Adam Ondra is So Far Ahead of Everyone Else, It’s Crazy

Adam Ondra has carried the “world’s best climber” mantle for almost a decade now, ever since taking it over from Chris Sharma with the 2013 first ascent of La Dura Dura (9b+/5.15c). Four years later, he cemented his status with Silence, now the world’s only existing 9c/5.15d.

That no one has come close to repeating the route in the five years since only adds to his mystique.

But that’s old news. What’s prescient now is how quickly his hard climbing progress is becoming an apples-to-oranges comparison to everyone else’s.

adam ondra

Ondra on “Silence,” the world’s first 9c/5.15d climb.

 

A productive month

According to 8a.nu, the millennial Czech has now climbed 195 routes 9a/5.14d or harder. This month alone, he’s added five sends to the list, including two first ascents in the 9b/5.15b range.

For Ondra, it’s a productive month. For 99% of other climbers, it’s a career. How far ahead of the pack is he? So far that the climber in second place can barely see him: Jonathan Siegrist follows Ondra on the 8a.nu list with 59 redpoints 9a/5.14d or harder. And Siegrist, who is climbing as hard as ever, is several years older.

Maybe even more remarkably, Ondra seems to have almost no enemies or detractors. If the stereotype holds that whoever’s at the top has to get there by stepping on people along the way, Ondra defies it. Despite maintaining what Siegrist described as a singular focus, the screeching, wiry climber’s reputation among his cohort remains resoundingly positive.

Singular focus

“The thing is, Adam has one focus, and that’s to keep [expletive] climbing as many hard routes as he can,” Siegrist said. “But I’ve always really, really valued the fact that he’s so encouraging. And I don’t think any of that’s going to change.”

Based on recent events, there’s no reason to assume it will. Ondra followed up the first ascent of Bomba (9b/5.15b) in early March with a fusillade of mega-hard climbs — and looked cheerful doing it.

Wonderland, 9b/b+ (5.15b/c), is the newest notch in his belt. He characterized the send as an ode to the good fight via Instagram.

“Yesterday I took advantage of amazing windy conditions and sent it,” he wrote, with an exclamation point and the sunglasses emoji. “It wasn’t easy, it was actually a good fight, but that is what hard climbing should be about!”

By now, the majority of Ondra’s life has been about hard climbing. He first made international headlines as a 15-year-old in 2008, when he claimed the second ascent of Alex Huber’s Open Air. Arguably the world’s first 9a+/5.15a, no one has clipped the chains since.

No threats to his supremacy

Siegrist did posit that Ondra’s positivity might be a product of his seemingly unassailable supremacy — when you face no threats, you’re more comfortable by default.

But if that’s the case, Ondra appears to keep a good sense of humor about it. Satirical voice-over artist Dylan Taylor (@climberisms) almost constantly jabs Ondra, most often on the basis of how much better he is than everyone else. (Ondra’s accent and proclivity for screaming closely follow his superlative abilities as Taylor’s next-favorite targets.)

Apparently, Ondra takes it in stride. He hasn’t gone so far as to comment on any of Taylor’s posts, but sarcasm isn’t really his style. Instead, he comes across as genuine and straightforwardly motivated.

“Whatever anyone says about Adam and his routes, it doesn’t change what he’s doing today, which is going out and trying his best. Continuing this train of motivation, and moving on to the next thing,” Siegrist assessed. “That goes for everyone I know who’s really super motivated about hard climbing. And Adam is incredibly good at it.”

5.16b before 2080

It’s also possible that Ondra’s just aloof. These days, he’s got plenty to keep himself busy with — he’s been married for six months, and he’s about to be a dad.

Yes, a dad. Perhaps he’ll experience the trappings of normality that typically arrive with fatherhood. Will the world’s best rock climber soon have a garage filled with lawn care implements and sporting goods? Maybe, but if he does, they’ll probably be purposed toward building home bouldering walls and landing surfaces for them.

No matter what happens in his life, his exceptional focus will probably continue to chart his course. In between domestic duties both procedural and fascinating, he’ll most likely still have to get around to doing some climbing. He’ll have to stay in shape if he’s going to both remain the best climber in the world and stay on track for his most recent proposal: 10a/5.16b before 2080.

 

In 2079, Ondra will turn 86. Conceivably, his protegé will be the rock climbing star child who breaks through to the 10th grade.

Then again, we wouldn’t rule out Ondra himself. His distant target date gives him plenty of time to get there — and at five climbs a month, it only feels like a matter of time.

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents' evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.


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