Chris Sharma, the La Dura Dura interview

Interview with American climber Chris Sharma after his repeat of La Dura Dura 9b+ at Oliana, Spain.
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Chris Sharma climbing La Dura Dura 9b+, Oliana, Spain
archivio Chris Sharma
Saturday 23 March 2013. Chris Sharma managed to redpoint La Dura Dura, the superb route he had bolted at the Spanish cliff Oliana more than four years ago and which, right from the outset, caught the climbing world's attention due to the "hideous" difficulties and also the fact that both he and Ondra had decided to combine forces to send the line. Something rare was going on there in Spain: for once the best in the world shared the same focus to add a new chapter to the history of this sport... it was both beautiful and exciting. And so Chris and Adam worked the moves together, shared ideas and beta and the seemingly impossible began to take form, so much so that this season both got closer and closer to the first free ascent. Then, as is well known, Ondra succeeded first in February. A "goal" for which he suggested a massive 9b+, a difficulty on a par with his own Change, possibly slightly harder even. At this point many would have given up, no so Sharma who was spured on in farther, and his redpoint on Saturday not only crowns years of effort and dreams, it also lays an important brick in the history of sport climbing as his is the first confirmation of a 9b+. These are unpararlleld difficulties, currently firmly - and solely - in the grasp of Ondra and Sharma.

Chris, congratulations. Finally!

Yeah, thanks. This route was a really cool, long journey! Completing it was a big process for me. You know, I first bolted it four or five years ago and that in itself was a big task, despite all the rock here in Catalonia, finding the right route isn't easy, it's not something you can just take for granted. If you're going to spend so much time on something, the line must really be worthwhile and it's difficult to find something that is at your limit and also fits your style.

At first though it seemed as if this was beyond your limit?
Initially I was turned off by the small crimpers on the lower section, I sort of shied away from them. But last year Adam came along, we started to try it together and I realised that I could actually use these holds. It may sound strange, but this route got me back into bouldering, that first section has a Font 8B+ section and it was great fun and also really different to try something with tiny crimps, instead of holds on the long stamina routes I often do.

In February you freed a 9b at Santa Linya
Yes, that was important mentally because it then completely freed me for La Dura Dura. One of the problems here in Catalonia is having the focus to dedicate your time and energy to just one project. There's so much rock here, so many projects I want to do and at times if you don't focus precisely you risk spreading everything super thin and investing a whole year into something and not succeeding on anything at all.

So after success at Santa Linya, you returned to that terrible lower section...
I must have spent a whole year trying the lower section, those 15 moves. Doing this was a really long process, mentally, because there's a really hard iron cross move where I kept falling and when I finally did this, I then fell higher up. I needed another month and a half to reach this highpoint again... Cold fingers, feet slipping, being pumped - it was a really long process of progress, followed by setbacks, then more small progress. I seemed to be missing that little bit of luck!

And time was beginning to run out
Yes, spring has arrived and it would have been bad to have to put everything on hold for another season. Especially since I'd had some really good sensations recently: I'd climbed high but then my foot slipped. The next day I fell low down again, on that iron cross move and I began to fear that I'd be in that setback stage once again. I'd had some important windows of opportunities but now it was beginning to get warm.

How often could you try the route?
Only two good attempts a day. Followed by one rest day, sometimes more. So yeah, I began to wonder if it would all come together.

On Saturday it did! How come?
I don't really know. Perhaps I'd just worked the route into submission! As I said, in the past I'd had my chances but I'd been unlucky. So I guess I just got really strong, I didn't make any mistakes at all and when I finally did it I felt as if I wasn't really at my complete limit.

Stop. That means that with a bit more luck and this fitness perhaps there's room for even more...
Let me put it like this: now that I've done La Dura Dura, I can imagine how harder things might be done. There are a few hard projects I can think of that would be interesting, but I'm not sure if my focus in the next five years will be on pure difficulty. Perhaps I'll get more into multi-pitches. Who knows. For sure, now I'm happy I no longer have a huge commitment, that I'm totally free, to climb and have fun.

Tell us more
Well, to succeed, to get this level of fitness I had to become more of an athlete, be more strategic about my choices. Go less with the flow, be less spontaneous. That's why it's so rewarding: managing to focus completely for such a long time and then succeed.

Adam suggested 9b+. Your redpoint is the first repeat of a route this hard. What can you say about the grade?
Well if Adam thinks its 9b+ it probably is, he probably knows more about this grade than anybody so he's sure to be right. He has so much experience it's amazing! I'd be interested in comparing it to some of my other routes, for example to First Round First Minute at Margalef to see how that feels now, because when I freed it two years ago I'd tried it so often I risked losing perspective. But if I think about it, then La Dura Dura is probably harder, yes.

There was much hype about who would succeed first, you or Adam. We wrote that this was a winning situation for all concerned, for you, Adam and sport climbing in general. How do you see that?
There's no doubt, for me it was really cool to climb with Adam. You know, for many years I've only tried the hard routes I've bolted and if you do this, you risk losing yourself in your own world. So getting Adam's perspective was really important. I'd pratically written the route off and when we decided to work it together he brought it back to life. It was a healthy process for both of us, we fed off each other's motivation and through him I think I became a better climber myself. And I've known Adam ever since he was young, I've watched him grow and improve and at the end of the day it's nice to think that one of my routes is an important step in his climbing development , too.

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