World's First D15 by Tom Ballard

© Tom Ballard

British climber and alpinist Tom Ballard has made the first ascent of what appears to be the hardest dry-tool line to date: A Line Above the Sky at Tomorrow's World, which he has graded D15. The route leads through an impressive roof on the flank of the highest peak in the Dolomites, Marmolada and is a new gem in the crown of the Dolomites, taking over Robert Jasper's Ironman D14+ in Switzerland as the hardest dry-tool line in the world, if Tom's suggested grade of D15 is confirmed.

Tom Ballard on A Line Above the Sky D15  © Tom Ballard
Tom Ballard on A Line Above the Sky D15
© Tom Ballard

Tom told UKC:

"The approach can be described as roadside, even if you do have to cross a ski piste! Perhaps the most dangerous part of the day? After heavy snow there is a high avalanche risk from above, something to be aware of on the walk in."

Tom started bolting the line in October: "That was a big effort in itself! I was taking rest days just from the bolting! I worked my way through the routes, "Edge of Tommorrow" D13 was the first. Then I needed an easier warm up so I created "Reel Steel" D9. This provides the start for the mega routes which cross the entire roof..."

In December, Tom took a break from working on the route and headed off to Bozeman to take part in the first round of the Ice Climbing World Cup. Commenting on his first foray into the world of competitions, Tom told UKC:

"I made a silly technical error and failed to qualify. This was my first time ever using 'plastic' holds, kicking into plywood and my first ever drytooling comp! I stayed there almost until Christmas to climb some great ice and mixed routes."

Tom then returned to his 'basecamp' in Val di Fassa. A few days into the beginning of the New Year he was swinging upside down in the roof again. Tom had been putting significant effort into harder projects, so decided to attempt something slightly easier. Je ne sais quoi D14+ was the result.

The next two rounds of the Ice Climbing World Cup followed:

"Then the long journey to Korea. Cheongsong is in the middle of nowhere. The impressive structure has been rebuilt bigger this season, bigger and better. However, I climbed as if I had never seen a pair of axes before! Not surprisingly I fell off...

"After one day of combined rest and training I was off to meet the British Team and head to Saas Fee for the next round. I had an extremely long wait in isolation, I was the last competitor. The problem is I have really no idea how to use these holds! So I waste the precious time and....thats it! I climbed better than in Korea but still didn't manage to qualify for semi-finals. By now I was getting pretty stressed about my lacklustre performances."

Tomorrow's World topo  © Tom Ballard
Tomorrow's World topo
© Tom Ballard

Before the final World Cup round, the GB Team joined Tom in the Dolomites.

"On the way we stopped at the idyllic Iseo where I retro flashed "Kamasutra" D13+, on what I said would be a rest day! Of course they were all super excited to see Tomorrow's World too. I suprised myself by climbing "French Connection" D15-!"

Then it was off to Rabenstein for the final competition round:

"My last chance to salvage something from an overwise dissapointing first season. But once again I didn't qualify...the ability to 'shoulder' my way, at times footless, across a 40+ metre roof somehow not transferring!"

Tom found a lift home and finally sent his project, A Line Above The Sky. Regarding the climb's unique grade, Tom commented:

"With 45+ metres of burly, shoulder-straining moves, and more than 25 clips, this route weighs in, I think, at a hefty D15! Is D15 justified? I guess time and repeats will tell...come and have a go if you think you can climb hard enough! It is worth noting that I have graded the routes for pure DTS style, i.e. no Fig 4's. Mainly because I can't do Fig 4's!"

Tom after making the first ascent of Line Above the Sky D15  © Ryan Vachon
Tom after making the first ascent of Line Above the Sky D15
© Ryan Vachon

Last year, Tom completed his mission to solo all of the 6 classic north faces of the alps in one winter season: Cima Grande (Comici), Piz Badile (Cassin), Matterhorn (Schmidt), Grandes Jorasses (Colton-MacIntyre), Petit Dru (Allain), and the Eiger (1938 Route).

Read our UKC Digital Feature Starlight and Storm about Tom's life and his feat of soloing all 6 classic north faces of the alps in one winter season last year..

Visit Tom's Facebook Athlete Page.

Tom is sponsored by: C.A.M.P, Cassin, GM Sport, Montane, Scarpa and Virna Pierobon Projects

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8 Feb, 2016
The "taking over" part in the news is not fully accurate. At Eptingen, locals were successful on Iron Knight last autumn. This is another link-up in the cave which in direct comparison is considered to be harder than Ironman and was tentatively graded D14+/D15-.
8 Feb, 2016
Is Bichette, at L’Usine, not also considered D14+/D15? It's had 5 or 6 repeats.
8 Feb, 2016
Is there a grading system for boxing gloves and rollerscates?
8 Feb, 2016
No fig 4s. Much purer style. Watching "climbers" fig4 up routes always leaves me baffled as to why bother. DTS is the way forward. Top effort, well done.
8 Feb, 2016
Reminded of this quote from Ramon, about a previous hard Ballard ascent, "By glorifying this ascents we only just giving justification to a whole of people that have got it wrong and spend all summer in a dank cave and comes winter they spend all their time pulling on plastic holds with their axes. It's madness." It was a brilliant quotation because it reads as so disparaging towards him, but in context Ramon was giving so much credit and respect to Tom because his drytooling is a means to an end in the mountains! :D DTS is weird, I could never imagine being that strong! I'd struggle getting out of a rag doll, 'rest' position.
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