Interview: Adam Ondra on Completing the World’s First 9a+/5.15a Flash
It wasn’t even six months ago that Ondra wowed with the world’s first 5.15d redpoint. Now he has pushed the sport in a different way, making the world’s first flash of a 5.15 by sending Supercrackinette on his first go.
It’s difficult to come up with new superlatives to describe the seemingly endless ways that Adam Ondra manages to push the limits in climbing. So suffice it to say that, once again, Ondra has blown the paradigm away. This past weekend, he tied into the rope at the bottom of Supercrackinette, a 9a+ (5.15a), at Saint-Léger, in the South of France. Mere minutes later, he was clipping the chains, capping the world’s first ever flash of a 9a+.
Alex Megos made the first ascent of Supercrackinette in October 2016. Notably, it took him three days of work, a non-trivial amount of time for the young German to spend on a 5.15a, considering he dispatched Biographie, one of the benchmark climbs of the grade, in just three tries on a single day.
Ondra’s flash of Supercrackinette is the most recent example of one-upmanship in his and Megos’ battle for the king of quick sends over the past five years. Megos made the world’s first 9a (5.14d) onsight in March 2013, when he sent Estado Critico in Siurana Spain.
Ondra then made the next three 9a onsights, climbing in one try each: Cabane au Canada, in Rawyl, Swizerland in July 2013; Il Domani, in Baltzola, Spain in May 2014; and TCT, in Gravere, Italy in July 2014.
Megos matched Ondra’s onsight of TCT by repeating the feat in May 2017.
While Supercrackinette is the first 5.15a ever flashed, Ondra flashed Southern Smoke Direct in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge in October 2012, and, though considered 5.15a at the time, Ondra downgraded the route to 5.14d, where the consensus has now settled.
Below, find an exclusive interview with Ondra about Supercrackinette.
Q&A With Adam Ondra
Congrats on the huge send, Adam. How long has a 9a+ (5.15a) flash been on your mind?
I mean, I think when I was back in Céüse in 2008, and I was looking at Biographie (or Realization, whatever you want to call it!). Already back then I was kind of tempted to give it a try. And then I just had the idea that maybe I should save the route for a flash. At that moment most people I knew thought it was a ridiculous idea.
I ended up trying [Biographie] in 2012, but it was just too hard for me.
Then I kind of ran out of the good routes for a 9a+ flash at that point. There aren’t that many [9a+ routes out there], and I’d already done or tried most of them.
I tried Selección Anal, which is 9a+ in Santa Linya, Spain, in 2014. And I was very close. I don’t think it’s a reference 9a+ though. I think it’s an easy 9a+ or hard 9a [5.14d]. But it didn’t really matter anyway because I fell.
After that I didn’t have any route in my mind that would be the perfect candidate. But then I was in Saint-Léger in France in 2015. [Supercrackinette] was still a project then. The local guys told me it could be 9a, but then Alex Megos made the FA in 2016 and gave it a grade of 9a+.
It’s a stunning line and it was 9a+ certified by Alex Megos himself. So flashing it became a big goal right from that moment.
What made you think Supercrackinette would be such a good candidate for a flash?
It doesn’t look like super tricky climbing. It looked like small crimpy incuts, which is the kind of climbing I like. The main difficulty is power endurance. The route is maybe 20 meters long, but the core of the climbing is even shorter because the last four or five meters aren’t that hard. The hard part is 28 moves with my beta.
The individual moves aren’t super hard, but the hard thing about it is it’s really hard to even chalk up. You have to just keep going, and the whole climb is draining you, and your fingers just want to open.
How do you prepare for something like this, mentally and physically?
I was training at home for this route, doing lots of power endurance. I was kind of thinking that my friend Seb Bouin would show me the beta, because though he’s never done the route he tried it a few times. But he wasn’t sure he could give me the best beta since it’s been a while since he tried it.
But Seb knows this guy Quentin Chastagnier—I’d never met him before. He worked on the route for quite a long time some years ago [and bolted it originally]. Never got super close, but he knew the route super well. So he came [to Saint-Léger] specifically just to show me the route.
That kind of increased the pressure: it was a good thing that I had the perfect man to show me the beta, but at the same time Quentin was there just for me; the camera crew arrived just for this try; and more people involved in the filming were there.
We had arrived in Saint-Léger two weeks before. Most of the crag was wet except for [Supercrackinette]. Even though it was dry, I knew it wouldn’t be a very good idea to give it a try on the first day. Wanted to get accustomed to the local climbing.
But at the same time all the other interesting projects were semi-wet. Some of them had 9a+ question-mark grades in the guidebook, and I’d keep falling, and so I was having doubts of whether I could flash a 9a+.
As you learned the beta from Quentin, did you try to memorize the moves? How did you know if his beta would work for you?
The hard part was even though Quentin was just showing we me the moves, he couldn’t link the sections [when he was projecting it], so I couldn’t tell which moves were the ones where I’d be able to stop and shake out for a few seconds.
It’s really important to visualize the rhythm of the route in power endurance routes. There are no real rests, so you have to invent your own rests and tiny shake outs for half a second or a second. So I’d ask Quentin about every hold: if it was slopey or incut, or if he thought I might be able to shake out for a second or lock off or something. So I’d try to visualize what the rhythm and speed of each section would be.
How did everything feel while you were actually climbing?
The bottom was great. Especially my mental mode was awesome. As I said, the previous days I didn’t have much confidence, and in the end I just told myself, ‘Ok I’ll go for it.’ But I felt really good on my warm-ups, so then I started believing it was possible.
It was the perfect combination of not having high expectations, strong motivation, and still believing it was possible.
Right from the first move I was feeling in the zone, just crushing through the route effortlessly. I don’t even remember much from the actual route.
The first crux move is move 20— it’s a big lockoff from an incut crimp to a mono. This move itself felt great, but right after were two pockets that I had been visualizing to be kind of a rest… at least to chalk up. But Quentin’s fingers are a bit smaller than mine, so I was having a really hard time to dig my fingers in. So this was the sketchiest part for me. Suddenly I was out of my comfort zone.
Then move 28 is the hardest move of the route. It’s like a small left hand two-finger crimp and big move to another right hand crimp. Right as I was getting closer, I had it in my head, “The move is coming. How is it going to be? Am I strong enough or not?” Those are the kinds of things you must not think about when climbing a route like this.
Fortunately, just before this last hard move, I managed to switch off my mind and execute.
You’ve onsighted several 9a’s before this. Is your mental preparation and actual climbing while on the route different for an onsight versus a flash attempt?
It’s different. I would say for me personally, flash is even more difficult in terms of the mind. If you’re onsighting you make certain observations, but you’re just relying on your experience and intuition. But on your flash go you’re relying on the person who gave you the beta… so in order to get into this perfect state of mind, I find it much more difficult.
Even on this route, I made two small changes in my beta for my feet, just because it somehow felt more natural. But besides that I was just climbing exactly according to Quentin’s beta. I wasn’t looking up, I was just only looking for the next hold. And it worked almost exactly as I had visualized except for those two pockets, as I said.
And definitely it’s a 9a+, you think?
It felt hard.I believe it’s a 9a+ because it wasn’t only done by Alex, but also tried by Seb, Cédric Lachat, and Quentin, and they all think it should be a 9a+. I think it’s a solid 9a+.
You have this incredible ability to redpoint the most difficult routes in the world, but also to flash and onsight at harder levels than anyone else out there. Do you prefer one style over the other?
I like everything, because I like to change styles. That’s the most fun. But I believe that the most exceptional ability that I have is the one for onsighting. The ability to make decisions super fast and believe that they are the right ones.
Do you think flashing and onsighting helps your hard projecting and vice versa?
I think good ability to onsight will help you to work on redpoints much faster. Just climbing many, many different routes for onsight attempts makes your skills of movements much wider. In a 40-meter route you have to face many decisions. If you never really onsight and if you only work on a few routes a year, then there’s very few situations where you are forced to find your own perfect beta.
Do you think a 9a+ onsight is something you’re capable of soon?
I think that maybe one day it will be possible for me, but right now I don’t think I’m at that level. Difficult to say whether its harder to onsight a 9a or flash 9a+. In terms of physical ability I think its equal, but for me personally it was harder mentally to flash. Mostly because there are fewer choices of routes!
What’s next for you? You’ve had a pretty incredible six months between Silence (9c/5.15d), plenty of new 9a’s, 9a+’s and 9b’s, and now this.
I think my goal for this year is to climb different routes in different places. For me I feel that I can’t really progress in terms of grade right now. To climb a 9c+ (5.16a) redpoint or 9a+ onsight is not possible right now. But there are different ways I can distinguish if I’ve progressed or not, like doing 9b’s or 9b+’s much faster than in the past.
So that’s the goal now: go different places and find projects around this grade and try to climb them fast. And train. In September it’s going to be world championships and I want to be well prepared.