Chilam Balam – the first 9b+?
Spaniard proposes bold new grade
On July 4, Spaniard Bernabé Fernández claimed the first ascent of Chilam Balam, at Villanueva del Rosario in Málaga, Spain. Fernández has proposed an unprecedented grade of 5.15c, two grades harder than the current 5.15a standard set by Chris Sharma’s ascent of Realization at Ceuse, France.
Chilam Balam, named after a pre-Columbian Aztec city, is a 270-foot super-pitch of overhanging stamina climbing with several bouldering cruxes. Fernández spent three seasons working the 22-bolt line, using static lines and three-foot long quickdraws to avoid rope drag while working the route.
Not surprisingly, the proposed grade has sparked an onslaught of online controversy around the world, “I cannot take Bernabé’s proposal seriously as I can’t see any references that would demonstrate his skills of climbing at such a high level — far above the rest of the world. I would be lying if I said that I believed in the correctness of the grade 9b+!,” writes German Alexander Huber on the European spray-tracking website, www.8a.nu.
Fernández, who climbed his first 5.13b at 14 and Hari Kiri, Spain’s first 5.14b, is no stranger to controversy. Several bolted-on holds were removed from his route Orujo, 5.14d, before a second ascent could confirm the grade. Fernández’s efforts were deemed invalid due to the bolt-on holds, while standard setting routes from Mt. Charleston to Buox remain uncontested in spite of their equally artificial qualities. The newly-cleaned route still awaits an ascent.
While Fernández was witnessed on the route and posed for photos, the validity of his new route and grade lingers on. Only a second ascent will better tell the story behind Chilam Balam and its real difficulty. Any takers … Alex?