Jon Cardwell sent his multi-year project Biographie/Realization(9a+/5.15a) in Céüse, France yesterday. It was his first redpoint of the grade and the thirteenth known ascent of the route since Chris Sharma first climbed it
in July 2001.
Rock and Ice caught up with Cardwell to learn more.
Q&A with Jon Cardwell
When did you first start projecting Biographie/Realization?
I first tried Realization on my first trip to Céüse in 2007. It was my first day [there] and I think it was the second route I got on. I didn't
make it far. It was an inspiring trip though, to finally see that climb and try it, and eventually watch my friends Dave [Graham] and Ethan [Pringle]
My first actual string of attempts was a couple years later in 2009. I was on an extended euro-trip with Dave Graham, Issac Caldiero, and Seth Giles to
climb, travel and film material for an Island video. I spent about a month projecting, and while I redpointed to the upper crux 18 times or so, I was
still pretty far off from sending. Maybe it was a little over my head then, but I loved climbing on it.
“At that point, I was starting to realize the kind of pressure projects can produce and I had to really ask myself how I'm going to cope.”I returned in 2014 with my girlfriend Chelsea Rude, and good friends Matty and Steve Hong and Carlo Traversi and Mary Mecklenberg. Unfortunately we only
had a short window of good weather and it was unusually stormy for the time of year, which made it difficult to make consistent attempts on the route.
Regardless, I made it back to the crux eventually, about six or seven times but without success.
At that point, I was starting to realize the kind of pressure projects can produce and I had to really ask myself how I'm going to cope. You can walk away
and try something else or you can return again stronger and more motivated—thankfully I did the latter.
The next year I was back with Matty and I really sieged the route. I was much stronger but after weeks of falling on one move, it took a toll on my psyche.
I needed a "breakthrough" like everyone had mentioned to me, but it wasn't coming. I returned in the fall for just a couple days on my way to a competition.
And, finally I returned this year about three weeks ago.
Did you ever have any doubts? When did you start realizing that it would be possible?
My biggest mistake was that I was always waiting for the "perfect attempt" where everything would align and I would float through it. I found out, only
this year ironically, that it's not important to wait for perfect attempts, it's only important that you're present in every attempt, that you climb
uninhibited and free of negative stress, despite how you feel—much like when you warm up, the experience is fun and you usually climb with confidence,
fully aware of all that's happening from your foot placements to the next series of holds.
Maybe difficult redpoints are sometimes those perfect attempts, when a climber effortlessly floats at their limit, in full concentration, like a rehearsed
dance or something, but often it's a true fight and people reach beyond their limits. You can't necessarily prepare for that, you just have to let
My breakthrough on Biographie came a few days before I climbed it. I had a near perfect attempt, but as I climbed into the crux I rushed and a
foot slipped off. It didn't bother me though. On my next try, much more fatigued, I got closer than ever, fighting all the way until I fell.
I finally realized that every attempt is important despite how you feel. I climbed much more confidently and relaxed the following attempts, and funny
enough, I sent it on my second attempt of the day, second climbing day when the conditions were less than ideal compared to the previous day's, with
a huge fight!
What inspired you to climb Biographie/Realization?
I started climbing early 2001. Some time after that, news appeared that Chris [Sharma] had climbed a 5.15—I had no comprehension of what that actually
meant ... but once Dosage came out, about a year later I think, I watched it and it inspired me. I had no way to relate to Chris's own struggle depicted
in the film, but somehow I could sense that there was something special about this climb.
Like many climbers from this era, it totally inspired me. I never thought that I would someday try it. Years later, as I mentioned earlier, I stood underneath
the route for the first time. It was a very powerful moment for me.
What was the crux for you?
While the climb is a very difficult physical challenge, the crux for me was truly believing that I was capable of climbing it.
This was your first 9a+, what do you think helped you breakthrough to this grade?
It's funny, when the thought of 9a+ crosses my mind, it's almost irrelevant to me at this point, at least with this climb. It became so much more than
a grade to me.
I think the breakthrough was a result of a mental shift on the way I approach climbing in the last year. I began to climb a lot more confidently, swiftly
and most importantly I really enjoyed anytime I went to the rocks. Everything started to come together, from lots of training in the gym to attempting
routes onsight or flash; not that I ever lost motivation, but I got really psyched in the least year and built a lot of momentum.
How did it feel to finally clip the anchors?
Totally surreal, like a dream. I couldn't believe it was over.
Biographie or Realization?
They both hold a special meaning to me. Like how many people have explained, in France, especially earlier on, when a route developer equips a route, they
can name it, usually it sticks.
When Jean-Christophe Lafaille bolted this line in 1989 he named it "Biographie,” in relation to what, I'm not sure. Later on Arnaud Petit climbed it to
the midway point where there's an obvious rest. He rated the climb 8c+ [5.14c], and it became a famous test-piece in France—the name stuck.
Finally, after Chris's ascent, he called it "Realization" and like how many first ascents are done in the USA, the first climber to ascend the route free
gives it a name. I don't know the story behind his name, but I think it's pretty obvious. In any case, I think both names are widely accepted and they
represent the climb well.
What's next? Any other projects or trips planned?
As for now, I'm just excited to enjoy the rest of my time here in France. I'll climb more in Céüse and also visit some other crags in the region like Verdon
and St. Léger, etc. The next big trip will be to Yosemite in the fall, excited to see what that experience will be like!
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