Jesse Grupper

Jesse Grupper

Bright and energetic, Jesse is a sport and competition climber best known for his positive attitude and his World Cup winning endurance on routes. He is one of the U.S.’ best lead climbers, with a mass of international and national titles to his name, and more than 15 years’ experience on the competition scene. Outside, he has climbed boulders up to 8B+ and sport routes up to 5.15a (9a+), including a 5.14c (8c+) flash ascent. Always looking to test himself, Jesse is motivated by a personal desire to improve but also to help build a community of inclusivity, positivity and accessibility, both in climbing and through his work in soft robotics.

Jesse started climbing at the age of six, accompanying his sister to a local climbing wall in his hometown of Montclair, New Jersey, and refusing to sit and watch. Describing himself as an oblivious and eager kid, Jesse explains how his undirected energy and enthusiasm landed him a spot of bother, frequently finding himself in ‘time out’:

When I started being able to climb more, I learned to channel this excess energy into my craft, and used it as a tool to gain focus and clarity,” explains Jesse, via email. “This excess excitement is still something I try and bring to my climbing to this day.

At the age of nine, Jesse joined the senior climbing team at the gym and began competing on the national youth circuit. Between the ages of 11 and 18 he won four national youth titles for both lead and bouldering and placed second at the 2015 Youth World Championships in Arco, Italy, where he topped the finals route as the first competitor out of the gate. It was this performance that sparked in Jesse a real belief in his capabilities.

Between 2016 and 2019, while at Tufts University in Massachusetts where he studied Mechanical Engineering, Jesse won multiple collegiate national titles for both lead and bouldering, carefully balancing climbing with his studies. He was also still representing the U.S. at IFSC events, and in 2018 placed 5th in the Collegiate World Championships in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Jesse training in the climbing gym © Gabe Mayberry @mayberrygabriel
As a member of team U.S.A, Jesse lives and trains in Salt Lake City, Utah © Gabe Mayberry @mayberrygabriel

After finishing college Jesse started working full time for a biodesign lab in Boston, working on a range of projects, from creating exosuits for stroke victims, to mentoring underprivileged students and creating educational tools. And he was still climbing, gaining five podium finishes — four 1st place and one 3rd place — in national lead climbing competitions between 2019 and 2022.

In March 2022 he qualified for the U.S. team in both boulder and lead and committed to international competitions. He cut his work hours to part-time and began working remotely so he could could move to Salt Lake City, Utah, to train with Team U.S.A. After a shaky start at the bouldering World Cup in Meiringen, Jesse went on to make four World Cup podiums during the 2022 season: 3rd in Innsbruck, 2nd in Villars and 1st in both Briançon and Edinburgh, coming extremely close to winning the overall lead category for the season.

My first World Cup victory felt absolutely insane,” says Jesse, again via email, of his win in Briançon. “I couldn’t believe I was able to stand on top of a podium! It felt like a dream, but one that I never truly believed could happen until it did.

A close up shot of Jesse climbing in the gym © Gabe Mayberry @mayberrygabriel
Jesse's first World Cup win was at Briançon during the 2022 season © Gabe Mayberry @mayberrygabriel

Alongside his competing, Jesse has also always been invested in real rock. At 11, he climbed his first 5.12, Kick me in Jimmy’s in the Red River Gorge, and at 13 his first 5.13a with Skin Boat, also in the Red. By the time he was at college he was tackling elite sport lines and boulders, such as Southern Smoke (5.14c) at the Red River Gorge, China Beach (5.14b/c) in Rumney New Hampshire, The Exfoliator (V12) at Mt Evans, Colorado, and Crown of Aragon (V13) at Hueco Tanks, Texas, to name but a few.

It was during his time at college that Jesse took on his biggest outdoor project. A strong competitor for the hardest route east of the Rockies, Jaws II in Rumney was originally a 5.14b line until two holds broke off, rendering it far harder. After a handful of ascents, the consensus stands at 5.15a (9a+). The route, which contains two very difficult cruxes, took Jesse around 21 days over two years to complete.

To spend 21 days examining and trying a single rock face takes a different kind of desire than I was used to,” wrote Jesse on his blog. “I thought about it while going on runs, while daydreaming in class, or before falling asleep.

Sending this climb, was about more than just a grade,” he continues. “This climb became a symbol of having an impossible seeming goal, and still being able to maintain the perseverance and dedication to accomplish it. Whether you’re climbing 5.11 or 5.15, the path to success is the same. The process is all about learning how to stay with a goal, even if you never thought it was possible in the first place.”

Jesse in silhouette climbing on an overhang in the climbing gym © Gabe Mayberry @mayberrygabriel
Proficient both inside and outside on real rock, Jesse has climbed up to 5.15a (9a+) and bouldered up to V14. © @mayberrygaberiel

After ticking Jaws II in November 2018, Jesse went on smash through more elite routes, both in the U.S. and abroad. A small selection includes: Everything is Karate (5.14c) in California; Bad Girls Club (514c/d) in Rifle, Colorado; Hades (9a) in Götterwand, Austria; Underground (9a) in Arco, Italy; and Mooiste Meisie (V13), The Vice (V13) and Book Club (V14) in Rocklands, South Africa. In November 2021, he made headlines with a flash ascent of Livin Astro, a powerful and complex 5.14c route in Rumney.

I had been saving this one for a while to give an honest flash go, and I couldn’t believe it when it paid off,” says Jesse. “It felt pretty surreal to be able to do this mega line so fast.

But despite being an elite rock athlete, Jesse is quick to point out that it’s not all about the grades, and that some of his proudest moments include more modest numbers, such as sending the traditional crack climb Happy Hands (5.9) in the New River Gorge, flashing the sought-after 5.13a Dial 911 also in the New, and climbing Table Mountain in South Africa, after being caught in a thunderstorm on his first attempt. 

When he’s not climbing, training or working remotely for the Harvard Biolab, Jesse enjoys spending time with friends, cooking, baking granola, playing the banjo and reading a good book.

I’m a believer in putting in the hard work whether it’s a field that you’re new to, or one you’ve been experienced at for a long period of time,” says Jesse, when asked where he sees himself in 10 years. “So, I see myself continuing to put in the work 10 years from now. That’s for sure climbing, but I also hope to be making the world more accessible for everyone through engineering."

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Jesse Grupper