The formative years of cutting edge rock climbing: 1983&1984

1983 arguably ushered in the term ‘power’ – thought by some to have previously not existed until then. Routes like Jerry Moffatt’s The Face (8a/8a+) – the first of that grade in Germany – clearly required a new level of bouldering strength.

Steep limestone was the new ‘in thing’ – and bolts began proliferating the crags – though mainly on the continent. The first 8a’s were introduced in France with Reve de Papillon (8a) in Boux and Le Coeur est un Chasseur Solitaire (8a) in Mouries, both by Marc Le Menestrel; Ca Glisse au Pays des Merveilles (8a) by Patrick Edlinger; and Crepinette (8a) by Fabrice Guillot. Unknown at the time, Dave Cuthbertson from UK did the route Requiem as the world’s first 8a+, then graded E7 6c.

Marc Le Menestrel on Chimpanzodrome (7c+), 1983 in Boux.

Australia kept up (just) with the likes of Slopin’ Sleazin’ (originally 7c – now 7c) and the aforementioned India.

The first recognized 8a in Britain came in at the hands of new kid on the block – Ben Moon. A fully bolted sport route, Statement of Youth (8a) indeed made a statement in the more ‘traditional’ line of thinking Britain. This was overshadowed soon by fellow compatriot Jerry Moffatt’s offering – that of Revelations, which at solid 8a+ was recognised as the hardest route in the world at the time.

In a period of intense development, such a title wouldn’t hold on for long. the big news was to be had at the end of the year – when a new name hit the press with the boulder problem extension route of Kanal Im Rucken – and a new grade – 8b. The man responsible was Wolfgang Gullich.

France got introduced to the 8b grade with Tribouts’ Le Bidule (8b) and Edlinger’s Le Boule (8b). Carrigan finally solved the mystery of Masada – giving it 8a+/b as well (later downgraded to 8a).

Also of note at this time was a first ascent by an American women – who over the next decade was to become the top female climber the world had ever seen. Tourist Treat (7b+) was at the time a fine effort by a young Lynn Hill.

Moffatt meanwhile demonstrated his virsatility by onsighting The Phoenix (7c), Pol Pot (7b+/c) and Chimpanzadrome (7c+), the latter on the day of his 21st birthday.

The formative years of cutting edge rock climbing: 1981&1982

I always loved climbing history, and especially the early days of sport climbing. Over the next few months, I will be covering the 1980-2000 period of rock climbing, with republishing of an old article by Steve Kelly from Australia (credits below). Hope you enjoy the stories!

1981 came along and the Edlinger put up Medius (7b+) in Saint-Victoire – the hardest route in France. Equalling it though was the efforts of American John Bachar – who cheekily visited the Frankenjura (Germany) and established a new line which he called ‘Chasin’ The Train’ (7b+) – supposedly a reference to the state of Euro climbing versus its American equivalent. (Years later Bachar denounced this claim – saying that it was merely a reference to the well known jazz musician Johnny Cochrane).

Most of the routes (if not all) were being put up in a style known as ‘Yo Yo’ – the accepted norm at the time. This involved no pre-inspection – but climbing up to your highpoint – falling off – then lowering back to the ground (without working the moves) and starting again. The climber left the rope clipped into their highpoint – thereby essentially toproping the section on their next attempt.

First to use what would soon become termed ‘redpoint tactics’ was the German Kurt Albert – who in the same year (’81) had put up Germany’s first 7b+ with Sautanz. His new ethic was to ‘free climb’ routes (in the now standard practice of today) and then mark the base of the climbs with a painted red dot – signifying that they had been ‘freed’.

Kurt Labert on Sautanz (7b+), Frankenjura, 1981.
Photo by Thomas Ballenberger.
Wolfgang Güllich free solo on Sautanz, 7b+, Frankenjura 1986

Strangely, the first nation to really take up this new game were the French, who embraced it whole-heartedly during the early ‘80’s. As a result, the levels of hard climbing took off in France – as now the hard sections of routes were worked – rather than left as ground-up affairs – which led to a massive increase in strength and talent.

Despite this soon-to-be-embraced-revolution, the word was still ‘yo yo’ – and the routes that fell courtesy of this style were very impressive indeed. By the end of ’82 the grade of 7c had all but been consolidated with routes such as Cobwebs (Moorhead), Fenrir (7c – Edlinger, pictured in the first post), La Haine (7c – Berhault) and Little Plum (7c at Stoney Middleton– by a young new comer – Jerry Moffatt).

Jeffy Moffat on the first ascent of Little Plum in 1981. Photo by Geoff Birtles

If you are a total history bum, you might want to go even more in the past and read about the heritage od climbing at Stoney Middleton in the 1970s, with characters like Moffat, Pollitt and many more doing things probably unimaginable by today’s standards of comfort.

Here are articles about Stoney Middleton climbing history, with part III telling the story of Little Plum and the rare photo of a climber during the actual first ascent in the 1980s (something we take for granted today).

Also that year Carrigan claimed the big grade of 8a with India, which was the biggest news to date, and probably still holds that grade today for Carrigan’s original sequence. Law meanwhile quietly put up the much unheralded Slime Time (mainly because he graded it 7b! (now 7c). Carrigan consolidated at the grade with the amazing Ogive (7c) at Bundaleer.

Dave Fearnley grapples with the classic India (28) at Mt. Arapiles. Photo by Mark Sedon.

Meanwhile, Ron Fawcett’s ‘heir apparent’ – Jerry Moffatt – paid his first visit to the States, and promptly flashed one of their hardest routes – Supercrack (7b).

Published with kind permission from Climbing Club of South Australia. Original article from the The BOLFA Newsletter: “A window on the past: The formative years of of cutting edge rock climbing Part 1 (1980-1990) by Steve Kelly”. Note: text was minimally modified for 2020. Images were added with personal pre

Vizija

A breath of cool air today in the morning was followed by a usual thought: “Conditions in Mišja must be great now”. Another part of the brain quickly responded: “It doesn’t matter any more”. It still feels like a dream, and I have to say it out loud to believe it: Yesterday I climbed Vizija (8c) in Mišja peč!

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At the top of Vizija. Photo: L. Tambača

Yesterday’s day was crazy. With 28 Celsius in Ljubljana, and my friend Rok feeling sick (thank you Rok for coming along!), we nearly canceled climbing. At the end, we decided to go, and almost turned to Baratro, because of heat. However, some inner feeling and clouds above Primorska region, led us to the parking lot of Miška. At first, it felt perfect, cloudy and cool sea breeze. However, after the first warmup, the clouds cleared and sun hit the rock with full blow. The heat was simply unbearable. I was already saying goodbye to Vizija until the winter, but then, at one moment, the clouds reappeared. At least, I had to give it a try. After a one week of rest from Vizija in Paklenica, I was feeling light&strong, and more importantly – fresh in mind. I made a mistake and feel in the crux, but that feeling of “zone” mindset started to creep in. For the second go, I waited until the very last sun rays of the day. I just barely made it through the crux, and had to fight for life in the rest of the route. At the end, the ascent of Vizija took everything I got, down to the very last atom of energy – just as you would want your hardest climb to feel like 🙂

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In the middle of the crux. Photo: L. Tambača

I have to thank all the friends for words of support and positive energy. When the rumours that I’m close on Vizija spread out, all of a sudden, I started receiving messages of support. Thank you everybody, it means a lot 🙂 I have to quote my experienced friend Lija: “Don’t forget to enjoy the time before ascent, even if it lasts long”. Of course I had to go trough all the phases of a hard redpoint, like anger, frustration and despair. But the words from Lija reminded me to put a smile at the end of a day, and bring home something positive from each visit to Mišja. I was breathing, eating and sleeping with Vizija on my mind for the past two months, and it would be really impossible to endure this process without being positive.

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Vizija is beautiful line, right in the centre of Mišja peč.

Last but not least, this ascent would not be possible without the endless support of my girlfriend Petra. I imagine it’s not easy to live with a totally obsessed climber, but she can sense when the things get serious, and then switches to full support mode. We went numerous times to Mišja before work at ridiculous times, just so that I could give a try or two in the shade. At the end of the April, as Mišja started to feel like an oven, I was ready to stop torturing us, and wait for the winter. But Petra quickly made sure this was out of the question with words: “We will go to Mišja until you climb this thing”. Thank you Petra for being wonderful!

Big thanks goes to our sponsors: Bim Sport d.o.o. and Petzl. Ultra-light Petzl Volta 9.2mm rope was essential to climb up this 30m route, without feeling any rope drag!

I almost forgot to mention, happy birthday bro! What a great timing to climb a route, one day before my brother’s birthday 🙂

Enjoy photo gallery by Luka Tambača – big thanks mate!