Adam Ondra climbs 9c: how do British climbers measure up?

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 08/09/2017
Adam had been working this route for four years. Photos: Pavel Blazek
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He's done it. Adam Ondra has climbed 9c. But just how impressive is this step forward in sport climbing? And how do us Brits measure up against the mighty Ondra? Sarah Stirling offers some perspective and gathers some opinions.

'Project Hard' is hard no more. After four years of working this 45m line in the Hanshelleren Cave in Flatanger, Norway, Adam Ondra has finally climbed it and named the route Silence.

At 9c, it's now probably the hardest sport route in the world. The new grade will be confirmed when – and if – anyone else in the world can climb it. But there may be a long wait: it will require another equally determined and equally strong climber to devote themselves to it.

So just how impressive is this step forward in sport climbing? And how do the Brits measure up against Ondra?

Let's try to get some perspective on what this 24-year-old Czech has achieved:

1. Ondra is the only person who has climbed all three of the world's 9b+s: Change, also in Flatanger; La Dura Dura in Oliana, Spain; and Vasil Vasil in Sloup, in the Czech Republic.

2. Only one of these routes has ever been climbed by anyone else: Chris Sharma repeated La Dura Dura.

3. It was only after Adam had climbed three 9b+s that he decided to get a coach: he joined forces with Patxi Usobiaga in 2014.

4. Ondra says Silence is totally different. “I’ve never really climbed anything like this. Every move has to be so precise, but at the same time you have to focus on all the other tiny details too.”


Every move has to be so precise. Photos: Pavel Blazek

It's hard not to be inspired about where Ondra may take the future of climbing, especially when you look at his past:

Young years

Age 8: Onsighted 7b+
Age 9: Onsighted 7c+ 
Age 10: Onsighted 8a
Age 11: Redpointed 8c
Age 12: Onsighted 8b
Age 13: Redpointed 9a

Competition climbing

Age 14: Won the IFSC Youth World Championship, Youth B category
Age 15: Won it again
Age 16: Won the Lead Climbing World Cup
Age 17: Won the Bouldering World Cup and the Lead Climbing World Cup: first athlete to ever win both

Travel

Age 18: Headed to Spain. Became the second person to onsight an 8c+ (the first was Paxti Usobiaga, who is now Ondra's coach). Over two days he onsighted five of them (two on the same day)
Age 19: Became the first person to climb a 9b+ (Change in Norway). Headed to America and flashed Southern Smoke Direct 9a+ in the Red River Gorge. Also onsighted Pure Imagination and The Golden Ticket, both 9a, suggesting they were easy at the grade
Age 20: Climbed his second 9b+, Dura Dura in Oliana, Catalunya, and his third, Vasi Vasil in the Czech Republic
Age 22: Became the second person to onsight a 9a (the first was Alex Megos), climbing Cabane au Canada in Switzerland
Age 23: Climbed the Dawn Wall, the world's hardest big wall route
Age 24: Climbed the first ever 9c sport route: Silence


The world's first 9c (other opinions on the grade pending. Anyone?)

All hail the king of climbing. Remember La Dura Dura?

Let's flash back to 2013, when Chris Sharma was still generally considered the best climber in the world. La Dura Dura was a route that Chris had been trying for a while. Then Ondra came along. The pair spent two years battling to be the first to climb it. Ondra finally stole the first ascent and, along with it, arguably, Sharma's crown. Chris then managed to make the second ascent of Dura Dura.

WATCH: Chris Sharma and Adam Ondra battling it out and finally both climbing Dura Dura

Remember the Dawn Wall?

In 2016, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson made history by completing their seven-year-long Dawn Wall project in Yosemite. With a crux pitch of 9a level climbing, it is now the hardest big wall free-route in the world: an incredible achievement. Then Ondra arrived in town. It was his first trip to Yosemite, and he had previously done little trad climbing. Humbly, he asked Kevin Jorgeson to show him how to jumar. He ripped gear on his first fall off the Dawn Wall. Unafraid to make mistakes, Ondra learnt quickly and topped out on the route after just a few week's work.

The Brits on the scene

Just how much of a step forward is Silence? We asked a few of the Brits from the top of the sport climbing scene – Steve McClure, Ben Moon, Jim Pope, Will Bosi and Maddy Cope – for their opinion on this, and how the Brits on the sport scene measure up against Ondra. 

BMC: Give us some perspective, how impressive is Adam Ondra's 9c achievement?

Jim: Climbing the world's first 9b+ and now 9c is pretty incredible. I'm looking forward to seeing what's next!

Will: What Adam has just done and has been doing his whole life is truly amazing, because it's always been a level above everyone else. All the 9b+ sport routes in the world have boulders of 8B+ and up on them, so the thought of what a 9c route involves is crazy and hard to even imagine!

Steve: The actual 'effort' put in by Adam is on a par with other climbers who devote themselves to their cutting edge. For these people they are playing the same game, the grade is irrelevant. However, this new route is amazing in its progression of the sport. Adam's skill does really set him apart.

Ben: It’s impossible to comprehend even for those who have climbed to a fairly high level. 9c is such a big grade but I don’t doubt it at all. It would appear that Adam is on another level to almost everyone else except perhaps for Alex Megos, although Adam’s list of ascents is much longer that Alex’s. If you look at his list of hard climbs and how quickly he climbs them it’s mind-blowing.

BMC: What makes him special?

“Ondra is a natural born climber, close to perfection. Tall but flexible, light, strong and mentally solid.” Steve McClure

Steve: His ability to adapt to all types of climbing, and his drive to embrace all types of climbing. He is just as motivated to onsight something as to spend many years on something. He can cope with the pressure of a long-term redpoint or a boulder competition.

BMC: What do you think, Maddy?

Maddy: There is the difficulty of this climb, the actual linking of moves and sequences that are top level when done off the floor, which is obviously very impressive. But then there is also the vision, commitment and perseverance of opening a line of this level, which I find hard to grasp.

BMC: So how do the Brits on the sport climbing scene measure up against Ondra?

Maddy: Adam goes out and searches for something that inspires and really challenges him, taking the ups and downs. I think there are certainly Brits on the scene that measure up in terms of attitude and commitment, like Steve McClure.

“British climbing is definitely on the way up. With Steve sending Britain's first 9b this year the future is bright!” Will Bosi

Steve: Well, so far the best effort by Brits is by a 46-year-old and it's two grades behind, if it even sticks at that grade!

Ben: In sport climbing we are a long way behind, which I think is quite sad. Adam Ondra, Alex Megos and Chris Sharma are the best in the world, but it would appear that apart from Steve we don’t have any climbers in the chasing pack. We do have a lot of promising young climbers like Will and Jim, and also Aidan Roberts, but no-one in the same class as Ondra. Will you guys become world class? I hope so. I think you have the potential! We just have to wait and see.

Steve: I don't think we are as far behind as the levels indicate. It's much more to do with what the UK is motivated by. We have a lot of strong boulderers, and we have a lot of great all rounders. Yes, we are a way off 9c, 'til someone actually really tries. But let's not do ourselves down. How many people around the world can do 100 Lakes Extremes solo in a day?

Ben: I got myself in trouble a few years ago by saying that we had no world-class climbers. At the time I was speaking about sport climbing but this wasn’t clear and obviously, for example, Shauna is a world-class boulderer.

Will: It's not just Britain, I think the rest of the world is very far behind Ondra, with only a few exceptions like Alex Megos!

Jim: Britain is definitely progressing with hard climbing, Steve putting up Rainman at Malham was for sure a big step forward, and Will ticking off some of the UK's test pieces in a really short space of time shows things are looking bright for the future. But maybe the UK - and the rest of the world - are some way off climbing 9c yet!

READ: Steve McClure climbs Rainman: Britain's first 9b

READ: William Bosi ticks Rainshadow: youngest Brit to join club 9a

READ: Climbing: have we hit the next generation?

READ: Maddy Cope joins the 8c club

And what does Chris Sharma think about Adam Ondra's 9c tick? 


Adam looking rather happy after finally sending his project. So what's next...?


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