Ethan Pringle

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Ethan is an incredibly diverse climber, well recognised for his proficiency across the disciplines of rock climbing. Indeed, there are few professional climbers who have sent as many high-end boulders, sport lines, trad climbs, and big walls as Ethan, who sets a gold standard for ‘all-rounder’ status.  

Born in 1986 in San Francisco, California, Ethan started climbing when he was eight at Mission Gym, which was conveniently only four blocks away from his childhood home. Given this convenience Ethan started living at the gym after school and at weekends. Success quickly followed. 

By 1998 Ethan was Junior National Champion and a member of the US junior climbing team. For three consecutive seasons between 1998 and 2001 he was the undefeated National and International Junior Champion in Lead, and took silver at the Youth World Championships in 2000. For the next decade Ethan represented the US internationally, primarily for bouldering, and took podium positions in numerous national lead and bouldering competitions. 

Though I got as high as 2nd in bouldering nationals a couple times, and even won some national-level comps, I never made it past semis in any of the world cups I competed in,” says Ethan. They're so hard! Even back when people were less mutant-like than they are now. I think it takes a ton of motivation and a ton of WC-specific experience to do well in them, and I don't think I ever had quite enough of either.”

To be fair to Ethan, he was probably too busy outdoors to devote sufficient time to specific World Cup training. Outdoors Ethan red-pointed his first 5.13 (7c+) at age 12, his first 5.14 (8b+) at 13, and has since amassed several hundred ascents of 5.13, 5.14 and 5.15 routes (7c+ to 9b). He has onsighted climbs up to 5.14a/b (8b+/c) and has made first ascents of routes up to 5.14d (9a), of which Arrested Development (5.14d/9a) at Robbers Roost, Nevada, Everything is Karate (5.14+/8c+/9a) in Bishop, Spicy Dumpling (5.14d/9a) in Yangshuo, China, and the first free ascent of Blackbeard's Tears (5.14c/8c+), stand out. 

Ethan on Racerback (5.13b/8a) in the Sierra East Side. A stiff seven-bolt test piece with a stiff V8 crux. © Alex Aristei
Ethan on Racerback (5.13b/8a) in the Sierra East Side. A stiff seven-bolt test piece with a stiff V8 crux. © Alex Aristei

His redpoint achievements are equally impressive. In 2007 Ethan cemented his role as a top climber by making the fifth (and at the time the fastest) ascent of Realization/Biographie (5.15a/9a+), at Ceüse. In the following years he ticked—among many others—La Reina Mora (5.14d/9a) in Siurana, Golden Ticket (5.14d/9a) in the Red River Gorge, Le Cadre Nouvelle Version (5.14d/9a) at Ceüse and Thor's Hammer (5.15a/9a+) at Flatanger.

But the pièce de résistance of his sport climbing career came in 2015, when, after a season of attempts, Ethan made the second ascent of Jumbo Love at Clark Mountain in Nevada. Back in 2007 he had worked toward the first ascent of this route but Chris Sharma was the first to complete the line that, at 5.15b (9b), remains the hardest sport climb in the US. 

“I had a lot of time build up a mental block around the route, and to form the story that I just didn't have what it took to climb it,” says Ethan. It took a lot of work and perseverance to break down that mental block and unravel that story that I was unworthy. The process was one of the most emotionally and psychologically transformative that I've ever gone through. I start to tear up every time I think about how opening it was.”

Ethan on the first ascent on of Downstairs Mixup, V11 © Alex Aristei
Ethan on the first ascent on of Downstairs Mixup, V11 © Alex Aristei

While Ethan is perhaps a sport climber at heart, his extensive bouldering ticklist catalogues ascents of numerous double-digit V-grade problems, including several 8C (V15) and 8B+ (V14) boulders, such as the third ascent of the mega 60-foot roof problem, The Wheel of Life (V15/8C) in the Grampians; the fifth ascents of The Nest (V15/8C) and Kintsugi (V15/8C) at Red Rocks; and Slashface (V14/8B+) and Sky (V14) in Rocklands. He also has a list of impressive highballs and rated boulders to his name, including the notoriously heady 7C+ Too Big to Flail (V10/5.14a X), The Beautiful and Damned (V13/8A+ X) and This Side of Paradise (V10/7C+ R/X), all in the Buttermilks; the first ascents of Wet Dream (V12/13, 8A+/8B R) and Clockwork Orange (V12/8A+ R) at Red Rocks; Evangalion (V13/8B R) at Hueco Tanks and Birds Nest (V11/8A R) in Lower Cottonwood Canyon.

Next, we can move onto trad climbing. Since his early 20s Ethan has shown excellent form on high-end trad climbs. In 2008, during a trip to Canada, he sent Sonnie Trotter’s famous routes The Path (5.14-/8b+/c R) at Lake Louise, and made the third ascent of Cobra Crack (5.14b/8c) in Squamish. Colorado trad testpieces China Doll (5.14a/8b+) and Iron Monkey (5.14a/8b+) are other impressive single-pitch achievements by Ethan, as is the first free ascent of Blackbeard's Tears (5.14c/8c) in California. 

If this wasn’t enough, Ethan has also succeeded on multipitch and big wall climbs, including a flash ascent of Moonlight Buttress (5.12/7b+, 10 pitches) in Zion, and an exceptionally good flash attempt of the 35-pitch Freerider (5.13a/7c+) on El Capitan, when, in a 36-hour push, Ethan flashed every pitch except the Huber Boulder Problem, where a quick slip had him pulling the rope and ticking the pitch second go. 

Back in 2013, during a 40-day expedition to Greenland, Ethan went without sleep for three days to establish a 1000-metre first ascent on an unclimbed granite peak on southeast coast with Mike Libecki [check out the video]. Ethan onsighted uncharted pitches of 5.13 (7c+/8a) trad, likely some of the hardest technical climbing in the country, and again proving himself to be one of the strongest all-around climbers of his generation. 

In terms of future ambitions, Ethan’s plans are broad: learning Spanish and a musical instrument, returning to Greenland and El Cap, and climbing another V15 and 5.15, are but some of the goals on his list. In between these he’ll continue with his hobbies of surfing, reading, writing and meditation.