Adam Ondra onsights Il Maratoneta, Manolo’s historic 8b+ at Paklenica in Croatia
Interview with Czech rock climber Adam Ondra who has made the first onsight of Il Maratoneta, the first 8b+ in Croatia freed by Maurizio 'Manolo' Zanolla in 1987 and at the time one of the hardest climbs in the world. Furthermore, he has made the first ascent of Genius Loci 9a which adds a variation start to Il Maratoneta.
Those who have been following Adam Ondra climbing the ladder of all-time generational talent will have noticed how, ever since he was a youngster, he has made a concerted effort to repeat sport climbing’s historical testpieces. His repeats of Chouca at Buoux (onsight, aged 12), Silbergeier in the Rätikon (first one-day ascent, aged 14), La Rambla at Siurana, Action Directe in the Frankenjura and Open Air at the Schleierwasserfall (all aged 15) are just a handful of early examples of Ondra’s desire to grasp the past prior to help shape the face of modern sports climbing and although he has clearly taken sport climbing to another level - the world’s first 9b+ and the world’s first 9c are his - his thirst to repeat the milestones of the 80’s and 90’s remains unquenched.
It is in this context that his onsight of Il Maratoneta should be placed; first ascended in 1987 by Italy’s technical slab master Manolo, this legendary route at Paklenica is so important to Croatian climbing that, when access was threatened due to plans to build a small power plant, the local climbing community mobilised together to save the climb. At the time of its first ascent Il Maratoneta was one of the hardest routes in the world, and it lay dormant for 14 years until Slovenians Uros Perko and Marko Lukic made the second and third ascent in 2001 and 2002 respectively, while more recently other ascents have been carried out by Ivan Lisica-Lija (2013), Quentin Castagnier (2014) and Borna Čujić (2015). Due to its extremely technical, old-school style of climbing no one had ever dreamt of repeating Il Maratoneta onsight, and Ondra has now set the bar incredibly high once again. Before adding a variation start called Genius Loci graded 9a. Here are the details.
Adam, you and Paklenica go back a long way
Yes indeed. It’s a really special place for me because it’s actually where I started leading, my family would come here during the summer holidays and it’s here that I first took the live end of the rope.
So that’s that when you first saw Il Maratoneta?
Yes, I was seven and I remember being so impressed by this wall. I had no idea at the time that it was Manolo who had climbed it, but back then it looked so ridiculously steep, to me as a young kid it looked like 45° degrees overhanging and simply impossible.
You’ve been back since though
Yes, of course. The last time I was here was two years ago, when I onsighted the multi-pitch Spomin. I went to have a look at Il Maratoneta and have to say I was a little bit disappointed, because it wasn’t as steep as I had imagined when I was a young child. But I was still psyched to try and onsight it, it’s got such legendary status and the climbing looked so awesome.
But evidently you didn’t give it a go two years ago
No. My onsight of Spomin took so much out of me that I decided to leave Il Maratoneta for another day. Of course, I was already mega happy with my performance on Spomin.
The hardest multi-pitch in Paklenica, originally put up in 1984 with some aid by Silvo Karo and Janez Jeglič
It’s such a prominent line! The 350m route was freed in 2017 by Luka Krajnc and it has many hard pitches one after the other. I would say that onsighting Spomin was possibly one of my best performances ever on a multi-pitch climb.
Wait: better than Silbergeier aged 14? Better than your first free ascent of Wogü? Tough Enough in Madagascar? Dawn Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite?
You only ever get one chance at an onsight. And onsighting Spomin was hard. There were absolutely no tick marks, just an open corner and one big, huge fight… I think I made a good decision back then to leave Il Maratoneta for another day.
You’ve spent much of your time chasing the classics
Yes I spent my childhood repeating the historical routes, for instance in the Frankenjura where I tried to repeat of the lines of my idol Wolfgang Güllich. As a kid I read about all the historical milestones and the profiles of the climbers who made the first ascents of these routes in Rock Stars, the book by Heinz Zak. Not only Wolfgang’s routes motivated me, but also those by Alexander Huber. You need to know how old routes feel to get a better knowledge of where you’re at and where you can go.
So what about Il Maratoneta now?
Well I knew that the route isn’t climbed very often so I wondered if there would be any tell-tale chalk marks. Quickdraws were in, which certainly helped. There was some chalk, but not much. At first glance I couldn’t really see the holds but when I looked closely, when I stared a lot, I could see some holds and begin visualising the moves. And on my onsight attempt I pretty much did exactly what I had envisaged I’d do. It wasn’t necessarily the best beta, but it worked for me!
What type of route is it?
Well it’s short, about 15 meters, power resistance on small holds and big reaches. The intensity starts pretty much right from the ground, but the redpoint crux is at about 12 meters when you run out of juice. Small holds, power endurance as good as it can get!
Did you think you would onsight it?
Well I really hoped I would! In general it’s harder to insight climbs from the late ’80’s and early ’90’s than more recent ones of the same grade, because the style tends to be more bouldery, more fingery. In general they’re less steep and very technical. Some of course are graded really stiff. Il Maratoneta is pretty steep I’d say for when it was climbed and it’s proper 8b+, certainly not easier. In 1987 it was one of the hardest routes in the world, for sure.
Have you onsighted other routes of that era?
The 8b+ Ravage at Chuenisberg in the Basler Jura in Switzerland, first ascended by Antoine Le Menestrel in 1986, is the only other route of that era that I’ve onsighted, and that was in 2009. At Volx I didn’t do the Maginot Line, but I did Super Plafond instead. In 2018 at Smith Rocks I failed on To Bolt or Not to be, despite being a much better climber now than a few years ago.
Have you got others left to try?
There are still some. Punks in the Gym onsight is still up for grabs, Wolfgang Güllich’s 8b+ at Arapiles. That would be interesting. Le Toit d’Auguste at La Turbie freed by Patrick Berhault in 1986. Les Spécialistes freed by Jean-Baptiste Tribout in 1987. These two are certainly doable I think, because like Ravage they’re a lot steeper. We will see.
Hmm, let me think. Sogni di Gloria at Erto, freed by Gerhard Hörhager in 1987, is onsightable I believe, but I’ve already done it, not onsight. Then there’s Bat Route at Malham Cove which I onsighted, an 8b+ put up by Mark Leach in 1989 and upgraded to 8c. There are definitely some.
It’s obvious that, ever since you started out climbing, you’ve had a very clear picture of what you want to do
Well you want to know something? The world’s first 8a, the world’s first 8a+, 8b and 8b+ have all not been onsighted yet!
Grand Illusion 8a at Sugar Loaf in the USA , put up by Tony Yaniro in 1979. The Face in the Frankenjura put up by Jerry Moffatt in 1983. Nearby Kanal im Rücken put up by Wolfgang Güllich in 1984. And a year later Punks in the Gym freed by Güllich once again. All still waiting for a first onsight…
You saying you haven’t tried any of these yet? That after having climbed so many of the world’s hardest routes, you still haven’t touched these absolute milestones?
Correct. And I haven’t seen any videos of them either.
There are plenty available on the internet.
I know, but I’m not watching. Unfortunately Grand Illusion and Punks in the Gym are quite far away, but the others are closer to home. One day I’ll give them a go. And also, there are some routes of that era that are still unrepeated. I’ve still got enough to do!
Talking of unrepeated routes: one of these might be another Manolo testpiece, his 2009 9a Eternit at Baule in the Dolomites
Exactly! Eternit is hard! I use some different beta compared to Manolo because I’m taller, his works well for him because he’s a bit shorter. I can do all the single moves, but that doesn’t really mean anything because stringing them all together is the difficult bit. Hopefully I’ll manage to return soon.
In Paklenica you also managed to make the first ascent of a new 9a
There’s a project immediately to the left of Il Maratoneta, I have no idea who bolted it. I tried it after my onsight but quickly realised it was way too hard for a quick ascent. But noticed that from the 3rd bolt of this project I could move right and link into the upper section of Il Maratoneta, making for some very continuous, very pumpy climbing. The next day I replaced some bolts and gave it two tries, yesterday evening in slightly better conditions I made the send. The 8c/8c+ start leads directly into the crux of Il Maratoneta, which is probably also the redpoint crux, because you’re pretty tired by then. From what I can see, it offer the best and most continuous climbing on this wall.
You called it Genius Loci...
I wanted to somehow make a tribute to Manolo, who despite his ascents is a really underrated climber. Il Maratoneta was one of the hardest in the world at the time, for sure. Also, there’s something very particular about this crag. The area is super touristy, with thousands and thousands of people visiting the National Park every year, and hundreds and hundreds of climbers coming here for the limestone and the sea. Yet despite the park’s popularity, this crag has a particular feel to it. It’s just off the main trail, facing away from everything and everyone. You can sense that there’s something special here. So that’s why I chose the name.
Info: www.adamondra.com, Instagram Adam Ondra, La Sportiva