A
story
of
failure
Adam
Ondras
9a
attempt
at
Cueva
Negra,
Montanejos

06/2024

Petr Chodura, Montanejos, Spain, 231111130522

@Petr Chodura

Petr Chodura

Adam Ondra

Adam Ondra is likely to be known as the climber who succeeds at everything. An extraordinary talent who makes the most difficult routes look easy and never lets success fall by the wayside. Yet even Adam Ondra experiences failures. How he handled the 9a attempt at Cueva Negra in Montanejos and what this tells about honesty in climbing and with yourself.

I like to think of climbing as a very straightforward game in terms of results. You either climb the route or not. You fall off or not. There might be such a thing as "almost sending the route", but deep in your mind you know only sending the route or boulder problem has real relevance. That is quite different from many other human activities where judgment is mostly very subjective. Unfortunately, even in climbing, it is often not as straightforward as I would like. 

Petr Chodura, Montanejos, Spain, 231111130421 web
Petr Chodura, Montanejos, Spain, 231111122737

Bouldering is probably clear because it is pure and simple in terms of gear. You only need climbing shoes. Any contact with the ground, spotter or neighboring blocs means that your try is invalid. We call this "dab" in climbing slang. But what about a situation when you touch the ground with your baggy T-shirt or long hair? Most people would probably agree that it is not a dab. But not all. 

Sport climbing has more ethical dilemmas and some of them are even less obvious. I will not talk about the more obvious ones like kneepads (with books) and pre-clipping. Certain routes might be eliminated and some of the holds slightly out of the line might be invalid for the route that you are trying. One of the less discussed ethical issues is downclimbing back to the ground after having clipped the first few bolts. That practice is completely accepted in several countries, but it can lead to bizarre practices like downclimbing 20 meters of easier terrain and then essentially climbing most of the route on top rope. In my opinion, once you leave the ground, you should never reverse but you can always reverse back to the ledge. What if the ledge is 30cm above the ground? I think it is OK. 

«No
matter
how
bitter
a
pill
it
is
to
swallow.
It
is
important
to
be
honest,
most
importantly
with
yourself»

Adam Ondra

Recently, I tried to onsight a 9a route in Montanejos, Spain. My try was going really well, I was just underneath the crux, using a marginal kneebar for resting and checking the crux moves above me. Just before I was ready to set off, I broke the edge of the tiny tufa where my knee was, which sent my feet into the air. I was still holding on with my hands, I did not fall off. However, my foot got slightly tangled into the rope, which stopped the swing of my body. I am sure I would never fall off in this situation if I did not have the rope, yet I would have to deal with more of the swing, which would be a little more tiring. It was not a mistake of the belayer as he had enough slack in the system, just the rope drag through approximately 6 carabiners was enough for a bit of help. I am pretty sure that if this happened in a competition (in that case, I would probably not break the hold, but let's say it would be a foot slip), the judges would let me continue climbing and it would be no issue.  

Petr Chodura, Montanejos, Spain, 231111130549 web
Petr Chodura, Montanejos, Spain, 231111140942 web
Petr Chodura, Montanejos, Spain, 231111140155 web

It was an obvious decision to stop my attempt, even though I could blame the rock for breaking. I would not have fallen if the rope wasn't there, but for me, the question is: "Did I get any kind of help?" and the answer is: "Yes, for half a second". No matter how bitter pill it is to swallow. It is important to be honest, most importantly with yourself. I can think of other routes where there is too much rope drag to make certain moves in a dynamic way because a dynamic move produces the swing which can be hard to hold, but the rope drag itself (not talking about belayer not giving you enough slack) eliminates the swing. 

It is actually great that rock climbing is a sport with no judges. For sure, it is relatively simple to cheat, but it is a great learning opportunity for us to learn to be honest and fair. I like to think about the world as such a place, at least in the long term. It is good to be honest, even though short term, it might be a different story. Embrace the learning opportunity and ignore the temptation of dishonesty next time you go climbing. 

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Petr Chodura, Montanejos, Spain, 231111140613 web
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