Kai Lightner, 15 years old and on his first climbing trip to Spain, sent Era Vella—his first 5.14d—yesterday. Despite an energy-sapping illness and not having climbed outdoors for seven months, the SCS National Champion made quick work of Era Vella, sending in six days.
Lightner was inspired to climb the 120-foot overhanding route at Margalef, Spain, after seeing pictures and video of one of his idols, Sasha Digiulian, climbing it in 2012. This year, he was finally able to make across the Atlantic for a short spring break trip.
In a blog post, Lightner wrote: “When I arrived at the base of Era Vella, I looked up at the route and was a little overwhelmed. It was enormous, beautifully overhanging and intimidating.
“I was a afraid that I had gotten in over my head.”
Lightner, who had left for Spain the day after SCS Nationals, got right after it and started working the moves.
“The route is so long and exhausting that I could only climb it two-to-three times a day,” he wrote.
On the third morning of his trip, he woke up with a fever, sore throat, muscle fatigue and nausea. “Needless to say, that became my rest day,” he said.
He returned to the crag, determined to fight his way to the anchors—and clipped the chains first go on his sixth day. “I don’t know if it was smart to choose a route that I had never climbed before and travel so far with the goal of making that my first route of the grade, but I am SOOOO excited that I was able to rise to the challenge!”
Rock and Ice caught up with Lightner to learn more about the climb:
RI: You made pretty short work of Era Vella, sending in six days AND while fighting an illness. What did you think of the route when you first got on it? Did it feel attainable or difficult at first?
KL: My first day on Era Vella, I did all of the moves pretty quickly. However, stringing them all together was really difficult at first. The route is 120-feet of sustained climbing on an overhang. I believed that I could do the route, however I knew that it would take a lot of focus and determination to actually get it done.
I knew that I was capable of sending the route, however after a few days of projecting it, and getting sick, I was worried that time would be my biggest challenge, since my trip to Spain was so short.
RI: Was Era Vella your main goal, or did you have other routes that you were looking forward to climbing?
KL: I’ve been fascinated with this route for over two years when one of my climbing idols [Sasha Digiulian] sent it. When I came to Spain, my primary goal was completing this route as my first 9a [5.14d]. I didn’t have any other projects in mind.
RI: You mentioned that you’ve had your eyes set on Era Vella since 2012; did you train in any specific way for it?
KL: No. I primarily train indoors for competitions. Usually when I am in good shape for competitions, I climb well outdoors. It’s been about seven months since I have climbed outside, so I was hoping that this would hold true for this trip as well.
RI: For your first climbing trip to Spain, what did you think of the climbing scene there?
KL: The climbing scene here is incredible. There are mountains everywhere and so many beautiful places to climb. Also, there is a huge climbing community of incredibly strong climbers everywhere.
RI: How was climbing with Chris Sharma??
KL: I’ve always thought that he was an incredible climber. I now realize that he is pretty amazing all around. He is really nice and a very motivating person to be around. He’s always very positive and encouraging.
RI: What’s next for you? Any other trips planned or climbs in mind?
KL: I have a busy competition schedule lined up for the rest of 2015, however, I am eager to plan a return trip to Spain to explore more climbing areas.
Lightner started climbing indoors at age six. The same year, he began competing in the USA Climbing youth circuit and took off. Since, he has earned nine youth National Championship titles, won three Pan-American Championships and has earned 13 U.S. team spots, in the span of seven years (competing for both bouldering and sport climbing national teams in a single year). In September of 2014, Lightner came home with a gold medal for his age category (14-15) from the Youth World Championships in Noumea, New Caledonia, becoming the first American Lead World Champion since 1995.
A photo posted by Kai Lightner (@kailightner) on