Say it isn’t so! Chris Sharma is now into … aid climbing?
“I’ve just been addicted to it,” says Sharma, who is currently living in Lleida, Spain, about an hour and a half inland of Barcelona. “Climbing and bolting. Putting up routes. Using hooks, removable bolts. Doing whatever it takes to get a new line in.”
The result is dozens of new A0’s for most of us, but for Sharma, 27, and the booming contingent of strong international sport climbers, these bolts protect some of the hardest and longest free-climbing sequences ever put together.
In 2008, Sharma bolted over 20 new routes, some easier, but most 5.14d and harder. Last year was not only his most productive as a route developer, but with two 5.15b first ascents within a couple of months, it was a milestone for difficulty. First, Sharma redpointed the 250-foot Jumbo Love (5.15b) at Clark Mountain in his home state, California. Then in Siurana, Spain, he redpointed his second 5.15b, Golpe de Estado, which is the Spanish phrase for “coup d’état.”
Lesser known are the handful of 5.14d and 5.15a routes he established, such as Papichulo (5.15a) in Oliana, a 150-foot line up blue stone reminiscent of Céüse, and Gancho Perfecto (5.14d) on the conglomerate rock of Margalef.
Golpe de Estado is a direct start into a route called Estado Critico (5.14c/d). The all-around badass Stefan Glowacz rapped down the line 15 years ago, put two bolts in, and stopped. As enticing as the line had looked, it appeared to be too hard—this was during a time when 5.14d was top of the scale, and there were fewer than a dozen routes of that rating in the world. Then Dani Andrada—perhaps the most motivated and accomplished developer of sport climbs in Spain, if not the world—finished bolting the rest of Estado Critico. The pocket-sized 5’2” 105-pound Ramonet Puigblanque nabbed the first ascent in 2007.
Sharma bolted the direct start at the end of 2007, and managed to “one-hang” the route by the next spring. After returning to the States for the summer, and putting down Jumbo Love in September, Sharma returned to Golpe de Estado and redpointed it in December. He rated the climb 9b, which translates to 5.15b, saying it was definitely harder than all the 5.15a’s he has done.
What did you do today?
I bolted a new route at Oliana. It’s 5.13d or so, and 50 meters long. Pretty epic.
Tell us about life in Lleida.
It’s kind of a weird place; you’re always wondering what you’re doing here. But it’s a really strategic place to be. Within an hour’s drive we can reach many different crags. Siurana, Terradets, Oliana, Rodellar, Margalef.
You said a hold broke on Golpe de Estado after you sent it. Is it harder now?
I went back and checked it out. It wasn’t a hold on a key sequence. I’d like to repeat the route again, but I don’t think the broken hold is going to make it any harder, so I’m not super motivated. I’ve got 10 other projects I’d rather focus on.
Ten projects seems like a lot.
Yeah, but it’s good to have them all here in this one region. I feel more centered. After having projects all over the place, it’s nice to just be in one place, and allow myself to be more patient. Take the time to bolt routes, work out the moves, take enough rest, and not be in a hurry. It’s a longer process than just repeating a route. It’s so much work, but when you get it all completed, it’s really satisfying.
Describe where you are.
I think this area of Spain has undoubtedly become the epicenter of global sport climbing. There are so many people, of all abilities and from all over the world, traveling through here all the time.
I’ve been climbing a lot with Dani Andrada, and he’s a machine. He’s taught me a lot about how to bolt. Dani is super organized. He made a list of projects that can be done—as in, all the moves are there, but just haven’t been sent yet. In Catalunya, there are 50 doable projects of 5.14b and above. There are maybe 25 in Santa Linya above 5.14c. There are entire crags in the south of Spain, but not enough people to develop them.
Are all these routes natural? The impression many Americans have of Spanish crags is that they are mostly chipped.
In Catalunya there aren’t really any chipped routes. Attitudes have definitely changed, and chipping is not OK. It seems to be a thing of the past, not just with Americans, but with the Spanish climbers, too. Internationally, the chipped routes of the early 1990s seemed to be a necessary phase for climbing. I don’t really know why exactly it needed to be like that … maybe for people to realize it’s not cool. Nowadays the natural features in the rock inspire people.
What style do you enjoy more: onsighting or redpointing?
I like them both. I enjoy projecting routes that are at my limit and take a lot of effort. I also like trying to onsight something at my limit. Routes that might only take a handful of tries—things I can do quickly, but not on the first go—don’t really interest me.
I almost onsighted a 5.14c yesterday—which would’ve been a first for me. I fell at the top, and that wasn’t even the hard move. If I go back to try that route, I’m sure I will fall many, many times before that final point because the motivation isn’t there anymore.
You’re climbing well right now. Any other ascents?
Hmmm … [thinking]. I did a first ascent in the Verdon [France] with Dani recently. It’s a nine-pitch 5.14b called Passage de Guy. Dani bolted the route with Daniel Dulac, and together they redpointed all of the pitches except for the 5.14b crux pitch.
Dani brought me to the route, and we climbed it ground up. Seven of the pitches are 5.13b or harder. I flashed all of them except for the crux, which I did on my second try.
I’m really psyched to do some longer routes there. There are these amazing 500-foot caves in the Verdon with beautiful tufas. It would be cool to put up a long multi-pitch route. That’s the motivation right now: bolting new routes. I’m just in heaven here.