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Bindhammer's Marathon Through The Roof

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Andreas Bindhammer repeats La Novena Enmienda (9a+ or 5.15a)

The Catolonia region of Spain is known for its denseness of difficult routes. And one area stands out extremely: The Cova Grande cave at Santa Linya, in the cooler months is know as ‘the important meeting place’ of the international climbing scene and an ideal training area. Countless lines promise great challenges at the highest level.La Novena Enmienda was checked out first by Dani Andrada in 1995, then rated at 9a+/b. It is regarded as one of the world’s most difficult routes. The 55m long and also overhanging line combines La Novena Puerta and La Traversia de la Enmienda, both rated at 8c+. Chris Sharma redpointed the mega-project Neanderthal (9b or 5.15b) on December 18, 2009, which makes it the second route that climbs to the top of Santa Linya’s main cave. For Andreas Bindhammer, who in his home area of the Allgaeu, had only been training in summer on short, maximum strength routes and boulders like à Frontman Deluxe (8c+/9a), found it a real challenge. The first days were really tough, having to rest three times just to reach to the first chain — nothing else worked. After a few days he managed to climb the La Novena Puerta, but in the second part of the route his reserves failed on a difficult bouldery section. “My level of maximum strength diminished thereby visibly and I was often less able to climb the first part of the route,” says Bindhammer. A change of training was inevitable. The new approach meant to start some attempts in the route on the first day, followed by solely bouldering on the second day in order to keep the level of maxim strength on constant height.

The new approach came out. “Within a short period I was able to climb the first part of the route without a warm up and could concentrate completely on the upper part.” However, more than three attempts a day were not possible. Heavy wind and low humidity conditions, which Andreas has hardly came across with this year, will help to finally start the advanced ones off in the route in November. The hardest move in the upper part of the route — a burly pull on a one finger pocket — is now regularly doable by attempts from the bottom. The new crux is became an undercut cross to a hidden slit, only two pulls thereafter. But in view of the enormous height and steepness of the route the idea of saving strength was quickly found. By climbing over the intermediate belay the passage should become easier. The next attempt ends far away from the wall in the rope, but the target hold was almost in his hand… Cold conditions in the evening and a bit more energy reserves in the crux ensured Andreas on the same day he wished success: the slit is in the hand. In the following undercut passage which is easier he tries to recuperate himself.

Also, on the next passage with enormous moves, he succeeds. Only about another 10m are missing until the top chain. He just has to go through this next undercut, and then better holds will occur. The cheering from below becomes silent when Andreas lets off and hangs further below headlong from the rope. The route is not yet terminated, but his strength on the contrary is put to an end. The Santa-Linya-Equation: (8c+)² = 9a+

“After this attempt I realized that I could succeed if anything didn’t go wrong. I also tried to recuperate myself as much as possible in order to go ahead with a new attempt.”

It is windy and cold that day — So cold that Andreas, with his blurred face, by each reasonable hold, presses with his free hand on his body in order to warm it up. Shortly before the middle of the route it seems as if he had lost the feeling in his fingers and he couldn’t go on anymore. With a temperature of 10 °C and a strong wind which withdrew his energy bit by bit, his muscles contracted and went stiff, the movements seem cramped and blocked…

Equipped with a long-sleeved shirt Andreas starts a new attempt a bit later. At the third bolt he is already finished, his body cooled down too much after the break. It doesn’t matter, he doesn’t give up. The same again. This time he can manage to keep his fingers warm. Andreas struggles upwards bit by bit. The key passage in the upper part seems to go more relaxed because of cold conditions, more than usual, the move to the slit succeeds slightly, but it succeeds. Everybody cheers. It’s Sunday and despite the temperatures the cave is full of climbers.

Will he go down again head first? Up until now everything seems controlled and flowing. In a moment the undercut will come, so far the highest point on the best of his attempts. The body topples back, but this time the hand is on the hold. It goes further. On the two best holds in the upper part of the route, Andreas now tries to bring his finger tips for the last meters back to operating temperature. The following narrow and clearly athletic section requires full concentration once again. It takes about 5 minutes before Andreas gets started. Everything looks good. He appears over the edge. A little bit later everybody cheers again, this time together with a barely audible relieved cry from above. The same cheers outside the cave were followed by a chorus of horns by those climbers who fled the cold by sitting in the car, symbolizing that he had made it. The Marathon through the roof of the cave has found an end.

Interview with Andreas Bindhammer

Congratulations for this amazing effort. Is La Novena Enmienda only a further route on your list or what fascinated you with this route?I have solely only occupied myself this year with short routes of maximum 15 meters length and boulders. At long last I wanted to really climb again. That’s how Oliana or Santa Linya came into my mind. In the later area I already was there for 2 days in 2006 and found the route because of the enormous roof which I found very impressive. Normally I prefer resistant routes at maximum 40 moves long, without a rest. I think I only wanted to know how it feels to climb a 55 meter long route with almost 120 pulls to climb.

And, how did you feel?I was really surprised. At the beginning it stressed me enormously to even get in view of the nearly half hour climbing time. It was because I didn’t feel comfortable when I made the break and was totally tense. At some time I reached the point where I could really relax at the rest points and felt my strength coming back again. When you get on you don’t see the half an hour of climbing time and you don’t see the whole distance – only the part to the next rest point, and you have to fully concentrate on that.

You recuperate and concentrate just on the next part. It felt as if I would have to climb 4 difficult routes one after the other, with short breaks in between. On my redpoint, I only thought not to cool out and keep the feeling in my fingers.

Where do you see the main difficulties in the route – what characterizes them?The length of the route was really amazing. The route is difficult from the beginning and even the last moves you have to be fully concentrated. The difficulty is to have a good basic endurance/condition in order to recuperate at the breaks and still have enough maximal strength for the boulder sections.

The route was originally rated at 9a+/b. In the meantime it was re-rated at 9a+. How do you see the difficulty of La Novena Enmienda in relation to the other routes which you have climbed?Through the enormous length and steepness it actually cannot be compared with anything I’ve done up until now. The only route comparable is La Rambla, although it is not as steep. The effort which was necessary to climb this route is comparable. Therefore the rating of 9a+ is appropriately rated, agreed also by Chris Sharma, Patxi Usobiaga and Edu Marin, internationally well known climbers. Despite the numerous top-class visitors, and the cave of Santa Linya being regularly frequented, the route has only handful repetitions. It is for sure that it at least has to be a solid 9a rating.

In the meantime there are a large amount of 9a routes in Spain, but only a handful of these routes in Germany — is it more easily rated, or what is the reason for this development?In my experience areas with high density of routes in the upper difficulty levels are being rated more difficult than in those areas in those less difficult routes exist. The reason for this great number of routes in the 9a-grade in Spain is mainly a result of better pre-conditions. While we find mainly small rocks with maximum 15 meters height with up to 20 routes, in Spain you find a lot of overhanging cliffs with a height of 50 meters with a width of 100 meters. Furthermore they have dry conditions all the year. Especially in the winter months you often have perfect conditions. Many world top climbers are active on the rock there regularly over a period of time, so that the development in the Spanish climbing areas is progressing of course faster than anywhere else.

How do you reach the level 9a to climb? Is there a special training method or do you have to have talent?It is surely a combination of both. A talented climber without training discipline will not be able to reach top achievement. At the same time someone who trains permanently with the crow bar without diversity of training amenities will also not be successful. On the one hand, talent can mean to have a good sense of movement or to be blessed with a good level of strength. On the other hand, it can be also the ability to find the optimal trainings form for certain aims, and translated consequently and then be able to integrate your body to these specific requirements. Both of these make it possible to climb a 9a.

Does the mental component play a role in this in order to achieve top results on rock?Of course this task plays a big role in your mind. In order not to put yourself under too much pressure, you have to aim for small goals first. For some attempts at La Novena Enmienda it was for example a great success on a warm and humid day to be able to climb the first part and to hang in the top part 2 or 3 times. Who only can climb at the best conditions, because he won’t be able to handle kickbacks probably will never reach the personal limit and will thwart himself. After all, the important thing is to get out the optimum from the current situation and not lose the fun to climb.

You once answered the question what you regard as your greatest success up until now that it you have brought your business and climbing into balance. How does this balance work?Basically it is a compromise: the day is split between work and sport: morning work, afternoon trainíng and climbing, evening work again. The work time needs between 8 and 10 hours’ daily. The time for sport is about 4 to 6 hours. It doesn’t matter if I’m at home or on the move. One day without internet connection is therefore nearly unthinkable and would mean a great loss. A compromise with which I can live with, since it allows me great flexibility despite the permanent burden.

What are your plans for the future?Up until now I don’t have any definite plans. I’ll see what comes. From December on I’ll start with my winter training. Maybe I’ll go back to Spain again afterwards and visit the Spanish rock…..