Monday, December 04, 2006

The Mallorca Hype

Now that Chris Sharma has repeated another 5.15a climb, in Spain, the hype masters are again trotting out the "fact" that Sharma's deep-water solo route in Mallorca, climbed in late September, is at least 5.15a and may be 5.15b. The web site suggested 5.15b for the Mallorca climb, based on Sharma's 100 attempts over six visits before completing the route. (He needed fewer than 20 tries to redpoint the 5.15a La Rambla in Spain last week.) Rock & Ice said (on the cover) that Sharma's new route "is arguably the hardest climb ever done, and could reshape the sport as we know it." Inside, R&I said it's "likely the hardest rock climb in the world." Climbing said it was "a contender for the hardest single pitch in the world."

The famously reticent Sharma said that his new route, shown here in a Miguel Riera photo from Desnivel, felt harder than anything he'd ever done before, even harder than his 2001 5.15a Realization. But there's a world of difference between deep-water soloing and rehearsing a route with a rope and then redpointing it. With a rope, you can stop at each bolt and carefully work out the moves and sequences for as long as you want. In deep-water soloing, you get one shot at a crux move and then you're in the drink, and you have to start over from the bottom. In this way, deep-water soloing is a beautiful return to the past traditions of ground-up ascents. As Sharma said in Climbing, deep-water soloing is "pure." But put the same route on dry land, with a bolt every six feet, and it's extremely unlikely that it would still feel as difficult.

Just because someone solos a climb doesn't mean it deserves a harder rating. A 5.12 is still 5.12, whether it's rehearsed a billion times on toprope, soloed onsight, or climbed naked with a watermelon hanging off one's harness (Charley Bentley, Vitamin H, Rifle). Sharma is obviously one of the world's best rock climbers, and it's a magnificent achievement to succeed on such a desperate climb without a rope. Sharma's experience of climbing that enormous arch in Mallorca may indeed have been his hardest and most meaningful yet. But it's just silly to suggest the arch is therefore the hardest route in the world.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, but because you cant frig it that means it has to be harder than a route of the same tech grade. Therefore it may indeed be the hardest route (but still 15a)

Dougald MacDonald said...

Obviously, if a mandatory solo is 5.15a, it's going to be much harder to repeat than a bolted 5.15a. But is it 5.15a? Precisely because he can't frig it, Sharma can't objectively compare his experience of this route with other extremely difficult climbs he has done. However, the main point I was trying to make is that, while Sharma may not really know how hard it is, the climbing media definitely don't know, and they shouldn't be so quick to label any new climb the "hardest." Ultimately, a firm grade will have to wait for repeats. And with this one, more than most, that will take a long time!

Anonymous said...

dougald, you worked in the publishing industry, you know embellishment and hype because the bottom line is to ... sell magazines, right. anyway, the conditions do make the route, that's why alaska grades are, well alaska grades and yosemite sandbagging is well known. 15a should be 15a in spain, england, or tanzania, but 15a at 18k feet is something else entirely. so my point is, f the magazines, it is hype on their part, and if the climb is 15a leaning towards 15b because of the environment of the climb, so be it. sharma will put up something new anyway. i would guess this one goes unrepeated, i mean 100 dunks? f that. love, ebomb