject, I need your help to make this as accurate as possible. All of the research thus-far was performed on the internet. I had a document full of my sources, but unfortunately the hard-drive crashed, and only the final product of this list was salvaged since I had put it on a random flash drive (that was a few years ago, before I figured out cloud-computing). If anyone has sources to confirm this information, please forward it to me. I know it’s out there. I’ll be adding sources at the bottom of the page as I recover them.

BW – Big-Wall
MP – Multipitch
FS – Free Solo
OS – Onsight
F – Flash
RP – Redpoint
FA – First Ascent

An Incomplete Timeline of Free-Solo Climbing:
Single Pitch
1973         MP OS FS      5.9      “Steck-Salathe” – Henry Barber

1976             MP FS       5.11a    “New Dimensions” – John Bachar
1978             MP FS        5.11-    “Naked Edge” – Jim Collins
1979                 FS            5.11c    “Butterballs” – John Bachar
1982                 FS           5.12b    “Baby Apes” – John Bachar

1985                 FS           5.13a    “Father Figure” – John Bachar
1986                 FS           5.12a    “Separate Reality” – Wolfgang Gullich
1986                 FS            5.12c    “Sautanz” – Wolfgang Gullich
1989                 FS           5.13b    “Orange Mécanique” – Patrick Edlinger
1993                 FS            5.13c    “seance tenante” – Alain Robert
1999                 FS           5.13+    “Mordillo” – Beat Kammerlander

2002               F FS          5.13a    “Paralogism” – Ben Heason
2003                 FS            5.13c    “End of the Afair” – Ben Heason
2004                 FS           5.14a    “Kommunist” – Alexander Huber
2006                 FS           5.12d    “Heaven” – Dean Potter
2008                 FS           5.14a    “Darwin Dixit” – Dave McLeod
2011                 FS           5.13b    “Cosmic Debris” –Alex Honnold

The Big Stuff
1973   MP OS FS      5.9      “Steck-Salathe” – Henry Barber

1976      MP FS       5.11a    “New Dimensions” – John Bachar
1978      MP FS        5.11-    “Naked Edge” – Jim Collins
1985      MP FS         5.11     “Astroman” – Peter Croft
1987      MP FS         5.11     “Rostrum”  “Astroman” linkup–Peter Croft
1990   OS MP FS    5.11a    “Pervertical Sanctuary” – Derek Hersey
2002      MP FS        5.12a    1,500 ft. “Brander Hasse” – Alex Huber

2005   OS MP FS    5.12b    800 ft “Romantic Warrior” – Reardon
2006      BW FS       5.11a    2,000 ft. Dent du Geant – Alex Huber

2006 MP OS FS FA  5.12     800 ft. “Shikata Ga Nai” – Reardon
2007      BW FS       5.12c    2700ft  “Il Pesce” – Hansjorg Auer
2008      BW FS       5.13a    “Moonlight Buttress” – Alex Honnold
2008      BW FS       5.12a    2,000 ft.  Half Dome – Alex Honnold

2014      BW FS       5.12+    1750 ft. “El Sendero Luminoso”-  Honnold
2017      BW FS       5.13a    3,000ft “Freerider” – El Cap – Honnold

First Ascent of each grade (roped):
1906       redpoint               5.9          “Teufelsturm” –
1910       redpoint               5.10a     “Kreutzturm” – Max Mattheus
1918       redpoint               5.10c      “Wilder Kopf” – Emanuel Strubich
1934       redpoint               5.11c      “Torre Trieste” – Raffaele Carlesso
1961       redpoint               5.12        “The Thimble” – John Gill
1967       redpoint               5.12c      “Macabre Roof” – Greg Lowe

1975       redpoint               5.12d     “Psycho Roof” – Steve Wunsch
1977       redpoint               5.13a     “The Phoenix” – Ray Jardine
1979       redpoint               5.13c      “Grand Illusion” – Tony Yaniro
1984       redpoint               5.13d     “Kanal Im Rucken” – Wolfgang Gullich
1985       redpoint               5.14a     “Punks in the Gym” – Wolfgang Gullich

1987       redpoint               5.14b     “Walstreet” – Wolfgang Gullich
1990       redpoint               5.14c      “Hubble” – Ben Moon

1991       redpoint               5.14d     “Action Driect” – Wolfgang Gullich
1996       redpoint               5.15a     “Open Air” – Alexander Huber

2008       redpoint               5.15b     “Jumbo Love” – Chris Sharma
2013       redpoint               5.15c      “Change” – Adam Ondra

All Styles:
1786                      First ascent of Mont Blanc
1869                      4+/5.0   Cathedral Peak – John Muir OS FS FA
1892                      First known bouldering competition
1886 OS FS FA 5.6        Naples Needle – Scotland – WP Smith
1887 OS FS FA 5.6         500′ Vajolet Towers – Georg Winkler
1880s-1930s    Roped techniques have not made it to America.
1906  redpoint  5.9          “Teufelsturm”
1910                      Invention of the Carabiner and modern pitons
1910  redpoint  5.10a     “Kreutzturm” – Max Mattheus
1918  redpoint  5.10c      “Wilder Kopf” – Emanuel Strubich

1933                      Pitons arrive in Yosemite
1934                      Pierre Alain begins bouldering in Fontainbleau
1935                      Pierre Alain invents the first climbing shoe
1945                      John Muir “Climbs Freely”
1934  redpoint  5.11c      “Torre Trieste” – Raffaele Carlesso
1940                      Nylon rope enters use for climbing
1961                      The first nuts are manufactured for climbing
1961  redpoint  5.12        “The Thimble” – John Gill
1967  redpoint  5.12c      “Macabre Roof” – Greg Lowe

1973  MP FS     5.9         OS “Steck-Salathe” – Henry Barber
1975  redpoint  5.12d     “Psycho Roof” – Steve Wunsch
1976  MP FS     5.11a     “New Dimensions” – John Bachar
1977  redpoint  5.13a     “The Phoenix” – Ray Jardine
1978  MP FS     5.11-      “Naked Edge” – Jim Collins
1978                      Invention of the SLCD (Cams)
1979  redpoint  5.13c      “Grand Illusion” – Tony Yaniro
1979  FS              5.11c      “Butterballs” – John Bachar
1980                      First sticky-rubber shoes manufactured
1982  FS              5.12b     “Baby Apes” – John Bachar
1984  redpoint  5.13d     “Kanal Im Rucken” – Wolfgang Gullich
1985  redpoint  5.14a     “Punks in the Gym” – Wolfgang Gullich

1985 FS               5.13a     “Father Figure” – John Bachar
1985 MP FS      5.11        “Astroman” – Peter Croft
1986 FS               5.12a     “Separate Reality” – Wolfgang Gullich
1986 FS               5.12c      “Sautanz” – Wolfgang Gullich
1987 MP FS      5.11        “Rostrum” “Astroman” linkup – Peter Croft
1987 redpoint   5.14b     “Walstreet” – Wolfgang Gullich
1989 FS               5.13b     “Orange Mécanique” – Patrick Edlinger
1990 redpoint   5.14c      “Hubble” – Ben Moon

1990 MP FS      5.11a     OS “Pervertical Sanctuary” – Derek Hersey
1991 redpoint   5.14d     “Action Driect” – Wolfgang Gullich
1993 FS               5.13c      “seance tenante” – Alain Robert
1996 redpoint   5.15a     “Open Air” – Alexander Huber
1999 FS               5.13+     “Mordillo” – Beat Kammerlander
2002 MP FS      5.12a     1,500 ft.  Cima Grande – Alexander Huber

2002  F FS          5.13a     “Paralogism” – Ben Heason
2003  FS              5.13c      “End of the Afair” – Ben Heason
2004  FS              5.14a     “Kommunist” – Alexander Huber
2005  OS FS      5.12b     800 ft. “Romantic Warrior” – Reardon
2005  OS FS      5.13a     “Outrage” – Michael Reardon
2006  BW FS    5.11a     2,000 ft. Dent du Geant – Alexander Huber
2006  FS              5.12d     “Heaven” – Dean Potter
2006  MP FS     5.12       OS FA 800 ft. “Shikata Ga Nai” –  Reardon
2008   redpoint 5.15b     “Jumbo Love” – Chris Sharma
2007   BW FS   5.12c      2700ft “Il Pesce” – Hansjorg Auer
2008   FS             5.14b     “Darwin Dixit” – Dave McLeod
2008   BW FS   5.13a     “Moonlight Buttress” – Alex Honnold
2008   BW FS   5.12a     Half Dome – Alex Honnold
2011   FS             5.13b     “Cosmic Debris” –Alex Honnold
2013   redpoint 5.15c      “Change” – Adam Ondra
2014   BW FS   5.12+     1,750 ft. “El Sendero Luminoso” – Honnold
2017   BW FS   5.13a      3,000ft “Freerider” – El Cap – Honnold

Grades organized by year:

Year Single Pitch Free Solo Bouldering
1900 V0-V1?
1901
1902
1903
1904
1905
1906 5.9
1907
1908
1909
1910 5.10a
1911
1912
1913
1914
1915
1916
1917
1918 5.10c
1919
1920
1921
1922
1923
1924
1925
1926
1927
1928
1929
1930
1931
1932
1933
1934 5.11c V2
1935
1936
1937
1938
1939
1940
1941
1942
1943
1944
1945
1946 V3
1947
1948
1949
1950 V5
1951
1952
1953 V6
1954
1955
1956
1957 V8
1958
1959 V9
1960
1961 5.12
1962
1963
1964
1965
1966
1967 5.12c
1968
1969
1970
1971
1972
1973 5.9
1974
1975 5.12d V12
1976 5.11a
1977 5.13a V13
1978
1979 5.13c 5.11c
1980
1981
1982 5.12b
1983
1984 5.13d
1985 5.14a 5.13a
1986
1987 5.14b
1988
1989 5.13b
1990 5.14c
1991 5.14d
1992
1993 5.13c
1994
1995
1996 5.15a
1997 V14
1998
1999 5.13+
2000 V15
2001
2002
2003
2004 5.14a
2005
2006
2007
2008 5.15b
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013 5.15c
2014
  1.  Hard Rock Climbs – First routes of each grade: a good list of the major free-climbing achievements in climbing, and the starting point for my research.
  2. World Bouldering First At Each Grade: a very similar boulder-centric list of major climbing achievements

9 thoughts on “First of the Grade”

  1. How many people are actually in the 5.14 club of soloing?
    Alex Huber (see above), Dave McLeod (see above), Reardon ?(Lateralus (5.14a) at Malibu Creek State Park). That’s all I can think of unless you account for some highball bouldering or DWS (definitely not).

    1. @captaincrimp there are only two that are certain. McLeod and Huber, Reardon I am unsure. I know he performed the FA of Lateralus (which extended an existinf 13d further into a ground level cave) , but I can’t find confirmation whether he soloed it or not. And his webpage seems to have gone offline…. I’d love to score some interviews to compliment and round this info out, there’s so much more to the story than I could find via the internet.

      I like the Jorgeson definition of highball bouldering, there is an option to commit or back off (via crazy spotting or some such), thats what separates it from soloing for my purposes.

      Typically, what ive seen with top climbers is that the max solo is about one full number behind their maximum redpoint, and their average solo is typically near the max onsight roped grade. So for someone to aolo in the 14’s implies to me the ability to climb 15- (or in McLeod’s case V15 and 14+ R).

      Interestingly enough, the hardest solo i’ve read about from Güllich is only 12c, meanwhile Honnold is spot on at grades of 13b solo and 14b redpoint.

    2. @captaincrimp there are only two that are certain. McLeod and Huber, Reardon I am unsure. I know he performed the FA of Lateralus (which extended an existinf 13d further into a ground level cave) , but I can’t find confirmation whether he soloed it or not. And his webpage seems to have gone offline…. I’d love to score some interviews to compliment and round this info out, there’s so much more to the story than I could find via the internet.

      I like the Jorgeson definition of highball bouldering, there is an option to commit or back off (via crazy spotting or some such), thats what separates it from soloing for my purposes.

      Typically, what ive seen with top climbers is that the max solo is about one full number behind their maximum redpoint, and their average solo is typically near the max onsight roped grade. So for someone to aolo in the 14’s implies to me the ability to climb 15- (or in McLeod’s case V15 and 14+ R).

      Interestingly enough, the hardest solo i’ve read about from Güllich is only 12c, meanwhile Honnold is spot on at grades of 13b solo and 14b redpoint.

    1. The first was John Bachar, which surprised me a bit, back in 1985. After that came Patric Edlinger, Alain Robert, Beat Kammerlander, Mike Reardon, Ben Heason, and Alex Honnold.

      I also know there’s a kid that soloed
      BOHICA at The Red, but I dont know the logistics. The route doesnt top out so he’d have needed a cord to rap off, which implies a harness and the route is perma-hung. Thats a lot of little islands of safety, but definitely worth noting. And then theres that one guy on YouTube that soloed a 13+ barefoot….

      Ive also heard rumors that Cris Sierzandt soloed a 13a, but I think it was a 30′ shorty… I should probably ask him about that, woudnt be surprised if he soloed something full-length at the grade.

      I think Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker are capable, but I dont know if they have, and same goes for Dean Potter.

      Looking at the low 13’s theres a surprising number of folks who’ve bouldered short routes that get the grade from low cruxes.

      Basically, its more common than you’d think because there’s an ever increasing number of folks that can onsight the 13 grade, and have energy to spare.

  2. I imagine there are definitely hundreds or more of 5.11 free solos that go unrecorded, undocumented and nobody ever knows about it… both honnald and potter have talked about that. What do you think? And do you thinkt this could also apply to 5.12 and 5.13 free solos? Or do you think that if a 5.13 free solo goes down, it’s bound to be documented? thanks.

    1. If a tree falls in the woods, and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound? That’s the age old question right?

      In the sense of field of climbing the answer is a resounding “no.” Back in the 90’s Alex Huber sent “Open Air” in the Schlier Wasserfall, and it wasn’t a big deal because he graded the route at 5.14c. Nobody repeated it until Ondra comes around and upgrades the route to 5.15a. So it’s arguable that Huber was the first person to climb 5.15 rather than Sharma, but you hardly hear a word about it.

      Looking at soloing…. the upper echelon is 5.14-, there are only three confirmed solos at that grade. So a 5.14- solo is as rare as a 5.15c ascent. Meanwhile, 5.11 is three numbers lower. Three numbers below 5.15c is 5.12+. There are thousands of 5.12+ redpoints every day, and nobody hears about it, so in in a sense…. it kinda makes sense that there are loads of 5.11 solos that nobody hears about.

      My friends and I used to muse about the thought that the best guitarist in the world was probably some 60 year old man that plays on his porch when there’s nobody around to hear him, likewise I can imagine that there may have been instances of 5.13 solos that nobody ever reported.

      Once you get to 5.13+/5.14- solos, that would require an individual who can redpoint 5.14+/15-, so that person would likely be known to the climbing community. With an event as rare as a 5.13+ solo, they’ll probably tell at least one person in their life, and that person is unlikely to remain quiet… in a similar note, it’s possible that some guy has sent 5.15- and not reported it…. but it would be pretty hard to pull that off without anyone noticing

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