Adam Ondra and the Road to the First-Ever 5.15a Flash

By Matt Samet ,

Bernardo Gimenez

With an onsight or a flash, one slip of the foot or botched sequence and it’s over. You have to climb with confidence. And if it’s a flash, with beta from another climber, then you need to make sure the sequencing suits your body. It’s a precision performance at any level, from 5.10 to 5.15. On February 10, the Czech Adam Ondra, 25, became the first climber to flash 5.15, firing the 9a+/5.15a Supercrackinette at Saint-Léger, France.

The 65-foot route is a flurry of power-endurance “micro” management, a 28-move sprint followed by eight easier moves. The route was equipped by the French climber Quentin Chastagnier, and freed in October 2016 by Alex Megos. Ondra belayed Chastagnier twice to watch the moves, quizzing Chastagnier about each grip, then cast off on its incut crimps and tiny pockets.

Ondra has been trying to flash 5.15a for years. The first in his sites was Biographie/Realization (5.15a) at Céüse, France, a route he held in reserve for some time. In a 2012 interview with planetmountain.com, Ondra said he was finally spurred to try it while chucking a lap on the 5.15a Papichulo in Oliana, Spain, in 2012, a route he’d sent previously: “It was the end of the day and I didn’t remember much of the beta; nonetheless I did it with a couple of falls and I felt as if, had I known the perfect beta, it would have been possible to flash. It was then that I decided to try and flash Biographie.” On June 8, 2012, before onlookers, after soaking up beta by watching videos, Ondra tried Biographie. He fired the 5.14c bottom half only to fall at the infamous upper crux, a stab to a thin pocket. “But I was far from being close,” Ondra said. “I was way too pumped to stick the move.”

That October, Ondra flashed Southern Smoke Direct, then given 5.15a, at the Red River Gorge, Kentucky, though he downgraded it to 5.14d. Then, in 2014, he tried Selección Anal (5.15a) in Santa Linya, Spain, but pumped out. “Flashing 9a+ [5.15a] is important for me because it’s a logical step in progression in climbing,” Ondra said in an EpicTV interview. After these two climbs, he “pretty much ran out of convenient routes” of the grade to flash, despite nabbing three 5.14d onsights (see below for the world’s top onsights).

In 2017, Ondra FA’ed the world’s first 5.15d, Silence, in Norway. To prep, he trained six days a week, up to five hours a day, cultivating a super-fitness that helped on Supercrackinette. But, adds Ondra, “I think Silence helped me most of all mentally. Sending 9c helped me build the confidence that a 9a+ flash would be possible.” (To up your flash game, Ondra advises climbing as many routes as possible in different areas and practicing visualization, even on gym routes. “Visualization should help you to feel that you have it wired,” he says.)

But really, it began when Ondra was a kid who’d spend hours coaching himself in the gym. As Ondra told Climbing, “When I was eight, I thought climbing was the best thing ever. That’s when I decided that’s what I wanted to be [a climber], and ever since then I’ve done everything I can possibly do to follow that dream.”

On Supercrackinette, as he approached the last difficult move—a big move from a two-finger crimp to another crimp—en route to realizing a lifetime goal, Ondra felt nervous. “The final, last hard move was heartbreaking, but in the end, I had a tiny margin and did not let go,” he says.

The Big 5 Onsights

  • March 2013: Alex Megos, Estado Critico (5.14d), Spain
  • July 2013: Adam Ondra, Cabane au Canada (5.14d), Switzerland
  • May 2014: Ondra, Il Domani (5.14d), Basque
  • July 2014: Ondra, TCT (5.14d), Gravere, Italy
  • May 2017: Megos, TCT (5.14d), Gravere, Italy
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