On September 2, 2021, I sent the route I’m most proud of in my career thus far – Dreamcatcher (5.14d). I first tried this line 7 years ago, on my first road trip with my new boyfriend (now husband). By the end of a month long trip, I could barely do each individual move, and could link only 2-3 moves together at most. I’ve spent the last 7 years evolving into a different climber – not with Dreamcatcher in mind, but with a more general goal of pursuing routes that would challenge my natural style. I’ve worked on climbing faster, more explosively, and with more confidence. This summer, with hope of the Canadian border opening, I felt like the time was right to pursue Dreamcatcher again.
In the months leading up to my trip, I lifted weights and set sideways sloper campus simulators and rehearsed left heel hooks until I strained my hamstring. I came here not knowing what to expect. I wanted to do this route more than any route I’ve done, but also knew I’d be ok if I didn’t. This mindset helps me try my hardest, while evading some of the pressure that comes with a big goal. I wanted to come here and try my absolute best – if I could manage that, then I could be happy with whatever outcome that effort brought.
My progression on Dreamcatcher during this trip went faster than I expected.
On day one, I felt strong on the individual moves, which meant the power in my shoulders, finger strength, and footwork had improved significantly since I’d tried the route in 2014. I began working the route from the middle, focusing on rehearsing the top until the moves felt intuitive – not nearly effortless, but familiar enough that perhaps I could execute after burning energy on the first half of the route. On day 5, I began attempting the route from the bottom. Until that point, I’d avoided the slab, which takes a lot of skin. I fell off the top boulder once on day 5 and once on day 6, assuming I would log many more falls off this final crux before finally (hopefully) sending.
I walked up to the route on Thursday feeling distant from climbing in mind and body, but felt like rehearsing some new beta I’d found. I had absolutely no expectations. My mind was everywhere and nowhere. I climbed well to the final rest, flowing through the powerful sloper rail without mistakes. I recovered well on the positive but somewhat awkward rests. I stuck my highpoint. A brief thought entered my head – this is likely where I’d fall. But I quickly pused that thought aside and made a conscious choice to not let go. I think I tried the hardest I’ve ever tried in my life. To have my husband on the other end of the rope, belaying and cheering me on, was the exact support I needed to achieve this dream.
I’m proud of many of the lines I’ve sent in my career – that’s why I choose them, because they inspire me aesthetically and historically. But Dreamcatcher was slightly different, holding a special place in my mind. It’s a route that holds a lot of lore. It sits in a cave of angular blocks, in a magical forest, surrounded by mossy trees. Chris Sharma and Sonnie Trotter bolted the line in 2005, and Chris’ ascent later that year highlighted the exciting, dynamic style of the route, complete with dynos and big jumps. Since then, the route has seen less than a dozen ascents. It’s burly and powerful, but also delicate, requiring precise footwork and subtle core work.
Those familiar with my climbing know that I’m not a fan of the title First Female Ascent, yet media outlets jumped to label my ascent as the FFA. A few days after my ascent, Michaela Kirsch also climbed Dreamcatcher. Her ascent was no less impressive because I’d already sent, just as my ascent of Necessary Evil in 2017 was no less meaningful to me because she had sent it the day before. Ascents of burly, powerful lines by women aren’t rare. Women are very capable of climbing this style, and they regularly do. Many more women will climb Dreamcatcher, and routes much harder, and those ascents will be no less impressive because other women have already climbed this line. I’m proud of my ascent not because it’s an impressive ascent for a woman, but because it’s a special line that I worked hard for. Michaela and I got to celebrate together over pizza last night and joke about what dream line we should go for next.
Meet The team
Eddie Bauer Rock Climbing Guide
Paige Claassen holds an impressive list of sport climbing accomplishments around the world, from first ascents in South Africa to 5.14d ascents in the United States. She typically chooses iconic lines that represent benchmarks in the sport and are rarely repeated due to their difficulty and the level of technical skill they require.