Atomic Youth


Dec 1, 2002
Outside Magazine
Beth Rodden

Rodden in Tommy Caldwell's van, Yosemite National Park

Beth Rodden [22]


Estes Park, Colorado
The answer is yes: There is life after Kyrgyzstan for Beth Rodden. "Man, I'm excited about everything," she says. The young climber, best known for surviving the high-alpine hostage crisis of 2000 that was chronicled by Greg Child in these pages ("Fear of Falling," November 2000) and in the subsequent book Over the Edge, is back. In February, Rodden got engaged to sweetheart Tommy Caldwell, who had been at her side in Kyrgyzstan, and celebrated the occasion by becoming the first woman to climb Grand Illusion (5.13c), a single-pitch crack at Sugarloaf, California. Then, in May, she shook off the nightmare-wracked funk she had been experiencing after the kidnapping with an impressive on-sight of Phoenix (5.13a), a crack in Yosemite. It was the final step on the road to mental recovery that had begun in October 2001, when she and Caldwell joined 11-year-old California rock prodigy Scott Cory on a Yosemite climb that raised $10,000 for the families of 9/11 rescue personnel.

"I never stopped climbing after Kyrgyzstan, but I stopped having goals," Rodden says. "Really, I just did it because I felt like I was supposed to—that climbing was my job. But I wasn't having fun. I felt like climbing was selfish, that I wasn't doing anything worthwhile. Doing the thing with Scotty definitely changed my view."

Her upcoming projects, conspicuously, don't involve dusting off her passport. "Honestly, yeah, I'm scared to travel to Third World countries right now," she says. "But I'm pretty psyched to challenge myself around home. There's plenty to do here." —Eric Hagerman

Tori Allen [14]


Indianapolis, Indiana
They said Tori Allen would grow out of her precocious talent. They were wrong. Last year this 95-pound crowd-pleasing monkey child skipped into young womanhood without losing a step. Triumphs at the Gorge Games (in bouldering, for the second straight year) and the X Games (she smashed the women's speed-climbing world record by nearly four seconds) capped a year in which she won the American speed-climbing championship and became the youngest woman to climb The Nose of El Capitan. After claiming two straight junior national titles, the 14-year-old homeschooled phenom, who accessorizes with a trademark Curious George doll clipped to her chalk bag, jumped to the adult circuit last year and quickly challenged 27-year-old bouldering champion Lisa Rands.

"The first time I beat Lisa, I was like, whoa," says Allen, who as a toddler literally climbed with monkeys in the jungles of Africa as her missionary parents egged her on. "Since then we've both gotten stronger and it's back and forth, back and forth." With half a dozen sponsors, a slick Web site (, and the occasional spot on NBC's Today, Allen's professional gloss has led to hand-wringing among some climbing purists, who aren't used to perky 14-year-old superstars. "Tori's the first step to selling out the sport," one critic carped in an online discussion group. Allen shrugs it off. "I love that feeling, competing and being in the spotlight," she says. "Not to be a brat or anything, but it's really fun." —Bruce Barcott

Miles Smart [22]


Seattle, Washington
When Miles Smart grabs a fistful of granite and begins pulling himself up one of Yosemite's big walls, his stocky, rock-solid body gobbles up the vertical with a poetic economy of motion. The same strident efficiency shines through when he returns to level ground: "I love being able to climb a big route in a day and be back in the Valley in time for dinner."

Born in Seattle, Smart started climbing glaciers when he was nine years old. By age 17 he'd topped out on El Cap three times; by 18, he'd done it eight times. But Smart's speed jones didn't emerge until the next year, 1999, when he and several buddies pulled off multiple single-day ascents of Yosemite routes that most rock jocks complete in three to five days. Over the next couple of years, he set ten speed-climbing records in the Valley. One of those feats, a nine-hour 15-minute ascent of Zodiac (5.10) in 1999, drew considerable flak from his peers, including big-wall godfather Dean Potter (see "Climbing at the Speed of Soul," page 98), when it was revealed that, over two pitches, he had briefly protected himself with ropes set by other climbers. (The shortcut, which he admits he did not initially disclose in interviews, shaved precious minutes off his time.) "He's moved on," says friend and former mentor Mark Kroese, 41. "All of these speed climbers have some dirt on them."

Despite the bad press, Smart isn't about to put away the stopwatch, and he's also dabbling in ski-mountaineering. "I climb up difficult mixed routes and try to ski down them," he says. In 2000, that meant a descent of Gervasutti Couloir on the Mont Blanc du Tacul face, near Chamonix, France—a 55-degree maze of ice, rock, and snow. The face was so steep that Smart hesitates to call it a ski line. "It was more like a climbing route," he says. "There wasn't much snow. You had to tickle your way down."

These days Smart divides his time between Yosemite, the mixed routes and steep couloirs outside Chamonix, and Valdez, Alaska, where he pays the bills as a heli-ski guide. But upward velocity remains his first love. "He's fast at everything," says Kroese. "He hikes fast; he climbs fast. He's just fast." —Brad Wetzler

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