Ryan Vachon, 43, made the second ascent of Saphira (M15-) in Vail’s Fang Amphitheater on Sunday—a route considered to be the hardest mixed climb in America.
“The movement was super fun,” he tells Rock and Ice. “Sideways, upward—great vision by Stanley.”
Stanislav “Stanley” Vrba’s established the project across the horizontal roof of the Fang Amphitheater, similar to Will Mayo’s The Mustang P-51 (M14-),
but in the opposite direction. Vrba added a few bolts this January and extended Saphira by another 30 feet of difficult climbing to finish
on the ice of Jeff Lowe’s famed Octopussy (WI 6 M8).
Lucie Hrozová, a 27 year-old Czech climber, claimed the route’s first ascent on January 31.
Her ascent came shortly after the Ouray Ice Festival and Mixed Climbing Competition where she placed first for women and third overall. Vachon, the only competitor to top out the route, took first place in the competition.
Hrozová, named the route Saphira after a mythical dragon.
According to Hrozová, Saphira is more difficult than Ironman (M14+) in Eptingen, Switzerland, prompting her to suggest M15- for the grade.
Vachon has “picked” at Saphira for about a year, he says. He works full-time as the director of Earth Initiatives based in Boulder, Colorado and calls Vail Amphitheater his backyard.
It took him around 25 minutes start-to-finish to send Saphira. At one point, one of his ice tools, torqued in a crack, became stuck when he transferred
from one move to the next. He burned precious energy trying to free it. Despite his frustration, he eventually freed the tool and decided to keep going.
“Trying to relax again after that was the crux for me,” he says. “My cruxes are usually psychological,” he added.
As for the physical crux, he says that it’s the first half of the route on the way up, but there are no “insane” single moves. Overall, the around 55-meter
route is an endurance test-piece.
When asked what he thinks of the grade, he said that Saphira’s M15- fits into the recent progression of mixed climbing grades, although he voices
an interest in the mixed climbing community reaching a stronger consensus on how we weigh the variables that go into grade evaluations.
“Do I think that it is the hardest climb in the country? Perhaps,” he says, “but I think that other climbs have challenged me with more powerful moves.
“I do however think that Saphira is a massive endurance piece that is groundbreaking and innovative (much like other lines that, say, Will Mayo
developed at this crag). As such it is incredible! I can’t wait for others to share their thoughts.”
Vachon returned to the Fang Amphitheater yesterday to try the route again in French Dry Tooling Style (DTS)—climbing without the use of figure-fours and figure-nines, extra long
ice tools and third handle gripping. The ethic was invented about a year and a half ago by Gaetan Raymond and a group of French climbers from Usine, near Grenoble.
“Although I think that DTS is a bit too restrictive for me as a hard and fast rule, kinda like taking heel hooks out of rock climbing, it is a great way
to problem solve,” Vachon says.
He uses DTS more for the challenge, as it significantly ups the difficulty of steep mixed routes, and “expanding the mind” than for purest reasons. “It’s
a really aesthetic way to conquer these routes,” he says. “DTS is a great exercise and forces you to think outside the box. It’s more meaningful for
Vachon came close to the DTS send yesterday, “but that is for another day,” he says. He figures that he will be back in Vail at some point this spring
for another go.
“Yesterday reminded me just how interesting DTS makes the movement…wizardry.”
Watch Lucie Hrozová on the first ascent of Saphira (M15-)>: