Sunday, April 17, 2011

What Adam Ondra Means for the Sport of Climbing

There is no question that Adam Ondra sits at the very pinnacle of the disciplines of sport climbing and bouldering. His onsights of five 8c+ routes, two 5.15 FAs and ascents of 8C/V15 boulder problems in the first few months of 2011 form a record unmatched by anyone else on the planet. In the global combined rankings at, he is 2000 points ahead of Gabriele Moroni, the runner-up. I cannot think of anyone else in the past ten years who has so convincingly set himself apart from the pack and been so unassuming in the process. He is the Chris Sharma or Dave Graham for the next generation.

So what does this mean for climbing? Well begin by watching the video of him onsighting the 8c+ Mindcontrol in Oliana, Spain:

This is a remarkable document of a sea change in the sport of climbing. It is a real-time, minimally edited climbing video of a remarkable achievement grade-wise that could soon become the norm internationally, at least in part due to this video.

Ondra's style is one of relentless progress earned through exact placement of hands and feet and fearless response to the route's challenges. He routinely skips clips or delays them facing falls of 30 to 40 feet on very difficult terrain, confident that he will find a spot to recover and clip again. He climbs according to the needs of the route, square to the wall when necessary and is fantastic at high-stepping and reaching while staying in balance. His decision-making process is usually immediate and highly accurate, even in unlikely sequences. "If you are lucky and your quick decisions are right, it's almost the same as redpointing," Ondra says but there is something vitally different and that is the comfort level with the decisions.

Where most of us are second-guessing or retreating into bad movement patterns, Ondra is immediately adapting to the moves. He climbs as if he has nothing to learn from the moves, no need to adjust or rethink them, just to push ahead into the next one and repeat until the chains. Most of us only feel like this on onsights in very familiar terrain or of very low difficulty compared to our limit.

Ondra is revising the definitions of what it means to climb at your limit because he finds a way not so much to make it look easy but make it look sensible, feasible even.

I can think of no more important video to watch currently then this one if you are interested in learning how to climb your best. He is redefining the sport for those who take it seriously, at whatever level.


Marc Germani said...

nice article ! great video, i watched it days ago..and even saved it to watch it when i want to :)

Anonymous said...

Peter what lesson do you think we could learn about how to climb better from watching this video?

Doug Lipinski said...

I think it's very premature to call this "a sea change in the sport of climbing". Ondra is the only climber I've seen who is capable of this type of climbing. The lessons seem obvious:
1. Make quick decisions based on experience and the information in front of you
2. Be adaptable in your approach and take what the route gives you
3. Clip when you can and don't waste energy doing it
4. Make continuous upward progress
Actually doing this is another thing entirely. I think Ondra has an incredible amount of experience for his age and is obviously able to focus on the climbing rather than worrying about clipping or falling. I have no idea the extent to which it's possible to learn that type of mental control and efficiency of movement or how much he's just incredibly naturally gifted. Very impressive though.

Peter Beal said...

Anon, the important thing to learn from watching this is to realize that we all can trim a certain percentage of extraneous behavior and wasted energy and direct it toward successful and efficient climbing.

Doug I suggest sea change because Ondra is one of the best documented climbers of his generation. Climbers have much more access to his climbing feats than previous generations. How much free video of Sharma or Graham was out there on the Internet in 1999 or 2000? Every strong young climber who wants to see the future can call it up on Vimeo 24/7 and learn how to climb better. I imagine a lot of them already are. I find it incredibly inspiring. I feel this behavior can certainly be learned, though natural gifts certainly help.

Anonymous said...

"Anon, the important thing to learn from watching this is to realize that we all can trim a certain percentage of extraneous behavior and wasted energy and direct it toward successful and efficient climbing."

Being efficient and not wasting energy represents "a sea change"? I think anyone experienced at on -sighting pretty much does the same things Ondra does in this video, he's just doing it at a higher grade than anyone else. Sorry, but to quote his commentary at the end, "being lucky and making quick decisions" is hardly anything to proclaim a "sea change" over.

gian said...

the bolt skips are only impressive from an amateur point of view.
Don't get me wrong, i am an amateur myself and fear falling but i see many higher-end climbers who accept 30-footers with ease, especially near the top of a very overhanging pitch...(scary, but harmless fall!!!)

what is really amazing is the up-tempo onsight style.

I've tried a bit of that on my rope trips last year, fascinated by ondra and out of my lack of endurance (i moved far from any decent sport crag and close to amazing boulders)

Well, regardless of the results, it's great fun. Completely different experience than "slow" onsighting...flowy, instinctual, dyonisiac.
Feels like the more you shut your brain off, the better your chances are.
Huge fun, try it*!

(*on safe sport climbs only...;))

Peter Beal said...

Gian, I don't think the skipped clips are impressive only from an amateur point of view. Even if the wall is steep and clean, the prospect of a long drop is not appetizing to most. I first noticed this tendency in Ondra in his ascent of Open Air where he skipped a clip at the last crux, a clip he could do off a jug, and was facing a 20-30 foot fall on V11 climbing. I have not seen too many other sport climbers so casually run it out on very hard climbing.

The sea change is going to be climbers accepting the possibility of flashing or onsighting big hard routes such as Realization. This is a quantum shift in difficulty from just a few years ago.

Anonymous said...

"I have not seen too many other sport climbers so casually run it out on very hard climbing."

You haven't spent much time at the higher-end european crags lately, then. Watching a few videos doesn't mean you're qualified to offer informed commentary - try listening to people who know what they're talking about.

Peter Beal said...

Thanks for sorting that out for me. Real helpful.

Alaska said...

Adam not only deserves credit for potentially being the best climber of a generation, but he also deserves credit for being a bone marrow donor. There was a recent article on it. I was impressed that someone with his obvious talents can also have such great perspective on being part of a community and not holding himself above the rest.

Micah Bryan Humphrey said...

The sea of change comment is very accurate.
Look at Enzo Oddo, Tito Claudio Traversa, Sasha DiGuilian, Ashima Shiraishi, etc. etc.
Changing the perspective of what is possible in climbing vertically (younger and younger climbers climbing harder and harder routes) is happening at an astounding rate, as well as changing what is possible horizontally (climbers in the same age range that have been climbing at the top of the game expanding their ideas of what is possible).
Adam's success is amazing, and people can't help but be inspired by it. It begs the question, "How is he so much better than the rest?". Answer: watch the video. I grew up in Boulder around some of the best climbers of the time, and I became better by watching them, not by being hard headed and confrontational when someone approached me with a better way of doing things.
I think beleiving in your ability to make good decisions necessitates a bit of luck, something nooone has ever owned up to after onsighting a hard route. The sea of change may also be in his attitude as well.

NM said...

Good post Peter. Agreed.

Anonymous said...


You've never seen Sharma:

1.) Skip clips.
2.) Make continuous upward progress.
3.) Make quick decisions.
4.) Be adaptable.


Doug Lipinski said...

@Anon: No, I've never seen Sharma climb like that. By "this type of climbing" I also meant at such a high level on onsight. From what I recall, Sharma tends to milk rests (even mediocre ones) and spend a good amount of time looking ahead and checking out the coming moves. He also climbs much less efficiently than Ondra is capable of. Of course he does all those things at points, but I've never seen a video of a Sharma onsight that was even remotely similar. He has a completely different body type and climbing style. He's been at the top of climbing for more than a decade, but Ondra is clearly moving the next generation ahead.

chuffer said...

For me, the quality of this free video made it difficult to fully appreciate his skills.

Anonymous said...

"I think beleiving in your ability to make good decisions necessitates a bit of luck, something nooone has ever owned up to after onsighting a hard route."

Really? You know

Micah Bryan Humphrey said...

Hmmm, how do you know I don't know?

Micah Bryan Humphrey said...

Sorry for taking the bait. I would rather see insightful conversation about the actual post, than responses to inflammatory questions from anonymous posters.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Micah but neither you or Peter know what you're talking about, people take long falls on steep sport routes without giving it a second thought, and no one has EVER admitted to getting lucky on a hard on-sight? Ridiculous.

Micah Bryan Humphrey said...

It’s pretty easy to pick apart an overgeneralization when applying it in a context that suits your point of view.
What I said was meant to reflect the post about Adam Ondra and the statements he has continuously made after these mind-boggling onsights. How many people have onsighted 5.14c? Two. How many people have had documentation in the form of an interview about how they have felt after onsighting something in the 5.14 range? This I’m not sure of, but what I am sure of is that no other climber has made statements so famously stating how ‘luck’ has played at least a portion of why they have been so successful. It seems as though Ondra has become famous for this statement as of late; which is just a reflection of his honesty and humility. And yes, I’m not entirely sure the majority of hard onsight climbers would be willing to admit that luck played a part in their amazing feats on the rock. I’m sure a lot of climbers at one point or another have gotten lucky on an onsight, but to adapt it as part of their philosophy towards onsighting increasingly hard routes is probably less tangible of an approach than Adam makes it out to be. I’m confident in saying that the majority of climbers if asked immediately after onsighting a hard route would say “Wow! I hit that sequence perfectly.”, or “I was just in the zone and climbing really strong”, not “Oh I got so lucky, that will probably never happen again, I feel so lucky to have gotten that sequence right.”
What results from this is the fact that Ondra is stating how luck is becoming a part of why his onsighting is so successful. This is a new way of looking at onsighting hard routes and yes, I have not heard any other climber own up to a statement or (if they have) they certainly have not garnered the kind of attention Ondra has for stating it.
Say what you want about me and my comments on this blog, but to make a slanderous statement concerning Peter such as “neither you or Peter know what you're talking about” is stepping a tad out of bounds considering Peter has been in the climbing game for 20+ years. There are other ways of pointing out your disdain and malcontent with someone’s conjecture besides firing abrasive and prodding accusations from a tower of anonymity. I understand that sometimes you can come across statements on a blog that are quite alarming, but trying to abstract reactions instead of responses with questions that are mired in sarcasm and profound disbelief are neither conducive to meaningful debates nor helpful in encouraging people to see things your way.
On that note, I am very appreciative of people who question the things they read.

Anonymous said...

"I understand that sometimes you can come across statements on a blog that are quite alarming, but trying to abstract reactions instead of responses with questions that are mired in sarcasm and profound disbelief are neither conducive to meaningful debates nor helpful in encouraging people to see things your way."

Not trying to get anyone to see anything "my way". I know, because I've spent lots of time at european sport crags since my first visit in 1990, and over a dozen trips since, that 10 to 15 meter run-outs/falls are standard on upper end (even "medium-end") steep sport routes. There's hundreds and hundreds of routes in the 5.12/5.13 range in France and Spain where if you fall going to the anchor, you end up half-way down the route. Not a big deal - you're in the air half a second longer than if you'd fallen half the distance. Go to Ceuse or Gorge du Tarn if you don't believe me. Or rather, don't, if that bothers you.

Nor does asking how you can possibly know the unknowable (despite your lame attempt at qualifying your statement), that no one has ever admitted to being lucky after a hard on-sight, represent sarcasm, but merely healthy skepticism. If either of you really were qualified to comment, you obviously wouldn't be making such sweeping, inaccurate (and misleading) generalizations. Based on those generalizations, and especially after reading your responses, I feel pretty confident in stating that neither of you knows what in the hell you're talking about.

Peter Beal said...

Anon, it seems apparent that your comment seems aimed more at scoring points than conveying truth, which is typical for many who choose not to share their names. But enough about that.

I have been visiting Europe on and off since 1985, visiting crags in Italy, Germany and France and absolutely yes, at many of them, long runouts are standard. The Tarn and Ceuse are but a few locations, though not every route, even at the high end has this chracteristic. This is a well-known fact and not one I dispute.

However I would argue that Ondra's ability to deal with the unknown in very committing situations at a very high technical grade sets him apart from the pack. His ascent of Silbergeier, still considered a notoriously difficult and committing route after its first ascent in 1994, was made at age 14, a phenomenal feat. In the same week he redpointed 9a in a few tries and onsighted 14a. You can look it up here if you want.

No other top-level free-climber (9b and up) that I am aware of can boast a similar level of achievement in this style of climbing. I certainly can't think of any V14/15 boulderers who have. Maybe you can supply us with some candidates.

Walt said...

Actually, what I find most interesting is that the "new generation" (ie, Oddo, Ondra, Ashima) are all VERY thin/small. I would say there's a chance the sea change we're seeing is actually a change in the body type needed for 5.15-level sport climbing.

I could be wrong, of course, but all the top climbers of my generation (ie Sharma) look, well, big in comparison. Is climbing going the way of gymnastics?

Anonymous said...

patxi usobiaga was the first to onsight at this level, 3 or 4 years ago, with i think a rather different style of climbing.

i don't think there is anything revolutionary about the way ondra is doing it; it's simply revolutionary that he's doing it so often, and so damned comfortably.

no one has ever had 14c be so far below their maximum climbing ability. to put it into perspective, take your own maximum redpoint grade, remove at least a number from that, and i bet if you were going for an onsite, you'd climb in a similar manner.

Anonymous said...


Climbing Magazine #264 Feb 2008 Page 66

Dave Graham:

"Near Jordi's house is Santa Ana, and I climbed a beautiful project there today. It's a blank-looking wall called Paris Hilton (8B) and it's sick. I was lucky to make the first ascent, no chalk, onsight, and Klemen followed with a flash."