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Tom Ballard Establishes World’s Hardest Dry-Tooling Route

A Line Above the Sky is Tom Ballard’s newest and most difficult dry tooling route in the Dolomites. If his D15 grade is confirmed by future ascensionists, it will be the most difficult dry tooling route climbed yet.

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Tom Ballard hanging on to <em>A Line Above the Sky</em> (D15). Photo by Ryan Vachon.
Tom Ballard hanging on to A Line Above the Sky (D15). Photo: Ryan Vachon.

A Line Above the Sky is Tom Ballard’s newest and most difficult dry tooling route in the Dolomites. If his D15 grade is confirmed by future ascensionists, it will be the most difficult dry tooling
route climbed yet.

“With 45+ meters of burly, shoulder-straining moves, and more than 25 clips, this route weighs in, I think, at a hefty D15,” Ballard told UK Climbing.

The climb, as with all of Ballard’s routes, has been climbed in French Dry Tooling Style (DTS), which some consider to be the true or purest form of the
sport. For a climb to be completed in DTS, the climber cannot use figure-four or figure-nine moves, third grips on an ice axe, or extend ice tools.

The style was developed by a group of French climbers from Usine, for ethical reasons, but Ballard told Rock and Ice that he uses DTS mainly because “it
suits my style better. I am absolutely terrible at figure-fours, I always get tangled up!”

Ballard’s success comes as a welcome relief from what he has considered to be an otherwise lackluster climbing season. At the Ice Climbing
World Cup in Montana in December, he claims to have “made a silly technical error and failed to qualify.” At a later World Cup in South Korea, Ballard
felt a similar sentiment.

He told UK Climbing, “I climbed as if I had never seen a pair of axes before!”

However, Ballard is certainly no stranger to ice or axes, sending many of the world’s hardest mixed and dry tooling routes, including Superman (M13),
Spiderman (M13+), and Ironman (M14).

His biggest success came last year, when he climbed the six iconic North Faces in the Alps in winter, alone, in a single season. Ballard called it his
Starlight and Storm project, and it gained him a place in climbing history. The Telegraph called
him “the new king of the Alps,” following the success.

His new route A Line Above the Sky is located at Tomorrow’s World – a cave at the foot of Marmolada in the Dolomites. Ballard
discovered the cave in 2014 and has been developing it since autumn of last year. “Tomorrow’s World has taken nearly all my time from when I started
bolting in October,” Ballard told Rock and Ice, “So it has been a big investment in time and money.

“Often the rock is smooth and blank,” leaving Ballard “desperately trying to get even the minutest purchase on the marginal footholds.”

The newest line is a long link-up of other routes in the cave, including Real Steel (D9), French Connection (D15-), Je Ne Sais Quoi (D14+). “This gives close to 50meters of shoulder straining, strength sapping climbing across this enormous roof!”

As for the grade? As with any new “hardest route,” controversy and discussion will abound as climbers come to try the line.

“Is D15 justified?” Ballard asks. “I guess time and repeats will tell…come and have a go if you think you can climb hard enough!”