Stefano Ghisolfi has made the long awaited first ascent of the Excalibur Project, grading it 9b+.
Excalibur lies on a seemingly blank 40 degree overhanging wall at Drena, near Ghisolfi's hometown of Arco in Italy. Initially bolted by Cristian Dorigatti and Morris Fontanari, Ghisolfi first started working the route upon Dorigatti and Fontanari's invitation in 2021.
The crux of the route revolves around taking a sharp two-finger pocket with the left hand and trusting a high marginal heel for the right foot. The heel subsequently allows the climber to stand up into a shallow sidepull-undercling with their right hand, and release their left hand from the pocket for a big move to a thin break.
However, the sustained nature of the route, the size of the holds, and the relative scarcity of different hold options for climbers have also presented challenges for each of the world class athletes who have attempted the route, including Adam Ondra, Will Bosi, and Jakob Schubert. Schubert described the route as one where 'you have just enough holds' to climb the entire route, with Ghisolfi agreeing that 'without one hold it would be impossible, without the two finger pocket or without the next one, it would be impossible'.
Taking to instagram to share the news of his ascent, Ghisolfi said:
'Hard to imagine a more perfect line than this, I have to admit the process has been extremely difficult, from the first time on it figuring out the beta and thinking it was impossible, to the send go when I felt solid and confident. But the best thing about this project has been the people around it, sharing moments together and trying it with some of the best climbers in the world, but more importantly with my friends'.
'I'm also confident to propose 9b+ as [the] grade, this time I have no doubt about it, and for sure it is the hardest of all my first ascents, and probably the hardest route in Italy now! I have too many people who supported me on this project, I'll share a post with them later'.
With the route having already been attempted by many of the world's best climbers, the grade of 9b+ seems likely to stick. Adam Ondra recently shared a video of his attempts to perfect his beta for the upper part of the climb by dynoing from a nearby outcrop onto two decent holds half-way up the wall. Still unable to make it through the crux section higher up, Adam suggested that this route, 'Buro' - which cuts out a 'hard 8B or 8B+ boulder problem' - could be 9b in its own right.
Despite Excalibur being his first new route at 9b+, Ghisolfi is one of the most experienced climbers in the world at 9b and above, having climbed ten 9b routes, and made repeats of a further three 9b+'s, in Perfecto Mundo (9b+), Change (L1+L2) (9b+), and Bibliographie (9b+), which he downgraded from 9c. Only Adam Ondra and Seb Bouin, the world's only 9c climbers, have climbed more routes at 9b+ and above.
According to 8a.nu, Ghisolfi has stated that he will be returning to Drena to take on the 'low start' to Excalibur, which adds in an additional three or four moves that no-one has yet attempted. Only time will tell as to whether this low start could take Excalibur, and Ghisolfi, towards joining Ondra and Bouin in the realm of 9c.
Check out Ghisolfi's most recent video of him and Will Bosi working on the Excalibur Project below: