|Chris Sharma on La Dura Dura (5.15c).
Screenshot from BigUp's Reel Rock 7.
There are only a handful of climbers in the world who can climb 5.15. The list is limited to names like Alex Megos, Ramon Julian, Dave Graham, Adam Ondra and, of course, Chris Sharma. Undoubtedly there are a few others, but this very small list shows just how hard the grade is. If these climbers, people like Sharma and Ondra, find these climbs to be at the very limits of their abilities, taking months of rehearsal and many many attempts to complete, just how much more difficult can climbing get? Have humans now reached the limits of physical capacity where, short of developing sticky pads on our fingers or some improbable gear innovation, we simply are not able to climb anything harder? Will we ever see a 5.15d or even a 5.16? How about bouldering? V16? V17? The alpine realm seems more open, with many peaks out there that still have yet to be climbed. But eventually, it seems, humans will soon have stood on every high point in this wide world. What then? Are the sports of climbing and mountaineering destined to fall in decrepit mediocrity without the excitement of progress? Already here in Colorado there are no exciting peaks still awaiting a first ascent. Even finding a new line on any of the major peaks is going to be hard to impossible (though Tommy Caldwell and Joe Mills did establish the first 5.14 line on the Diamond one month ago). Or will someone in the next generation prove that what is considered possible is never capped?
|Cerro Torre, where Hayden Kennedy and
Jason Kruk made the first "fair means"
ascent of the in famous Compressor Route.
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Another young climber who is proving that there are other ways than just pure difficulty which the sports of climbing and mountaineering can expand is Alex Honnold. In 2008 Honnold made the first free solo ascent of the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome (VI 5.12b), climbing the 23-pitch route without a rope. Honnold's achievements have proven that newer generations of climbers are still willing to push the sport in "bold" directions. In 2012 Honnold managed to achieve a solo link-up Half Dome, the Nose and Mt. Watkins in a single day.
Modern Yosemite pioneer Tommy Caldwell also continues to push the sport of climbing. At 35 years of age, Caldwell has done more to push the sport of rock climbing to new levels than almost any one. In 2003 he put several months of hard work into a massive, overhanging cave on a remote wall in western Colorado, establishing Kryptonite, the country's first 5.14d (9a), and Flex Luthor, quite likely the first 5.15 in North America though it remains unrepeated and unconfirmed to this day. In recent years, Caldwell has been back where he feels most comfortable, on big walls, freeing old aid lines on Colorado's Diamond and Yosemite's Half Dome and El Capitan. Caldwell's free version of Mescalito on El Capitan, if completed, could be the hardest big-wall free climb in the world.
And what about the next generation? Young climbers today are better than ever. A crop of super-young, highly talented climbers are already scaling the best rock in the world, threatening to push the boundaries of a sport that has been accused of stagnation. 12-year-olds Mirko Caballero and Ashima Shiraishia have both climbed V13. Ashima, in fact, became the youngest person to climb that grade when she sent Crown of Aragorn at Hueco Tanks State Park, Texas at the age of 11. Other young climbers like Brooke Raboutou and Kai Lightner and others are all also climbing 5.14 and are all under 14 years of age.
|The Ruth Glacier in Alaska. Photo courtesy
With all the growth in the sports of climbing and mountaineering, it is easy to think that we are reaching the limits of what is possible for a human. There are only so many mountains to explore. Someday soon we will have climbed them all. On the other hand, progressing into harder and harder difficulty too seems capped by simple human physiology. We can only hold onto to holds so small. Yet, despite these constraints, it seems that a new generation continues to surprise, finding and sending harder and harder climbs, or re-hashing old climbs in new style. Though maybe someday we will find that limit, for now the world of climbing and mountaineering continues to thrive.
Check out this video of Adam Ondra and Chris Sharma battling for the first ascent of La Dura Dura (5.15c):
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