Why I Will Never Climb Highballs

If I wanted the height factor, my harness, rope, and I would visit a nice sport crag and climb with a decent sense of security.

When I think of extreme highballs I think of Nina Williams. Her send of Ambrosia V11 in Bishop impressed me so much, especially considering she had already sent Footprints V9 and Evilution Direct V11 on the same boulder. I find it so bad ass that she can do what she does. But at the same time, it baffles me.

The Grandpa Peabody has captivated my attention ever since I laid eyes on it. I climbed Footprints during my first #Bishop trip in 2015. I climbed Evilution Direct during my second trip in 2016. Now, on my third trip, I climbed Ambrosia: the final problem of the Grandpa Peabody king line trifecta. These trio of lines have represented, to me, the essence of the #Buttermilks: a frontier for facing personal barriers. I definitely had to face mine during this process. Still realizing that it really happened 😮 #wasitjustadream ?? HUGE thanks to pad donators Greg Locker, @naytonrosales (📸!!), and the @hostelcaliforniabishop. Props to @etteloc @pangtastic and @naytonrosales for documentation. And a special thanks to @james_lucas 😘 for believing in me and spotting me even when I was 55ft off the deck 😂🙌🏼 You guys are awesome. Now to enjoy my @blackboxwines #CabSav celebration TREAT!! 🍷🍷#climbing #bouldering #highball

A post shared by Nina Williams (@sheneenagins) on

“I worked Ambrosia from the top down, figuring out the lower crux moves and adding them into the upper section. Ambrosia’s physical crux is a V11 boulder problem to a decent rest (at roughly 15ft), then 35ft of 5.12c climbing.” – Nina Williams (@sheneenagins).

35ft of 5.12a, after working through a 15ft V11 boulder problem? That’s on a whole other level of athleticism.

That being said, the thrill I get from bouldering and sport climbing is enough for me. Take away the rope and all of a sudden I’m at the mercy of myself and my environment. Even if I trained for years to perfect my mental strength, the factors I can’t control remain. Like a hold breaking off. A gust of wind. Panicking half way up despite all efforts to avoid panic. All of those things, albeit extreme, are real risks. Experience is irrelevant at that point. Most of all though, I worry about hurting myself to the point where I could never climb again.

Take Sierra Knott for example. Sierra’s foot blew unexpectedly near the top of  Saigon Direct V9 in the Buttermilks shattering her tibia and fibula from her knee to her ankle. She had about 15 pads, 3 spotters, a protected radius of about 10 ft in case she fell, and was accustomed to sending V9s. Her injury occurred because of a poor spotter who grabbed her leg as she fell, but it is likely she would have been injured regardless. In hind sight, the spotters should have been briefed on how to spot someone falling from 25ft. Having 3 spotters and 15 pads was a great plan, but a plan does not dictate an outcome.

I’m guessing it’s a “don’t knock it until you try it” kind of experience. I also realize that Ambrosia and Sierra Knott’s case are extreme examples (I like extreme, but not too extreme!). But likewise climbing offers so many ‘safer’ facets in which to satisfy a climber’s needs, or so I thought. Freak accidents happen all the time even in the safest of situations, but highballing to me puts you in unnecessary danger. I applaud all of you who love highballs, but you’ll find me on the tough short problems. You definitely need to have guts. Props to those of you who have some.

I think I’ll sit this one out, though.

Climb on xx

Texts referenced in this post:

Errant Spot and a Shattered Leg in Bishop Highball Accident

Nina Williams on Instagram (@sheneenagins) 

2 thoughts on “Why I Will Never Climb Highballs

  1. I don’t think it baffles me so much about why they do what they do but that’s mostly because I simply cannot comprehend exactly the scale at which these athletes are performing. It’s insane. I feel like I’m in a weird in between where I can’t just sit back and think it’s cool (well, it is) because I am a climber myself, so I know the risks involved, but I am so far down the ladder compared to these guys that I can’t fully appreciate the feats they are achieving. It’s the same with Alex Honnold on El Cap and Nalle on Burden of Dreams. I kind-of-not-really understand what they’ve done. Again, it’s insane!

    1. I agree – they’re on a whole different level which makes it hard for us to really imagine what it takes to focus and do something like that! For us, it just seems insane.

      But at the same time, I don’t even think I would climb a V0 high ball not because I wouldn’t be able to focus, but because I’d be afraid of a hold breaking off or a foot slipping. The teeny tiny risk doesn’t seem worth it to me. A severe injury to a pro-climber could be career-ending which I guess baffles me as to how they can will themselves to do such a thing. I’m also super impressed and inspired by their actions though, and don’t think any less of them haha Mixed emotions! Thanks for your comment!!

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