Adam Ondra has built a reputation climbing apparently impossible routes and now he has another one in his sights: El Capitan’s intimidating Dawn Wall, generally considered the toughest big wall climb in the world.
Ondra, who confessed to sponsors Black Diamond that he feels “a little ashamed that I haven’t been to Yosemite yet,” is in the US currently and plans to tackle the Nose, Salathé and the Dawn Wall in an ambitious six-week schedule.
Ondra’s university studies over the past few years have kept him away from Yosemite, where the best months for big wall climbing are October and November. With a degree in the bag, Ondra can now turn his attention to studying three different walls on one of the world’s most iconic mountains.
The Nose (graded (VI 5.14), accurately described by Ondra as “the most classic route” in Yosemite, is first on the Czech’s agenda. Despite the route’s legendary status, Ondra gives the impression it will be little more than a warm up for greater challenges to come.
“For me, the really important route is the Salathé, and I’d like to try and onsight it in one day,” Ondra said. If successful, Ondra would become the first climber to onsight Salathé and he confessed to seeking Beta from Yuji Hirayama, who tried to onsight the route in 1997.
To do so Ondra will have to adapt to Yosemite’s rock quickly. By his own admittance, sport climbing in Norway’s Hanshelleren Cave, where he’s been pushing his limits this summer, is vastly different to big wall trad climbing. “The friction in Norway is just perfect,” Ondra notes – not an observation made by many who’ve suffered on El Capitan’s polished walls!
Ondra is also aware that he’ll have to work on hand-jamming and finger locking, techniques he’s rarely used but which are essential on Salathé, while the route’s tricky Monster Offwidth section looms large in his thoughts.
It is testament to Ondra’s ambition that such an undertaking will, for many, be overshadowed by his attempt on the Dawn Wall.
Established and aid-climbed in 1970 by Warren Harding, the Dawn Wall is best described in the words of those who’ve attempted it. It is, for Tommy Caldwell, “the steepest, blankest big wall maybe in the world.” What makes the Dawn Wall “so special,” for Alex Honnold, “is that it’s almost not possible.”
Almost a full half century after it was first climbed – and despite the best efforts of the likes of Chris Sharma and Jonathan Siegrist – the Dawn Wall wasn’t free climbed until January this year when Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson completed a mammoth 20-day ascent that captured the attention of the world’s media and even earned them a Presidential thumbs up from Barack Obama.
Check out the embedded video for some insight from Caldwell on what it took to climb the wall – and the challenge that awaits Ondra.
The Czech will go into the climb with his eyes open, aware of both the challenges of Dawn Wall – “the face climbing—you’re using a lot of thumbs and balancy moves…you have to do so many hard pitches in a row” – and the appeal of a challenge you “can’t find anywhere else in the world.”
This image originally appeared in Rock and Ice issue 225 (April 2015), Dawn Wall Special Edition.
Ondra has received advice from Caldwell on where to set up base camp and fix ropes and will tackle the Dawn Wall from the ground up, concerned that abseiling from the top to test out the crux sections first “could be frowned upon.”
The challenge Ondra has set himself for the next couple of months is formidable, even by his standards, but it should be fun to see how he gets on. We’ll keep you up-to-date with his progress.