Czech mountaineer sets new benchmark with ascent of ‘hardest cliff in the world’ | Mountaineering

Over the past few years, the small world of elite climbing has focused on a giant windswept granite cave in Norway and the potential of one climber, Adam Ondra, to set a new benchmark in the sport.

Like a giant hillside orbit, Hanshelleren Cave in Flatanger – claimed by some to be the world’s largest rock climbing cliff – has become a summer mecca for the world’s best climbers who come to dodge the Scandinavian showers and take on the its vast overhangs. .

Quick guide

The three main climbing disciplines

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Sport climbing

Sport climbing emphasizes physical difficulty in a relatively safe environment, both on the inside walls and on the outside cliffs. The risers have expansion bolts drilled at regular intervals to which the rope can be attached. Spits are not used as wedges but allow a belayer holding the rope to arrest 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 very far. The focus here is on the psychological challenge as much as the physical aspects of the climb.

Block

Bouldering involves short, very hard sequences usually close to the ground. It is done ropeless over portable safety 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.

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Now, after more than 40 days of effort spread over two years and seven visits to Norway, Ondra has completed what is considered the world’s toughest single-rope climb, both in terms of physical exertion and technical difficulty.

The climb – 45 meters long and winding its unlikely way through the cave’s towering gray roofs – marks the latest achievement from Ondra, who has dominated rock climbing in recent years in the same way Usain Bolt has dominated the sprint, constantly setting new levels of difficulty that others struggled to keep up with.

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

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

“When I found out I had done it, I had one of the weirdest emotions ever,” he said, describing the moment of catharsis when he finished the ascent.

Adam Ondra
Adam Ondra: “It’s a very special climb. Very strange.’ Photography: Pavel Blazek

“I couldn’t even scream. All I could do was hang on to the rope with tears in my eyes. It was too much joy, relief and excitement mixed together… Months and months of my life summed up in 20 minutes.

Speaking to the Guardian shortly after the ascension, he explained the long process which began four years ago.

“It’s a very special climb. Very strange. I looked for a climb that would match my style, and it matched my expectations.

The “weird” described by Ondra is evident in videos of him training on the climb, including a bizarre sequence of moves on one of the two “cruxes” – the most difficult sections – where, upside down, he has to briefly hold on to a stuck toe before rotating his whole body and climbing feet first up the sloping roof.

Adam Ondra training for the ascent.
Adam Ondra hangs upside down during the climb. Photography: Pavel Blazek

Four years ago, Ondra – who is now starting to think about the first Olympic climbing competition in Tokyo – wasn’t even sure she was climbable.

“I bolted it in 2013. At the time I only tried for a few days and thought it was way too hard. Then last season, I started again. In seven trips to Norway, I guess I’d 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 won the most difficult climb in the world.

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

On the French scale, the level of difficulty is graduated on an open numerical system subdivided into three other subdivisions bearing a letter a, b or c in numerical order, with the addition of a “plus” to designate a particularly hard climb for this note.

After a first ascent, ascents can be adjusted up or down by consensus if necessary, although in Ondra’s case there is no doubt among her peers that her toughest climbs represent the pinnacle of the sport. .

“It’s very different from running 100 meters,” he said.

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

All the more remarkable, Ondra has continued her education at school and recently graduated around her six-day-a-week workout schedule.

“Right now,” he said. “I’m a full-time athlete. I finished my degree, so I really hope to have more time to climb.

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

“When I did this climb, I didn’t feel it was at my absolute limit. I can imagine climbing a tougher route. I think I can climb more to that level one day and potentially stronger.

Natalie Berry, editor of the UK Climbing website and an accomplished climber herself, is a year older than Ondra and has known him from competing internationally.

“It’s almost hard to find words to describe what he does. I think what’s interesting is not only that he breaks new difficulty barriers, but transfers his skills to different types of climbing, including 800m high walls.

“He’s been climbing since he was about five out of six and every year since then he’s been innovating.

“The good thing is that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. And that’s part of his calling. He doesn’t get carried away [if something doesn’t go right] and in a very individualistic sport, where it’s very easy to get stuck in your head, he doesn’t have a big ego.