It's been a good year for sport climbing, maybe the best ever. Why?
Well, we've been waiting some time for the flood wave to come, and although there's been signs during the last few years, in comparison, they were mere ripples.The onslaught is lead by two kings, one of whom is not even a man yet, but a boy... or man boy maybe.
Anyway, his name is Adam Ondra and there's a small army of kids following him. The other king is, and this shouldn't come as a surprise either, Chris Sharma.
To say it's only about Sharma and the kids would be a mistake though. In fact, more 'middle aged' climbers than ever are pushing the limits. So, lets start with them shall we?
Maurizio Zanolla, better known as ”Manolo” or ”il Mago”, aged 51, made the FA of Eternit, F9a, a ”dead vertical slab” at Baule in the Italian Dolomites. Coming from him, who's not called "The Magician" for no good reason, saying that he's now explored a new dimension when it comes to vertical slab climbing, well... The holds must simply be damn small!
Manolo, who's now 51, has previously repeated routes like Bain de sang, F9a, Bimbaluna, F9a+, and Thin ice, F8c, all in the same style, and he says this one is undoubtedly more demanding. He concludes your foot work must be"half decent", which must be a classic understatement.
Arthur Kubista celebrated his 45th birthday by making the FA of Der lange Atem, F9a+, in the Höllental, Austria. Interview
The week after plowing (almost literally) up a new E8 on the Lleyn Peninsula, Wales, Stevie Haston, 52, freed Descente Lolitta, a link up of several hard routes that add up to an over all grade of F9a, at Grotte de Sabart in the French Pyrenees.
François Nicole, 42, made the FA of Amazonie, F9a, at Saint-Triphon, Vaud, Switzerland. The rather short powerful route involves a crimpy section leading up to an astonishing all points off right-hand dyno followed by another bunch of "edgy" moves.
This is the year when sport climbing became cool again andF 9a sends so common they were hardly news worthy.
Finally there's been true progress since the early nineties. The floodgates are now officially open, just join in and go with the flow. If it only were that easy...
Here's the lowdown on what's gone down, and a few words from some of the key players.
This is the laboratory of sport climbing these days (one of the sectors at Margalef is even called just that). This is the area many of the best climbers call home for shorter or longer periods of time. Leading the development, bolting tons of routes, are Chris Sharma and Dani Andrada.
Chris didn't have as much time as usual focusing on his climbing this year however. The reasons were two, the building of his new house and his slide show/video tour. For most, this would mean a significant decline in shape. Sharma... not so much. In fact, if anything, he seems stronger than before. He started off in February with an ascent of Demencia senil, a super steep and powerful F9a+, on shallow monos and two finger pockets, at the Laboratory, Margalef.
Then, in May, it was time for Pachamama, an endurance feast of small pinches and slopey side-pulls at Oliana that, according to Chris, is his most difficult F9a+ yet.
His major ascent of the year came late though: The mighty Neanderthal, 9b, at Santa Linya. This route is only the second to climb the whole giant cave.
Dave Graham described the route:
"The route is like a F9a (more or less) which is comprised of something like four Font 7C blocs on a row, very resitant, on pinches and kinda crack like features. There are some holds to shake on in between the last Font 7C and the crux, which is this dyno. The dyno is a move from a crimp and a two finger pocket to a sloper brick. Then there is a jug after a couple more moves. The boulder must be Font 8A minimum.
Then there is a small rest, a small boulder, maybe 3 moves, not so hard, then a big rest. Then it is a maybe F8a+/8b route to the end of the cave, out another little bulge.
Thus the route is something like a F9a, to a Font 8A bloc, to a big rest, which makes solid F9a+ or easy F9b? Then about F8a+/8b route outro climb after a big rest in a break. This is Neanderthal."
Czech climber, Tomás Mrazek has been tearing it up too. First at Misja Pec, Slovenia, where he made the FA of Xaxid hostel, F9a/+, and then at Santa Linya, repeating Open your mind direct, F9a/+, and Analogica, F9a/+, before making the FA of a 120m ~9a traverse, crossing the whole cave.
Another center of gravity this year was the Frankenjura in southern Germany. Markus Bock has put in tons of work repeating and creating heaps of hard routes in the area during the last few years, preparing the arena for Adam Ondra, as it were...
His biggest contribution this year was The man that follows hell, in the Grünen Hölle (Green hell) the 2nd F9a+, and a perfect weekend project for Adam next year. I say this because a pattern has emerged. Markus puts up F9a's, and Adam swiftly repeats them in short time on his weekend raids. In 2009, one F9a+, Corona, and four F9a's went down in this fashion. All of these were 2nd ascents. Isn't it about time he started paying his dues by making a few first ascent of his own?
Franken wasn't an all guys' affair this year however, Sarah Seeger wanted part of the fun. In May, she raised a few eye brows by climbing Ronin, F8b+/c at the Zwergenschloss, and then a few more in October by becoming the first woman to climb a proper F8c in the area by doing Steinbock at Orakel.
OK, back to Ondra. Let me put it this way: Some of you probably remember a few years back when Stevie Mac made headlines by onsighting or flashing a 100 F8a's and up in a year. Now, we all know Stevie ain't weak, and not exactly bad at onsighting, and he still had to work pretty hard to reach this goal of his.
This year Adam onsighted or flashed ~120. ~20 were F8b+ and up. At Covolo in Italy, he onsighted two F8c's, Una vida nomada and Nagay, and one F8b+ in one, yes one, day.
I asked him a couple of questions about his year:
What will you remember the most from 2009 and why?
The things where I fought the most, for example the first ascent of Fugu, 9a, at the Schleier Wasserfall. It is just such an amazing place high above the ground. It was just before sunset, everything was so calm and there was just the rock and me fighting as hell.
Or The Essential, 9a, in the Frankenjura, where I was sliding off on the wet moss just under the chains, but I managed to keep on the rock.
Or the flash of The Vice, 8B, in the Rocklands, South Africa.
Which route are you the most happy to have done and why?
Marina Superstar, 9a+/b, at Domusnovas/Bronx, Sardinia. It was the main goal of the year and I succeeded.
Other significant ascents from the young Czech were:
Plus a further 12 9a's, one FA, Fogu, and the rest 2nd ascents, for example Om and Im Reich des Shogun, both of legendary status.
Here's an interview Pierre Délas made for Beal.
The third centre was the Gorges du Loup, or to be more precise, the Dévérsé, or ”Deverland”, an extremely steep crag with lots of tufas a 45 min drive north west of Nice.
14-year-old Enzo Oddo is a local here. Some would call him the next golden child, after Adam Ondra, and why not? After showing great promise last year, with ascents up to F8c+, a level most 13 year olds would be quite content with, he made another break through this autumn repeating no less than five routes in the 9th grade
Other climbers who were successful here include Dave Graham, Anatole Bosio, Daniel Woods, Gérome Pouvreau, Sachi Amma, Jon Cardwell, Joe Kinder and several more.
What about the ladies? Yes, what about them?
Jenny Lavarda had a really good year. In June she started showing signs of what was to come, by redpointing the steep Reini's vibes, F8c/+, in the Pueblo setor at Massone, Arco, fighting her way to the chains in a temperature soaring around 30 degrees.
What was to come, was the first female ascent of Maurizio Zanolla's Solo per vecchi guerrieri, F8c+/9a a four pitch MP at Vette Feltrine in the Italian Dolomites. The name means ”only for old warriors”, and although Jenny is by no means old, she is actually a sport soldier, so the name is still somewhat fitting. To keep things peaceful at home, her boyfriend, Marco Ronchi, repeated it the same afternoon.
Along with Jenny, Maja Vidmar made the hardest female ascent of the year by climbing Attila Lunga, F8c+, at Baratro, near Trieste, Italy. The plan was to get some good photos of Maja on her F8c+ project but already on her first go, she fell close to the chains and on her next go, she bagged it!
I said in the beginning, hard sport climbing really starts at F9a these days, and as for the British, no one but ol' Stevie Haston got there this year. Steve McClure, made some really impressive ascent this summer, doing three F8c+'s inspite of way too hot conditions really: Hubble, Bat shadow and Klemow Mecca (Weedkiller-Klemow lip-Mecca extension).
Tom Bolger, who's moved down to Lleida in Cataluńa, thought he got there, and perhaps he did. Time will tell. From his blog:
”Today I did my first 9a, Guilty Perpetua (FA), which is a link-up in the 'Old Skool' Disblia cave. It links Guilty, a hard 3 bolt 8b+ (font 8A at least) into the top of Cadena Perpetua. Cadena perpetua is a hard 8c that I have already done, the top section being 8b+ in its own right.
I don't really like breaking down the route into graded sections because when comparing them to other routes there are so many varients to be considered i.e. the size of rests etc. Regardless, this is my hardest route to date and the most direct line through this awesome cave and I'm really psyched for people to come and try it and give their opinions.”
As it turned out, Ramón Julian Puigblanque had already got there and made the FA and given it F8c. Ramón's logic for making hard 8b+ plus hard 8c equal 8c, was that there's a really good rest where you (according to him) can recover fully. 8c+ anyone?
In September, Stewart Watson succeeded on Mordor, F8c+/9a, at Niederthai, Austria. Describing his redpoint efforts to UKC, Stewart said:
"I made fast progress with this route and thought I could climb it pretty fast but I had totally underestimated how hard the crux was after climbing 20m of 8c to get there. The crux section involves very explosive moves on crimps and it took me a long time to be able to commit to the explosive crux sequence and to just go for it. After two years of attempts I finally climbed the route on Sunday the 6th of September and I'm sure that you could hear my cries of joy in the UK!"
The route took Stewart over 15 days of attempts spread over a two year period.
Wales based trad climber Pete Robins made a rare ascent of the hard F8c Liquid Ambar at Lower Pen Trwyn, Llandudno. Although graded F8c this route is though of by many to be F8c+ and has seen less than a handful of ascents.
Pete Robins on Liquid Ambar:
Fred Rouhling deserves to be mentioned. In March he did the FA of Empreintes, F9a/b.
"It's a very gymnastic route with far between the holds and a powerful crux. It starts with an old soft F7c route. The new part starts with a great dyno in a roof, to catch a flat hold (7C/+ boulder grade) with a bad fall (scratch to a vertical part...).
After three more moves we get to a very hard jump (8A/+ boulder grade) which is far and has a very uncomfortable start (also a strange hold to catch on the top). The finish is also hard with extreme body tension moves with so far between the holds ( I think this other part can be grade 8A boulder for 5 moves).
This route is comparable in style to Hugh one of my old 9a but a level harder."
Charlotte Durif, Caroline Ciavaldini, Alizée Dufraise and Mayan Smith-Gobat have all climbed one or more F8c.
Dozens of guys have climbed 9a's, but we don't have space to mention them all.
So, that's it... At least some of all that went down last year. What this year holds in store, no one knows (to be honest I do actually, but I won't tell you just yet!).
Will we see the first F9a flash? Possibly. F9b+? Probably. More F9b's? More than likely.
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