7 p.m. in Arco, Italy. A few hours after flashing the IFSC Arco World Cup qualifiers, putting him in first place, Adam Ondra says, “I was worried about being one month on the rock. Doing bouldery routes was not the best for competition.” Ondra was speaking of his July trip to Alberta, Canada where he FA’d two 5.15s and onsighted three 5.14s.
“I expected to do really badly. So far so good. I was one of two guys to complete the qualifying route. After one month of climbing in cold conditions and then [going to] hot and humid conditions in Arco, I thought I would be doing worse.”
We caught up with 25-year-old Ondra to learn more about his history-making trip to Canmore and Banff, where—with Reel Rock in tow—he made climbing headlines worldwide. He says of his visit, “in the areas around Canmore there is lots of rock and lots of choss but some walls are amazingly good.”
This is Ondra’s third project with Reel Rock, starting with Progression in 2009—when Ondra was 16— followed by La Dura Complete: The Hardest Rock Climb In The World in 2014. “The main story of Reel Rock is to capture my journey for a 9a+/5.15a flash. It's not just about Canada, but also France and Spain. Honour and Glory was the main route.”
A quick recap: On June 29 Ondra onsighted Endless Summer (5.13d) and Existence Mundane (5.14b). On July 5, he onsighted two 5.14s: First Flight (5.14c) and Ojas (5.14a). All of these ascents took place at Acéphale, the same crag containing his then project Disbelief (5.15b).
Above Acéphale is The Coliseum on Grotto Mountain. This area stays cool in the morning, but the wall is blasted by sunlight by early afternoon. Here Ondra attempted an onsight of Evan Hau’s Honour and Glory (5.15a). The route was wet and seeping in a few key pockets. “He was cruising, then he slipped and fell out of the wet pocket,” says photographer Tim Banfield, who gathered with others to watch the climb. “He rested a few minutes, tied back in and sent the route.”
Ondra then downgraded the route to 5.14d. Honour and Glory had been one of Canada’s two 5.15s. The other is Alex Megos’ Fight Club at 5.15b.
“I base my grading on my feelings. To me it was obvious it was not a 15a. My beta was quite similar [to Evan’s], but there's a ledge/rest where I could go no hands for a few seconds and Evan couldn't. I think the hardest part is getting to the ledge. The rest is endurance and the mental part— you don't want to mess up.”
Last winter in the French Southern Alps, Ondra became the first (and only person) to flash 5.15a, when he fired the 20-meter Supercrackinette.
Ondra also attempted Fight Club but was unsuccessful. He wrote on Instagram: “Unfortunately there is a hold high up that broke last year which will make the top pretty spicy if you come from the ground.”
For the next project, Ondra revisited the blue-streaked, blocky limestone walls at Acéphale (known locally as Ace) on the border of Heart Mountain, where he ticked the FA of Disbelief (5.15b) on July 21. Josh Muller, co-owner of Bolder gym in Calgary, bolted the route. Ondra believes the vertical slab line is at the upper end of 5.15b, saying “I cannot think of many other routes where I climbed so close to my limit.” He described the five-year standing project as a series of low-percentage fingernail-width crimps and a dead-hard foot-hand match.
“It took me eight days in total. On day three I broke a hold, which made it quite a bit harder. It’s a 20-meter route and the first 10 meters are very hard. The holds are small—not as small as I would expect in a 9b (5.15b) vertical route—but they are facing the wrong way and the footholds are not in the right place. And the feet are really slippery.”
Banfield, who captured images of Ondra on Disbelief, says of witnessing Ondra’s process. “He puts so much commitment into the send. He would warm up, visualize, then do an attempt.” During the crux, Ondra’s screams echoed through the canyon.
Though Ondra is the only person to have sent Disbelief, he said he was impressed with Muller’s progress on the route. “He's a strong boulderer and he did all the moves. It has an 8c/V15 boulder problem.”
The three hardest routes in North America, all 5.15b, are Jumbo Love, Fight Club and Disbelief.
Back at The Coliseum, Ondra set his sights on his next project, one located to the right of Honour and Glory, and another of Hau’s projects, which would become the 45-meter Sacrifice (5.15a). Ondra made the FA on July 23.
After Sacrifice, Ondra flew to Arco to start his season of competition climbing. From Arco, after his first day competing, he said, “I used to do just do one comp each season and [mostly] climb outdoors. My goal next year is to do both World Cups in lead and bouldering. My batteries are recharged and I feel psyched about it.” Ondra finished the Arco even in fourth place.
To prepare for the World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria in September, Ondra says he’ll be gym climbing through August in order to be at peak performance for both the Lead and Bouldering championships. “It will be hard to be in the best shape for both.”