I always loved climbing history, especially the early days of sport climbing. This is a republish (with small edits) of the The BOLFA Newsletter article:”A window on the past: The formative years of of cutting edge rock climbing by Steve Kelly”. Note: text was minimally modified, and mages were added with personal preference and due credits. . Hope you enjoy the stories! Published with kind permission from Climbing Club of South Australia.
Back in 1980 the small world of cutting-edge rock climbing was mainly a world of hard-end trad routes and skimpy multi-coloured tights. Top climbers of the day were names such as Carrigan, Fawcett, Bachar, Yaniro and Edlinger – and thus unsurprisingly the hardest routes of the day were mainly their own creations.
If you wanted to make a name for yourself, then you could do no better than visit Wales (Tremadog & Gogarth), the US (Joshua Tree) or Australia (Arapiles) – all three destinations responsible for harbouring the hardest climbs in the world at the time.
The level at this time was hovering around grade 7b+, with only half a dozen routes having been labelled a harder grade. Routes considered to be the top of their class were things like Strawberries (7b+), Yesterday (then 7b+), The Phoenix (7c), Equinox (7b) and Supercrack (7b) – the latter three all residing in the States.
Very unknown at the time and somewhat largely ignored due to the tactics used on the first ascent (probably the first true redpoint of any route) was Tony Yaniro’s line Grand Illusion – which at first was given 5.12+ – but later regarded as 5.13b/c (8a/a+) – a route WAY ahead of its time.
Australia was holding its own – mainly due to the efforts of the hard working Kim Carrigan, but also due to people like Mark Moorhead and Mike Law – who were both operating in the 7b grade bracket (2 grades off the world standard).
Probably the most famous climber of the time however was Patrick Edlinger – a French superstar – notably because he had struck a deal with a television producer and had a film made of himself – climbing (and sometimes soloing) routes in the Verdon Gorge and environs. Edlinger though – wasn’t just any old climber – he was one of the most naturally gifted.
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 preference and due credits.
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’.
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).
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).
- Rock Climbing at Stoney Middleton in the 1970s – Part I
- Rock Climbing at Stoney Middleton in the 1970s – Part II
- Rock Climbing at Stoney Middleton in the 1970s – Part III (more on Little Plum FA in this one)
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.
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).
This year 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.
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.
1985 and Moffatt went out of action – due to a reported bout of tendonitis and later – a motorbike accident – putting him out for nearly 2 whole years. The French took over the helm and went to work. They produced Chouca (8b) (Marc Le Menestrel) (the first 8b in France – now down to 8a+); and Les Braves Gens (8b) by J.B Tribout – but the really big news was Tribout’s and Antoine Le Menestrel’s visit to the UK – whereupon Le Menetrel free soloed Revelations! The equivalent in today’s money is like going out and soloing a 9a!
Bigger news still however – was yet another grade increase, this time from German contender Mr. Gullich. Gullich flew over to Australia and over the period of 6 days eastablished Punks In the Gym – at a whopping 8b+. The line had already been prepared by Swiss climber Martin Scheel (who made the 3rd ascent of India) – but hitherto unclimbed. Gullich had once again broken the mould.
So what were the States doing back then? Well the top route belonged to Alan Watts – who got major flack by partially bolting the fantastic line of East Face of Monkey Face (8a+/b).
The remainder of the ‘80’s belonged to the lycra-clad limestone power climber though – and arguably it hasn’t changed since. ’86 was the year of the 8b with French creations such as La Mission (8b) and Sortileges (8b) by Didier Raboutou and the ultra-classic La Rose et la Vampire (8b), and La Rage de Vivre (8b+) by Antoine Le Menestrel (the latter considered to be harder than Punks). Le Minimum (8b+ – now 8c due to a hold break) was then put up by Marc Le Menestrel. Ghettoblaster (then 8b+ – now hard 8b) was Germany’s contribution (Gullich again), whilst To Bolt or Not To Be (8b+) was the first 8b+ to be put up in the States (by a Frenchman no less!)
Ben Moon continued making a name for himself with Zeke the Freak (8b) in the UK, and German Stefan Glowacz completed Carrigan’s old project of Lord of the Rings (8b). He then makes the coveted 2nd ascent of Punks. Visiting Frenchie Didier Raboutou flashes Carrigan’s masterpiece Masada (8a) – making this possibly the hardest flash in the world.
1987 was again – a big year. America briefly woke up when Scott Franklin made the first American repeat of ‘To Bolt’ (8b+). Peter Croft onsighted The Phoenix (7c) and then (very impressively) establishes The Sword (8a) onsight. Over in Europe Gullich climbs a line that he calls Wall Street – but then another climber drills one of the pockets larger to allow him to utilise it. Gullich returns, fills the pocket in altogether, and re-establishes Wall Street – now regarded as the world’s first route of grade 8c (then regarded as only 8b+).
In France the pace goes off, and routes of grade 8b+ are consolidated with creations such as Silence (8b+) (Antoine Le Menestrel); Coup de Bambou (8b+) (Didier Raboutou); Toit de Auguste (8b+) (Patrick Berhault); and Les Specialists (8b+) and Le Spectre du sur Mutant (8b+) , both by J.B Tribout.
Big news is the return to climbing by Jerry Moffatt, who after 6 months of getting back into it travels over to France and sends the hardest known routes there with both Le Minimum (8b+) and Rage (8b+). Also in France Lyn Hill pays a visit and ticks both Laisse Dire (7c) and Papy On-Sight (7c) in the same day.
Back in her homeland, Scott Franklin establishes the first 8b+ by an American (Scarface) in 1988 – whilst Ron Kauk makes second American repeat of ‘To Bolt’ (8b+). By now the 6 top routes in the world are known as ‘the Smith Trifecta’ and ‘the Buoux Trifecta’ – with Smith Rocks harbouring White Wedding (8b+), To Bolt Or Not To Be (8b+) and Scarface (8b+), and Buoux accomodating Le Minimum (8b+), La Rage du Vivre (8b+) and Le Spectre du sur Mutant (8b+). Incredibly, Moffatt ticks the Buoux trifecta, then travels to the USA and knocks over the Smith Trifecta as well – the first person to do so. He then travels to Germany and establishes then what is thought to be Germany’s hardest route – Stonelove (8b+).
Hot on his heels though is Ben Moon – who within a week repeats the Buoux Trifecta – before concentrating on an undone open project on the seriously overhung wall of the Bout de Monde.
Back in ol’ blighty Australia the first 8b+’s go up with the likes of Cry Freedom (8b+) (Mark Leach) – a 46 day first ascent epic, and the much shorter (in length and time) Mecca (8b+) by Martin Atkinson.
A return to France and Catherine Destivelle redpoints Chouca (8b) – making that the hardest redpoint by a female to date. Stefan Glowacz onsights Sceance Tenante (8a) in the Verdon, and new boy Yuji Hiriyama onsights Orange Mechanique (8a) at Cimai. Clearly standards had risen quite a bit!
1989 sees the first true appearance of Robyn Erbesfield – when she redpoints Churning in the Wake (7c) at Smith Rock. Robyn over the next several years dominates the world cup circuit. Jim Karn (America’s top climber at the time) onsights Power (8a) at Smith – making it the hardest American onsight to date.
But 1989 belongs to a dreadlocked Sheffield resident named Ben Moon. He completes the much tried open project at Buoux – calling it Agincourt and grading it 8c – the first confirmed route of its grade in the world. He then goes one step further and completes yet another French project – Maginot Line – grading it ‘easy 8c’ – but still 8c. Patrick Edlinger steps in and makes the second ascent of Maginot – confirming the grade. Obviously in fine form – he then free-solo’s his own route Orange Mechanique (8a), and puts up Are You Ready? (8b+).
World Indoor Champion Isabelle Patisser comes outside and strikes one for the ladies with ascents of Echographie (8a+) and Sortileges (8b) – the latter being the hardest ascent by a female climber to date. Didier Raboutou ups the ante in onsight climbing by sending Pipe Line (8a+).
Little known German Guido Kostermeyer makes the 2nd ascent of Wall Street (8c), though this is hardly noticed in the press at the time.
Not surprisingly, 1990 arrived and with it another super route – this time by Jerry Moffatt. Not content to be a top competitor climber indoors – he visited Lower Pen Trywn and sent his long standing project Liquid Amber (8c). Thought nowadays to be closer to 8c+, this line still sees very few suitors.
Next up was another addition by that dreadlocked fiend – Ben Moon. This time he had chosen a project much closer to home (and only 10 seconds from the car) by working an old aid line on the severly overhanging buttress of Raven Tor. The result was a 8m route named Hubble – and given the unprecedented grade of 8c+. Hubble was entirely different from the routes that had been established previously (especially in France) – as it was a total power route relying on previously unheard of bouldering talent. Literally 6 moves long (the business) – Moon was perfectly suited to it – and to date it has still only had a small number of repeats.
Of a thoroughly different nature was Johnny Dawes’s 70 degree slab route called The Very Big and the Very Small – graded 8c. This – 15 years later – has still only been repeated twice, and is arguably one of the the hardest true slabs in the world.
Over in France Lynn Hill makes the first female ascent of an 8b+ (Mass Critique); and Yuji Hiriyama onsights Neophypt (8a+), whilst Francois Legrand onsights Zenith (8a+).
Thus by the end of the ‘80’s that standard had risen from 7b+ to 8c – with the borderline being Moon’s route Hubble at 8c+. Yo yo tactics were out – in favour of redpointing, and climbs had gotten steeper and steeper (with the exception of Dawes’s offering!)
Bolts had been accepted as standard gear throughout Europe (to a lesser degree in the UK) – and America (and Australia) still held out from a more ‘traditionalist’ point of view. Jerry Moffatt was regarded s the most influential climber of the decade (deservedly so), whilst his fellow citizen (Ben Moon) had broken a lot of boundaries himself with just sheer power. Germany had produced its own monster in the form of Wolfgang Gullich – who took the grading scale and produced the first 8b, 8b+ and (later to be known) 8c. But the big news was still to come – the following year.
1990 – 2000
So by the end of 1990, the world had its first route graded 8c+, courtesy of a 8m offering in the UK. It was big news, for it was an unprecedented grade – and a route that would stand the test of time and see only 4 repeats in the next 14 years. Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before another climb came to challenge it in the difficulty stakes – and this time it was Germany’s turn.
Aktion Direkt (originally UIAA XI) (or 8c+/9a) was the product of Wolfgang Gullich in 1991. The line had been a project of local Milan Sykora – though his vision was of a slightly different path up the same radically overhanging bulge. Gullich set to work on the project but chose instead to take a direct finish straight through the business. To do this, he specifically trained 1-finger pockets, but more importantly started a campus boarding regime that up until then, was unheard of.
To train for the route, Gullich (amongst other exercises) trained plyometrics – specifically on one-finger first joint edges. This involved dropping down and catching his weight using one-finger of each hand – then springing back up to the next rung. Clearly this type of training helped him, because he went on to climb the route over a period of 8 days (spread over a significantly longer period). Being only 15 moves long – this was easily comparable to Moon’s power route ‘Hubble’. Moon himself concurred with the grade after attempting a repeat, coming off the 13th move on linkage before retiring with an injured finger.
Nowadays ‘Action’ is regarded as being the first 9a, with Hubble coming in at hard 8c+ (though it must be noted that the latter has had significantly less repeats). On the onsight front, Didier Raboutou walked up Space Camp (8a+), bringing the on- sight grade ever closer to 8b.
The well known Frenchman Jibe Tribout – well accustomed to raising the bar in terms of grades outside his homeland, returned to Smith Rocks (US) and got to work on an old Alan Watts project – the extension of the 5.13c (8a+) route ‘Just Do It’. By linking this lower section into the hitherto unclimbed upper purple band of rock on the Monkey Face – he created America’s first route of 5.14c (8c+) standard – and arguably the hardest endurance route in the world at 45m long. Not surprisingly, he got shot down by many of Europe’s top climbers who thought that Jibe wasn’t capable of such a grade at the time – but given the route was like climbing a grade 8a+ to a 8b+ with a good rest in-between (off a slopey jug with no feet) – it remained the US’s first 5.14c.
Over in the UK, virtual ‘unknown’ Scottish climber upped his personal best redpoint level from 8a+ (Malham’s Magnetic Fields) to 8c+ when he stunned the climbing scene by making the much sought after second ascent of route ‘Hubble’. Rumour had it that success came after his brother had done two moves of one of Malcolm’s home board problems back in Dumbarton. Malcolm returned home, sent the entire problem with a sit-start – then went back to Hubble and quick success. The home-board boulder problem was later recognised as being probably the first V14 (Fb 8b+) in UK history (albeit on wood!). Not content with this though, and being a training addict, Smith changed his regime and returned to Hubble yet again 6 months later – this time repeating the route 3 times and doing the crux statically. Clearly here was a man that knew how to get strong!
Over on the continent, Slovenian Tadej Slabe made big news by claiming one of the world’s first 8c+’s (34’s) with Za Staro Kolo in Majhnega Psa (8c+). A couple of years later the route gained notoriety for two reasons. 1). It repelled the likes of bouldering maestro Fred Nicole, and 2). the second ascentionist found an easier sequence, prompting Slabe to chip the newly discovered holds off and force his original line.
In Austria a young Alex Huber finally clipped the chain on his 45m project dubbed ‘Om’ – giving it 8c+. Three years later this rating was up-graded to 9a based on his own experiences with more than four more routes of 8c+ grade over the intervening years. To date it remains repeated only by Adam Ondra, and he suggested the grade 9a+. Interestingly, in retrospect this seems to be the first route of the grade 9a+, climbed back in the 90s!
Carles Brasco, one of Spain’s best climbers, established L’Odi Social (8c) at Suirana. Later it was to see a broken hold at the crux – and remain un-ascended until the Swiss climber Elie Cheveaux re-climbed the route some years later (taking only 5 tries) and upping the grade to 8c+ in the process.
Jerry Moffatt meanwhile made the trip down to Mt Arapiles and after falling off Anxiety Neurosis (7b) for his first route, made the fastest ascent (first redpoint) of Punks In the Gym (8b+) in a super-fast two days, confirming the grade. He also added Zorlac the Destroyer (8b) (the long thought of direct finish to Slinkin’ Leopard) and made onsights of Straight Outta Compton (7c) and You’re Terminated (7c+/8a) (then both given 8b). But the big news was his onsight of Serpentine (8a) in 35 degree conditions.
Making headlines in 1993 was Lynn Hill, who freed The Nose in Yosemite Valley over four days. She labels it 5.13b (8a) (VI) and launches the amusing ad campaign ‘It Goes Boys!’ for Boreal.
Swiss climber Fred Nicole – already more famous for his bouldering exploits – makes the first ascent of Bain De Sang – giving it 9a. The route is unique amongst top-graded routes, as it is described as merely ‘vertical’. This is the 3rd route proposed as 9a at the time.
In Italy Severino Scassa sends Noia (8c+), making this the hardest Italian route to date. He then backs this up by on-sighting Sarre 2000 (8a+/b) – probably the hardest onsight made to date. Competition climber Suzi Good steps off the plastic and ventures outside, with the result that she sends No Sika, No Crime (8b+) at Lehn (back in her home- land of Switzerland). This equals the top female grade (made by Lynn Hill some 2 years previously).
Robyn Erbesfield however – the best female competition climber of all time to date (and World Champion), also steps out from the confines of the gym and ups the ante with redpoints of Silence (8b+) and Attention Vous Regard (8b+) – both in France.
But ’93 was to be an even bigger year still. Swiss climber Elie Chevieux breaks through the onsight barrier by making the first onsight ascent of a route confirmed at 8b with Les Liasions Dangereuses in France. Alex Huber added another 8c+ to his tally by climbing the first ascent of Gambit – later repeated and confirmed by Austrian climber Stefan Furst.
Also in Austria unknown strongman at the time Klem Loskot finds his way up Another Mans Woman (8c). This being just the first of many top-end ascent made by the Austrian over the next decade.
Britain meanwhile keeps up to date with The Sea of Tranquility (given 8c by Ben Moon). The route is now accepted as being solid 8c+, having only had one repeat in 13 years by 2006. Over in Yorkshire, Dr. Tony Mitchell solves the open project of True North (8c).
Fred Rouhling climbs a new route dubbed ‘Hugh’ at Les Eaux Claires – a very pocketed, short crag on the western side of France. The route is heavily manufactured and reportedly involves only 15 moves in the space of 25 metres – with a 2.4m dyno at the crux. Rouhling declines to grade it – but then controversly grades it some 3 years later – calling it 9a. The ascent goes unreported in the European press.
The impressive Italian climber Severino Scassa meanwhile comes up with the goods on Ben Moon’s famous route Maginot Line (8c), making the first one-day repeat of the route (and of the grade). Over in sunny old Spain, Stefan Glowacz pulled his finger out of the mono’s of Public Enemy (8b) to onsight it.
1994 comes along and the future of hard onsighting is given a preview when Elie Chevieux repeats I Am A Bad Man (8b+) second go at Smith Rock.
Alex Huber show’s he’s really the man to beat by putting up Weisse Rose (8c+) and Black Power (8c+) at Schelierwasserfall. Both climbs remained unrepeated for years – and the grades are currently closer to 9a. Obviously on a roll, he then later goes onto ascend La Rambla L1 (8c+) in Spain.
Prior to this however, top Spanish climber Bernabe Fernandez puts up Mojabe (8c+) – but not before drilling two of its pockets to fit his fingers. Nevertheless, this makes it the first 8c+ in the country, with the 2nd one coming shortly after- ward at the hands of 19 year old Dani Andrada with Onda Vital (8c+) (an old Fernandez project).
In the UK, Ruth Jenkins climbs harder than any other English woman by sending the hardest 8a+ in the Peak District – with Caviar (8a+) at Rubicon, taking 10 days.
Over the pond in France, JB Tribout puts up the hardest route there with Super Plafond – giving it 9a, but then immediately downgrading it to 8c+. The route climbs the first half of Moon’s Maginot Line (considered 8c) – then finishes as for Terminator (8b) via a series of glued on holds.
Undoubtedly however the biggest news in the world of climbing is the re-ascent of The Nose in Yosemite Valley by Lynn Hill – only this time in a single day (23 hours). The ascent is applauded – but the real significance of the achievement remains somewhat clouded for another 12 years – until it receives its second ascent. The grade is now considered as being 5.14a (8b+) – with the Great Roof pitch being 5.13c (8b).
1995 dawns and with it so does the ‘comeback trail’ of Jerry Moffatt. Moffatt fresh out of injury makes quick work of the long term open project ‘Progress’ (8c+). He then dispenses with Seans Roof (giving it 8c – later downgraded to 8b+) – but his big contribution is his 4 years project Evolution (given 8c+ – now regarded as 8c/c+).
Mark Leach – better known as the mutantly strong man responsible for putting up Britain’s first 8b+ in 1988 – repeats Sean’s Roof (8b+) – then does so again – only this time without a rope – making it the hardest free-solo ever made. Ruth Jenkins also gets in on the act – upping her best to 8b with Zeke The Freak.
Bigger than any news worldwide however is the appearance of French climber Fred Rouhling (for the first time in print) – who causes considerable controversy by claiming the world’s hardest route with Akira – at the unprecedented grade of 9b. This is 2 grades harder than anything else that had been climbed to date. The ascent is condemned by top climbers around the world and regarded as a hoax – particularly given Rouhling’s track record (no repeats at the top level). The route is also an obscurity – starting as it does via an unroped and unbolted boulder problem never more than 4m off the ground – then eventually finishing up a bolted headwall worth 8a.
Elie Chevieux makes headlines by making the first onsight ascent of a route given 8b+ with the heavily chipped French line of Massey Fergusson.
Over in Germany – big news comes in the 1st repeat of Gullich’s Action Direct (9a) by relative unknown German climber Alex Adler. Also in Germany a new name springs up with Toni Lamprecht, who makes first ascents of Das Ramayana (8c+), Chaos in Pulumbia (8c+).
Klem Loskot again impresses with Hunta Yo (8c+) and Mandala (8c+) in Austria (though he remains a virtual unknown until he makes the 2nd ascent of Radja – Nicole’s V14/Fb 8b+ , whilst Fred Nicole himself stops bouldering for a while to tie into a rope and send Non a la Bombe (8c+) in Switzerland.
1996 will be remembered for the year that a 15 year old American climber sent 7 routes of grade 8b+ or harder in a 3 week period. The person responsible was Chris Sharma, who first attacked Tony Yaniro’s Mt Charlestone route Closing Down (8b+), before walking into Logan Canyon and polishing off Super Tweek (8c) in a super fast 2 days (fastest ascent to date). He goes onto put up The Sharma Link Up (8c), as well as Full Slugfest (8b+), Throwin the Hoolihan (8b+), Lungfish (8b+), Zulu (8b+ – first ascent) and The Seven PM TV Show (8b+).
Also in the States Mia Axon becomes one of the few women to redpoint a 8b+ with Planet Earth (8b+) in the Virgin River Gorge.
Austria again is home to yet another Alex Huber creation – this time Open Air (9a) – a route he calls his hardest to date. Adam Ondra repeated the route and proposed a grade of 9a+. Klem Loskot meanwhile claims Hantillio (9a) (again – unreported at the time).
On a visit to Spain, Swiss climber Elie Chevieux onsights Maldita Maria (8b+) (originally given 8c), then goes onto send the first re-ascent of L’Odi Social, giving it (8c+) and taking only 5 tries.
Wales sees the first 9a established in Britain, this time at the hands of ‘the walking muscle’ Neil Carson. It is a line that was previously dismissed by Jerry Moffatt as being ‘impossible’. Carson labels it 9a – then suggests ‘it’s there to be downgraded’. 10 years later – this route still hasn’t received a second ascent, and the grade remains.
Travelling Aussie Garth Miller makes a splash by onsighting the linkup of Zovirax en La Empire des Sens (8b) (Volx – France), as well as Move Your Body (8b) (Burs – Austria), Dungeon Master (8b) (Nowra) and Better Than Life (8b) (Blue Mountains) (now considered 8b+). He also redpoints harder than any other Australian to date with ascents of Ou Tuera Tous les Altreux (8c) in just two days.
JB Tribout gets in on the act with an onsight ascent of Skyline (8b) – also at Burs in Austria.
The so far unknown female climber Josune Bereziartu redpoints her first route of 8b+ with Fettuchini (8b+), whilst fellow countryman (and world bouldering champion) Pedro Pons onsights Karnuz (8b).
Switzerland again is home to a Fred Nicole creation – this time L’enfant du Boheme (8c+).
And finally, in France Arnaud Petit at last sends the first half of the big project line at Ceuse with the first section of Biographie – giving it 8c (now considered 8c+). The route ends at an arbitrary lower off point halfway up the wall, and has another piece of reportedly F8c above it – making it a futuristic project for anyone willing (or able) enough.
Chris Sharma puts up Necessary Evil at the Virgin River Gorge in March. The line was a long term project – previously worked on by Boone Speed who managed to climb both of the sections but failed to redpoint the entire route. Speed’s estimation that it was like climbing a 8b+ into another 8b+ was confirmed by Sharma – who sent the V11/Fb 8a start fairly quickly, but took 8 days to link the whole route together. Prior to this the longest he had taken to do any route was 3 days.
For a comparison, he visited Smith Rock – home to America’s hardest route up until then, and sent Just Do It (first American repeat) in 3 days – famously taking his beanie and then top off during the actual redpoint. He commented that Just Do It was like climbing a 8b to a good rest – followed by a 8b+ – whereas his own Necessary Evil was like climbing a 8b+ to a bad rest (a four finger edge a pad in depth) – to another 8b+. Clearly his route was harder!
Fourth of July (8a+) is the hardest onsight by a woman (Katie Brown). In Spain she ticks Eau de Colonne (8b) second try. Vogue (8c) is a new route by up and coming Tommy Caldwell in the US.
Australian Garth Miller visits the States and onsights Cannibals Direct (8b+) at American Fork – a V9 direct start to Tribout’s route Cannibals (8b). Whilst in the Salt Lake area he also has time for an onsight of Sideshow Bob (8a+/b), and redpoints of Higer Water (8b+), Dead Souls (8b/b+) and Body Count (8b). He puts up The Miller Link Up (8c) and makes the second ascent of Sharma’s Link Up (8c) at Logon Canyon. He also onsights the powerful Timmy Farfield line of Child of the Light (8b) in New Mexico (originally 8b+).
Still with the States and Sharma returns to Charleston to finish off some old Yaniro projects – this time ticking off Facile (8c) – a V6/Fb 7a extension to Closing Down (8b+), Legend of the Overfiend (8c), and the harder Hasta La Vista (8c/c+). He also finds time to flash Read My Lips (8b).
Back in Australia, Miller makes the first ascents of Nicotine (8b+) and Mr Carpet Burn (8b+) – both now downgraded to 8b.
Spanish press publish a 4 page spread on Bernabe Fernandez new route Orujo (9a) – calling it perhaps the hardest line in the country. The route has 4 bolt-on-holds – yet this fact is glossed over in favour of the difficulty. Fernandez’s friend Dani Andrada makes the first repeat of Huber’s La Rambla (8c+).
Germany’s Marietta Uhden repeats Happy Biceps to You (8b+) in Austria, adding to the tally of women that have climbed this grade. Over in nearby Austria, Klem Loskot establishes Intermezzo (9a) and Victims of Illusion (8c+). Intermezzo is slightly controversial as the 3rd bolt is pre-clipped for the ascent. Spanish climber Josune Bereziartu repeats Ultime Atome (8b+) in the Verdon Gorge.
Chris Sharma travels to France and makes the second ascent of Biographie (8c+) at Ceuse, and then starts work on the extension to that route. He also repeats Chronique de la Haine Ordinnaire (8c) second try and falls off the final hold of Le Spectre (8b+) on an onsight attempt. Amazingly one morning he also does Le Cadre (8c) as a warm up.
La Coutte de Obscur (8c+) and Mortal Kombat (8c/c+) are put up by a new name in French climbing – Axel Franco. Mortal Kombat is later to see a severe downgrading to 8b+ after being onsighted. Also in France Fred Rouhling re-appears and puts up L’autre Cote de la Ciel – giving it 9a. Again, the route is at his local crag and heavily manufactured.
In the UK, Jerry Moffatt’s route Evolution (8c+) gets a 2nd ascent at the hands of Steve McClure – who calls it 8c. Japan’s Dai Koyamada repeats Frances’ Bronx (8c+) in six tries over two days (fastest ascent to date).
1998 sees Josune Bereziartu climb her third route of 8b+ with No Name in Mallorca. Four months later she becomes the first woman to redpoint 8c with Honky Tonky. Fellow Spanish climber Bernabe Fernandez re-ascends his route Orujo (9a) this time without 3 of the 4 bolt on holds used on the first ascent. He claims the modified route as being 9a+.
Klem Loskot flashes Short Circuit (8b+) in South Africa – describing it as one of the most amazing limestone tufa routes in the world – with 20m of stalactite climbing through a roof. Back home he makes the first ascent of Vakuumgeist, describing it as two V12 boulder problems stacked together and giving it 9a. Necessary Evil (8c+) in the US receives its second ascent by Tommy Caldwell – who doesn’t argue with the grade.
In Australia Punks Addiction (8b+) is the hardest route at Arapiles courtesy of Dave Jones – and was a long thought of open project that links the crux of Pretty In Punk into Punks In the Gym.
Steve McClure redpoints Evolution (8c/c+) five times in one day whilst working his extension project. He also adds Funky Whore (8c+) and Bingo (8c) – the long awaited extension to Mecca (8b+). Later in the year, he redpoints his project (a 35ft extension to Evolution) and dubs it Mutation (9a).
Smalto Direct (8c+) is a new addition to the hard routes of Italy by Alberto Gnerro, but not quite as hard as Manfred Stuffer’s new route Underground (9a), also in Italy.
Vitamania (9a) is put up by Andreas Bindhammer, which quickly receives a 2nd ascent by Axel ‘the Monster’ Franco and downgraded to 8c/c+. In Spain Josune Bereziartu redpoints the power-endurance routes White Zombie (8c) and Ras (8c).
In the US, Katie Brown onsights Omaha Beach (8b/5.13d) making this the hardest female onsight ascent to date. 17 year old Dave Graham visits Charleston and sends Hasta La Vista (8c/c+) in 3 days, then Legend of the Overfiend and Facile (both 8c). Kryptonite (9a) is the new offering by Tommy Caldwell in the States – the first route of its grade in America.
Fred Nicole’s Swiss route Elfe (9a) receives a second ascent by Klem Loskot in two days, suggesting a 9a grade (since downgraded to 8c).
Biggest news coming out of the UK is the eventual first ascent of ‘Ben’s Project’ aka Northern Lights (9a). The man responsible is Steve McClure, who takes a slightly different approach between 2 of the bolts and makes the first ascent after 15 days of work. The route had repelled the likes of not only Ben Moon (who managed to climb it from the 2nd bolt to the top – but also Scottish strongman Malcolm Smith (who could only manage it from the 3rd. The line has now been described as being a power-endurance affair involving climbing a 8c+ into a 8b, then finishing on easy (relatively speaking) grade 7b terrain with no rests.
In Switzerland Eric Talmadge puts up Im Reich Des Shogun, also giving it 9a. Long time World Cup champion Francois Legrand dispenses with his project at Les Goudes (France) to give ‘Robi In the Sky’ (9a) named after his late grandfather. The route is a massive endurance affair taking the most prised line up the guts of the cliff, and involves only a ‘desperate rest’ on a rounded undercling at the halfway mark.
Dave Graham puts up The Fly – a 2 bolt line (25 feet) worth 9a. The route is now considered by many to be a hard V13 boulder problem. Tomasz Oleksy meanwhile over in Poland ascends Tysiac Kotletow, also giving it 9a – making this the hardest route in that country.
So another 10 years goes by in the climbing world, and not surprisingly standards were raised yet again – though more to do with consolidation by a number of climbers, rather than just grade breakthroughs. At the start of the ‘90’s Action Direct (9a) and Hubble (8c+) were the two top routes in the world, with not a lot else challenging them. This changed dramatically through the decade with first ascent of numerous routes given 8c+ or 9a, and even one climb claimed as being 9b!
By 2000 it was thus clear that 9a was well and truly on the table (having been around for nearly ten years by that stage), and it wasn’t going to be long before something even harder was established. As it was, the major climbing countries of the US, France, the UK, Italy, Switzerland, Spain and Austria harboured routes of grade 9a – with the 2 exceptions being Fred Rohling’s route Akira (given 9b) and Spain’s Bernabe Fernandez line Orujo (given 9a+).