When he approaches an unfamiliar mountain or rock face, Conrad Anker says he sometimes feels intimidated. That’s surprising, coming from a man who’s conquered many of the world’s most difficult climbs: Everest (three times, once without supplemental oxygen), El Capitan in Yosemite, all three peaks of the Cerro Torre mountains in Patagonia and, perhaps most notably, the first ascent of the Shark’s Fin on Mt. Meru — a climb that was previously thought to be impossible, and has not yet been repeated — among dozens of other astounding ascents.
Any apprehension that Anker has about summiting a new peak or climbing a new route, however, eventually fades once he has taken a step back to gather himself and consider a few key things. He studies the rock. He identifies the holds. He draws a map. He says to himself, “OK, it’s been done before — it’s not that bad.” And then he climbs high, gracefully and free of inhibition, toward his goal. You, too, can climb like the greatest living mountaineer — all you need is some climbing gear, a healthy amount of ambition and a few useful tips from the man himself.
Yosemite Decimal Rating System
5.0-5.4: Basically just a steep ramp. Plenty of good holds. Nothing crazy.
5.5-5.7: This is where most first-time climbers begin. Holds are big and jug-like, spaced out like rungs on a ladder.
5.8: Holds are getting smaller now.
5.9: This is a good starting point for people who exercise regularly. Not too difficult, nor too easy. Likely a few tricky moves that require some ingenuity.
5.10 (a, b, c, d): Here’s where the men and women are separated from the boys and girls. Holds are scarce, and most of them are about the size of your fist. The route likely has an overhang, a beyond-vertical angle all the way up, or both. The letters indicate relative difficulty — for example, a 5.10a is closer to a 5.9, whereas a 5.10d is closer to a 5.11.
5.11 (a, b, c, d): Every climber remembers their first 5.11. Achieving this takes serious dedication and plenty of hours spent shredding your hands in the climbing gym. Holds are either tiny or frustratingly slippery, and often require awkward contortions of the body to reach. Overhangs are often brutally steep.
5.12 (a, b, c, d): Basically a 5.11, but with steeper overhangs and smaller holds.
5.13 (a, b, c, d): This is where the pros like to hang out and hone their skills. Yet even for them (or most of them, at least), a 5.13 can be a real bastard.
5.14 (a, b, c, d): Conquer one of these, and you’ll become a world-famous climber. Red Bull will probably contact you about a sponsorship. Ascending rock, just for the fun of it, is now your full-time job.
5.15a: The hardest climb in the world. If you successfully climb a 5.15a, either you’re a) Chris Sharma, or b) a mountain goat with suction cups for hooves.