Adam Ondra sets new benchmark on world’s toughest cliff at Flatanger, Norway

Adam Ondra at Hanshelleren cave in Flatanger, Norway, photo: CTK

Just a few days ago, renowned Czech sport climber Adam Ondra, 24, completed what will surely now be rated the world’s toughest climb – a 9c - at Hanshelleren cave in Flatanger, Norway. Ondra completed the route in 20 minutes, but his success was years in the making.

Adam Ondra at Hanshelleren cave in Flatanger,  Norway,  photo: CTK
I spoke with the climber about his achievement, asking first about the site.

“This was a cave I first visited five years ago and I bolted the first route there and made the first ascent and it became the world’s first 9b plus. It took about five weeks of work, a lot of effort and energy, but there was still only just one route in this amazing and massive cave. There was still so much potential to find even harder climbs which could be even harder and more impressive. In 2013, I bolted a few more lines, including this one. But this one remained unclimbed.

“I knew it would be possible – because I could do all of the individual moves – but at that moment, in 2013, it just felt way too hard to make a successful ascent. That means, climbing from the ground all the way to the top, without falling. For that I had to wait and train very hard and two days ago it finally happened.”

I read that the length of the route is 45 metres; I also read that you had been back seven times. That represents many, many hours and days of climbing. How do you measure the smaller successes on any given day? Do you get a sense that you are gradually getting closer to the mark?

“Yes. The process of working on the route was sometimes hard, sometimes easier, when you could see greater progress… Not every climb of course was from the ground. I would start maybe from half-way and try to finish it to the top, as the first half is a little easier.

“But right after the middle, there is a very, very hard sequence of about 10 moves over the space of about four metres and that took a lot of time. Most of those seven trips that I made to Flatanger were spent working on this section and those ten moves. I was just trying to get better at those.

Adam Ondra at Hanshelleren cave in Flatanger,  Norway,  photo: CTK
“The first days, I could do maybe one move and then had to hang in the rope, and then another move and hang in. Gradually, I began linking the moves together and feeling better and better in the project. But there were of course also weeks when I felt worse.

“I was thinking maybe it was the weather, higher humidity, or was I just getting weaker? And these are all the things that were flicking through my mind when I am working on a project like that. And that is part of the game, the mental side, which is maybe even more important than just being physically prepared for it.”

The ten moves, were they part of a section which you described in another interview as “weird”?

“There were actually more sections that were weird but this was the strangest. But at the same time very, very difficult.”

Once you completed the climb, this past Sunday, you said it was a very unusual feeling? How was this different from other climbs you have succeeded at and been the first at?

“Most of the time when I finished a climb it was important for me for the emotion to just explode with a happy shriek or a shout. But this time when I got to the top of the route, it was a mixture of relief and happiness and emotion just kind of get stuck half-way through! All I could do was hang in the rope with tears in my eyes, otherwise I couldn’t do anything. (laughs) It was unusual for me but very strong emotion indeed!”