To Climb Perfectly: Watch Adam Ondra and Chris Sharma Send in Reel Rock 8

Adam Ondra. "La dura dura" 9b+. Oliana, Spain.
Adam on lower crux. Photo: Bernardo Gimenez

To see a world-class athlete at his physical peak, perfectly executing the most technically, mentally and physically demanding actions—right in the face of extreme circumstances—is one of the greatest, most exciting things we could ever hope watch.

But to see two world-class athletes, both in their perfect primes, and both performing at the highest level ever achieved in their chosen sport—which also happens to be the sport you love—is a once-in-a-generation opportunity if you’re lucky.

This month, we climbers can count ourselves lucky. Because Reel Rock 8 (HD download, BluRay, DVD) contains four bonus films that include “La Dura Complete,” a short film showing the actual footage of Adam Ondra and Chris Sharma making the respective first and second ascents of La Dura Dura (5.15c), the hardest sport climb in the world.

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Chris on the upper crux. Photo: Simon Carter

I’ve been humbled and honored to cover, through various iterations of written word, this truly notable moment in climbing history. I feel like I’ve written about it so often the past few months—for prAna, Rock and Ice, Sender Films, Climb magazine, and, of course, this website—that you think I’d be sick of covering it. Well … Turns out, this story is something I just can’t shake.

The footage of both Ondra and Sharma’s ascents is absolutely spectacular. It’s always cool to see the moves and sequences getting worked and figured out, but there’s a certain sloppiness inherent to that spectacle. The redpoint, on the other hand, is the culmination of days, months and, in this case, years of hard work. It’s the decisive moment when it all comes together: the muscle memory, the strength, the sacrifice, the blank worry-free mind, the right conditions and that extra little smidgen of luck or magic or whatever it is that’s rare and special and always seems to be poised at the final threshold between success and failure.

That’s true for any redpoint, but in this case, we’re talking about is the hardest rock climb that has ever been done.  And the climbers we are talking about are the two greatest athletes this sport has ever known. La Dura Dura was the route that pushed them harder than any other climb they had ever faced. The result is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to what it looks like to climb perfectly.

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Adam Ondra, Josh Lowell, Chris Sharma.
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Sharma’s first viewing of Reel Rock 7, August 2012.

When “Dura Dura,” the headliner film in last year’s Reel Rock 7, came out, I was a bit bummed that the movie ended without a satisfying ending. The film had brilliantly set us up to really care about this piece of rock in Spain, these disparate characters of Ondra and Sharma, and their interesting if competitive relationship to each other. But then the film ended without a good ending: neither climber had sent and they were actually still trying. The story was still unfolding!

Another shortcoming to “Dura Dura”/RR7 was that you didn’t really get a sense of just how fucking brutally, insanely, continuously difficult La Dura Dura is.

Josh Lowell, producer, director and founder of Big Up Productions, explains: “The problem in the first film was that they [Ondra and Sharma] always fell in the lower crux after 20/25 feet. We use a bunch of working / falling shots from the upper section, too, but it’s all kind of montaged together since they were never getting there from the ground. So you don’t feel the pump factor. The first film was more about the people. This one is about the actual route.”

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Working with Matt Maddaloni of Sea to Sky to develop the tracking rig used in RR7: La Dura Dura. Photo by Photo: Andy Mann
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At the base of La Dura Dura, Matt Maddaloni tinkers with an early iteration of the tracking rig. Photo by Brett Lowell / Big UP.

“La Dura Complete” is the result of over two full months of shooting (various crews) spread out over two years. The crew of camera operators has included Bernardo Gimenez, Simon Carter, Joe Kinder, Colette McInerney, Josh Lowell and Brett Lowell.

This is by far the best sport climbing footage I’ve ever seen, particularly Ondra’s send, which was filmed from a rope by Bernardo Gimenez. Ondra climbs fast, as we all know he does, but on this day, it’s even faster and more coordinated. He is executing the movements flawlessly, his hand and foot movements fierce and animalistic. It’s an uncanny spectacle.

“Adam is clearly at the very limit,” says Josh, “but the way he moves is just crazy to watch. There’s one moment in the middle of the lower crux when he clips and hand-foot matches all in one split second motion—so insanely efficient.”

As Ondra sticks the pinch in the upper crux—the “moment of truth on the route,” as Sharma described it—he fights and screams through those next two pivotal movements. You see just how badly he wants it.

Now Ondra is absolutely battling his way through the great and formidable barrier of the impossible, and so barely does he punch through and emerge victorious on the other side.

The footage is reminiscent in its raw emotional exhibition of the footage of Sharma finally sticking that last jug on Realization all those years ago. Ondra, 20, is the same age as Sharma was when he sent Realization.

In the footage of Sharma’s send of La Dura Dura, he actually makes that “moment of truth” look easier than Ondra.

“It’s interesting because when Chris sends, he actually looks much more solid,” observes Josh.

Sharma may look more solid but it also took him longer to redpoint. For Sharma to send La Dura Dura—and I think he’d probably agree with this assessment—he had to be more perfect. It shows in how he climbs through the route, still battling and screaming, however, through the upper 5.13d romp.

Sharma’s send footage is handheld and shot by Simon Carter from the ground. Says Josh: “Chris  had pulled the fixed shooting ropes, so Simon could only get the butt shot, but I think the emotion of it still comes across.”

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During the first big shoot in February, 2012. Photo by Brett Lowell / Big UP
Sharma portrait
Photo by Brett Lowell / Big UP

I think so, too. And that’s what makes this movie so special. The emotion of it all. This is the gratifying ending that I needed but was missing from RR7.

Adam lowers from his redpoint and appears almost choked up as he reflects on what just happened, and that his buddy Chris now needs to do it too. It’s one of Adam’s softest and most endearing moments on screen.

When sports writers write or talk about paradigms of athletic performance, they inevitably summon Roger Federer, Muhammad Ali and the Russian ballet. But to me, all that shit comes second to what is captured in “La Dura Complete.”

This route was an important, if isolated moment in climbing. I can’t imagine those circumstances or stakes, that energized and emotional relationship forged between two separate generations’ most leading climbers, ever aligning in such a special way like that, at least not any time soon.

If you’re a student of climbing movement, if you care about free climbing, then give yourself the gift of stoke this season and order Reel Rock 8 to watch “La Dura Complete.”