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Interview with American Zach Galla on Grand Illusion V16 Ascent

From a post-Nationals ascent of Grand Illusion to climbing's newest production company: Zach Galla talks V16 and SOHI Studios

Photo by: Sean Faulkner

Professional climbing is changing. Today, it is still unclear how the sport will develop as more athletes enter the upper echelons of the field. Still, the way climbing is represented in media clearly differs from five years ago.

In the past, brands made the most popular climbing films. Companies came together to build stories surround the world’s best climbers. Today, aspects of the past persist, but increasingly popular climbing films are being released for free. Although the classic films were radical, the increased access to cameras and editing software have allowed climbers to put their stories in their words.

Recently, this has presented through video blogs posted on YouTube. Climbers like Adam Ondra and Stefano Ghisolfi have not yet escaped branding, but some younger climbers have decided to give up the sponsored approach. They want to make content that they would want to watch themselves. Zach Galla has created a vlogging channel that take people through an immersive outdoor climbing experience. Similarly, Ross Fulkerson and Tim Kang show what it means to be National-level competitive climbers in the United States.

Both channels feature high-level athletes, difficult boulder problems and a quality viewing experience. What is bringing about this change? According to Galla, there are a few reasons. “It gives more of a real look inside the climbing scene than a commercial brand video. It’s just homies who would have been out climbing if the camera wasn’t there. You get a more genuine vibe in the videos. I think that’s what’s been so cool about working with SOHI: it’s just us. It’s all the homies going out and climbing together and it’s always good energy.”


In recent months, Galla has worked with Bobby McGee, Toinon Beigné, and Canadian Sean Faulkner to produce Confluence. This upcoming film will explore the increasingly popular Little Cottonwood Canyon (LCC). Each SOHI member in this foursome will present their relationship with the area between more historical shoots aimed at documenting the development of LCC.

McGee founded SOHI and named it for his hometown of Southern Hinkle, Tennessee. Where Mellow is arguably a collection of films, the production side of things is varied. People submit to the Mellow channel, and Mellow publishes or republishes these films at their discretion. SOHI differs from Mellow as it is a producer.

In many ways, SOHI walks a path blazed by the videographers who came before. Old Louder Than Eleven videos and Nathaniel Davison videos each carry elements that you will see in SOHI’s production. Although you can expect many differences in this upcoming production, the most obvious will be the way it presents its subjects.

Each athlete will have their own section with their own stories edited to music they do not have the license for. That is to say that the film will not make money on YouTube via adds. Instead, it will showcase each climber uninhibited.

The film will reflect a skate-style presentation and narrative, pausing for historical interludes designed to showcase LCC as a world class destination. Galla mentioned that before he moved out to Salt Lake, he had never considered the are such a high-quality area. “I always thought of it as the Salt Lake local place, but with new hard climbs like Grand Illusion, and a couple really nice new first ascents, it opened my eyes to the quality of rock that is in the canyon. There are still a lot of amazing lines that haven’t been done.”

Grand Illusion

The film itself will include footage of Galla’s own ascent of Grand Illusion, a V16 developed in large part by Drew Ruana and established by Nathaniel Coleman. During the Salt Lake World Cups this year, Galla found himself up at Euro Roof with a bunch of World Cup climbers. He tried the Chris Sharma V13 low start to Euro Roof in a couple of goes and noticed that the style really suited him.

Zach Galla straps up – Photo by Sean Faulkner

Although he thought he could wire the end, Galla mentioned that he could not imagine doing to the low start in a season. “I always thought it looked like something way out of my style and way out of my league,” Galla laughed.

After spending around 13 sessions on the boulder, winter appeared to be on its way. Grand Illusion sits at so high an elevation that each year brings a dump of snow that tends to make the boulder unclimbable until May. Checking the forecast, Galla noted that it would snow on the day of the USA Climbing Bouldering final.

Originally, Galla planned to go and try the boulder after finals, but with snow in the forecast, he could not be sure he would have the opportunity. After a less-than-ideal Lead semi-final, Galla decided it was now or never.

Grabbing pads, lunch and some friends, Galla approached Grand Illusion. The bottom holds were wet on arrival, but Galla decided to try it anyway. Drying the holds as best as he could with a chalk ball and a brush, Galla set to work.

“I warmed up on some of the middle moves, got reacquainted with some of my cruxes and said, ‘Alright guys don’t let me try it more than twice.’” With only one rest day before Bouldering Nationals, Galla needed to keep as much in the tank as possible.

He then climbed without error. “Because there were so many things that were working against me, I felt like there were low odds that I could actually do it. I climbed with a blank and clear mind the whole time and just flowed perfect and ended up on top.

“I was almost confused when I was topping out because it felt super effortless. I didn’t feel fatigued when I got to the end, I didn’t have to fight super hard like on some of my past attempts. For some reason, this time, it had felt like I had pulled on from the V10 start.”

Galla’s ascent of the climb makes him the fourth person to send Grand Illusion V16. After his ascent, Galla went on to take bronze at Nationals. He then travelled to Joe’s Valley where he climbed Pegasus V15 and Slasher V13.

Galla’s ascent of Grand Illusion, and the greater Confluence film will hit premiere in January 2022. If you live in the Salt Lake area, you can watch the premiere at The Stockist. For SOHI content, click here.

Zach Galla on Grand Illusion – Photo by Sean Faulkner
Lead photo: Sean Faulkner