La Obsesion and the evolution of climbing style

I’m slowly becoming more interested in climbing again, and to that end the following video came across my desk today.

I enjoyed it on several levels, but none more than watching Andrada climb La Rambla towards the end.  I started climbing in a time of transition, 1993, when indoor climbing gyms were beginning to explode across America and european sport climbing was still several years off from ceding the pinnacle of the sport to bouldering and American teenagers.

Andrada has lived through both eras, and marries the strengths of both styles in a way which is quite beautiful to watch.

The euro style of the 80s and early 90s was born on limestone sport crags and in competitions, and is unquestionably best epitomized by Francois Legrand.  Careful, static, efficient, cerebral.  I took to that way of climbing well when I first started.  It was how all the good climbers climbed (back when Table of Colors was considered a hard route at the Red), and I was then and always will be in the bottom ten percent of climbers with regards to strength (especially fingers).  To keep up with my friends I had to think my way up routes.

Starting with Chris Sharma, and reinforced by Dave Graham, a new style emerged in the mid to late 90s, where talented climbers bred largely in gyms attacked steep routes with dynamics and power, unfettered by the seriousness of first-wave sport climbing (and often due to prodigious genetic gifts the need to use feet).  Sharma and Graham have both matured enormously as climbers since, making 5.15 commonplace amongst the upper echelon by using (as Andrada does above) both dynamic strength and efficient technique.  Nonetheless, many of the immediate post-Sharma generation are still thugging up remarkably hard routes and problems with technique which, while imbued with enough subtlety to make cutting edge ascents possible, leaves a lot to be desired on the aesthetic front.  Watching Daniel Woods climb, for instance, is for me akin to watching a tractor pull.  Granted Hueco bouldering (an area equal to Sharma in its importance shaping the current era) may not be the least biased example available, but I hope that Woods and his peers refine their skills in the years to come, and make ascents even more impressive and beautiful to watch.  Beauty not just in purely aesthetic terms, but insofar as athletic achievement at the outer level of an individuals potential is a great indicator of humanities promise, actualized.


6 responses to “La Obsesion and the evolution of climbing style”

  1. Don’t forget the incredible, and I find even more impressive small group of trad climbers who are tearing it up at the highest levels (5.14) while placing gear on lead. Sonnie Trotter and Cobra Crack, Tommy Caldwell and the Dawn Wall to name a few more well known recent stories. And then there are the solo ascents and that is an entirely different story…. taking the climbing and human experience to a whole new level.

    On a separate note, have you climbed much ice, as you are a quick drive from the mecca of alpine ice just north of you in Canada? I would have to imagine there is a ton of backcountry ice in the park.

    Have a good one,


  2. Tis true, when I first started virtually no one who sport climbed also trad climbed. The divide between the two seems to have all but gone away, which I like seeing.

    I’ve dabbled in ice climbing, though the potential in Glacier is immense such that I’ve thought about getting back into it. Especially this year with so little snow. We saw loads of spectacular ice lines on the previous trip which, unlike a high snow year, had virtually no avalanche exposure. I dust the cams off this summer and see how that goes.

  3. Have you ever been to Fontainebleau? When you see some skinny, grey-haired Bleausard pitch up at a problem, drop his little bit of carpet on the ground to wipe his shoes and then flow his way effortlessly up the rock (often leaving some young rock jock whose been flinging himself unsuccesfully at the same problem open-mouthed) it’s a beauty to behold. The subtleties of the sandstone formations in the Forest are loath to give themselves up to brute force alone.
    Having said that, I’ve found that with a little bit of training and extra strength I’ve gotten a heap more out of my visits there in the last couple of years, (not to mention in sports climbing generally).
    I’m guessing that over time the cutting edge climbers will inevitably lead the sport to find a balance of the two approaches – it’s the only way for the sport to keep progressing.
    Awesome site, by the way. :)

    1. I’ve never been to Font (nor climbed in Europe at all), but would dearly love to go. It looks beautiful and the climbing sounds like it would suit me.

  4. I’ve never heard anyone compare those ascents to a tractor pull but I love that analogy. I climb often but I can’t stand to watch climbing videos. They’re typically hard to watch as the climber is grunting and cursing his way up a route. The experience and thrill of climbing is difficult to document in my opinion.

  5. […] but not enough to not be bored in the process of resting. So, in no small part inspired by the comments earlier this week, I’ve been watching a lot of climbing […]

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