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Czech climber sets new benchmark with ascent of ‘world’s hardest cliff’

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Adam Ondra has completed what is being called the worlds hardest single rope-length climb at Flatanger in Norway

In the last few years the tiny world of elite rock climbing has fixated on a giant windswept granite cave in Norway, and the potential for one climber, Adam Ondra, to set a new benchmark in the sport.

Like a giant eye socket set in a hillside, the Hanshelleren cave in Flatanger claimed by some as the worlds greatest climbing cliff – has become a summer mecca for the worlds best climbers who come to dodge the Scandinavian showers and pit themselves against its vast overhangs.

Quick Guide

The three main climbing disciplines

Guide

Sport climbing

Sport climbing emphasises physical difficulty in a relatively safe environment, both on indoor walls and on outdoor cliffs. The climbs have expansion bolts drilled in at regular intervals to which the rope can be clipped. The bolts are not used as holds but to allow a belayer holding the rope to stop a fall safely.

Traditional climbing

The rope is clipped to the rock with removable wedges on a wire placed in cracks and carried by the climber. If the protection fails – the climber could fall a long way.The emphasis here is on the psychological challenge as much as the physical aspects of the climb.

Bouldering

Bouldering involves short, very hard sequences generally close to the ground. It is done ropeless above portable crash mats and is also popular indoors with artificial routes. Like sport climbing the emphasis is on the absolute physical and technical difficulty of a short sequence.

Now, after over 40 days of efforts spread across two years and seven visits to Norway, Ondra has completed what is being claimed as the worlds hardest single rope-length climb, both in terms of physical effort and technical difficulty.

The climb 45 metres long and forging its improbable way through the caves huge grey overlapping roofs marks the latest achievement by Ondra, who has dominated rock climbing in recent years in the same way Usain Bolt dominated sprinting, consistently setting new levels of difficulty that others have struggled to follow.

For a so-called sport climb in which expansion bolts are drilled permanently into the rock to clip the rope into climbers can spend months (sometimes even years) trying to complete their first ascents.

For Ondra success finally came on Monday in 20 intense minutes after between 40 and 50 days of attempts over two summers.

When I knew I did it, I had one of the strangest emotions ever, he said, describing the moment of catharsis when he completed the ascent.

Adam
Adam Ondra: Its a very special climb. Very weird. Photograph: Pavel Blazek

I could not even scream. All I could do was just hang on the rope, feeling tears in my eyes. It was too much joy, relief and excitement all mixed together Months and months of my life summed up in 20 minutes.

Speaking to the Guardian shortly after the ascent he explained the long process that began four years ago.

Its a very special climb. Very weird. I searched for a climb that would fit my style, and it fit my expectations.

The weirdness Ondra describes is evident in videos of him training on the climb, not least a bizarre sequence of moves on one of the two cruxes the hardest sections where, upside down, he is required to hang briefly from a jammed toe before rotating his whole body and climbing feet first along the tilted roof.

Adam
Adam Ondra hangs upside down during the climb. Photograph: Pavel Blazek

Four years ago Ondra who is now beginning to think about on the inaugural Olympic climbing competition in Tokyo was not even sure that it was climbable.

I bolted it in 2013. Back then I only tried it for a few days and thought it was way too hard. Then last season I started again. Over seven trips to Norway, I guess Id say I spent 40 or 50 days trying it.

It is not the first time in recent years that Ondra, who grew up in Brno in the Czech republic, has claimed the worlds hardest climb.

He was the first person to climb a route graded 9b+ on the popular French sport-climbing scale, a feat that only one other climber has repeated.

On the French scale, the level of difficulty is graded on an open ended numerical system subdivided into three other sub divisions carrying a letter a,b or c in numerical order, with the addition of a plus to denote a particularly hard climb for that grade.

After a first ascent, climbs can be adjusted up or down by consensus if necessary although in Ondras case there is no question among his peers that his hardest climbs represent the very pinnacle of the sport.

Its very different to running 100 metres, he said.

Everyone knows what it means to run 100 metres in a world record time. Because grades in climbing are subjective, I am fan of making big gaps between climbing grades. Knowing it was so much harder gives me the courage to say it is the worlds first at this level (9c).

All the more remarkably, Ondra continued with his studies at school and recently fitted in a degree around his six-day-a-week training schedule.

Right now, he said. I am full time athlete. I finished my degree so Im definitely hoping I have some more time to climb.

He said he felt he still had the capacity to climb even harder.

When I did this climb I did not feel it was at my absolute limit. I can imagine climbing a harder route. I think I can climb more at this grade one day and potentially harder.

Natalie Berry, the editor of the UK Climbing website, and an accomplished climber herself, is a year older than Ondra and knows him from when she competed in international competition climbing events.

Its almost difficult to find words to describe what he is doing. I think what is interesting is not just that he is breaking new barriers of difficulty but he is transferring his skills to different kinds of climbing including 800m high big walls.

Hes been climbing since he was about five of six and ever since then, every year, he has broken new new ground.

Whats nice is that he doesnt take himself too seriously. And that is part of his appeal. He doesnt get in a tizz [if something doesnt go right] and in a sport that is very individualistic, where it is very easy to get wrapped up inside your head, hes not got a big ego.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/04/czech-climber-sets-new-benchmark-with-ascent-of-worlds-hardest-cliff

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