Interview: Jonathan Siegrist Goes Big with Third Ascent of Jumbo Love (5.15b)
Rock and Ice caught up with Siegrist after his send. Read on below the break for the full interview!
Jonathan Siegrist has made the third ascent of the United States’ only confirmed 5.15b, and the first confirmed route of that grade in the world. Chris Sharma made the first ascent of the mammoth, 250-foot Jumbo Love in 2008. Ethan Pringle got the second ascent in 2015 after years of the route foiling his best efforts. And now, after a month of effort, Siegrist has added his name to the ticklist, keeping it—at least for now—an exclusively American club.
Siegrist first tried the route, located at Clark Mountain, California, in 2016. He left with no send, but spent the intervening two years collecting ascents of some of world’s hardest sport routes, including the Pachamama (9a+/b 5.15a/b), Joe Mama (9a+/5.15a), Chaxi (9a+) and Bone Tomahawk (5.15a).
He returned to Jumbo Love in April this year, and spent several weeks projecting the route when temperatures permitted. Then, today, Siegrist posted on Instagram, “Something like a dream… Jumbo Love.” Professional climbers started responding with messages of awe and congratulations. “[I’m] so happy for you!!,” Margo Hayes wrote; “Dude!! What?!!!,” wrote Matty Hong. And Ethan Pringle, who knows both the mental and physical challenge of Jumbo Love better than anyone, chimed in with caps-heavy message, too: “DUDE!!! WHAAATTT!!!! AAAGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! FUCK YES!!!”
Jumbo Love was the first 5.15b in the world, and is one of just five in the United States. The other U.S.-based 5.15s are: Jaws II (5.15a), in Rumney, New Hampshire, first climbing be Vasya Vorotnikov in 2007; Flex Luthor (5.15a/b?), an unrepeated testpiece established by Tommy Caldwell at the Fortress of Solitude, Colorado, in 2003; and Bone Tomahawk (5.15a) and Life of Villains (5.15a), two Joe Kinder routes near St. George, Utah, which he redpointed in 2016 and 2018, respectively.
Q&A with Jonathan Siegrist
What are the emotions after sending?!
I’m really excited. It’s a route I’ve wanted to do for a long time. In all honesty it’s a route I never imagined i’d be able to do . But it definitely inspired me for a long time. I remember seeing the magazine covers of Chris Sharma ten years ago. It’s quite surreal honestly.
So what was your personal Jumbo Love journey like?
So I tried the route in April of 2016. I can’t remember exactly, but I think I probably spent about ten days trying it. Something like that. And, in all honesty, I was trying the route because I was really fond of being in Las Vegas, and I had heard a lot about it, and I just figured why not check it out. At that point I had climbed a couple of 15a’s so thought it might be time to try something harder.
But it was too hard for me at that time. I never had the sense that I could actually do the route. Even my best try during that campaign I was nowhere near sending. I was making some links and doing all the moves on the route, but I was never close. Really far away.
In the years after, I kind of wrote the route off, thinking it might just be too hard for me. And I continued to pursue other things. But it stayed on my mind. When I moved to Vegas this winter, at least part of the driving reason for moving there was to be near Jumbo Love and to have the opportunity to try a route that hard right in my backyard.
I started preparing for the route and thinking more seriously about it. Started training. I chose goal routes in the meantime, like Bone Tomahawk, some other routes around here, and some short bouldery routes in Austin, Texas that I thought would prepare me for Jumbo Love.
Then I started trying the route again about a month ago exactly.
How many days did you climb on Jumbo Love this year?
I think yesterday was my 12th day trying it this year. I’d say [I put in] 25 tries, for sure.
What was the send like? Smooth? Do anything special beforehand? Tie your shoes extra tight, maybe?
I had quite a different process on the route than Chris [Sharma] or Ethan [Pringle] had. Actually Alex Megos was here trying the route about a month ago, as well. And his process was really similar to Ethan’s and Chris’. They were all falling near the top of the route quite frequently at the redpoint crux—only a couple bolts from the lip of the cave.
But there’s a lower crux that has a drop knee and a mono. That one was way harder for me, in part because of my size, and also because I’m just not, like, that good of a boulderer, relatively. So I kind of worked through the route backwards compared to the other guys.
The first try of the day I fell on the low crux like I had already done probably 20 times this year. I made the smallest little tweaks to my beta, took a long rest, and then tried again. I did the low crux and then climbed to the lip—yesterday was the first time I’d ever stuck the lower crux from the ground.
Above the lip there’s probably 70 more feet of climbing, and I had actually just rehearsed that section of the climb on Monday for the first time this season. So I was really grateful I had, because even still it was really stressful and quite a bit harder than I expected. It’s probably about 13b or c, but the route is so physical and long that, by the time you’re up there, even the 5.11 sections felt really hard. I probably spent half an hour on just that upper part of the route. I was probably on the route for 50 minutes total.
Would you say Jumbo Love fits your style?
The whole route does not suit a small climber at all, but the two cruxes particularly are really unfavorable if you’re under 5’8”.
My training this winter was with this route in mind, but if i was to choose a route that was the next level for me, Jumbo Love wouldn’t have been that smart of a choice. It doesn’t test me on my strengths. My strength tends to be finger strength, but that’s irrelevant on this route. The holds are pretty good, it’s just really big moves, and really physical.
It’s really long, but it’s really bouldery. Not pure endurance like a lot of the routes in Oliana.
Had you discussed the route with Chris and Ethan?
I haven’t talked about it with Chris, but talked about it with Ethan at length. Ethan’s a good friend of mine, and I followed along with his process on the route really closely. So it was really cool to have a friend to talk to it about.
It’s a pretty wild place, Clark, so there’s a lot more involved than just the beta of how you grab holds. I was only able to climb on the route every other day, because the hike is so intense and long—they turn into like 12 or 13 hour days. So the little special pieces of beta—what do you warm up on, what food do you bring, how long to rest between burns, the best temps to try it—were good to talk about.
What was the hardest part for you? A particular move? The mental aspect of such a long route?
To be honest, I think one of the stand out characteristics of this process for me is how un-stressful it was. I think that’s just because I really tried my best to never feel as though I deserved to climb the route. As climbers we often have this—an ego thing—this attitude of feeling entitled. Like, “I worked hard enough so I should be doing this.” And I just really tried to refrain from having that sensation, and just focused on making little incremental improvements on my tries every day I was there. Just tried to be really patient and calm.
It easily could have gone on and on and on, but sometimes we just labor over routes and other times we don’t. I certainly think it’s the hardest route I’ve ever climbed. In a lot of ways it felt like I was prepared physically. I was more patient and a little more open minded in my approach than I had been in the past.
I’m not going to Europe this year, I’m trying to save some money. I have some projects in the States I’m really psyched for in the fall. Otherwise, just kind of taking it down a notch for a couple months. And just enjoy. On paper it doesn’t seem like I really tried this route that much. But in reality, really I’ve been preparing for it for for five months.
It feels more like the culmination of months of work and, despite not spending a ton of days on the route, it definitely felt like a longer battle than it may seem on paper.
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