Paige Claassen currently working toward climbing her first 5.15 sport route.

Knocking on the Door of 5.15: Paige Claassen Is a Sport Climbing Connoisseur

Paige Claassen has a specialist’s appreciation for projecting hard sport climbs. Learn all about her approach (pun intended) to sport climbing and more.

While many contemporary professional climbers meander between various disciplines, Paige Claassen finds meaningful progression by sticking to her subject. Like a calligrapher captivated by a single set of characters, Claassen is seeking sport climbing mastery.

When she was 9, Claassen’s family moved to Estes Park, Colo. — the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park and home to some of America’s best climbing areas. Soon after, she made a visit to a local climbing gym. That led to 10 successful years of competing on the international youth climbing circuit.

Since her transition away from competition climbing around 10 years ago, Claassen, now 31, has diligently channeled her efforts into single-pitch sport climbing. Along this path, she has redpointed many of the world’s most iconic lines, including multiple routes rated 5.14d. By repeatedly engaging in the intricate and agonizing projecting process, Claassen sustains the inspiration to continue improving on her already elite accomplishments.

Her latest goal is to climb 5.15.

Recently, I met up with Claassen to sport climb, enjoy an August day in Boulder Canyon, and learn about her climbing process and active objectives.

A Climbing Style Defined by Confidence and Precision

Author with Paige Claassen
Claassen and the author, both in Eddie Bauer Guide Pro pants, pick a warm-up from the guidebook; (photo/Eddie Bauer)

Our climbing session was coordinated and supported by Eddie Bauer, a brand that Claassen has repped as an athlete since January 2020. Outfitted from head to toe in gear from Eddie Bauer’s First Ascent sportswear line, we hiked to the cliff through the smoky summer air.

Claassen is well-known for her balletic climbing style. Epic climbing videos of Claassen on notoriously technical routes over the years, such as Smith Rock’s “To Bolt or Not to Be” (5.14a) and the Fins’ “Algorithm” (5.14d), showcase her artfully precise technique. In the same way that soccer fans revere Messi for his dazzling footwork, climbing fans recognize Claassen for hers.

In fact, Claassen’s so good at this aspect of climbing that she offers a 7-week instructional course on precision footwork. And after spending a day climbing with her, I’m partially inclined to enroll myself.

Arriving at the base of the wall, we selected a warm-up route that features an infamously awkward “beached-whale” mantle just before the anchor. Claassen dispatched the climb with ease, assured in her assessment of upcoming challenges and deliberate in her execution. Watching from the ground, the “crux” was rendered totally imperceptible.

“I think one of my biggest assets is confidence,” said Claassen. “I’m always learning about myself, and I take those lessons with me as I go about life.”

These lessons seem to be the fuel that powers Claassen’s persistent dedication to sport climbing. From the outside looking in, Claassen’s climbing career may look like a simple system of linear success.

Instead, with every new project that Claassen selects, she seeks and finds unique rewards that don’t necessarily stem from successful redpoints. ‘Sending’ is not necessarily a prerequisite for progress.

Paige Claassen rock climbing
Claassen high on a steep and classic Boulder Canyon sport route; (photo/Eddie Bauer)
Man climbing using a climbing harness, climbing shoes, and a climbing helmet
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Route Selection: A Time-Tested Process

Pursuing self-actualization in any discipline requires much more than luck. As Claassen continues her exploration of sport climbing and its lessons, her route selection process remains highly calculated. As we climbed, she shared some tips with us on the subject.

  1. Understand all the factors. “A lot of factors have to come into play to climb at your limit,” she said. For Claassen, these factors include partner availability, weather conditions, travel distance, and much more.
  2. Pick routes you love. While logistics are important, the intangibles of route selection are perhaps even more critical to Claassen. “Specific routes just seem to stand out in my mind,” she said. “Also, it’s hard to pass up a striking feature in a beautiful setting.”
  3. Learn from your projects. “Whatever the outcome, there’s something to take away from every route I do or try,” she said.

Though only Claassen herself will ever fully understand her route selection algorithm, it seems to go like this: favorable conditions plus historical significance — multiplied by a mystical and intimate sense of attraction.

Next, Claassen and I moved down the cliff to a steep and powerful 5.12, which she also on-sighted with commanding carefulness. Climbers often point out that the experience of trying hard on a 5.6 as a novice feels effectively identical to an elite climber’s experience of working on a 5.15. In both cases, the sensations of fear, fatigue, frustration, and achievement are present. While top rope flailing my way up Claassen’s warm-up, I was reminded of this exciting truth.

We don’t need to be experts to investigate our challenge zone thoroughly. As Claassen continues her personal quest to climb hard sport climbs, she continues to find that her chosen discipline remains fertile with untapped wisdom and experiences.

paige claassen rock climbing
Claassen high steps past the first bolt; (photo/Eddie Bauer)

Claassen’s Current and Future Objectives

In 2021, Claassen’s climbing process continues to revolve around route-specific fixation. However, she occasionally dabbles in other genres of her sport, including trad climbing and days spent on-sighting for volume.

“I’m working on branching out a little,” she said. “But it can be hard for me to focus on anything other than my main project.” At the time of writing this, Claassen is in Squamish, British Columbia, where she recently became the first woman to send “Dreamcatcher,” a quintessential 5.14d power endurance sport route that she described as “stunning.”

As we wrapped up our day at the crag, Claassen shared some insight into her 5.15 goal. “I know I’m capable,” she said. “I don’t know when it will happen or which route it will be, but I’ve fully decided to go for it.”

Stay tuned, because when it happens, we’ll definitely share the news.

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Austin Beck-Doss

Austin Beck-Doss has been writing about climbing, hiking, and snowsports for five years. Prior to that, Austin worked as a rock climbing guide for an adaptive recreation organization. Now based in Wyoming, Austin enjoys hiking through the limestone hills, recording observations as drawings, and looking for new (old) rocks to climb.