EXCLUSIVE VIDEOS: Adam Ondra - Malham 2011 - Full Storyby Jack Geldard - UKC Chief Editor Jun/2011
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Adam Ondra, the Czech sport climbing sensation, made his first visit to the UK in 2010. He headed to Yorkshire and repeated two of Steve McClure's F9a routes at Kilnsey and he attempted Steve's Overshadow (F9a+) at Malham Cove.
He found Overshadow hard, didn't manage a successful ascent, and vowed to return, stating: “There is some unfinished business, so I should be back next spring. Overshadow is waiting...”.
Steve McClure on Adam Ondra
Adam commented on 8a.nu: "Four days this year, three days last year, it was already turning into a mental war, so many foot slips and mistakes. The send felt quite easy in the end, but it's at the upper end of the grade for sure."
After his successful repeat of Overshadow, Adam turned his attention to Rainshadow a nearby F9a that first ascensionist Steve McClure called "My best new route and perhaps the best route I have ever climbed". Adam concurred with "Honestly one of the best climbs I have done..."
To top off what was already an amazing trip to the UK, Adam made a stylish onsight of the rarely repeated Malham F8c Bat Route, which interestingly he thought was soft for the grade (it was originally graded F8b+ by first ascensionist Mark Leach back in 1989). However he still thought it was harder than its more popular neighbour Unjustified (also graded F8c).
Perhaps even more interesting was Adam's brief attempt at the unrepeated route of Total Eclipse (F8c+/9a), first climbed by John Dunne.
Total Eclipse is a route surrounded in mystery. Dubbed impossible by some and unclimbed by others, Ondra had a quick go on this route when it was unfortunately wet, meaning a successful ascent wasn't possible, but he certainly thought it was climbable.
Steve McClure watched Adam on Total Eclipse and commented on his blog:
"He went up to look at Total Eclipse, a route with a chequered history. John Dunne made the first ascent grading it 8c+/9a. Moffatt claimed it easier but broke 'crucial' holds off and declared it not possible but Dunne insisted he hadn't actually used the broken holds. Anyway, whatever the history, Adam was on redpoint within an hour, and through the crux with ease. Unfortunately the top section was soaking wet, blatantly obvious even for spectators 100m away. He came close, but slipped off!"
NB: John Dunne gives us his thoughts on Total Eclipse and Adam Ondra later in this article.
Both videos filmed and edited by Adam Hocking.
Jack: It took Adam Ondra 7 days to repeat your route Overshadow (9a+) at Malham. How long did it take you?
Steve: "It took me 42 days in total. That includes checking the line out, bolting and faffing around. That probably took about 5 days.
After probably 12 - 15 days I should have done it, I was really close a few times but ran out of dry rock. The last year was a mental battle that took 20 days. However, first I had to re-learn the sequences and get slick on it, but then things went all over the shop, it got wet and dry repeatedly, there were days where it was boiling hot in the sun and I just went on the route to keep it slick (still counting these days) and I had a 9 month old girl screwing my sleep up.
It could have gone any time from day five on the last year but just kept spitting me off, even from the last move where I was sure I'd be in! This route pushed me, but more mentally than physically. I knew I could do it pretty early on, and knew I should have done it relatively early on, then it just messed me up. It was a good example of how, in redpointing close to your limit, everything has to come into place. But actually I enjoyed the battle!"
Jack: You said - 'It's just a really hard route to climb' - what makes it so hard?
Steve: "The moves feel okay off the rope, but are kind of low percentage, they need accurate body positions and timing. On other routes with simple powerful moves they can be yarded through when tired, but as soon as the other complex technical stuff comes into play you can just fall off for no apparent reason, even if you feel okay - if the timing is a bit out or body position just a bit off.
There are a fair few of these kind of moves on Overshadow, all the way to the last move!"
Jack: Why has no one else repeated any of your routes?
Steve: "Because they are hard? Probably because everyone is bouldering in reality! Also most people don't like long projects."
Jack: Adam climbing these hard routes so fast is fairly astonishing. In your opinion is he operating in a league of his own? How do the 'best of the rest' compare to the young Czech climber?
Steve: "Adam is a grade ahead of the top of the tree, and two grades ahead of the general hero! So he's a grade up on Sharma/Paxti/Ramon etc and two up on all the other stars. He is in a league of his own on rock."
Jack: Anything else to say?
Steve: "Adam really impresses me in many ways. I can relate to him, he's a climber, a rock climber. Relative to the indoor guys he's weak, but on rock he has all the strengths. People forget climbing strengths are not just about 'strength'. You need power, power endurance, then flexibility, finger strength, tenacity, technical ability, footwork, ambition and more. He has all of these.
Also his attitude is great, he's just a climber like us all, psyched for his mates on 8as, and keeping his efforts in perspective. I heard recently a top hero begrudgingly saying Adam was good, 'but he's weak, he's no good indoors really, he has faults'. Adam would never come out with this, he's just doing his stuff!
He just wants to climb lots. Here in the UK, after doing all the hard routes he had done, on his last day, after already doing Rainshadow (9a), he went off to Malham Upper Tier in the pouring rain to try Total Eclipse (unrepeated 8c+/9a) that was obviously wet. Anyone else would have been happy with their haul and chilled, but not Adam! He was just mad for it!
And the next day, with just a few hours left, totally knackered, he went to Raven Tor in the peak District to try Hubble (8c+) - because of the history! How many climbers now climb routes for their history?"
John Dunne, legendary British climber and first ascensionist of the still unrepeated Total Eclipse (8c+/9a), is very pleased that someone has seriously attempted his route. I chatted to John about Total Eclipse and got his thoughts on the route and on Adam Ondra:
"I think it's great that Ondra has been on it, let's face it you want people to do these routes!" enthused John. "Grade aside Total Eclipse covers some stunning terrain and has some great moves in an outstanding position. Obsession alone is a three star route."
When John climbed Total Eclipse it was the hardest graded route in the UK. Neil Carson's Welsh 9a Big Bang wouldn't appear for another year and the other hard routes were 'only' 8c+. But it had been in John's mind for six years prior to his successful redpoint:
"I did Total Eclipse in 1995 after a full year of climbing and training in preparation for it," explained John. "I first abbed the line in 1988 after doing Breach of the Peace [The nearby classic 8a that graced the cover of the YMC Limestone guide for a decade] but it was clearly beyond me at that point."
"I stopped climbing in 1989 and subsequently had major shoulder surgery then in 1994 started to get some form and fitness back."
I asked John how long he spent trying the route:
"I spent probably four days lapping Obsession [the 7c start] in early 1995 so I could get to the roof fresh and ready for the crux moves, then I guess attempts spread over three months that ran well into double figures. On day two of working the route I could do it comfortably from the hold above the crux to the top so all I had to do was link the hard boulder problem above the ledge of Obsession into the roof."
John explained his training for the route: "I was going on Total Eclipse and having three redpoints then driving to Ilkley and lapping on what is now Loaded E9 7a, followed by traversing the back of the Calf boulder to get finger fitness."
And described the route in detail: "From memory you make a very long move off a small hold to a weird undercut then pop to a small edge on top of it- it's a pretty static pop to get the edge then feet up and then a really powerful snatch to the undercut. The move is a hard boulder problem that I think is reach dependent and I think this is perhaps why certain strong climbers have failed on it like Steve McClure who is much shorter than me."
For those that followed top-end sport climbing in the mid-nineties, I'm sure they can remember the controversy that surrounded the route. It was deemed impossible after Jerry Moffatt 'had a look' and easily pulled off 'crucial holds'. Rumours followed that the rock was too loose and John hadn't really climbed it.
"I went back on the moves after Moffatt allegedly pulled the crucial holds off and repeated the sequence." explained John. "Dave Simmonite was five feet away on an abseil rope taking photos." [See photo on the right]
"I think it has not been repeated because simply people thought that if Steve McClure can't do it - it must be impossible and of course Steve could have and should have said to his peers that it's a bit of a reach thing, get on it!"
Adam Ondra had a quick try on the route in wet conditions, and apparently came close to climbing it, and also thought the grade was correct. Bang goes the loose rock theory.
"For me it was just another Malham project that took longer than I thought - and as for the grade, well I was certain it was 8c+ but I thought if I gave it 9a it would get people on it - hence Jerry's quick take (no pun intended)..." laughed John.
With the spell now partially broken, lets hope the route sees more attention. Perched at the very top of Malham Cove, taking a stunning line, it surely deserves a repeat. Who knows, maybe Adam will come back for it?
"Adam Ondra for me is clearly in a different league and this [Total Eclipse] is a mere stroll for him, but one thing's for sure - he has laid the way for other top UK sport climbers to follow." said John.
John finished off with a thought for the future:
"Where is British sport climbing going next - who knows? But I suspect the caves of northern Spain if people want to emulate Ondra's performance."
Thanks go to Adam Hocking, Steve McClure, John Dunne, Vojtech Vrzba and David Simmonite for their help with this article.
More photos of Adam at Malham can be found on Vojtech's website.