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Chris Sharma during the first ascent of Pachamama 9a+ at Oliana, Spain.
Photo by Pete O'Donovan
Adam Ondra weaving his way through the paparazzi during the first ascent of Los Revolucionarios 9a at Kalymnos.
Photo by Nicolas Smalios
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Top sport climbing: searching for the lost limit


The latest news from the crags, or rather, when 9a isn't that difficult anymore and 8c approaches a rest... Dani Andrada, Markus Bock, Edu Marin, Adam Ondra, Gérôme Pouvreau, Chris Sharma, Maja Vidmar but also Dino Lagni and Luca Zardini.

The latest news which has filtered through during the last couple of weeks has provided plenty of food for thought. Hardly a day passes by without a top climber freeing, repeating and on-sighting routes which just a few years ago were considered the non-plus-ultra of extreme sport climbing. The list is seemingly endless: Chris Sharma recently freed his project in Spain's Oliana, Pachamama 9a+, while slightly further north Dani Andrada even managed to free two 9a's in a single day, Tierra de Nadie and the variation start La Real Tierra de Nadie at Rodellar.

While these two climbers were active in Spain, the Teutonic Frankenjura was enriched with Pantera, an nth 9a at the hands of super local Markus Bock. France wasn't left behind in these high stakes as Gérôme Pouvreau made the first ascent of Sachidananda 9a at Orgon, the crag which at the start of the '90's came to symbolise the perfect mix between stamina and power.

On-sighting is always high on the agenda and at present Spain's Edu Marin is on unbeatable form as he munches 8c's with impressive regularity (Malsoñando at Gandía), and Maja Vidmar from Slovenia had a highly satisfying trip to Kalymnos where she on-sighted her first 8b, Spartan wall.

Talking of Kalymnos: during the recent climbing Festival star guest Adam Ondra did what he does best, producing Greece's first 9a by freeing Los Revolucionarios at the Odyssey sector. The other Kalymnos achievements, read 8c on-sights and various 8c+ second go, would be headline news were it not for the fact that they were all climbed by him, by magic Adam. We could continue with the latest Italian ascents, such as Dino Lagni who repeated Il guerriero del futuro 8c+/9a or Luca Zardini who last Monday carried out the first repeat of La grande linea dei sogni 8c+/9a at Erto. But more of that later...

What we feel now - in a moment in which these performances are almost daily occurrences, with 9a seemingly no longer that difficult and 8c a goal that could almost be taken for granted - is that perhaps the time has come to sit back for a moment and understand where exactly we've got to. Perhaps the following comparison may help: we're not sure yet whether we're running the 100m race in sub 10 seconds, or even how many are taking part in this race. But seeing the latest results, we feel as if there is still an enormous margin for improvement.

What we know for certain is that with the right mix of training, determination and talent the "good old" 8a has long been surpassed as a reference marker. The same holds true perhaps for 8c, which in 2009 celebrates its 20th anniversary thanks to Ben Moon who domineeringly added Agincourt to Buoux. In that occasion the British climber amazed all, explaining that the grade immediately beneath the new limit wasn't really that difficult, while a grade lower still could almost be considered... a rest!

Please excuse the approximation (because we're talking about truly stellar grades) but perhaps the world's first 10a isn't as far off as it may seem. As well as perhaps the first 9a on-sight! All one needs is for someone to find the right route, desire and that bit of luck which always helps... In the meantime, even if we know its 9a+, we're accepting bets for the first on-sight of Realization...





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