by Emanuele Confortin
He is universally recognized as the strongest climber around. It is hard to bind him to a specific category, or to attempt making comparisons with the past. Adam Ondra is a separate entity, the prototype climber, able to stand out in the competitive circuits on “plastic”, on boulders, and on the hardest single-pitch climbs found in a handful of crags around the globe. Then again in the multi-pitch climbs, the Dawn Wall (VI 5.14d) on El Capitan in Yosemite among others, which he took on at the end of 2016. What is certain, one is born Adam Ondra, one does not become him. An innate predisposition to climbing is essential in order to manage with such simplicity a record craved by every single enthusiast of the vertical limit. At the top of the list of secrets undoubtedly lies chance, such as growing up in the right family, one that keep their “heads looking up”, where the ideal playground is a rock surface carved with an arrangement of crimps and holds. For the prodigy of Brno this is exactly how things came about, so much so that up until the age of 6 it is said he couldn’t even conceive any other fate other than climbing. Taking family traits for granted, the Ondra basic set-up is rounded off by a good dose of talent and a great deal of sacrifice, a religious-like devotion to the sport.
The full potential of this final mix is measured in numbers and grades: between 2010 and 2016 Adam Ondra has sent eleven 9b routes and three at 9b+. Added to these are his various successes in World Championships. Then bouldering, with 202 completed boulders ranging between 8A and 8C+. Finally, the multi-pitch super-routes, with the latest and most prestigious of all, in Yosemite. Not bad for someone who at the start of the millennium was sitting in a classroom in first grade. For Alpinismi’s debut, Adam Ondra has agreed to answer our questions, as well as following us on some movements out of route, away from the safety of bolts, onto the crumbly surface of current events.
2016 is over, can you list five positive things you did and five things you would change?
«I can only list 5 positive things which would be finishing university for the bachelor, victory in lead WCH, sending Dawn Wall, figuring out the moves in Project Big and sustaining happiness throughout the whole year.
I will not list any negative things, because even mistakes are positive if I can learn from them»
Who have been the biggest inspirations in your life, both in climbing and ‘every-day’ life? Why?
«Wofgang Güllich for climbing, who had been pushing the limits of climbing in the 80s and at the beginning of the 90s. The courage he had to just go to try something ridiculously looking, and showing the others that it is possible.
“Normal”-wise, I admire people that know a lot about so many different subjects. Like Jared Diamond and his books (Guns, Germs and Steel for example) are outstanding in terms of how much that guy knows and how well he managed to put things into context. Highly recommended»
The assumption is that you’re the best climber in the world, now everybody is looking forward to seeing you on ‘Project Hard’ in Flatanger. Are we really talking about 9c? What does a super-climber like you need to solve such a problem?
«I believe it could be 9c but you never know before you actually send it and sometimes I do not know for sure even after that… To send this monster pitch, I need to be a little stronger and have it even more wired»
Do you have a dedicated training program for ‘Project Hard’?
« will definitely train specifically for that»
2017 has just begun, what is you first goal, and where will you travel first?
«Classic winter destination – Catalunya, Spain. Great place to have some fun before another training starts for Flatanger»
On 7 December 2016 Maurizio Zannolla ‘Manolo’ made the first repeat of Il Mattino dei Maghi, the legendary route first climbed in 1981 by Manolo at Totoga crag. The grade is ‘only’ 7c+ … almost insignificant in this sport-climbing era. What merit does Manolo’s climb have in your opinion? Would you ever consider trying Il Mattino dei Maghi?
«Sure, I would love to try it one day. I recently talked about it with him and he just did the first repetition of the route and he thinks that the modern equivalent is more like 8a. The real difficulty of this climb is actually the mental part is supposedly really scary. And imagine it was totally ahead of its time – this was possibly the world’s second 8a and with huge runouts between pegs opened ground-up»
You are a great all arounder. How do you match bouldering, ‘plastic’ climbing, rock climbing and multi-pitch routes at the highest level? Is it just a matter of training? Out there are thousands of people looking to tap into your secret, perhaps this is the best time to reveal it!
«I love climbing, and I love its variety. Every aspect you learn in bouldering might turn out to be useful on big walls and almost vice versa. I think my aim of being an all arounder works well – at least in terms of motivation»
Are you seriously considering moving your skills to a high altitude trad multi-pitch route? Looking further, from Patagonia to Karakorum, the Himalaya or anywhere else, do you have any particular big wall in mind?
«Nothing particular but I am quite tempted. First I need to acquire more trad climbing experience on the wall like El Cap, and in the future going to a higher altitude could be an option»
How do you manage your private life away from climbing crags? What is your favourite music? And film? The best book you read during 2016?
«I don’t do that much as there is not much time left. I like cooking, going out for lunch or dinner with my girlfriend, sometimes going to a theatre. I don’t listen to any particular kind of music, I usually tune on some FM station while driving and that’s it. As for the movies, I don’t have any favourite movies that I would watch multiple times but I really enjoyed The Intouchables. French movies are pretty enjoyable in general. The best books in my opinion are all in Czech and have not been translated yet. The English one I can think of is Wild by Cheryl Strayed»
In my opinion, one of the best things you did is keeping up with your academic studies. Is your education helping you as a professional rock-climber?
«It had been a good distraction, sometimes you just need to take a mental break from climbing. But sometimes it was really hectic! I hope education will help me in life in general as well as in my career as a professional climber»
We are climbers but we are also journalists, and as such we are constantly bombarded with news, day after day. How do you live your relationship with current events? What do you discuss with your relatives, or friends, when you read newspapers, listen to radio news or follow a TV show? What events did you follow most over the past year?
« read quite a bit about what is going on. However, to be honest, I am not really interested in what is going on in full detail, rather more why a certain thing happened and I try to put it into a wider context and try to see what might happen. I think the worst thing right now is the uncertainty around here in Europe, panic-like fear of refugees, fear of terrorist attacks… I am afraid that the world might change for the worse. Turn into a less free world. And that is a shame. I like to discuss about these things, with people who really know about it and don’t just get their opinions from one particular newspaper every day. But apart from that, I still talk a TON about climbing»
You come from the Czech Republic but in your life you travel quite a lot. I would say you are a ‘migrant-climber’. Looking back at recent years, migrations have been at the centre of our concerns in Europe. We are facing a deep crisis with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Poland as part of the Visegrad Group holds a fierce opposition to current migrant policies. What is your opinion?
«There is a panic-like fear of the refugees sweeping across Europe but it’s particularly strong in the Czech Republic and other Visegrad countries. Way stronger than in countries like Germany, or France, or Italy. There are basically no muslims in the Czech Rebulblic, and all the other minorities are either based on Christianity (from Ukraine, Russia), or cultures that easily adapt (like the Vietnamese). Most of the refugees do not want live in the Czech Republic anyway because of the slightly lower living standards than other Western Europe countries have. So I do not believe Visegrad countries will experience any problems. If some refugees will come, the number of them will never increase to a critical amount.
Western countries are in a different situation. The process of adaptation failed, in France more than in any other country. Some places are no-go zones where the European law does not exist anymore. And that is wrong. Europe cannot handle many more refugees. And those who do come should be treated differently. People argue that refugees are lazy and do not want to work. Well, but they actually are not allowed to work until they receive asylum, which sometimes takes years. And all of those years, they live from the money of taxpayers because they have to! I believe that if they had a right to work, the process of adaptation would be much easier. It is a mistake of our system.
European countries should also work more in the countries from where the refugees come from, have their offices there and if a person is accepted, he or she should be transported to Europe in a human way. The business of smuggling people across the sea as it is happening now must stop»
We are all obsessed with your next adventure, with your next project. But how do you live this constant search for the hardest grade possible? How do you handle the pressure of the fans, the sponsors, the magazines, and other climbers? Are you not afraid of burning out and losing that spark that makes you love what you do every day?
«That is one of the reasons I like doing multiple disciplines. If you do one thing all the time, it is easier to burn out. It’s best to enjoy the process, have your personal goals, and not to climb for anyone else but yourself!»
Let’s come back to climbing. I have just a couple more questions. Try to imagine top climbing in 2030, what do you think will be going on?
«9c+ redpoint, 9b+ flash, 9A+ boulders»
What about Adam Ondra’s climbing in 2030?
«Climbing for sure, hopefully I won’t be climbing any worse than I do now»
Translation from Italian by Chris Dowling