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Watch Jonathan Siegrist Climb “Flex Luthor,” 5.15

This excellent film by Cameron Maier captures the moody soul of the Fortress of Solitude

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Earlier this year, Jonathan Siegrist made the fourth ascent of Tommy Caldwell’s Flex Luthor and suggested a re-downgrade to 5.15a. This week, Cameron Maier and La Sportiva released an excellent short film about Siegrist’s ascent.

Flex Luthor Back to 5.15a?

Siegrist made quick work of the Flex Luthor this past October, sending on Halloween after some six days of effort over several weeks. For him, it breaks down to five or so bolts of 5.13 climbing on the route’s worst rock. (“It’s not too bad to do 5.10 climbing when the rock is really bad, but when you actually have to do hard moves, it adds a sense of tenuousness.”) After that, you enter the crux, which is where the rock gets better. For Siegrist this section consists of a six- or seven-move V10 or V11, though Matty Hong, the route’s second ascentionist, thought it was more like V12.

“It’s really awesome movement,” Siegrist told Climbing after his send. “I did it more or less the same way as Matty. You do this huge move to a really cool pinch, then move your body around the pinch. Imagine a protractor: The pinch is the center, and your left hand basically never leaves it, but your body starts on the left and basically revolves all the way around. … I’m really grateful to Matty and Carlo [Traversi] for unlocking that sequence. They’re boulderers, and I think they’re able to think outside the box a bit more, using faraway toehooks and other crazy movement. If I were there alone, without anyone giving me info, I may have eventually found the sequence, but it would have taken me a really long time.”

After the crux, some “pretty taxing” 5.13 climbing leads to a jug rest, which is followed by “a solid 5.14a” to the top.

As far as the grade goes, Siegrist says that he doesn’t consider Flex Luthor’s recent upgrade (to 5.15b) an accurate representation of his experiences.

“There are two main compasses that I try to use for grades,” he said. “One is time invested, and two is effort expenditure. I gave it quite a bit of thought. I do think that my climbing is pretty good right now. But for me, six days is remarkably faster than any other 9b [5.15b] that I’ve done. I was one-hanging the route on my third day. And while I did put in a huge fight when I sent it, to me it didn’t quite feel like the amount of effort I would expect to put in—in the moment—on a 9b. When I think about it compared to routes like Stoking the Fire or Jumbo Love or even Event Horizon, for me, there’s just no comparison. It feels like a totally different category. … But who knows? Maybe I got really lucky. Maybe I’m in great shape. If years from now it’s consensus 9b, I’ll be super psyched about that. … But for me it felt like 9a+ [5.15a] is the best grade.”

Holding space

Flex Luthor caps another ridiculously successful year for Siegrist—he’s done six 5.15s—but he’s not much of a celebrator. When I spoke with him after the send, he said that he was focusing on “holding space” for “the version of myself who didn’t send.”

“It’s just a way of remembering that there are so many outcomes, and sending is one of them, but it’s not always the one that we get. And I have lived through so many different outcomes. There are times when it works out perfectly. But there are times when it’s the last day, and the last try, and the weather is perfect, and you just don’t do it. So I just try to remember all of those things. I never want to get too obsessed with the success part. Instead, I try to hold space for the version of myself who didn’t send. Because that’s going to be me in the future. I like to remember that that’s the way that life can go too.”

Film: How Matt Cornell Free Soloed One of America’s Classic Hard Mixed Routes

"The Nutcracker" explores the mental challenges of solo climbing and the tactics Cornell used to help him send the route.