For a guy who has climbed 5.15a in a single try, it says something about the difficulty of a climb when it takes him eight years. This week Adam Ondra clipped the chains on Neanderthal (9b/5.15b), a nemesis project of his that he first tried way back in 2011—just a single try—and returned to intermittently over the years.
Chris Sharma made the first ascent of Neanderthal, located in the Santa Linya Cave, Spain, in 2009. Jakob Schubert made the first repetition of the climb in December 2018.
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Ondra shared news of his send via Instagram, proclaiming, “There are not many routes that I can tell about that I really hated [them] at certain point. But Neanderthal was definitely one of them. Not because the route is of bad quality, just because how many times I failed again and again. Getting over it and finally [succeeding] was a huge lesson.”
On his lone try in 2011, Ondra made it to the crux dyno on his second attempt before falling. He had hoped to try it again the next day, but found the route wet—a problem encountered by other projecters over the years. In January, Jakob Schubert told Rock and Ice, “I also heard from Magnus Midtbø that there’s one tufa with a kneebar rest—it’s very often wet, which makes it more uncomfortable to try the route. I was really lucky to have dry conditions the whole trip.”
Ondra didn’t return to Neanderthal until 2015. Though he had decent conditions that allowed him to work the route for a full week, the dyno perplexed him. “I just could not [stick] the dyno from the ground,” he wrote on Instagram. “It felt too [hard] with two fingers in the pocket, and I had no idea how to squeeze my 3 fat fingers in.”
His third rendez-vous with the route was in 2017. He improved his beta on parts, finding more efficient kneebar rests, and even solved the problem of his “fat fingers.” He successfully stuck the dyno from the ground on his first day, but a foot hold on the slightly easier terrain above broke and foiled his redpoint.
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Though frustrating, this new breakthrough encouraged Ondra. But things just didn’t work out that year. “I tried for 5 more days,” he continued on Instagram, “but never had good conditions or I was just too weak. Second trip of that year I got sick.”
Which brings us to 2019. Ondra has had a few of the best years of climbing by anyone. Ever. Repeat of the Dawn Wall in 2016. First ascent of the first 5.15c, Silence, in Flatanger, Norway, in 2017. First 5.15a flash, on Supercrackinette, Saint-Léger, France, in 2018. This had to be his year on Neanderthal, right?
“Short trip and second-last day of the trip i stuck the dyno and fell higher again, due to a brutal falsh pump this time,” Ondra wrote. “Last day of the trip, first try falling [off] the dyno again, sun is slowly coming, I need to go fast. Now, or yet another season. It was an epic try, but hell – it felt good to be in the sun at the anchor.”