No, not Sharma’s Realization which was climbed in 2001, but rather Alex Huber’s Open Air at Austria’s Schleier Wasserfall. Ondra had this to say about the ascent on his 8a.nu scorecard:
Whopee! my hardest definately! a bit harder than Weisse rose, so 9a+ should be appropriate I hope, when Alex Huber did it, Action Directe considered as 8c+ , then 9a for this one was OK. Now when AD is 9a, this should be 9a+. 5 days, 9 goes, BUT always in good conditions and friction, in summer it would be something very different…
Adam Ondra on Open Air
Photo: Vojtech Vrzba
This is an incredible achievement for the youngster from the Czech Republic, and surely a sign of great things to come. What is most impressive to me about this news is the fact that Alex Huber did the first ascent of Open Air back in 1996. Huber originally gave it a grade of 9a, or 5.14d. Ondra, however, has suggested an upgrade to 5.15a. This he based largely on the widely accepted benchmark of Action Direct as 5.14d.
Given the adjustment of the grade of Action Direct and perceived inflation of the grade of his route La Rambla in Siurana, Huber gave his thoughts on the state of high end sport climbing grades in a recent interview with PlanetMountain.com: [emphasis mine]
Let me give you an example: Adam confirmed my thoughts about “Weisse Rose”: it’s harder than “La Rambla”. It’s a fact that La Rambla increased in grade from 8c+ to 9a+. Often people believe this is due to the route extension, but in reality the difficulties do not change substantially with this extension. The difficulty in traversing from the Rambla belay rightwards to finish up “Reina Mora”, compared to the crux on La Rambla, is not relevant. To this you also have to add the fact that La Rambla isn’t harder than Action Direct and therefore cannot be harder than 9a. In 1995 Action Directe was given 8c+, that is why my routes such as “Weisse Rose” and “La Rambla” had to be given 8c+. Nowadays Action Direct is considered to be the benchmark 9a, so both “Weisse Rose” and “La Rambla” turned into 9a. And if you take Action Direct as a reference for 9a, then I believe many current top routes are considerably overgraded.
Also worth noting is the effect that both the internet age and media publicity have had on the public perception of what are the hardest climbs in the world. Chris Sharma’s ascent of Realization has been hailed as the world’s “first 5.15” in print and in films since he first completed it back in 2001. Contrarily, and for myriad reasons, Huber’s ascents of routes like Open Air and the unrepeated Om (5.14d/5.15a??) in 1992 were largely ignored in recent times.
This topic is especially pertinent given the recent ascent of Jumbo Love (5.15b) by Chris Sharma. Headlines on the cover of the most recent Urban Climber read “5.15b now exists…the climbing world reacts to Chris Sharma’s Jumbo Love, the hardest route ever” and likely a feature in an upcoming Big Up film both play up the hardest route in the world angle. It’s probably true, but the point is that nobody really knows. Sharma’s ascent is groundbreaking, amazing and awe inspiring to be sure, but in this sport where several of the potentially hardest routes have yet to be repeated, questions still remain. How can it be determined if the supposed hardest route truly deserves that title until other routes have been repeated and a proper consensus is reached on their grades? I guess it is important to keep that in mind and keep everything in perspective.