Interview: Jacopo Larcher on Establishing “Tribe,” Possibly World’s Hardest Trad Climb
“All I know is that for me personally it’s the hardest thing I’ve done,” Larcher told R&I.
Jacopo Larcher can pretty much do it all: He’s sent 5.15 sport routes, multiple 5.14 trad routes, the hardest line on on the Eiger, and arguably the second-hardest line on El Cap. If anyone has the credibility to propose a 5.14d or 5.15a trad route, it’s him.
Last week, Larcher, 29, from Bolzano, Italy, sent his six-year project—a thirty-meter traditionally protected pitch in Cadarese, Italy, that he named Tribe. And even though, were he to proffer the 14d or 15a grade, most climbers would take him at his word, Larcher, ever-humble, declined to grade it (much like Nico Favresse did with The Recovery Drink, a contender for the world’s hardest crack climb in Jossingfjord, Norway).
“I really invested a lot of time in Tribe,” Larcher told Rock and Ice in a phone interview. “That’s also why I decided not to grade it. Everyone is wondering how hard it is, but all I know is that for me personally it’s the hardest thing I’ve done.”
So even though he’s hesitant to throw out a grade that would make it the hardest fully traditionally-protected pitch of climbing in the world, many other of the world’s top climbers are saying it for him. Adam Ondra wrote on Instagram, “With 9a+ under his belt (La Rambla), claiming this thing is is his hardest ever (both sport and trad), I think there is no doubt this thing is the hardest single-pitch trad route in the world!”
Rock and Ice caught up with Larcher to get all the nitty-gritty details of the climbing on Tribe, what projecting a line for six years is like, what the name means, and what’s next. Read on below for the exclusive interview!
Q&A with Jacopo Larcher
Congrats on finishing this longtime project! How does it feel?
I’m just super happy. Somehow I’m relieved. After trying for so long and so much effort, it’s cool to see the end of a project.
But at the same time, when you finish a project, there’s always a feeling of, not emptiness, but a feeling that something is over, something is missing.
Overall though I’m super happy about sending.
When did you first find the line and what about it appealed to you?
I found it—or rather an Italian friend showed it to me—six years ago, on my first trip to Cadarese. It was one of my first trad climbing trips, too. I had just started climbing trad.
I was super fascinated by the line. It’s such an obvious arete. So that evening I rapped down from the top, and started to brush it and look for holds. At the beginning it seemed to be almost impossible. The upper section, especially, was quite blank.
Over the next few days that trip, I would spend time brushing it and trying out the moves in the evening.
For the first two years it wasn’t a serious project. I just tried and played around on it at the end of my climbing days. And it still felt impossible most of the time.
Check out this video of Larcher working Tribe back in 2017
And so what was the process of projecting it in the years after that?
After those first two years, there was a year that I didn’t go to Cadarese at all, so obviously I didn’t try it then.
Then, two years ago in 2017, I came back from a trip to Spain and went straight there. On that Spain trip I sent La Rambla [5.15a], and then Gondo Crack [5.14b, trad] in Switzerland, so I was feeling really strong. I went back to Cadarese to really focus on my project.
I think I spent two to three weeks with better conditions trying the route that trip. For the first time I figured out all the moves, except for the last two hard moves which I couldn’t do.
The next spring, 2018, I got injured while training for the project, so l didn’t get back until fall 2018. I tried it for another couple weeks then, but still couldn’t do those two moves.
That trip, in fall 2018, I gave it my first ever lead try. I did the first boulder problem, the first cracks, and then fell on the upper section— before the moves I couldn’t do. But it was nice to finally try it on lead after spending so much time on the route.
Then I trained during this last winter, always with the route in my mind. This winter was quite dry in Cadarese. Normally the good climbing season starts in April, but this year we had really good conditions in February and March, too.
I spent three more weeks this season on the route this season. Two weeks ago I was finally able to link the two moves I had never done before. So then I started to give some real redpoint lead tries. And I finally did it!
Can you describe the actual climbing a little bit more?
So, basically, there is a first section which is kind of vertical—way easier than the rest of the route, it’s probably 5.12- or something like that. But it’s quite precarious. It doesn’t take a lot of gear; only two pieces in the first 15 meters, one nut and one cam. These pieces are good, it’s just that the first one is quite high up. So this first part isn’t super hard, but just technical climbing where it’s easy to make a mistake that would be bad.
Then you reach a no-hands rest below a roof, where the first crux is. You get some really good gear in a crack there, and from there on the route is quite safe. The first crux is after this roof and is’ compression climbing with a dynamic move to reach a slopey crack. The fall there is safe— if you don’t stick the last hard move, you fall with the rope behind your leg, but it’s still ok—I took this fall a few times.
Next, in the slopey horizontal crack you place the last two pieces before the upper crux. At this point you are on the left of the arete and then you climb to the right to a small rest.
Then there is the last hard boulder problem. You get this really bad right hand pinch, and you bring your foot super high onto this slopey foot hold. And from there you have to get this kind of two-finger pinch slot, before finally bumping to a good hold.
After that you place a ball nut and then you just have one weird move to get to a ledge— another hands rest, you can lay down. Above that there is still a 10-meter 5.12 crack to the top, which is all normal crack climbing with good gear. At first I wanted to make the route end at the ledge, because a different line finished on that crack and there were bolts on the crack. But the guy who had opened that climb chopped the bolts so that I could finish my line to the top.
You’ve obviously been asked a lot, but—grade??
It’s really hard to grade. I decided not to give it a grade. Maybe it’s my anti-style—I don’t think so, but who knows. When you try something so short and bouldery for so long, it’s tricky to grade, because when you finally send it it almost feels easy.
Is the gear pretty safe and bomber?
I would define it as a quite safe route. The only dangerous part is the easiest part at the beginning.
Up top, even if the ball nut popped, you probably wouldn’t hit the ground. You might stop a meter from the ground!
I did it with two ropes to make things as safe as possible.
Any idea how much you tried it in total?
I have no idea how many times I tried it. I think I did something around 50 sessions. A lot of times it was hard to find someone to belay me, so I went a lot of the time alone trying moves by myself on a static line.
But I definitely invested way more time on this route than on any other climb I’ve done.
You’ve said it’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done. Harder than La Rambla for you?
I don’t know. It’s really hard to say that. La Rambla is like a 40-meter route, and the hard part of this one is only 10 meters, less even. So they are completely different styles; this is more about really hard individual moves, La Rambla is about endurance.
But I really invested a lot of time in Tribe. That’s also why I decided not to grade it. Everyone is wondering how hard it is, but all I know is that for me personally it’s the hardest thing I’ve done.
Sometimes when you’re headpointing, you can do the route on toprope, but you’re scared to lead it. That’s a big aspect of trad climbing. But I’d never even sent the route on toprope before I finally redpointed it—so fear didn’t factor in.
“Tribe.” Why did you name it that?
I often traveled to Cadarese alone. I always found friendly locals in Italy to come belay, to carry gear. I just kind of felt part of a community
At the end of your Instagram post you wrote, “Peter, this one is for you.” Who is Peter?
Peter Maiyr. He was a mountain guide and a really good friend of mine. He was about 20 years older than me. He played an important role in my development as a young climber. He taught me a lot.
He died a couple of years ago while guiding. And that’s why I wanted to dedicate this to him.
Has anyone else ever tried the route? Has Babsi tried it?
Babsi never tried it. I think James Pearson tried it once, but I think it was quite warm, so not good conditions. He rapped down and had a quick look at it.
I know a Swiss guy is trying it right now. Otherwise no-one really tried it.
It’s also, I think, for short people, quite morpho. I think if you are really tall it can get way easier. I’m 176 centimeters (5 feet 9 inches) tall.
Got your eye on any other big projects?
I don’t think I will start another big project right now. It wasn’t meant to be such a long project at the beginning!
For sure, in Ossola, Italy, where Cadarese is, there’s huge potential. I have a bunch of other projects around and don’t think they’re as hard as Tribe. But theres always something to do here.
For now I want to spend more time on faster projects, and also maybe climb a bit more in the mountains and be more flexible with what I’m going to do.
Babsi and I go to Yosemite in June. We’ll try the Nose. We went last year but had to stop because the bad weather came in. We did Changing Corners quite fast, so we wanted to make a real try, and then the bad weather came in. So we’ll go back for that
Then after that I go to Peru with The North Face team to do some multi-pitch routes and sport climbing. Then I’ll spend the end of summer in Europe, probably climbing more on the Eiger.
And then finally I’ll go to India, on the border with Pakistan, at the end of September and all of Cctober with Hansjorg Auer, the Pou Brothers and Siebe Vanhee—we’ll go to Baspa Valley.
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