Seb Bouin has made the fourth ascent of Jumbo Love 5.15b on Clark Mountain in California. “This king line has attracted me for a long time,” said Bouin. “It was a true inspiration to see the footage of Chris Sharma on it.”
When Sharma redpointed it in 2008, Jumbo Love became the world’s first route graded 5.15b and was one of America’s hardest climbs at the time. Tommy Caldwell had climbed Flex Luthor in 2003, a route that was recently upgraded to 5.15b by Matty Hong – read the story here.
“Jumbo Love looked like everything I like about climbing,” said Bouin. “I knew this line and this wall would be my climbing style. It’s an amazing line with perfect moves. It’s not just a hard line, however, it’s a whole adventure.”
Jumbo Love was bolted by Randy Leavitt, a local climber who’d established several routes in the area. It was originally bolted in three pitches, but Sharma envisioned a 76-metre single-pitch route. It starts with a 20-metre section of 5.13 that leads to 30 metres of 45-degree overhanging 5.14+, which includes a crux with inverted footholds and a sloping pinches. It tops out with another burly 5.13 sequence.
“I totally underestimated the total process, the drive, the off-roading, and the hike in,” said Bouin. “We changed our car three times because it was not good enough to get to the crag. We also changed two tires due to off-road driving incidents. The one-hour hike really takes it out of you. I am used to climbing for many days in a row. But, here, that would be a mistake. We had to preserve ourselves. And keep our energy and motivation up. We were sleeping some nights in the desert, so as not to drive every day. I did the route on my tenth climbing day.”
Sharma began working on Jumbo Love in 2007 with Ethan Pringle. Their efforts were captured in a film by Reel Rock, which showed Sharma and Pringle taking 20-metre whippers. They both took the winter off the project.
At the time, the only other routes proposed to be harder than 5.15a were Bernabè Fernandez’s Chilam Balam at 5.15c (now considered 5.15a/b) and Dani Andrada’s Ali Hulk Sit Start Extension at 5.15b (confirmed at 5.15b in 2010 by Magnus Midtbø). So, to make the first ascent of Jumbo Love was going to be a historical send. Sharma and Pringle trained through the 2007/08 winter specifically for the project.
Early in 2008, Sharma visited Spain and repeated Gancho Perfecto 5.15a and made the first ascent of Papichulo at 5.15a. Pringle, meanwhile, spent some time bouldering in Bishop. Unfortunately he took a bad fall and fractured his heel. During recovery, he tore the labrum in his left shoulder, which put him out for the season.
Sharma returned to Clark Mountain alone and sent the route on Sept. 11. He named it Jumbo Love, a nod to Leavitt’s neighbouring route called Jumbo Pumping Hate 5.13+.
“My overarching objective would be to do the direct variation of Jumbo Love,” said Bouin about the 5.14+ direct start that has never been linked into Jumbo Love. Bouin said that because he found a few kneebars on Jumbo Love, he opted to wear kneepads. “I was falling half of the time, slipping from kneebars,” he said. “I almost gave up on them because they were so sketchy.” Bouin said that he doesn’t believe the kneebars made Jumbo Love any easier.
Jumbo Love didn’t see much action until Pringle returned in 2015, seven years after the first ascent. He worked on the route for months and on May 17 made the second ascent. The only other ascent was by Jonathan Siegrist on May 17, 2018 after 10 days of effort. He had also spent 10 days working on it in 2016.
After Siegrist’s third ascent, Sharma said, “Sure it’s 5.15b and all but this climb is so much more than a number. One of the most beautiful lines in such a remote extreme desert location. To climb it requires much more than just the physical ability. One has to be committed in every way. Good job for seeing it through, and huge shoutout to Randy Leavitt for having the vision and opening that route as well as the entire zone. So grateful for all the learning and growth that route gave to me.”
Earlier this year, Bouin repeated Adam Ondra’s Change 5.15c and made the first ascent of Nordic Marathon 5.15b/c in Norway. “This route is really stunning,” said Bouin about Jumbo Love. “Incredible and futuristic vision from Randy Leavitt to bolt this one in the 1990s. Thanks for the inspiration Chris Sharma and Reel Rock.”