On Jan 29, 2021, Brittany Goris made the first recorded female ascent of East Coast Fist Bump (5.14a), a single-pitch trad climb at the Waterfall crag in northern Arizona (Apache, Hopi, Pueblo and Hohokam territory). Just a few weeks later, Lor Sabourin also sent the route for its first recorded trans ascent.
Goris has been hovering around the 5.13+ trad mark ever since she made the first female free ascent of City Park (5.13+), in Index, Washington, back in July, 2018. On February 7, 2020, she also made the first female free ascent of Stingray–a notorious 5.13+ in Joshua Tree, originally freed by Japanese climber Hidetaka Suzuki in 1988. Meanwhile, Sabourin’s ascent of “the fist bump” (as it’s often called) came just a couple months after their impressive no-falls free ascent of the five-pitch 5.13+, Cousin of Death, also in northern Arizona–the first contiguous free ascent for that route.
The prolific Flagstaff-based route developer, Joel Unema, made the first free ascent of East Coast Fist Bump in 2015. The route has had a few free ascents since then, including those of Reed Johnson in 2018 and Fan Yang (who freed the route on some fixed gear, but placed pieces through the crux) in January 2019.
While the route was originally called 5.14a by Joel Unema, it has since been downgraded on Mountain Project to 5.13d. According to Unema, “the first ascent was done using (in the crux) crimps to the left of the crack and the crack itself and never going to the holds on the right arete or past the right arete. I climbed it once using the holds out right… This variation felt more like 5.13.”
Goris, who spent a month working the route, did feel that the way she did it was easier than either City Park, or Stingray. But she also emphasized that focusing on numbers, in her opinion, is missing the point.
“Grades are just a tool for comparison, and comparison is attached to our egos,” she told me from atop El Capitan (Tu-Tok-A-Nu-La), in between sessions of working on The Salathe. “and if we get caught up in that we’re climbing for the wrong reasons.”
Although Goris and Sabourin both climbed the route using holds on the arete, they ended up using very different sequences. “We’re really different climbers,” Goris, who worked on the route with Sabourin, said. “I’m much taller than they are, so we ended up with completely different beta. It’s cool that it’s difficult no matter how you do it, but there’s a better way for each individual person.”
I asked Sabourin how East Coast Fist Bump compared to Cousin of Death, another Joel Unema first ascent.
“I had a hard time comparing it to Cousin of Death,” Sabourin said. “It felt like the individual boulder moves on East Coast were harder, but at the same time, the crux is so much shorter.”
But Sabourin, like Goris, was quick to point out that “you don’t pick a route because of grades, you pick it because it means something to you.”
Joel Unema similarly noted about the changing grades: “Seems to be a good reminder that grades are a little silly anyway and climbing is just fun. I appreciate the honest opinions of those who have found different sequences that have made it a different grade. If it doesn’t feel like you are climbing 5.14a, you might not be.”
For Sabourin, East Coast Fist Bump was particularly meaningful because it represented a feeling of community and inclusion. “Joel sent this route the first time I was ever up at the waterfall, and it was my first time getting to climb with a group of friends in Flagstaff and feeling integrated into the community,” Sabourin explained. “I remember how psyched he was, and it meant a lot to me just to be a part of that. So when I got to work on it, it felt like getting back to that feeling.”