Fred Rouhling put up Akira as the first 9b in the world in 1995, when not even 9a+ existed. This created a a lot of controvercy which started all over when Seb Bouin and Land Lucien Martinez repeated it calling it 9a. Here are some thoughts how this could happen.
Babsi Zangerl and Jacopo Larcher, two of the world's leading big wall climbers, have done a variation of the 800m 8b Joy Division in Val di Mello. The FA was done by Simone Pedeferri in 2004. Here is the full story from Jacopo. (c) Alpsolut Pictures
"Val di Mello is mostly known for the “Melloblocco”, the famous event which had been for many years an important meeting point for climbers from all over the world. This big “party” was a unique opportunity to meet other people with the same passion, enjoy the beautiful valley, climb on some old classics and a lot of new boulders especially brushed for the event. It was something special for many people and so was it for us, as it was the place where Babsi and I met.
Three years ago I got to witness for the first time the valley outside the event; it was a strong yet beautiful contrast with how I knew it. I was astonished by its quietness, the kindness of the local community and, last but not least, by the incredible amount of climbing it had to offer! It doesn't matter if you want to go bouldering, cragging, trad climbing or enjoy some longer routes: Val di Mello has it all!
This June, after our trip to Norway, got cancelled due to the Covid restrictions, we started to look for a place closer to home where we could enjoy some longer granite routes. Val di Mello immediately came to our mind! We packed everything in the van and we drove there without a real plan, as we were overwhelmed by the number of routes in the guidebook! We had some ideas in mind, but we first wanted to get a piece of advice from the local legend Simone Pedeferri, who basically freed 95% of the hard (on not only) climbs there. After a good coffee and a chat with him at the Bar Monica, the meeting point for the climbers in the valley, we opted for checking out the Qualido, an impressive 800m granite wall. Simone has obviously climbed a lot of routes there and in 2004 he freed a combination of two old aid lines (“Mellodramma”, “Melat”) and “Forse si, forse no”, calling it “Joy Division” (800m - 8b max). Even if the route had just one repetition (James Pearson), we heard a lot of positive things about it and we opted for checking it out. We also had to make some filming for a documentary project about the “life on the wall”, so we thought the route and the wall would be perfect for it.
Unluckily we had just 2 days time, so we hiked up to the wall with the idea of checking the first pitches, which were also supposed to be the hardest part of the route, before having to drive back home. When we reached the wall we were both amazed by the beauty of the place and we quickly realized why a lot of friends were thrilled about it! The cherry on the cake was definitely the freshly renewed “Hotel Qualido”, a big bivy spot situated just below the wall; you really can’t wish for a better place where to stay.
The wall gets in the shade after 2pm so, as it was too hot for climbing in the sun, we had plenty of time for observing the wall from the bivy, trying to understand the line of the route and dreaming about other possible projects. We realized that just before the last steep part of the wall “Joy Division” makes a big traverse to the right to finish on “Melat”, skipping two really steep aid pitches of “Mellodramma”. We started to wonder if it could have been possible to continue straight through that section, instead of exiting right. Obviously, the only way to know it was to climb up there and get a closer look at those aid pitches.
The first pitch of “Joy Division” is probably the hardest, and definitively one of the best of the entire route. An easier start gets you to a really technical traverse on small crystals, which ends with a 20 meters perfect crack. The climbing is really insecure and hard to control, making this pitch a real head-game until the very end! The next pitches follow a crack in a big right facing dihedral and, even if they are rated only 7b/+, are really hard! I’m sure they won’t get downgraded ;-) On the 4th pitch “Joy Division” starts to follow the aid line “Mellodramma”; it’s pretty easy to tell it, as the newish bolts leave the place to some really rusty handmade ones. This pitch looked impossible at first, but once we found out the tricky betas, it felt not too bad and the moves are really cool. We checked some easier pitches, which were still hard(!) and drove back home.
One week later we were back at the base of the wall, armed also with some aid gear, as we wanted to check out if the upper pitches of “Mellodramma” would go free or not. Just before the last 7c+ pitch of “Joy Division”, we wrongly climbed too much to the right, following an obvious dihedral which led to a hard slab followed by a steep crack: an incredible pitch! We thought it was the most obvious line, but, speaking with Simone, we later realized that we ended up on the neighbour newer route “Con un piede in Paradiso”.
Unaware of the mistake we climbed up to the ledge where “Joy Division” traverses on easier terrain to the right and started to explore the possibilities for a more direct exit. From below the original steep aid pitches of “Mellodramma”, our original goal looked impossible, so we started to play on another line. Even if it was climbable, we quickly realized we didn’t have enough time for free climbing it, so we opted for finishing on the route we wrongly ended up on before, as it climbs straight to the top of Qualido. We were aware of the fact it wasn’t the original end of “Joy Division”, but for us it was the more logical way to finish the route, being also more sustained. We have to mention that the route was put up years later Simone freed JD and at the time there weren’t any other routes on that section!
After a couple of rest days and filming in San Martino, we hiked up again to the “Hotel Qualido”, ready for giving the line a real try. As usual, the plan was to both lead the hard pitches (8a or harder) and swing leads on the rest. We started in the late afternoon and, accompanied by two filmers (Hannes and Juliane), we climbed the first 5 pitches and set up our portaledge. It felt so good to hang on a wall again after all the lockdowns, and it reminded us how much we like to “live” on the wall :-)
The next day we had again a slow start and climbed up to the ledge, where we spent another night before to climb to the top on the next morning. The last pitches were amazing; after some really technical slab pitches, you get to enjoy some perfect long and steep cracks, which lead you to the top of “Il Martello” of Qualido, the iconic huge mushroom on the top of the wall. The perfect end after three days without falls.
Looking around from there you quickly realize the potential that place has to offer, as all you can see are big beautiful granite walls. That area looks so wild and beautiful from there! Even if we left with some projects behind, we had such a good time up there, getting to climb an amazing route, connecting with the local climbing community and see the valley from another perspective we were used to. It still remains a very special place to us and a place we’ll definitely visit more and more in the future. A big thanks go to Simone and Monica for the warm welcome, all the help and info! So what did we climb? We don’t know how to call it, but it was definitely a Paradise of Joy!"
Choong Katherine has made the second repeat of Mattias Trottman's 6.4 Sekunden in Engelberg. The 170m tall route includes seven pitches, out of which five, 7c+ to 8b (+). In total, it took 16 projecting days for the former competition climber to send all pitches in a day. (c) Hugo Vincent
"My main goals for 2021 just came true 🥳 For sure one of my proudest ascent so far and the one that pushed me the most to go beyond my mental & physical limits! I led all the pitches but what a fight it was to manage to send all of them in a day."
Here is the full story:
Due to the COVID-19 situation, all the world cups in the summer of 2020 have been cancelled. This left me completely free to focus on rock climbing for the first time in my 15 years with the Swiss team. After having done some difficult single pitch routes in the last years, I wanted to do and learn something new. For about 2 years, I started to do more multi-pitch routes. The challenge for me is much more complex. I had to learn how to manage the physical and mental effort on all the pitches of the routes, the handling of the ropes as well as the fear of the high of course which uses a lot of energy.
But what is particularly interesting in this form of climbing is the relation with your partner, I feel like you share much more with your partner that leaves you amazing memories. The trust in one's partner must be complete in order to reach the top of the route together. The objective was for me to push my limits again in terms of difficulty but also in terms of the fact that climbing multi-pitch routes is a facet of climbing that I do not yet fully control and that challenges me in another way.
It took me a long time to follow this climb this route, a total of 16 days and it was only around the 14th day that I started to feel comfortable and that I send one of the 7 pitches…The first day we started with my boyfriend Jim Zimmermann. The 2nd pitch, the most difficult on the paper, moves seemed doable to us. But just after that on the 3rd pitch (8a+) we got totally stuck in the crux! Nothing to do, we will not see the rest of the route and we had to rappel down. Really disappointed and frustrated, I wanted to give up the project. Finally, remotivated by Matthias Trottman who tells me that this is certainly one of the most difficult movements of the route, we tried again and rappelled down into the route directly with a static rope to try the rest of the route. The pitches are vertical, technical, the movements seem to me too reachy for me and I was not able to climb more than a few movements in a row without taking rest. Not to mention the long run-outs sometimes in loose rocks that paralyzed me with fear! Then, over the days, I manage each time to unlock a section or two, although some movements resist me again and again, especially in the 8a+.
I finally find a good beta for the 8a+ that gives me hope. Until the day I broke this famous hold. After trying for more than 20 minutes to find another solution without success for this section, I was close to giving up again on this project. I go back anyway, supported by Jim, despite the rainy and foggy days that seem to get stuck especially between the Titlis and the Fürenwand and after a few weeks break, I rather feel like I have regressed in the route. Doubt is again settling in. All the rock is extremely humid and some passages are completely wet, which doesn't help to work the sections that still resist me. And then the sun came back. At the end of the 14th day of work, I finally climb one of the pitches, the 7c+, and I find again a new method in the 8a+! Everything seems possible again...
Thursday 09.09.2021, 5:30 am. I get up to leave for Engelberg with my friend Andy Winterleitner. Nothing predicted a sending day. The rain on the approach step soaks us completely, and the rock seems humid again. I start on the 6c, continue directly on the 8b/+ with a lot of effort, aiming to reach at least the crux, a random dynamic move after a long and tiring overhang. And then, surprise, it goes through! The sending machine mode is launched, the stress and the pressure are creeping into my head. I clip the chains of the 8b/+! What a joy! But I know that I still have an 8a+, two 8a, a 7c+ and a 7b to do, knowing that I have never managed to send most of these pitches. But considering the fight I had in the 8b/+, I might not be able to do it again soon. However, I go back down to the bottom of the 8b/+ to belay my friend Andy who would like to also try to send the route and then climb the 40 meters with the jumar again. Each pitch is a huge fight, I feel that I lose strength with each move. My head is taking over my arms which are screaming at me to let go. I know that if I want to have a chance, I have to get it all in on the first try. The rain continues to fall and I am obsessed with the fear that the last few pitches will become soaked and unclimbable. The pitches follow one another, the goal is getting closer and closer, meter by meter. I would like to rest more between each route but time is also short, the last cable car leaves at 6pm and the desire to walk back under the rain does not motivate me.
And finally, I reached the top, completely exhausted but filled with happiness to have succeeded in this great challenge. This route, whose every length seemed impossible to me, which made me doubt and almost give up many times, will remain in my memory forever as one of my best performances that made me push my mental barriers and get out of my comfort zone again.
Michaela Kiersch, who previously has done eight 8c+', reports on Insta that she has repeated Chris Sharma's Dreamcatcher 9a in Squamish after just five days. The doctoral student tried it three years ago but could not do all moves but during this trip she did all moves on her first day. (c) The Foxes
What was the key for sending it so quickly?
I trained specifically for this route for weeks. Focusing on increasing endurance, finger strength, and campusing power.
What was the crux for you? Did you have to invent a new beta being shorter (152 cm) than the previous repeaters?
The crux for me was the final boulder problem. My beta is relatively similar to everyone else, maybe just higher feet.
Nicholas Milburn has done Moonshine 9a in Wild Iris. It was put up by BJ Tilden in 2012 and everyone that has start rated it have given it five stars. (c) Zach Joing
"Such good rock! The movement is really fun and the holds are actually pretty good. They are just far apart, don't fit very many fingers, and the feet are poor. Almost sent in 4 tries in two days, but punted way up high. Did it in 9 tries in 3 days."
Vadim Timonov has repeated Alexey Rubtsov's Whiplash 8C in Lietlahti Park. "This is a sit-down start to an 8B/+. After I did the first part, it took me four attempts to get through it entirely. But I did everything on different days since the boulder loads the biceps very much."
Next Friday, Vadim will compete in the World Championship qualification in Mosow.
How come you chose outdoors as part of your preparation for the world championship?
No, this is not my preparation. It was my last outdoor session before the world championship. I just don't want to waste perfect weather🤣. Our season is short and every such day is valuable.
Mike Foley has made the FA of Spirit Quest 9a in Squamish, which is a nine bolt direct start to an existing 8b+. Originally it was bolted by Tom Wright who kept it as a closed project until this summer. Ben Harnden was also trying it and later did the second ascent. Climbing.com has the story and we we added one question to Mike.
How was your mental game before and during the ascent?
Before any send, I like to keep the mood light and not have expectations for myself. When I feel close to sending or keep falling on the same moves I find it helps to change up my routine a little bit. Try a different warm-up, climbing at a different time of day etc. It’s easy to train yourself to keep falling at the same moves when every part of your routine is exactly the same.
During the send, especially on long routes, I try to focus only on the moves directly in front of me and not think too far ahead. I try to be focused and present in that exact moment in the route, not the route as a whole.
Neil Gresham, who previously has done two E10' has done the FA of Lexicon E11 7a at Pavey Park, which is equivalent with an 8b+ R trad. If you fall at the final 7C boulder crux at the top you face a 25-meter fall with a risk of slamming into the wall. UKC has the full length interview and actually it seems the 50-year-old's approach can be compared to how dedicated Adam Ondra was projecting Silence 9c.
We are talking about several different coaches like mental, trad, ballet, physiotherapist, nutrition etc. Neil also did also practice falling. "I made it to the fourth-from-last move and bailed out. I looked down to see the rope flapping and looping downwards in a huge arc and there was plenty of time to take things in as the air rushed across my face. It was the biggest whipper I've ever taken..."
It should be noted that the British E-grade, is supposed to estimate how hard and dangerous a trad route is to onsight. On the upper scale, it is very hard to make such an evaluation and that is why we have also added the other trad grading system, where an R added, stands for Risk for injury.
Graham Owens has done The China Glide 9a at Rumney which is a link-up of China Beach and Livin' Astro. "Months of dedication for one moment of perfect execution. All worth it. Feels so surreal to climb a 9th grade route, now time to dream bigger!"
So how was those months of dedication?
It was a pretty big mental battle for me. I thought I’d be able to send without too much trouble, as I knew the sections of the route quite well. However, I struggled a lot with skin, conditions, and staying motivated after a lot of reverse progress. I set my high point (the finishing jump move to the arete) in June, matched it once in July, and finally took it down now in September. But that just made the send even more special!
Could you please describe the route?
The route is a linkup of the two best routes at the cliff, China Beach (8c) and Livin’ Astro (8c+). China Beach is very resistant and sustained, with barely any places to chalk up or clip. After climbing basically all of that route, you have to do a 7B+ boulder problem to traverse into Livin Astro. This boulder is not so bad in isolation, but it has one rose move that’s very hard to do when you’re pumped. After sticking the move you jump to a nice jug where you can recover pretty well. Then there’s the mental crux, a committing 7C or 7C+ boulder problem (maybe a bit easier for tall climbers) that’s shared with Livin Astro. It revolves around a mono-stack hold, which you have to grab perfectly in order to jump way outright to a prominent arete feature. Sticking this move and holding the swing is a pretty amazing feeling, and then you just have two easy moves to clip the chains.
by 8a Founder and Editor-in-Chief Jens Larssen including also Analyses, Reviews, Training, Polls and Opinions etc.
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