More from the Red: Interviews with Ondra, Woods

11/21/12 – Recently, news of hard flashes and onsights have dominated the online climbing community as some of the world’s strongest climbers, like Adam Ondra, Daniel Woods, Cedric Lachat, and more, made their pilgrimage to the sandstone Mecca of difficult sport climbing, the Red River Gorge. This season was Ondra’s first trip to the area. “After working on Change (5.15c) and finally sending it, I wanted to enjoy just rock climbing,” he said. “And that meant getting into the onsight business again. And there aren’t many well-developed areas in Europe with a vast concentration of hard climbs that I haven’t been to yet. The Red River Gorge seemed to be an obvious choice for this sort of ‘relaxed’ trip.”

Notably, Ondra flashed/onsighted the three Red’s hardest routes: Southern Smoke Direct (5.14d), Pure Imagination (5.14c), and The Golden Ticket (5.14c). Woods also managed to flash Pure Imagination and redpointed Southern Smoke Direct, and confirmed Ondra’s suggested downgrade of both.

Both Woods and Ondra agreed that it’s more important for a climber to offer an honest opinion on a climb’s grade, rather than simply stick to what’s printed in the guidebook. After flashing Pure Imagination, which was originally graded 5.14d, Woods said, “I think giving honest opinions on difficulty is good. If there is reason for a downgrade, then it should be made. Adam onsighted Pure Imagination and felt it was easier than previous 5.14c’s he has onsighted—he has done 14 5.14c onsights, so he should know. I felt that this line was easier than The Golden Ticket, 24 Karats (5.14c), and Southern Smoke Direct, and comparing it to Necessary Evil [considered the country’s benchmark 5.14c] solidified my reasoning for not calling it 5.14d.

“Watching Adam onsight/flash the Red’s hardest routes was very inspirational,” he continued. “He is very smart with his climbing. I felt like a student taking in as much info from the professor as possible… Observing him helped me do these climbs faster. Adam has positive energy to be around and knows how to get the job done. He is very smart with reading sequences and not hesitating on moves… and he executes fast and efficiently with few errors.”

On the topic of downgrading, Ondra told Climbing, “I do think that everybody should say as honestly as possible what he thinks about the grade of the route after the send. I wouldn’t call it downgrading—I would call it a personal suggestion or opinion. It is easy to stick to the guidebook’s grade, but how does it feel when you are sure that it is not as hard? It feels totally wrong for me, and that is why I didn’t hesitate to say my honest opinion.

Ondra also offered a possible reason for the “soft” grades at the Red. “[Many] people aren’t used to climbing on sandstone, and they are pulling on the holds with much more force than necessary. It is definitely essential to learn how to climb on this kind of rock and realize how friction-dependent the sandstone is.

“What is a grading system worth if we are not even trying to make it objective?” Ondra said. “We’re just lying to ourselves to get the highest number possible. I am always trying to compare my ascents with other benchmarks of that grade, so climbing said grade feels the same in the Red, the Alps, Norway or Spain. It seems to me that grades were really stiff in the 1980s and 90s, but then, strangely enough, inflation occurred. And what is happening right now is trying to find a point somewhere in between hardcore grades of the past and inflated grades of modern age. That means downgrading some new climbs and upgrading the old climbs.”