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The German climber Martina Demmel only found climbing four years ago at age 15, but in that short amount of time she has steadily made her way through the grades. Now, at 19, Demmel has joined a small group of women to have onsighted 5.14a: About a week ago she dispatched Los Humildes pa Casa (8b+/5.14a), in Oliana, Spain, on her first attempt. But she didn’t stop there: on the same day, an hour later, she went on to send Joe Blau (8c+/5.14c)—on just her third go.
Demmel started dreaming of onsighting Los Humildes pa Casa only several days before getting on it. She had an inkling that it could go, if everything lined up right.
“It was truly a last second decision to go for it,” Demmel wrote in an email to Climbing. “I always decide spontaneously and intuitively what helps me to stay relaxed and not to expect too much.”
On the day that Demmel went for the onsight, she felt physically ready to fight and pinch her way up the “neverending tufa” after a rest day. When Demmel got on the route, however, she struggled to calm her nerves on the 7c (5.12d) start, almost slipping on shaky legs.
“There was a good rest before the exhausting tufa part started and [I] luckily managed to calm down, enjoying the quiet and windy atmosphere, only a few people cheering on,” said Demmel. “I tried to really focus on my breathing to regulate my pump and from the moment I entered the long single tufa, I was in perfect flow, executing move after move intuitively. There was no space for other thoughts.”
When she got to the final slab without any chalk, she focused on staying relaxed. She could see the chains, but she climbed slowly and methodically, putting everything she had into the last few meters.
“Clipping the chains was such a big relief that I literally had no words for how amazing that felt! Lots of luck included in this game,” wrote Demmel.
Demmel hadn’t been planning on giving anything else a serious attempt after Los Humildes. But an hour after, forearms still pumped, she felt like she had nothing to lose. She hopped on Joe Blau—a route she had tried twice—to see how it felt with these low expectations. For Demmel, it was an opportunity: “With this mindset, I normally climb my very best because I can fully commit at every move. I’m way more efficient without any nervousness.”
She was so certain it wouldn’t be a redpoint attempt that she started climbing still wearing her long-sleeve shirt, expecting to go from draw to draw. This “got super hot,” she wrote, and she was grateful when the wind picked up.
Demmel had also been able to work the top section of Joe Blau while on the linkup El Gran Blau (8c/5.14b), which shares the same finish. She had also tried the bottom part of Joe Blau twice, working out her beta—but she hadn’t stuck the jump before, which is three moves up and off of polished footholds. Before, she had been scared of committing to the move, but this time she went for it. Before she knew it she was in the upper half and clipping the chains on her second 5.14 of the day.
Joe Blau was Demmel’s second send at the grade, following Montaña Magica, in Chulilla Spain, which she redpointed this past January. She has since sent another 8c+, La Morenita.
Demmel doesn’t place too much emphasis on grades, though.”For me the grades are pretty relative and only an orientation because it happens pretty often that an 8a feels harder than an 8c for example,” wrote Demmel.
Before this one, Demmel had onsighted a handful of 8bs, two of which were also in Oliana. She focuses on onsighting for the holistic experience, preferring to sample more climbs in a new area rather than dedicate herself to one hard redpoint.
“I truly love to just climb into the unknown…not knowing what’s ahead of you makes this experience even more intense,” Demmel said. “I often compare it with opening a present at Christmas because everything can surprise you.”
Demmel credits her rapid rise in skill to climbing in a wide variety of styles, and needing to find her own beta that fits her short stature—five foot nothing. Her high degree of flexibility and creative rests don’t hurt either. Before attempting a new grade, she also makes sure she’s had a “wide pyramid” of experience in the grades below.
Other women to have onsighted 5.14 include Josune Bereziartu, Charlotte Durif, Sasha DiGiulian, Anak Verhoeven, Kajsa Rosén, and Laura Rogora, among others. At least two other women have previously joined the elite club in the same way as Demmel, by onsighting Los Humildes pa Casa. Evgeniya Malamid, of Russia, did so in 2013, and Mina Markovič, of Slovenia, followed suit in 2014.