18-year-old US climber Connor Herson recently made a trad ascent of Empath 5.15a/9a+ at Lake Tahoe in the northern Sierra Nevada, USA. Herson had previously redpointed the line as a sport route. If climbed on gear, Empath ranks among the hardest trad routes in the world, involving powerful compression moves on undercuts and sidepulls with some potential for jamming techniques.
Not taking away from the physical climbing of course, that’s a stupendous effort either way! But the fact he did it with the bolts then on gear doesn’t show that they can coexist and maintain the same level of mental commitment.
To the extent of my knowledge, Empath is reasonably safe climbing, it follows a series of cracks on granite (I recall some who climbed it, did so with solid hand jams)...
So it is hard and afaik quite sustained climbing, but the gear is good and plentiful. Another similar line (a tad easier perhaps) is Privatvägen (https://27crags.com/crags/antby/routes/privatvagen, ~8c and sustained, but reasonable small gear). Tribe seems to be of the same technical difficulty (~9a), but more bold.
Imho with good gear and good rock, clipping a bolt or a cam, there really is not difference (and Empath seems to be like that). Obviously placing gear takes more time, thus might make the climbing harder (but from safety perspective, no difference).
I guess it all boils down to the fact, do you value balls over power? So is climbing something hard and scary, potentially deadly harder than climbing something really freaking hard. So which is "harder", something you know you can get up, but if you mess it up you might die or get badly injured... where as something so hard that only a handful of people are even capable of physically climbing (but failing on it will not have any drastic implications... bruised hands, knees, ego...).
With no-one having taken the fall from the very top, it seems fair to say that Lexicon falls in the 'safe' in inverted commas category, as opposed to with Rhapsody, a contrasting example James Pearson made afterwards. But yes, relatively safe 8b+ and totally safe 9a+ would surely not get the same trad grade.
Yet another (after James Pearson on Lexicon) UKC example of `Q: how many posters does it take to comment on a newsworthy climb? A: two to praise the climber and fifteen to pile in on ethics and grades'...Sad.
Like James' efforts, it's an impressive achievement and should be congratulated.
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