The World’s Hardest Rock Climb Goes Down

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The world's first 5.15c route is here—and it's not in Spain. Adam Ondra pushed the grade scale a little higher this morning when he sent his project Change, a severely-overhanging 180-foot sport line in Norway's Flatanger Cave for which he's proposed the highest grade ever given to a route. If the rating sticks—and it likely will, based on Ondra's track record—it will be the hardest rock climb in the history of the sport.

As recently as last week, Ondra's chances of pulling off the send seemed slim. The weather around Flatanger was gloomy, and Change was wet enough that filmmaker Petr Pavlicek, who's been traveling with Ondra, said that trying to scale it was “more swimming than climbing.” Ondra, 19, made it as far as the last crux before falling near the finish.

Change adds a 5.14d extension to a 5.15a pitch established by Ondra in July. As it nears the top of the cave, the route steepens until it's nearly horizontal. To cut out rope drag on the second half of the route, Ondra tied himself off on a quickdraw at a rest halfway through, had his partner take him off belay, and pulled the rope through the rest of the draws.

Also known as Hanshelleren, Flatanger Cave is a massive granite
cavern eroded into a hillside near Trondheim, on Norway's coast. The 45-
to 60-degree overhanging walls have seen a spate of development by Jorg
Verhoeven, Magnus Midtboe, Ethan Pringle, and others, and this year played host to a
pro climber rally. In a blog post, Pringle described the cave
as “like if Jailhouse and Mickeys Beach had a baby, and that offspring
was artificially inseminated with rock sperm from Rumney and Column of
the Giants at the same time … then THAT baby grew up subsisting on
nothing but muscle milk, steroids and acid.”

While Ondra isn't the first climber to claim 5.15c, he's probably the most credible thus far. In 2003, Spanish climber Bernabé Fernández proposed the grade for his route Chilam Balam. However, when he was unable to provide photographic proof of the ascent or say who had belayed him, many discounted his claims to have sent it. Ondra successfully climbed the project last April, suggesting 5.15b for it.

Check out the video above to see Ondra working the lower section of Change.

—Adam Roy

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