posted by dpm on 10/06/2011
Despite the rapid progression of the sport, 9a (5.14d) is still the benchmark for hard sport climbing. For those dedicated to the sport, 9a is a mark of true success. Those that can claim the grade are officially bad-ass sport climbers and have mastered the sport. For the rare few that attain this lofty goal, 9a might mark a lifetime achievement; one that they spent a decade or more working towards. So how does a 23-year-old guy from Boulder, Colorado go on his first sport climbing trip in four years and progress from 5.14a to 5.14d?
Ben Spannuth did just that. After four years of college and a near strict diet of bouldering he went to Spain and climbed Chris Sharma’s Era Bella (9a) in Margalef. He also managed a 5.14a flash in Mallorca, the 5.14c Cosi fan Tutte in Rodellar, and multiple onsights up to 5.13d. I had to ask just a few questions so I google-stalked Ben through Facebook and got some answers.
Ben Spannuth. Photo: courtesy of Ben
DPM: Who are you and where are you from?
Ben: I’m from Lafayette, Louisiana. I started climbing at the Rok Haus, a climbing gym in my home town. Most of family now lives in the small town of Galt, CA.
DPM: When did you move to Boulder, Colorado?
Ben: I moved to Boulder to go to school and graduated with a BA/ MS in Integrative Physiology in May 2011. Climbing was secondary to school until I graduated. I really only bouldered during college because I like the bouldering in Colorado much more than the sport climbing. I used to always cycle back and forth between bouldering and sport climbing but for the last three or four years I just focused on bouldering. I haven’t been on a sport climbing trip in years because of it. I think my last trip roping up was in the New River Gorge in 2007 or 2008. Recently, I got endurance for the U.S. rope nationals and world championships in Italy. I didn’t want to lose it so I went sport climbing in Mallorca and the mainland of Spain.
Loskot and Two Smoking Barrels. Mallorca, Spain. Photo: Jack Simonson
DPM: What has been your relationship with competitive climbing?
Ben: I grew up competing and loved it because it was an opportunity to travel out of Louisiana and then climb outside after the comp. Anywhere (besides southern Florida) is better than Louisiana for climbing so it didn’t matter where the comp was. I used it as an opportunity to check out the climbing nearby.
DPM: When did you send your first 5.14?
Ben: I flashed Whole Shot in Maple Canyon, Utah in 2007 but that one isn’t actually a real 5.14. So I guess it would be Zulu in Rifle, Colorado earlier this summer.
Cosi fan Tutte (5.14c), Rodellar, Spain. Photo: William Snodgrass
DPM: How did you go from 5.14a to 9a so quickly?
Ben: Bouldering for three years and not really getting on a rope! The bouldering in Colorado is unreal so I was always in bouldering shape. When it was time to take a trip I would obviously want to go bouldering. This spring I tried to get endurance for rope nationals which went well enough to make it to the world championships in Italy. Then I completely flipped and went for routes hardcore. Once I graduated from school I trained like a madman to get as much power endurance as possible, both for the comp and the Spain trip after!
Era Bella (5.14d), Margalef, Spain. Photo: Mateo Cardenas
DPM: How much longer do you have in Spain?
Ben: Only three days! Noooooo! (Ben is currently back in the States) I’m spending the last days just trying to get as many tufa lines in as possible! After Spain is the world cup in Boulder then the Red River Gorge for a month!
DPM: What's next for you?
Ben: I want to make climbing and living in Spain more sustainable. I might try to delay real life for a bit longer.
Untying after the send of Era Bella, Ben's first 9a. Photo: Williams Snodgrass