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Chris Sharma—One Of The Best And Most Influential Rock Climbers Of All Time

The pioneering American sport climber is among the best to ever tie in, and was arguably the world’s strongest rock climber for almost 20 years.

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This Chris Sharma biography is part of Climbing’s ongoing Who’s Who biographical study of climbing’s all-time greats, achievers, and, in the cases of Aleister Crowley and Leni Rienfenstahl, its most notorious and disreputable. See links below for more. 

Chris Sharma (April 23, 1981) is an American climber considered among the most talented and influential rock climbers of all time. Sharma is primarily known for his hard sport and bouldering ascents, though he also had a successful competition career, notably winning U.S. Bouldering Nationals (in the Adult/Open category) at the age of 14.

Sharma was both the first climber to climb a consensus-graded 5.15a (Biographie/Realization) and the first to send 5.15b (Jumbo Love). In addition, he was the second person to climb 5.15c (La Dura Dura) following Adam Ondra, with whom he projected the route. Sharma is also a pioneer of the deep-water soloing (psicobloc) discipline, and is well-known for his humility and “meditative” approach to climbing.

For the better part of two decades, Sharma was the pre-eminent figure in rock climbing, not just in the United States, but in the world at large.

Chris Sharma in the classic “King Lines,” the Reel Rock Film Tour.

Early Life

Born Chris Omprakash Sharma in Santa Cruz, California, Sharma was raised by devotees of the Indian Ashtanga yoga master Baba Hari Dass. His parents, Bob and Gita Jahn, adopted the surname Sharma when they were wed.

Sharma began climbing at the age of 12, after visiting Pacific Edge climbing gym with his mom. By 14 he had entered the national spotlight, beating out all the adult competitors to win the U.S. Open Bouldering Nationals in 1996. The following year, he sent North America’s hardest climb, Necessary Evil (5.14c), at the Virgin River Gorge. He later moved to Bishop, California to focus on climbing full time. There, at the age of 18, he climbed The Mandala (V12), a problem that has since become a world-renowned testpiece for hard boulderers.

Sharma won a number of competitions during the late 1990s and early 2000s, including netting a gold medal in Bouldering at the 1999 X Games, as well as first-place finishes at the IFSC Munich Bouldering World Cup (2001) and the American Bouldering Series Nationals (2004).

Chris Sharma: A Lifetime of Climbing

Biographie and Pushing the 5.15 Grade

In 2001, Sharma made the first ascent of the line Biographie (5.15a), in Céüse, France at the age of 20. While the line had been bolted and named by Jean-Christophe LaFaille in 1989, and the first half had been freed by Arnaud Petit in 1996, Sharma was the first to free the full 115-foot route, christening it Realization. (According to American standards at the time, the first ascensionist, not the climber who bolted the line, named the route).

Sharma didn’t grade the route himself, but Biographie / Realization eventually became the world’s first consensus-graded 5.15a. (That said, Alexander Huber’s 1996 ascent of Open Air, then considered a 5.14d route but regraded by Adam Ondra in 2008 as 5.15a, arguably holds the title of first true 5.15 send). 

Over the following years, Sharma put up many 5.15+ routes and became the first person to redpoint 5.15b, with Jumbo Love at Clark Mountain in the Mojave Desert. He also put up several hard boulders, such as Practice of the Wild (V15) in Magic Wood, Switzerland, and Witness the Fitness (V15) in the Ozarks. To date, Sharma has made over a dozen first ascents 5.15a and harder. He also made the first repeat of La Dura Dura (5.15c) in Oliana, Spain, following its ascent by Adam Ondra, with whom Sharma was working the line. The 160-foot limestone route was the world’s first 5.15c.

"Chris Sharma working Dreamcatcher, before he sent it several weeks later, in July 2005 during the Petzl RocTrip, Squamish, BC. Photo by Luke Laeser"
“Chris Sharma working Dreamcatcher, before he sent it several weeks later, in July 2005 during the Petzl RocTrip, Squamish, BC. Photo by Luke Laeser”

Deep-Water Soloing

In addition to his hard sport and boulder sends, Sharma is known for pioneering the discipline of deep-water soloing (DWS), where climbers climb routes without protection above bodies of water, ideally landing safely in the water in the event of a fall.

While deep-water soloing began in Mallorca in the late 1970s, Sharma pushed the sport to a new level with his 2006 send of Es Pontàs (5.15a), ascending the underbelly of a spectacular natural rock arch over the ocean. The route was the hardest DWS route in the world at the time. 

Sharma also completed Alasha (5.15b) in 2016, again the hardest route in the history of the discipline. He also hosted (and won) the world’s first DWS competition, Psicobloc Masters Series, in Bilbao Spain, in 2010, and has remained a prominent deep-water soloist in the years since.

Why Chris Sharma Never Gets Mad (Well, maybe a little sometimes)

Gym Ownership, Marriage, and Later Life

Sharma is the founder of the rock climbing gym Sender One, in Santa Ana, California, which he opened in 2013 in partnership with Walltopia, one of his sponsors. In 2015, he opened a second gym, Sharma Climbing BCN, in Barcelona, and in 2021 he opened a third gym, Sharma Climbing Gava, on the outskirts of Barcelona.

In August 2015, he married fianceé Jimena Alarcón. The couple previously lived in Oliana, Spain, but now have a home in Barcelona. They welcomed their first child, Alana, in 2016.

Notable Climbs

  • Necessary Evil (5.14c), Virgin River Gorge, Utah. First ascent (1997). 
  • The Mandala (V12), Bishop, California. First ascent (2000).
  • Realization / Biographie (5.15a), Céüse, France. World’s first 5.15a ascent (2001).
  • Witness the Fitness (V15), Ozarks, Arkansas. First ascent (2004).
  • Practice of the Wild (V15), Magic Wood, Switzerland. First ascent (2005).
  • Es Pontàs (5.15a), Mallorca, Spain. World’s first 5.15a DWS ascent (2007).
  • Papichulo (5.15a), Oliana, Spain. First ascent (2008).
  • Jumbo Love (5.15b), Mojave National Preserve, California. World’s first 5.15b ascent (2008).
  • Golpe de Estado (5.15b), Siurana, Spain. First ascent (2008).
  • Demencia Senil (5.15a), Margalef, Spain. First ascent (2009).
  • Neanderthal (5.15b), Santa Linya, Spain. First ascent (2009).
  • Pachamama (5.15a), Oliana, Spain. First ascent (2009).
  • First Ley (5.15a), Margalef, Spain. First ascent (2010).
  • Power Inverter (5.15a), Oliana, Spain. First ascent (2010).
  • Catxasa (5.15a), Santa Linya, Spain. First ascent (2011).
  • First Round First Minute (5.15b), Margalef, Spain. First ascent (2011).
  • Fight or Flight (5.15b), Oliana, Spain. First ascent (2011).
  • Stoking the Fire (5.15b), Santa Linya, Spain. First ascent (2013).
  • La Dura Dura (5.15c), Oliana, Spain. Second ascent (2013).
  • El Bon Combat (5.15b/c), Barcelona, Spain. First ascent (2015).
  • Catalan Witness the Fitness (V14), Barcelona, Spain. First ascent (2016).
  • Alasha (5.15b), Mallorca, Spain. World’s first 5.15b DWS ascent (2016).