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When Fred Rouhling completed the first ascent of Akira in 1995, there were no 9a+ [5.15a] routes. Even 9a [5.14d] was just beginning to be accepted. So when Rouhling graded his new line 9b [5.15b], controversy erupted. Alex Huber criticized the grade of Akira. Dani Andrada and JB Tribout attempted the route themselves. Some wondered if Rouhling had really climbed it. No one managed to repeat it. Since then the route has sat as a bit of an asterisk in the annals of climbing history. When climbers labelled Chris Sharma’s Biographie the first 5.15 route in 2001, and then later retroactively gave the superlative to Alex Huber’s Open Air in 1996 after an upgrade from Adam Ondra, Akira was not part of the discussion. For a detailed account of the Akira saga, Pete Ward’s classic story The Other Side of Fred Rouhling is well worth a read.
Akira sat for 25 years without a repeat, the grade still in question, until now. On November 23, Sébastien Bouin announced on Instagram that both he and Lucien Martinez had each redpointed it.
“About the grade, we are thinking this one a bit easier than the number announced,” Bouin wrote. “We had the impression to climb a 9a [5.14d] route. It’s hard to speak about grade on this historical piece, but we need to be honest.”
Rouhling responded to the announcement, congratulating Bouin and Martinez, but lamenting the downgrade. He suggests that broken holds could have brought the difficulty down. “It seems that this path is definitely linked to my destiny and is falling apart, just like its inventor,” he wrote. “So the starting boulder section would no longer be worth the original V13, but would now turn around V9 boulder, which would bring the overall difficulty down to 5.14d.”
Akira begins with a 12-meter roof that can only be protected with pads, followed by 8 meters of roped climbing. Pete Ward wrote that it “might be described as a long, hard boulder problem linked to a very short 5.13b” in his story. Regardless of the controversy and grade, Bouin praised the line. “Anyway this route is hard, and quite unbelievable for the ’90s,” he wrote.
Watch a short video of Rouhling climbing on the route below.