During 2008 the sport-climbing genre has seen some top-notch performances from its dedicated band of elite athletes. So who was the most impressive, which was the most important ascent and who is the best? Well, quantifying the latter may be possible in a competition but in the real world of extreme rock it's an inexact science. Yeah, you've got 8a.nu who rank climbers by their ascents but what about the Sharma's, Chabot's and McClure's of this world who don't take part in such schemes? For me, much of it comes down to personal choice and opinion because we all have our own notions of what is impressive and what is inspiring. Pondering questions such as, who has climbed the most F9b's, who's climbed the most F8c's and above or who's on-sighted the hardest begins to narrow things down a little. Although skimming it down to just five mutants is still a tricky one. Who do I leave out when we live in a world full of super-heroes who eat F8c's for breakfast and red-point F9a after lunch? And does it necessarily have to be the ones who are climbing the hardest routes?
Getting one hardcore ascent a year is most definitely admirable but there are many people out there who can climb one hard route after months of effort. However the true top performers, go to the crag and warm up on an F7c, then proceed to on-sight an F8a+ and F8b, try to on-sight an F8b+/F8c (and if they fail they red-point it next go) then they finish with a burn on their F9a+ project. The next day they're out again for more of the same! Golden weeks or months of crushing crimps, tearing up tufas and pulverising pockets. For me this is the motivator- the climbing machines that can keep on doing it day in day out, stay psyched and lay the routes to rest- regularly. Hard training, full dedication and BIG results. Oh and a large lump of talent.
All of the climbers I have chosen are ones who have particularly impressed and inspired me over the last twelve months but many more could be added to the list. So, in no particular order, here goes!
Chris Sharma needs no introduction having continued to push world standards for almost ten years now. However his exploits over the last 12 months are more than worthy of an article all by themselves. For me though, one ascent stands out above all the others and that is the first ascent of Jumbo Love on the upper tier of California's Mount Clark. An enormous 220-foot pitch with a proposed grade of 5.15b or F9b is something that I find truly gob-smacking. I've never been hugely impressed by short sport routes (probably because I generally find them hard) but long and absorbing single pitches that can go for as long as 70 or 80 metres in a single run-out are incredible, although maybe not for the person belaying!
As Sharma said on the film King Lines:
"If you're going to climb say 90 feet, then you might as well go deep water soloing, but if you're going to tie onto a rope then you may as well make it worth your while."
With Jumbo Love he took this statement further, taking what was originally envisaged as a three-pitch route in one push. Such was the intensity of the climbing and the effort required to succeed he had to skip numerous bolts and took regular falls in the 60 to 100 foot region. Falls that long would land you on the ground on most British sport routes! When he sent the route on September 11th (from the BigUp blog):
"It all came together, he owned every hold, did every sequence exactly right, and topped out his hardest, proudest route."
Some days later and obviously still in the shape of his life, he travelled to Maple Canyon, Utah where in a remarkably understated fashion he on-sighted Pipe Dream and Blind Fury, both 5.14b/F8c, a great effort considering that for many people, red-pointing at your limit doesn't necessarily lead to the best on-sight form.
Just after this article was written Chris Sharma pulled out all the stops and finished a project at the El Pati sector of Siurana, calling his new climb Golpe de Estado and although he isn't 100% sure of the grade, it is another contender for the F9b level.
"I'm still not totally sure on the grade, but it is comparable in some ways to Jumbo Love except the bottom is probably harder and the top a bit easier and less overhanging. I'll have to try some other routes to compare a bit more before I'm sure about the grade."
Josh Lowell from Big Up Productions posted a video online:
"We just posted the segment of Chris working on Golpe De Estado from Dosage V. It's on our site as a free clip so people can check out what the climbing is like now that he's done it."
Patxi is an incredibly dedicated athlete who has been supremely successful both on the crag and the competition circuit.
At a lecture by the USA's Dave Graham he talked about Patxi as being one of a new breed. A man who trains as hard as any Olympic athlete, sacrifices many of life's pleasures, is focused and unbelievably driven. Six month periods of intense conditioning and then, bang... he unleashes himself on the crag! This level of dedication is something that I personally find very inspiring and I only wish that I could find even a smidgen of it myself.
I asked Patxi about his achievements:
"About the 8c+, I only did one, the other are 8c/+, so no 8c+. I didn't train specifically for this goal, I did a good training for the world cup, and just after that started climbing on rock a lot, I got a really good feeling climbing on the rock, and finally I did the 8c+ on-sight. It was special, the hardest on-sight in my life. And it got me the best memories."
So, F9a on-sight next? If anyone can pull it off this man can.
Britain has many good sport climbers but for me, Steve is definitely the most impressive. A truly world class athlete who has almost single handedly kept Britain up to speed with global standards over the last ten years. He focuses on the job in hand and gets it done despite the endless weeks of seepage, the breaking holds and the seriously gnarly moves. Last year was another impressive one. The first ascent of North Star at Kilnsey with a proposed grade of
F9a+, a flashed second ascent of Gareth Parry's F8b+ route Doctor Crimp and a super-quick third ascent of Rhapsody, which incidentally Steve says, "Should be included as a sport route really." Although I'm sure he is talking about the red-point style in which he climbed it rather than anything else.
I asked Steve for some comments on his year and who had impressed him:
“Strange year this year, it started good, became amazing, then fizzled out to rubbish! At least the start was really good!"
“North Star went too quick! I had trained for it during the winter, and it worked. I had expected a long haul but it was all over in a few weeks. Conditions were amazing though for all of May, perfect every day at Kilnsey. Dr Crimp also felt OK too, but again the conditions were spot on.”
Top UK performers in sport?
“Ru Davies, Stu Littlefair, Paul Smitton, these guys are the dudes in Britain, little sponsorship, not well known, super strong and talented and going out doing stuff for the love of it and nothing else.”
“Worldwide its Sharma and Andrada that stand out to me, they are my mates and they are just machines, again they climb for the love of the sport, they aren't on a path set by any other. This is what impresses me even more than the guys that are at the top of the tree in terms of numbers.”
Steve used a different sequence on the final move of Rhapsody, taking the left arête with his left hand. UKC have spoken to both Dave MacLeod and Steve about this and may publish an editorial in the new year discussing the merits and downfalls of eliminate climbs. What is clear in this case is that whichever sequence the climber follows, Rhapsody is a route of exceptional difficulty. Congratulations to Steve.
Geoffray De Flaugergues - Three F8c/+ Aged Thirteen
Thirteen year-old Geoffray De Flaugergues of France may not be climbing the absolute hardest routes in the world (yet...) but he is a clear example of what the future of our sport holds. At an extremely young age he is already climbing harder than most and is hugely talented. Geoffray has greatly impressed me over the last 12 months. He has managed red-points of three F8c/+'s and climbed two F8b's on-sight. Although not quite cutting edge I think this is just the beginning for the young French climber and I would say that he is quite likely to follow a similar path to Adam Ondra, in terms of dragging the sport forward to a new level. Rock climbing needs talented and driven climbers like this, so that next year's top performers push through the boundaries and move towards the next level.
For many climbers, even the world's elite, Adam Ondra is held in high regard. I asked Dave Graham what he thought about the super-talented 15 year-old from Brno in the Czech Republic and he replied with 2 words:
And it is easy to see why. This year alone Adam has climbed twenty-eight F8c's (including three on-sight,) twenty-three F8c+'s, nine F9a's and (now) two F9a+'s! Quite a tally for a whole career, never mind a single year (and we're not even at the end of November yet!) And all this has been completed with the minimum fuss and maximum honesty. He just goes about his daily business at the crag as if it is nothing special.
On a trip to Spain's Siurana in February (see video below) we bumped into “Family Ondra,” who were away for the school holidays. Adam would sit happily at the bottom of the crag encouraging Mum and Dad on their own routes and then later the family would share dinner in the bar, chatting with one another and reminiscing about the day's proceedings. From such an innocuous scene you would never know that Adam was the best sport climber in the world and that shortly after belaying Dad he had walked around the corner and then sauntered up the famous F9a+ route, La Rambla. But that was the trip. Between the 4th and the 18th February he tore Spanish sport climbing to pieces! The tally: one F9a+, three F9a's, three F8c+'s, three F8c's, one F8b+, three F8b's, four F8a+s and four F8a's! That's some going.
Watch a video of Adam Ondra in action in Spain
Almost more impressive was a weekend (11th/12th October) that Adam had recently in Germany's Frankenjura. In just two days he red-pointed two F8c+'s, three F8c's, one F8b+ and on-sighted two F8a+s! Adam is no one pitch wonder either. In July he made the first ascent of the route Wogu, a 7 pitch monster in the Ratikon with pitches up to F8c! Then, in October he made the first on-sight (in a day) of the classic, Hotel Supramonte in Sardinia.
So is Adam Ondra the future of world sport climbing? You bet he is!
Adam has once again put my article out of date with the second ascent of the twelve year old Alexander Huber route, Open Air F9a+ at Schleier Wasserfall in Austria. Forgot top five, Adam is the top one!
So there you have it. My top five but there could have been fifty! In a world of grade obsession it's important not to forget what climbing is really about. Pushing yourself personally, finding your own limits, having fun in beautiful places, being free, oh... and burning your mates off of course!
Bring on 2009!
I would like to thank the following people for their involvement with this article. Steve McClure, Keith Sharples (www.keithsharplesphotography.com,)Patxi Usobiaga (www.patxiusobiaga.com,) Kathi Krause (www.bdel.com,) Bernardo Gimenez (www.bernardogimenez.com) and Vojtech Vrzba (http://www.tomala.cz/vojta.)
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Kevin Avery - UKC: