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Adam Ondra: School is Out and the Dawn Wall is Calling

Friday, November 11, 2016
Black Diamond Ambassador Adam Ondra admits that there’s one major hole in his climbing resume. “I’m a little ashamed that I haven’t been to Yosemite yet,” he told BD. But that’s about to change. Ondra rolled through our global headquarters in Salt Lake City on his way to the Valley and gave us the low-down on his Yosemite plans…

Image: Tommy Chandler

So you’re finally heading to Yosemite. Why now?

I’ve been thinking for years about going to Yosemite, and finally now is the right time. The last three years I was studying and I couldn’t really miss that much school in October and November, which is the season for the Valley. So, I just finished University and got my Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management, and I’m free and can go to Yosemite.

How long do you plan to spend in the Valley?

Well, definitely one month and a half… and then we’ll see how much I can climb.

Will you stay in Camp 4?

At least for certain periods, we will stay in Camp 4 to get the proper atmosphere. And when it gets cold, we’ll see.

Have you trained specifically for Yosemite?

Well, pretty much the only training that was Yosemite oriented was one day I went sandstone climbing in the Czech Republic and we climbed some offwidths, which was pretty cool. At first I sucked a lot, but by the last pitch, which was the hardest one, I found a little technique and was feeling more in control. For sure at the beginning I was using too much power.

Image: Chris Parker

Do you think your time spent climbing 5.15 granite sport routes in the Hanshelleren cave in Norway will translate to the walls of Yosemite?

No, not at all. I think it’s completely different. I don’t even think that the friction of the granite is very similar. The friction in Norway is just perfect. The friction in Yosemite and especially El Cap I imagine to be really slick with some sharp edges.

So, what are you psyched to try?

Well, the first serious route I’d like to try is the Nose (VI 5.14), and then the Salathé (VI 5.13b), and then the Dawn Wall (VI 5.14d). But for me, the really important route is the Salathé, and I’d like to try and onsight it in one day. So I think it would be wise to try something beforehand and the most classic route is the Nose, so why not?

Do you have any previous wall experience?

I’ve climbed multi-pitches in the Alps and Madagascar, but I don’t have that much experience with trad … like hand-jamming and finger-locking, but I hope I will learn.

Yuji Hirayama tried to onsight the Salathé in 1997. Did he give you any beta?

I did talk to Yuji [laughs]. He told me to do the headwall in two pitches, not one, and for an onsight it’s really tricky because you have to know where to extend the certain gear and stuff like this. And it would be bad to fail on my onsight due to rope-drag!

Image: Jan Novak

What would it mean to you to pull off the first onsight of El Cap?

I don’t really think about it that much. It’s just an amazing piece of rock and onsight is the best style… as long as you’re using ropes. It’s just obvious to go for such a legendary route onsight. But I’m definitely afraid of the Monster Offwidth.

Who are your climbing partners for this trip?

Well, we will see. The Nose I’m definitely going to climb with my Dad, and the other routes I think I’ll climb with a friend from the Czech Republic.

So you mentioned trying the Dawn Wall. What inspired you to attempt the world’s hardest big-wall?

The video by Big Up [Productions] “Progression.” Even before “Progression” was released, Brett Lowell was talking to me about this project. I was just super inspired and I loved it from the beginning. The style of climbing, the face climbing—you’re using a lot of thumbs and balancy moves—it didn’t look like your regular Yosemite climbing. Plus the consistency of the climb—you have to do so many hard pitches in a row. It’s so unique. You can’t find it anywhere else in the world.

Image: Tommy Chandler

What will be your strategy for the Dawn Wall?

We were considering how to start, whether just to go up and rappel and try the pitches from the top. But that could be frowned upon, so that’s why we decided to try to go ground up, at least to the crux pitches, and then if we have to, we’ll fix ropes, and work on the cruxes. And then go for the push.

Have you asked Tommy Caldwell for any beta?

I talked to Tommy a little bit. He gave me some tips, like where to set up base camp, the portaledges, where to fix the ropes, stuff like that. And about the shoes … that’s very crucial.

TC Pro’s?

I don’t know. I’ve never climbed with [La Sportiva] TC Pro’s but I just ordered them and tried them a little bit but I think it’s not a shoe for me. I’ll go with [La Sportiva] Katana Laces.

Do you think you’ll walk away with a send of the Dawn Wall?

I don’t want to be too ambitious since I’ve never been to Yosemite. I just want to try it. For me Yosemite is the only crag of historical importance where I haven’t been. That’s why I want to go there, and besides that, it looks so cool. Yosemite is radically different than anywhere else I’ve ever been and that’s why I want to go there. And if I was a little piece of the history, that would be cool, but let’s see…

—Adam Ondra

Stay tuned next week for an exclusive video of Ondra’s visit to SLC where he not only toured BD Headquarters but also cranked on some of the area’s most stout boulder problems.