A report of sorts…

The whole world is on fire. Literally.

California is burning up by the acreage, oil is being pumped from the ground faster than you can say “electricity”, our climbing areas are being taken away from us and the youth are taking climbing standards above and beyond where we ever thought possible. Remember when 5.11 was a pipe dream? I don’t. But I’m sure some of you can, however, I do remember when I could count on my hands and feet the number of 5.14 climbers in North America. Todd Skinner did one, Boone Speed did one, Scott Franklin, Jim Karn, Lynn Hill, Ron Kauk, I think Rock and Ice even published an article about all the 5.14 climbers in the whole world at one point. Imagine trying to tally that today? It would be virtually impossible. There are so many styles and rock types now, that it’s beyond our control. And 5.15 is the next trade grade – are you ready for that?

When I was in the Red two weeks ago, I met Alex Puccio (19) and Carlo Traversi, (both of whom were very friendly folk) but they had power to burn. I saw Carlo (who is astonishingly close in both build and style to Sean McColl) crushing 5.13’s onsight as though he’d climbed them 20 times. And Alex just recently had a better week in Colorado than any female on record, destroying multiple V12’s. I mean really – can V14 be that far off for a woman of her talents?

It’s getting impossible to keep up with these rock stars. Ethan Pringle is learning to place widgets all by himself now and he’s become a major contender for establishing the worlds hardest trad lines, I can only pray that once he’s done with all these repeats, he will be inspired to find some lines of his own and get funky with them. 5.14 is not hard for the young lad Ethan, he should have his sights set on 5.15 trad. He’s incredible motivated right now, I heard he eats nails for breakfast and can dead-hang a matchstick for 30 seconds with one hand, while the other hand crushes bricks. People are starting to figure out that traditional gear actually works. Who knew?

Speaking of trad, check out my personal favorite climber (above), Kevin Jorgeson. Dude just made grit history by climbing the FIRST EVER E9 ground up. Parthian Shot. While there is still room for an onsight attempt, or other such adventures, Kevin is not talking about style, he’s just out there doing what he can, in the best way he can imagine. Ever see this guys’ grip strength? Unless your last name is Sharma, I’m willing to bet it’s higher than yours. These climbers do not have a death wish, they are all very smart and well calculated artists. I never go into a climb thinking I am going to fall and get hurt, I realize the potential for injury and I (like most) enjoy making calculated decisions. It’s fun to take a risk.

While on topic of the golden one; Chris just made the first onsight of Transworld Depravity 5.14a in the RRG. Steve McClure and Carlo Traversi both got past the crux and to the rest, but fell off on easier terrain for unexplainable reasons. I fell off up there as well two weeks back, and vow to return for it is a quality endeavor. Good job Chris, you never cease to amaze me. He also crushed Lucifer 5.14c on his third try and after trying to put words to this, I came up with – WOW.  So when is Chris going to join the 21st century anyway and get himself a blog?  Isn’t it mandatory for pro’s?

Paxti the Spaniard just made quick work of Action Direct, the benchmark for 5.14d, established by the original Rock Star and still my highest form of motivation – Wolfgang Gullich. 5.14d is STILL really freaking hard. I’m not sure a line such as Action Direct has really ever been able to take its place as ‘benchmark’. You see, endurance routes are fantastic, they are long, high off the ground, impressive and of course enduring. But endurance climbs tend to get easier over time, with practice and fitness (I’ve heard numerous rumors that Biography extension has been downgraded, but wtf do I know about it). While a hard route does get easier too with practice, it will ALWAYS be hard. What will be the first BENCHMARK 5.15d? I think what keeps us all in check are the D’s of the planet, not the A’s. Which is good, because I was always better as earning D’s than A’s anyway. Action Direct has had only 10 repeats in its 17 years of existence and I’m pretty certain it is non other than Adam Ondra who holds the fastest ascent time, which leads me to the worlds best climber.

I used to think there was not a worlds best climber. I try to uphold some hippy values and declare that there is no such thing, as long as you are having fun that’s all that matters. Besides, it was hard to claim the worlds best when you take into account of all the different styles of free climbing. But when someone comes along and not only masters all of those styles, but he/she then proceeds to take each level (in each style) and raise the bar substantially, well, then, I think the argument is pretty much over. Adam Ondra is the worlds best free climber. There I said it. I’ve hit rock bottom and I am now condemning myself to my room without desert. The kid, who is still not old enough to drive a car, has climbed in record times – the worlds hardest boulder problems, the worlds hardest sport routes both redpoint and onsight, the hardest multipitch sport routes, the scariest multipitch sport routes and still finds the time to establish new routes at the hardest of grades. I hope he picks up a camming unit soon. Can you say it with me? – Ground Up, Onsight, In a push, All free, The Nose, El Capitan, Yosemite, California, USA (the greatest country on earth).


  • ST, well you’ve done it – nice one. Here’s the leblank take, every generation has a full on (ahead of the current elite) exceptional climber. Chris Sharma certainly was that of your generation. it’s not like DG wasn’t pulling, or yourself, Caldwell, Mike Doyle, but Sharma seemed to do stuff with great ease. Adam Ondra seems to be that of this next generation, and as you know, them euro’s have no sense of boundaries, they just climb and climb whatever. Us North Americans have a few issues, the main one is NA itself and the scene we have evolved from is quite constrained. We do have huge weather issues and travel is long and hard to get to the warm spots. Europe you can be in the Alps, and then cragging in southern france or italy half a day later. Think of how few climbers there were cranking from my generation mid 80’s to the mid 90’s in Canada, little-own North America – and some of actually put up and repeated some of the elite hard routes, Jim Sandford, Scott Milton, Todd Guyn, JD LeBlanc, Bergman’s, Chris Oates (Sp?) all in the 13d to 14- range in the early 90’s. Probably missing some? Each area has it’s own issues which can lead to some difficulties in advancing to the elite level – what’s the cost been to you? Milton’s i think has been pretty high. Look at the small BV area and Punter’s still charging away – his rig’s probably the hardest thing in Canada, as it took DG about the longest to send – his style or not, that DG’s really got no style issues! Derek Galloway’s been plugging away at the mid 14 to 14+ range and he’s got such a small window to climb up here. Our gym’s are not really set for cranking or generating the next elite climbers – this usually is just by pure chance that some get out and send. Sean McCaul (Sp?) seems to be in that elite level of his generation – impressive as he’s got to travel to make it happen and he’s likely got to have financial issues as he’s CDN and a kid. The euro’s really have the edge, they have the rock, weather, support and climbing’s just another sport for the family to do. It’s not some background fringe thing that misfits and dreamers do. There are days when i dream of pushing it, but reality is really 13+ and, that is really just another normal send by some old dude on the first hard route for the elite to warm up on. Don’t get me wrong, as i just came back from 25 days of pulling in Castelbianco Italy and it was super fun and maybe even more fun climbing not as hard, but having a little villa, great food and wine, was really a nice way to spend the time with the wife and meet some other climbers enjoying the pulling and shooting the shit! But man i wish i had kept the fire a bit longer, ’cause some of them 8b and above looked awesome! at least i had the opportunity to climb alot of the hard routes when they were crisp – Utah and Wyoming are pretty beat out now.
    Cheers, jd

  • Dustin

    Sonnie, that fire shot at the top of this blog is SICK!

  • Matt

    Sonnie, first off: I love the blog. It keeps my summer in Squamish in 2001 fresh in the mind while I drone away in an office in the UK, and keeps me motivated to hit the rock at every opportunity. Keep firing away, it makes great reading and I hope to see you on those cliffs someday (no doubt doing some desperate trad route no one else would even consider).

    Just one thing I would say about your call on Adam Ondra. I certainly agree that he IS the best free climber in the world. The caveat I would add to that is “at the moment”. Who knows what kind of freaks are clawing their way out of their prams as we speak? I am certain there are more great climbers to inspire us on the way.

    Keep rocking on!

  • elias

    yeah we have pretty exciting times ahead, and a bunch of crazy guys who wanna climb it all. Takin’em and enjoying them is the ultimate mission right now. get psyched while we still can!
    hey sonnie you forgot paul robinson….that kid is a beast too.

  • Hi Sonnie,
    Love the site. Thanks for the shout out! I want to give a shout out to the climber pictured on Parthian Shot, Ben Bransby! He motivated me to try the route ground up and is EXTREMELY talented.

    Safe travels,


  • Sonnie

    Hey guys, thanks for all the great comments, E, yes Paul Robinson is a beast, Matt you’re right “at the moment” the sky is the limit to our wonderful pass-time, some 5 year old out there is just itching to be let loose. JD, you still have many good years in you lad, stay focused and get the punter out on the rocks will ya. Dustin, the fire shot was taken at a friends backyard BBQ in Canmore (glad you like it) and I took the photo of Alex during the SLC rooftop comp. Hope she doesn’t mind. As for the other pics, I stole them from google and sometimes they are misquoted. Most of the time, when I can I try to do the honorable thing and connect a link to where I found it and give photo credits. I sincerely apologize if anyone has ever been burned by a mis-quote. Kevin, sorry for the mix up. By the way, nice work over there on the promise, it’s good to have hero’s. I met Ben Bransby for the first time in Imst, Austria during the Junior World Championships in 1997 (11 years ago – yikes). I’m not sure if he recalls meeting me or the Canadian team, but we got right pissed at the pub down the street from our hotel and Leo Houlding nearly got us all beat up by the local riff-raff, or at least that is how I remember it. Yes, Ben is a serious talent, and a good bloke, been stealing headlines for many years. You two stick together, there is no telling where poets such as yourselves (along with Matt and Alex) can take things. If any of you ever come to Squamish this year, I’ll show you some of my new projects, like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

  • Oh man.. It may just happen like we are all hoping for!

    Ground Up, Onsight, In a push, All free, The Nose, El Capitan, Yosemite, California, USA, Earth (The greatest planet in this universe).

    See this interview with Adam Ondra: http://www.belclimb.net/article-details.asp?lgid=1&t=adam-ondra&artID=625&sid=14
    Yosemite is on his wishlist.. Time to get in touch with him and show him what a cam is!