Chris Snobeck, of Colorado, has made the third ascent of Saphira in Vail's Fang Amphitheater—a climb considered
to be the hardest mixed route and only M15- in the United States. With his ascent, Snobeck became the second American to climb M15-. Moreover, he climbed
the route twice.
“It’s the monster line, the king line,” Snobeck, 32, tells Rock and Ice.
“It’s beautiful, long and wild the whole way.”
Stanislav “Stanley” Vrba envisioned and equipped the route, which traverses the horizontal roof of the amphitheater and finishes on Jeff Lowe’s famed Octopussy (WI
The 27-year-old Czech climber Lucie Hrozová made the route’s first ascent on January 31, 2016. Her milestone ascent required no less than 65 figure-4’s and figure-9’s, and took her 50 minutes to complete. She named the route
Saphira, after a mythical dragon, and suggested M15- for the grade.
“It’s always hard to grade something, you know, because everyone feels differently about different climbs,” Hrozová told Rock and Ice for a “Snapshot”
interview (RI #239). “I just graded it compared to how hard other things were for me. It felt harder than Ironman (M14+), and time will tell,
I guess, if people agree.”
Ryan Vachon, 43, of Colorado, completed the second ascent of Saphira on March 27, 2016, not long after Hrozová opened the line. He touted the climb as a “massive
endurance piece that is groundbreaking and innovative (much like other lines that, say, Will Mayo developed at this crag).”
Snobeck, who is good friends with Vachon, had climbed Mayo’s The Mustang P-51 (M14-) last year, and as such, was in search of a new project this season. “Saphira seemed
like the natural progression in Vail,” he says. He began projecting the route’s rock sections this summer, and anxiously awaited winter’s late arrival.
“Every time I went up there, the finish was not quite in, still not in,” Snobeck says.
Finally, on December 23, from an adjacent warm-up route, Snobeck saw that there was “about 10 feet of verglas leading into the final ice curtain,” he says.
“Though after seeing it up close, I managed to find small ice and rock features that would prove to be a spicy, delicate, but totally fun finish to
“When I realized that [Saphira] was finally in, I had to calm down my heart. It was like, okay, game ontoday.”
Snobeck says he was still tense when he began his redpoint attempt, but after a few moves, he got into the flow and felt more relaxed. “I focused on one
move at a time,” he says. “Nearing the end, I found myself slowing down slightly, wanting to approach the last few feet of thin ice with precision.
I moved through this, really enjoying the climbing, and soon found myself established on the final ice curtain, totally blown away by such a magnificent
He clipped the anchors around 35 minutes after leaving the ground.
“I enjoyed it from the beginning,” he says. “It’s such a long climb that traverses the whole Vail Amphitheater, and it has a huge variety of moves.”
Snobeck returned to Vail a few days after his ascent and climbed Saphira a second time. Why? “I just felt like it,” he says, laughing. “It was
good training for my upcoming climbing trip to Europe. It was also fun for me to repeat it, since it was a confirmation climb. Now I know that I can
do it again, and I wasn’t just having a really good day the first time.
“Stanley’s vision was incredible, and what we need in this sport to take it to the next level,” he adds. “Both his vision and Lucie’s ascent were a huge
“It’s been cool tapping into the hard end of mixed climbing, but it also makes me realize that this is just the beginning. So much more is possible, we
just need to find the routes.”
[Update:] Slovenian climber Janez Svoljšak completed the fourth ascent of Saphira (M15-)
later in the week.
Watch Lucie Hrozová on the first ascent of Saphira (M15-):