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Carlo Traversi has made the third ascent of Flex Luthor, 5.15b, located in the Fortress of Solitude, near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. His ascent came a month after that of Matty Hong’s and nearly 20 years after Tommy Caldwell first ascended the route.
Although Caldwell never gave Flex Luthor a grade, it was widely considered 5.15, making it the first of the grade in America. After breaking multiple holds on the route, Hong upgraded it to 15b, adding that it was unclear just how much the route has changed since it was originally established and how hard it was when Caldwell made the first ascent.
“It’s a very weird style, a very Rifle-centric style,” Caldwell had told Climbing after Hong’s ascent. “I mean you’ve got kneebars, you’ve got handjams, you’ve got to do all this crazy stuff. It’s not just grabbing holds on a steep wall and pulling hard. It’s like crawling up the wall. Almost no holds on the route are actually down pulling.”
Traversi first tried the route in 2015 with Jon Cardwell. “In 2015, it took Jon Cardwell and I multiple tries just to get to the anchor,” Carlo told Climbing. “Honestly, it felt heinous. I had finished Kryptonite [5.14d] not long before my first attempts on Flex, and it just felt many levels harder. More sustained, trickier and harder sequences. The climbing is also really slow and deliberate, it’s hard to find a flow. You have to accept the fact that you’re going to be in a bit of a wrestling match for the whole 100+ feet.”
Traversi broke down the route: a 5.13+ intro, into a V12 boulder, into a knee scum shake with bad holds, then a crimpy V9. You get a rest after that—”It’s pretty good, but not great. It’s probably 5.15 to this shake.” Traversi estimates the upper section is 14b to the chains, consisting of a series of tricky boulders.
“The crux is definitely the lower V12 boulder,” said Traversi. “It’s by far the hardest and most sustained section of climbing. But the last few moves are probably the redpoint crux, at least for me it was. If you’re a little taller, you’re probably a bit less likely to drop it.”
Traversi began working the route this past spring, but his progress was delayed from weather and lack of partners. Traversi returned home to Sacramento, California.
“I didn’t really train this summer at all. It was hot everywhere and my motivation wasn’t high. I climbed in the gym, but mostly just to maintain. In September, I started to apply myself a little more. I started doing longer circuits on the spray wall at my gym, The Boulder Field, and started trying to link together a lot of the harder boulders in the gym with minimal or no rest in between. I felt good when I left for Colorado in early October, but only The Fortress can get you strong for The Fortress. It took a few weeks out here to really pull myself into top form.”
Upon returning, Traversi worked the route with Hong and went up to the crag with Cardwell, who was trying a project that they had previously bolted. He also later shared beta with Ethan Pringle. “All in all, it was fun having a rotating crew of people come through,” said Traversi. “Each brings their own energy and motivation and I appreciate anyone that I get to spend the day with at The Fortress.”
Flex Luthor was Traversi’s hardest roped send to date—last year he sent his first 5.15, with Empath, in Tahoe, California. Traversi has also put down V16 (Creature From the Black Lagoon, in Rocky Mountain National). While admitting he doesn’t have much experience in the 5.15 range, Traversi said he trusts Hong’s grade recommendation.
“I’m not much of a projector,” he said. “I tend to find things that I know will take some effort but not a ton. This route took more time than I’m used to due to weather and other factors, and I’m stoked that I was able to maintain an optimistic mindset despite the length of the endeavor. It’s easy to start getting in your head after focusing on one thing for a month, and I’m really happy that I was able to persist in my efforts without suffering any mental fatigue.”
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