Climbing: have we hit the next generation?

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 02/11/2016
William Bosi pulls into the undercuts on Hubble 9a. Photo: Hot Aches Productions

2016 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for climbing with hard repeats, mega first ascents, marathon onsights, and the breaking down of long-standing barriers. The thought now on everyone's mind is: are the next generation of climbers already here?

What are we on about? First up, half term gets put to good use: Will Bosi, youngest Brit to climb 9a, sends his second at Raven Tor (so does he think Hubble is 9a?) and an 11-year-old becomes the youngest Brit to climb 8b. And, over in the US, Adam Ondra tries to onsight the Nose with his dad in tow. But biggest of all, bouldergate happens: someone grades a problem 9A for the first time. Welcome to the next generation of climbing.

Youngest Brit to climb 9a ticks another

Earlier this year, 17-year-old Will became the youngest Brit to join Club 9a when he climbed Rainshadow at Malham Cove. He was also the first Brit to climb the route in next-generation style. Instead of projecting it over several years in the traditional fashion, he topped out in just eight days. No-one except Adam Ondra has climbed it faster. And Will had not previously done much redpointing outdoors. See BMC report.

Steve McClure, who set a replica Rainshadow crux for Will on a training board, commented: "Will is one of the next generation of stars. He knows the history of the sport, knows all about Moffat, what E9 means, he gets out and loves the sport. That's what impressed me about him."

Now, just a few months later, Will's only gone and used the half-term holidays to work another British classic 9a that has only seen a handful of successful ascents from legendary names: Ben Moon's 1990 route, Hubble. Will is now the youngest Brit to have climbed two 9as, confirming him as one to watch. Who knows what he'll do next?

Hubble trouble

When Ben first put up this route, it was the first to be graded 9a. Like all changes, (is now a good time to mention Climb Britain? No? OK then) this grading step forward was not received with universal excitement, and there are still those who hold that Action Directe, a Frankenjura route climbed a year later, was actually the world's first 9a.

More on controversial grading later in this piece; and for the record, Ondra thought Rainshadow could easily be 9a, although he did also comment that it "wasn't the most inspiring line." 

So what does Will think? 

Will told us: "I believe Hubble is 9a, it almost took the same amount of time as Rainshadow for me and it's more my style. The boulder is about 8B+ [it's a short, bouldery-style route] and the top's not easy. It felt completely unbelievable, very special and emotional for me. I'm still smiling."

If anyone fancies a crack, Will's advice is: "I would say just do a lot of really hard undercuts moves and boulder problems, and pull-ups and chin ups."

WATCH: Steve McClure smash Hubble on BMC TV

An 11-year-old climbs 8b

A sign of the times: as I was writing this piece I received an email from Toby Robert's dad. Toby was the 10-year-old who climbed Raindogs (8a) last year (BMC report). Now 11, he's also been making good use of half-term:

"You wrote an article for the BMC a year ago after my son – Toby Roberts – climbed Raindogs 8a at Malham Cove. Just thought I’d mention that yesterday at Raven Tor he was very happy to have climbed Revelations 8b!"

I asked Toby's dad what he thought the next generation of climbing would look like:

"Guided by the short time since seeing Toby first visit a climbing wall to winning in Europe, and becoming the youngest Brit to climb the grades he has, I personally think the biggest thing to happen in climbing is the Olympics, which will increase its reach massively. This will lead to better all-round athlete programs that will transfer to greater improvements outside – similar to how well British cycling is doing."

READ: An 11-year-old uses half-term to tick a classic Raven Tor 8b

The world’s first 9A boulder problem

Speaking of controversial steps forward, 23 October 2016 will go down in history as Bouldergate. The day someone finally graded a bouldering problem 9A.

Testament to the fruits of persistence, after working it for an epoch described by fellow Scandi Bjorn Pohl as "nearly as long as Tommy Caldwell worked the Nose", Nalle Hukkataival successfully linked the handful of moves formerly known as the 'Lappnor project' in his native Finland last week.

For those who haven't heard of Nalle, he's devoted a lot of his time to putting up first ascents around the world, and is one of a handful of people in the world who have flashed an 8B boulder.

The burden of route-grading

The problem is now named Burden of Dreams and Nalle's decided to grade it 9A  making it the first bouldering problem ever graded in the 9s, though many have been graded 8C  which has added an extra burden: endlessly having to explain himself.

Nalle has responded to comments and questions about his decision that the bouldering grading scale has "stagnated" due to "growing pains" and joked that he thought of grading the boulder 8D. He told Bjorn Pohl from UKC: 

"It would be hypocritical of me to talk about having achieved a new level and not propose a grade that signifies that. Isn't that exactly what grades are for? Everything has been packed into the 8C bracket for so long that it has been bursting at the seams for a while. There are 8Cs that have repeats in the double digits and 8Cs that only a couple of the world's best climbers can even touch. It doesn't take a genius to understand that these can’t be the same difficulty." More on UKC.

Nalle's next project is Sisu.

Ondra attempts to onsight the Nose

A day after Will successfully climbed Hubble, his Czech contemporary almost onsighted the Nose, just a week into his first ever Yosemite trip. With his dad in tow, Ondra onsighted all the way up to the Great Roof but then fell off.

Adam told Black Diamond that: "I had a pretty good flash go, got the beta, lowered and gave it a second shot thinking I would fire it off easily, but I had not realized how important the feet are on this climb. After climbing so many pitches and taking no rest after my flash, they went super shaky and weak. I fell, gave it even a third go and fell in the end of the traverse. There was no point in giving it more tries and we just wanted to top out."

They carried on in darkness, onsighting all the rest apart from Changing Corners, and topped out at midnight in pouring rain. Watch this space to find out what he does next.

Congratulations Will, Toby, Nalle and Ondra. Right, well we're so inspired that we're off to the wall to onsight 6a...


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