• The cutting edge

    I started writing this morning with the intention of praising all the major sport climbing achievements of the past 6 weeks. Then I felt the need to comment on of all of the groundbreaking ascents of the last year. But rather than succumb to the pressure and just spend all day reading about climbing history, I am stating here and now: there are just too many amazing feats to name in one blog post.

    From the huge link-ups and new speed records in the Valley to the hard free routes that went up in the Patagonia; from maybe the world’s hardest technical ice climb being established in British Columbia to the amazing solo speed ascents of the Matterhorn and the Eiger; from the slew of new V15 boulder problems to the FA’s and fast repeats of 5.15 sport climbs… there are amazing things going on at the forefront of climbing right now. We even have a new free soloist to watch and just hearing his name makes me nervous but excited to see what he’ll do next.

    We are witnessing a time in climbing when everything is changing. New styles are being invented, people are freeing gigantic walls that would seem blank to even the most seasoned rock climbers, and the new sport routes and boulder problems are just insanely difficult. While some climbers are crossing over into different disciplines, others are taking the next generation under their wings to show them the way in their specialty.

    I know what you are thinking: “Climbing is always progressing, first ascents are being done, new grades are being proposed.” I agree, the sport is always being pushed forward. But for me, the climbers that are doing it right now are special, and it has been inspiring to watch them take climbing to a new level.

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    Although we may not consider ourselves to be in the same league as some of these climbers, we aren’t that far off. The climbing community is relatively small, and we are all linked by fewer degrees of separation than one might think. Many of you have walked under some pretty ground-breaking routes at the New, the Red, and all over the country. Some of you have been on these routes and some of you have put up your own!

    I know a lot of climbers who downplay the professionals. Not their achievements or abilities, but just the fact that they are well known. “They are just people” I often hear. “I’m not paying just to go watch someone talk about themselves, I don’t care how hard they climb.” Maybe it makes those people feel cool to be so standoffish, but I say screw that. I follow the pros, the hot flashes, the most recent ticks; I read all of the mags. I know that they are just ordinary people… but that’s what makes it so amazing!

    The term genetic freak gets thrown around a lot and while there is certainly some truth to that, I enjoy watching the crushers because it reminds me that anything is possible, and it gives me some insight into their habits. They aren’t that much different than us… they just work SO MUCH HARDER!

    And we can see that in our own communities as well. I have climbed with a lot of strong climbers, and none of them climbed harder than me because of genetics. They climbed harder than me because they were getting more psyched, training harder, and mentally preparing for their projects when I was sitting around talking about mine. So take the average person posting up on the internet today or any one of your friends and multiply their psyche and determination by 100 to get a 5.14 climber. Then multiply THAT by 100 to get Ondra, Sharma, Caldwell, etc.

    I guess my point is this: get out there and crank! Don’t make excuses, don’t wait ’til next season or even next weekend! If there is one thing that climbing has taught me it is that there are moments in time when you just have to get the job done, and when that moment passes it’s gone forever. Sometimes that means pulling a hard move over shitty gear. Most of the time, however, that just means that when you have a chance to push yourself, you have to sack up and see what you’ve got inside. You might not ever get that chance again… so take it!


    Ryan Williams

    Ryan grew up in the south and learned how to climb in the mountains of North Carolina and West Virginia. Upon graduating from NC State University in 2007, he travelled all over the world working as a guide, bartender, furniture mover, farm hand and anything else that would fund his next trip. Ryan is currently living in London with his wife, trying to get his life together and use the UK as a home base from which to explore the mountains of Europe.

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Discussion 3 Responses

  1. April 25, 2011 at 4:22 am

    Hey Ryan, nice post. This is something I think about quite a lot: how much more room for new, hard climbs is there? It would seem that at some point the human form will top out on what it’s physically capable of on rocks, in the same way that sports like swimming and running have topped out on speed records for years (sure, the records are always broken, but in fractions of econds, which I don’t think compares to the big strides in difficulty being made in climbing for decades now.) But for climbing, where is the point where a rock face is just too hard for a human to go up? The only other factor is technology: better rubber on shoes? Lighter everything? I wonder if we’re close or still years away from plateauing as a sport? Folks like some of the climbers you listed above make me think we’ve still got a ways to go.

    • April 25, 2011 at 11:28 am

      Yea Matt, I wonder the same. How much harder can humans actually climb? I think we’re still 20 to 30 years away from hitting the point that we have in swimming, runnning, etc. Ondra and Digiulian are 18 and Enzo Oddo is only 14! I have to think that there will be a generation that grows up following them, being inspired by them. They could climb harder than the climbers of today. It will depend on two things:

      First, like you said, technology will play a roll. Lighter ropes and stickier shoes are the two things that seem the most relavent, but new training technology could play a roll.  

      More importantly, climbing at the world class level will depend on the new generations abilities to find harder routes, because currently they don’t exist. Well, they exist, but they haven’t been discovered.
      I think one thing that has been lost in all of the Adam Ondra hype is that while he is climbing harder than anyone right now, he has not proven that he can develop high end sport climbs at that level. Without Chris Sharma and company in Spain, Ondra would be a 5.14 climber.  

      Until the young kids start developing their own routes, difficulty will stay where it is now. MAYBE Sharma has one more letter grade in him, but after that it’s up to the next generation to FIND .15c, 15d, etc. Developing high end sport routes is not the same as climbing them, and there is no guarantee that the next generation will be as good at it as Sharma, Andrada, etc. IF the new kids can find those hard climbs, they’ll send ‘em.

  2. April 28, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Some good points, Ryan. I don’t think Sharma was putting up many new lines as a teenager either, so these young guns have some time. They’ve got to run out of other people’s projects first and realize they have to start developing if they want more stuff to climb. You know, in some ways climbing that hard is a curse. Could you imagine going some place like the Red and being like, meh, there’s not really anything here to challenge me. :)

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