A Brief History of 5.15 Rock Climbs
There are a lot of 5.15 routes in 2023 and a lot of climbers who send 5.15a. Here's where the grade got started and some milestone moments
In 2001, Chris Sharma established Biographie, also known as Realization, in Céüse, France. The reason for the name dispute is the difference in ethics between American and French climbers. In France, the person that bolts a route gives it a name while in America, the first ascensionist gives the title. The route was bolted in 1989 by Jean-Christophe Lafaille and was named Biographie. Upon its first ascent, Sharma named it Realization, in congruence with the American style, but he now primarily refers to the route as Biographie.
Though Biographie is considered the world’s first 5.15a, Alex Huber’s Weiße Rose and Open Air have received attention from 5.15 climbers in recent years. Though they were both rated 5.14d, Adam Ondra’s ascents led him to believe that they both had the capacity to be 5.15. As they were climbed in 1994 and 1996 respectively, they would have been the first of the grade, but an official upgrade has not occurred. And Steve McClure’s Mutation at Raven Tor, which was originally graded 5.14d, was repeated by Will Bosi who suggested an upgrade to 5.15a.
Seven years after his ascent of Biographie, Sharma established Jumbo Love on Clark Mountain in the Mojave National Preserve. This route would become the world’s first 5.15b and, at 76-metres long, became a new standard in hard route climbing. It would not see a second ascent until 2015 when Ethan Pringle climbed the route. In 2022, Seb Boin climbed the direct start at 5.15c – read about it here.
By 2012, Adam Ondra had become one of the few that establish new difficulty. He climbed Change and graded it 5.15c. It became the hardest climb in the world. The route was bolted in the Hanshelleren Cave of Flatanger, Norway. It is still unrepeated. One year later, ascents of Sharma’s La Dura Dura in Oliana, Spain were climbed by Ondra and Sharma. In many ways, this represented the passing of a torch from one generation to another.
Each of these ascents progressed difficulty, but still the world waited for a female ascent of the elusive 5.15a. In March of 2015, 13-year-old Ashima Shiraishi climbed Open Your Mind Direct in Santa Linya, Spain. Though the route was originally 5.14d, a hold broke and so the difficulty was increased. That said, the consensus of the community is that the route, post-break, retains its grade of 5.14d.
In 2017, Margo Hayes had become the first woman to climb La Rambla, a popular 5.15a in Spain. The ascent made her the first woman to climb at the difficulty. The route itself is a 35-metre test-piece bolted by Huber. The route was later extended six metres by Dani Andrada, and was first climbed in 2003 by Ramón Julián Puigblanque. Hayes’ ascent of the extended route broke down the metaphorical door and led to a series of strong female ascents.
On Sept. 3 of that same year, Ondra had established the world’s most difficult sport climb: Silence 5.15d. The route was established in the same cave as Change and was bolted sometime between 2012 and 2013 by Ondra. Today, the route stands as a testament to what the future of sport climbing might look like. The 45-metre route follows the beginning of Change at around 5.13d, before moving through a V7 boulder problem to three distinct cruxes. The route moves through a V13 sequence into a ten move V15 boulder problem before concluding on a technical V10. After the final crux, a jug leads through easier climbing.
Eight days later, Anak Verhoeven would become the second woman to climb 5.15a and the first to make a first ascent of a route with such a high difficulty. Her route, Sweet Neuf, was established in Vercors, France and combined the 15-metre 5.14d Sang Neuf with the 25-metre Home Sweet Home 5.14b/c. This ascent is just as ground-breaking as Margo Hayes’ La Rambla as first ascents into new difficulties are difficult to establish. Fourteen days later, Hayes nabbed the first female ascent of Sharma’s Biographie.
In the subsequent October, headlines were once again made in female sport climbing. Angela Eiter skipped 5.15a entirely and made the first female ascent of La Planta de Shiva 5.15b. The short amount of time between the first female ascent of 5.15a and the first female ascent of 5.15b is incredible, especially considering that it took male climbers, specifically Sharma, seven years to leap from 5.15a to 5.15b. It took female climbers eight months.
Since then, there have been notable 5.15 ascents all over the world. In 2018, Adam Ondra would flash Super Crackinette 5.15a, an Alex Megos route established in 2016. This ascent goes shows just how strong a climber can be, and that there are not limits to flashing difficult routes, aside from those the climber sets upon themselves. In that same year, Megos would put up the first ascent of Perfecto Mundo 5.15c in Margalef, Spain.
In 2019, Hayes would climb the first female ascent of Papichulo 5.15a in Oliana, Spain. In that same year, Olympian Julia Chanourdie would climb Super Crackinette 5.15a in Saint-Léger-du-Ventoux, becoming the fourth woman to climb 5.15. Rounding off the year, Stefano Ghisolfi would climb Perfecto Mundo, becoming the fourth person to climb at such a difficulty, and Jonathan Siegrest would climb All You Can Eat 5.15a at Mount Potosi just outside Las Vegas.
There are now two routes suggested to be 5.15d and at least eight at 5.15c. For a list of the world’s hardest sport climbs visit here.
In Canada, there are only a few 5.15s currently established. In 2016, Megos travelled to Banff National Park to establish Canada’s first 5.15b, Fight Club. The route was originally called the prow project and Megos sent it on his second try. Canadian Sonnie Trotter then extended the route that same day. After five or six days of projecting, Megos managed to finish the route. Two years later, Ondra visited Canmore, Alberta and took down two of Canada’s projects. Disbelief was a line bolted by Josh Muller, co-owner of Bolder gym in Calgary. Ondra said, “I cannot think of many other routes where I climbed so close to my limit.” Ondra went on to send an Evan Hau project which he titled Sacrifice, giving it a grade of 5.15a. In 2022, Miles Adamson claimed a new 5.15a called Semantics near Canmore.
United States 5.15
In the same way that there are so few 5.15s in Canada, there are relatively only a few in the U.S.A. Jaws II is one of the older lines, and though considered softer, has retained its difficulty rating. The route was originally established in Rumney, New Hampshire by Dave Graham as a 5.14b, but after a couple of holds broke, was regraded to 5.15a. For a list of 13 5.15s in the U.S.A. visit here.