World's First 9a Onsight?

posted by dpm on 03/25/2013


19-year-old German Alex Megos has made a shocking onsight ascent of Estado Critico at Siurana, Spain. The route was first climbed by Ramon Julian in 2004 and proposed as a 9a (5.14d). If the grade sticks at this level; this is the first 9a onsight ever completed and a claim to one of the most coveted "firsts" in the history of sport climbing.

Looking at Megos' track record, it's not surprising that he's pulled this off. His recent 4-month trip to the U.S yielded an astounding tick list, the highlight being in the volume. Megos climbed 135 8a graded routes and boulder problems (5.13b and V11) over the course of 121 days. He also climbed 9a with The Fly at Rumney, New Hampshire and flashed Pure Imagination (8c+/5.14c) at the Red River Gorge. His flash of Pure Imagination made him only the fifth person in the world to climb 8c+/5.14c first try, though only three people have onsighted the grade: Patxi Usobiaga with the first 8c+ onsight (Bizi Euskaraz in 2007), Ramon Julian with The Crew in 2011, and Adam Ondra with many onsights of the grade.

Megos sends Slashface (V13) in Hueco Tanks, Texas. Photo: Adam Taylor

The most shocking aspect of the claim to the world's first 9a onsight is that it comes from Alex Megos and not Adam Ondra who was clearly poised to snag the title first. It's been no secret that Ondra has been gunning for it, saving potential 9a onsights for the perfect moment of conditions and fitness. Regarding 9a onsights, Ondra's list of "almosts" is quite extensive and he's the record holder in almost every other aspect of difficult sport climbing. He's onsighted fourteen 5.14c's which is thirteen more than the runner-ups in the category. He's the only person to ever have flashed 9a, with his flash ascent of Southern Smoke Direct at the Red River Gorge, Kentucky, and he's the only person to have climbed two 5.15c routes, both of which were first ascents (Change in Norway and La Dura Dura in Spain.)

As with any high-end "first" in the sport of climbing, the crux comes in the details of the grade and the highly subjective nature of estimating difficulty. With Estado Critico, the route was originally proposed as a 9a by Ramon Julian. Subsequent ascents have mostly considered it 9a. Looking at the global grading database, 8a.nu, Estado Critico has been logged eleven times. Nine of those logged it as 9a including, Ramon Julian, Dani Andrada, Edu Marin, and Magnus Midtboe. Patxi Usobiaga has logged it as 8c+, though commented that it hovers around the 8c+/9a cusp, while Ondra logged it in 2007 as 8c+ with the comment, "NEVER 9a, 3:go."

Ondra's opinion has certainly proven to hold some weight in the world of grading difficulty. His onsight ascent of the Red River Gorge's Golden Ticket was widely heralded as the world's first 9a onsight until Ondra himself downgraded it back to 8c+, which was the shared opinion of first ascentionist Adam Taylor.

Based on the data, it certainly seems that Estado Critico falls somewhere in the realm of hard 8c+ or soft 9a. Determining which direction to nudge the grade is splitting hairs, but it seems safe to say that Megos' onsight is potentially the hardest onsight ever done and on par with Ondra's onsight of The Golden Ticket. Alex's accomplishments show that he's poised to join the elite ranks of the world's best outdoor sport climbers which recently has been dominated by just two names: Sharma and Ondra. It's exciting to see a fresh face ready to join the very best at the cutting-edge of the sport.