Livin' It My attempts to climb Biographie Extension had fallen short until I finally dumped my mental baggage

August 19, 2001

On July 18, Chris Sharma, 20, conquered Biographie Extension, a
towering 70-move, 120-foot slab of blue limestone in the south of
France on the Ceuse cliffs. That climb marked the first ascent of
a route with a 5.15a rating, the sport's highest grade.

After all my falls--and I fell from Biographie close to 70 times
in the last four years--I recognized that this rock is more of a
mental challenge than a physical one. Get past the first half of
the climb and you still have Extension, the rock's upper half,
staring menacingly at you. I would get to the rock's upper
crux--where the holds are tiny (think golf ball dimples) and
you're already pretty beat--and simply lose energy. The next thing
I knew, I'd be falling through the air. This cycle repeated
itself over and over, like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon reel.

I had always climbed the route alone, but last month I got a
boost when I met up with Dave Graham, a gifted 19-year-old
climber from Maine, who was also attempting to scale Biographie.
Watching someone else try to conquer it gave me a new
perspective. Although Dave didn't reach the peak, the ease with
which he moved up the rock made me realize that getting to the
top wasn't as daunting as it had seemed.

On the morning of July 18, as Dave and I set off for Biographie,
I wasn't expecting anything special. Then I started climbing,
focusing only on the task at hand and never thinking of my
previous failures. Eighteen minutes later I arrived at my old
nemesis, the upper crux. To get past the crux you are forced to
contort your body into a very awkward position: While you swing
in the air like a barn door, you must perfectly synchronize the
placement of each of your fingers into very delicate, specific
holds. With my mind free of all the mental baggage I had brought
to my previous attempts, I blew past the upper crux, and from
there the climb became much easier. It was time to celebrate.

You do not get a trophy or prize money for a first ascent. You
don't even get a lousy T-shirt. Your reward? Well, you get to
name the route you took. Henceforth, my route up Biographie will
be called Realization. I chose this name because I had to realize
that I could complete the climb in my head before I could realize
it with my body.

COLOR PHOTO: JIM THORNBURG

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)