Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Hardest Traditional Route In China

A pure splitter, steep, long, powerful, technical, and brilliant. That sums up The Firewall. It hangs high of the deck in an amazing position overlooking the town of Liming. I have been incredibly lucky to find such a line and have the opportunity to get the first ascent. Among the Liming climbers the line was always the thing to be done. Just waiting there for someone like me to put the effort in.
The crux. Ring locks and rattly fingers in overhanging terrain with bad feet and a solid pump. This is actually a video still from some amazing footage that Garrett Bradley took. You think this is rad, the sunrise photos he got make this look like a one year olds finger painting. Image: Copyright Garret Bradley. All rights reserved. No use, duplication or adaption allowed without written permission.
 Word had spread that I was coming back to Liming to continue to work the route and a journalist friend, Derek Cheng, had put me in contact with photographer Garret Bradley who was keen to get media of the route. I had never met Garret but when he turned up with a car full of camera equipment and ropes I knew I had gotten lucky meeting someone who was as keen to document the route as I was to climb it.

The following couple of weeks I spent building on the previous trips knowledge of the route. I had one good month of boulder training in Perth in between trips in which I gained power and healed my skin. It was obvious I was doing the powerful ending easier and it had now become a fitness challenge. Garret asked me to repeat sections of the route over and over again which helped engrain them into my muscle memory. I worked hard knowing how rare it is to get good media of such a significant route. I was relaxed and did not pressure myself thinking I had to send because I knew after Garret left I would still have two weeks to send and if not then I would be back in October. No matter what I would do the route.

The Flying Buttress, of which the third pitch is The Firewall, forms an arch in the cliff and the crack is sheltered from the rain and in the shade almost all day. We were waking up for sunrise to find out if at first light any sun made it in to the climb. It was generally overcast in the morning so it wasn’t until Garrett was meant to leave and we had a clear morning that we noticed that for only about 15 minutes at first light the crux of the upper pitch was hit by the sun. Garrett extended his trip by a couple of days. After a rest day and on Garretts last day we woke at 4:30am and trudged up the hill. Simon Madden (World famous Vertical Life co-editor and professional sendage belayer) had arrived and immediately been recruited for belay duty. I don’t like to waste shots so even though we were up there to get rad photos I decided to go for it anyway.
Looking up from the belay. Photo Simon Madden.
Everything went smoothly, I had never felt better after the easy first half. The tight hands section felt as it usually does, tiring and a little insecure. I placed my final bit of gear and started the 5m boulder to the anchors. I was really shaky as I normally was when attempting the section pumped but I fought through and found myself throwing into the flared final hand jam, which marks the end of the route. There are no good feet here so I just hold on with one pumped arm, paste my right foot while my left big toe pulls on the edge of the finger width crack. I pulled slack expecting to explode of the route into the space below me but somehow managed to hold on and clip the anchor. Just as I did the first sun lit up the wall. Incredible. Garrett managed to video the send, which was my 22nd attempt.

Celebrations were cut a little short, as the window of opportunity to get the shots with the sun on the wall was small. I can definitely say the shots Garrett ended up with that morning are some of the best climbing shots I’ve ever seen. The rest of the day we continued to get the video angles we needed before cleaning the route of all our ropes and gear. We got down towards midnight and enjoyed a local street BBQ.

As for the grade I am still a bit unsure. It isn’t the hardest thing I have done although it is up there. It felt a grade harder than Air China but maybe not 5.14a. Air China is considered 5.13d by the first two ascentionists and maybe it is. Crack climbs are difficult to grade especially when I haven’t been to benchmark sandstone crack areas like Indian Creek. I am however climbing well at the moment and the route isn’t reachy, which often is what holds me back while on harder sport routes. It is incredible for its quality and position more than its difficulty anyway so I guess the grade isn’t too important.

I have never done such a cool first ascent and had so much support from the crew around me. A thank you definitely has to go to Garrett for his tireless work capturing it all. Also to everyone that came up to belay me; Ana Pautler, Rich Ham, Simon Madden, Zhou Lei, Alexa Flower, Mike Dobie, Raul Sauco. The biggest thanks of all has to go to Mike Dobie though who introduced me to Liming and The Firewall. He has done the majority of development here and written the guidebook. You can get a copy at and start getting psyched!
Jerry and I visiting the Lisu Ladder in Liming. The locals used to use this to get to the birds nests. Photo: Rich Ham.