23-year-old Buster Martin has ticked his first 9a+ with an ascent of Chris Sharma's First Ley in Margalef - Zona del Panta North, Catalonia. The 15m route shares the first ~8B/+ part up to a small rest with the more famous First Round, First Minute 9b, and then goes left into the last part of La Ley Innata, which leads to the top. Buster is only the second Brit to tick a confirmed 9a+ after Steve McClure (Overshadow). Tom Bolger is close behind with his ascents of two 9a/+s (Ciudad de dios and Catxasita at Santa Linya). Buster's ascent is the seventh repeat of the line.
In his UKC logbook, Buster wrote:
'Felt like 12 years of climbing went into this. Best thing about the whole experience was the people! Cheers guys.'
Chris Sharma wrote on Instagram: 'So solid. He needs to try the harder exit,' referring to his 9b, First Round, First Minute, which shares the same start as First Ley.
Buster told UKC: 'It's 12 years of passion, obsession and big dreams realised. When I started as an 11-year old I read about people like Chris Sharma and Steve McClure and wondered what commitment and passion it took to climb like that. At the time, 9a+ was the hardest grade in the world and I thought it was reserved for the pros. I wanted to see how they got there. It wasn't so much about the grade as about seeing if I could get anywhere near doing what those guys I loved reading about were up to. As soon as I got on the route I was hooked. The grade didn't matter because I'd found the opponent for the battle I'd always wanted. I fell off the last move about 10 times, but stayed patient and was rewarded when the magic happened. The route did teach me a few life lessons!'
Buster originally tried First Ley on a trip to Spain in January this year. It was mostly an onsighting trip, but he knew that he wanted to find a project. After battling with poor conditions at Malham the year before on Rainshadow, Buster thought Spain might be a better option, although that turned out not to be the case. He told UKC:
'I messed around on a few 9a+s in Oliana and Siurana, but the long endurance style with easy moves didn't really inspire me. I wanted something that felt desperate. Growing up climbing on short indoor walls and in the Peak I'd learned to love a battle on savage moves and really having to perfect the beta to do moves. So we took a day trip to Margalef and headed to the El Laboratori sector. Upon turning the corner it's hard not to be impressed when you see First Round First Minute…stupidly steep with stunning features.
'Straight away I knew I'd found the one. An iconic bit of wall featuring the most technical and powerful climbing I'd ever experienced. I knew I'd have to take my personal climbing to a new level and commit myself in a way I hadn't before. Any thoughts of a grade chase and numbers were forgotten, I just wanted to master this piece of rock and end up on top.'
Back home, Buster set about training, but tried to keep his goal at a distance. He explained:
'Still feeling like a pipe dream, I didn't really admit to myself what I was training for, not until a short five day trip to Margalef in late February when I told myself I was going to sample the whole area, but instead I spent four days working on the route.'
Returning in April, Buster was feeling fitter and stronger than ever. After a couple more days of refining the beta, he found himself getting through the crux and falling on the final few moves, struggling with the 25 degree heat and poor conditions. Buster returned home, without having clipped the chains but in the best shape of his life. He then trained for two months with double sessions up to six days a week along with getting out on the gritstone, when weather and University allowed, to refine the technical skills needed for the route before planning his return. He continued:
'I arrived back out in Margalef at the end of October. The route was wet. Margalef had some of the worst weather in decades, but the route dried out and I was on redpoint. I was up there and felt fresh. I learned to commit and was getting up to the last move three times a session. The last move was far less physically taxing and I could lap it, but from the ground I lost the edge, making it a very low percentage move. I was taking some ground-sweeping falls, often hitting the deck on rope stretch. It looked scarier than it was - believe me I fell off plenty of times and it was fine. The conditions improved massively. It's on: next session! I then spent the next couple of weeks falling off the last move.'
Here's the footage of me climbing First Ley 9a+ yesterday! By far the hardest thing I've climbed. Honestly the more I climb the less grades motivate. Although 9a+ has always stood out as a big goal for me. It's just a number but was the hardest in the world when I started climbing. A grade I saw as reserved for the pros, the likes of @chris_sharma and @ste_mcclure (who is the only other Brit to climb a route confirmed at the grade). It wasn't the external validation or comparison to others that inspired me. But the committment and passion it seemed to take to climb at this level. That's what motivated me to try! I'm sure most climbers can relate. As soon as I got on the route I was hooked, the grade didn't matter and I'd found the opponent for the battle id always wanted. Upon topping out I felt a perspective and gratitude for the 11 month journey it took me to get there. Applying, dedicating myself and pushing through personal barriers in the same way that has always inspired me. 😎 in the end that was the real pleasure. Pushing myself and spending time in nice places with good people. It's completely trivial and selfish but I can't get enough.... Onto the next one @moonclimbing @petzl_official @lasportivauk @lasportivagram
Buster couldn't stop trying, however, and eventually everything came together on Sunday 17th November. Summing up his achievement, Buster told us:
'The most empowering thing about the ascent for me was the support of others. Giving up their time to help me in any way they could and keeping the psyche. Thanks to those who belayed and for the good times. As for what's next, First Round first Minute has always been a dream of mine. I'm desperate to get back on that, but for now a winter of training and enjoying the grit.'
Steve McClure, a mentor of Buster's, wrote on Instagram: 'Huge tick! Looked at this from the deck, knew no point in even trying. Looked outrageously hard. Extremely impressed!'
And Ben Moon, with whom Buster has been working at The School Room in Sheffield, wrote: 'Fine effort Buster. Just goes to show where hard work and motivation can get you. Well done.'
Buster became the youngest Brit to climb 8c when he redpointed Bat Route at age 16. In June 2018, Buster climbed 9a with an ascent of Rainshadow at Malham Cove not long after taking a 4-year break from climbing (UKC News).