This article originally appeared on Climbing
On Tuesday, November 7, Chris Sharma finished off what may be his hardest deep water solo to date. The imposing line, Black Pearl, in Soller, Mallorca, traces sequences through subtle holds and tenuous positions, culminating in a whopping 40-meter top-out.
"It represented a progression in deep water soloing for me, and it was a very personal goal that I've pursued over the last four years," says Sharma. "It’s one of a handful of routes that have been on my bucket list." For Sharma, Black Pearl is inextricably linked with the memory of a mentor.
Sharma scoped the route in 2018 but didn't begin trying it until 2019, when his friend and mentor Miguel Riera, who is widely credited for popularizing deep water soloing, was trying a line on the same wall. Riera passed away that year after a battle with cancer. "Doing Black Pearl felt a bit like wrapping up unfinished business," says Sharma. "It’s where we spent a lot of his last days together, and so it was kind of a special way to pay tribute to him."
Black Pearl sits to the left of Sharma's 2017 Big Fish (5.14c). An obvious three-finger pocket set in a blank expanse caught his eye, so he rigged a rope and aided over to explore the section of rock. "I got super psyched," he says. "I felt just really lucky to find this pathway up the wall. It has these little crimps and you dyno to that perfect pocket in the middle of the wall, and there’s nothing else around it. If one little piece of the puzzle was missing, it would be completely impossible."
Since spotting Black Pearl, Sharma spent a few days each year attempting the project. Weather proved to be a challenge; summer heat created condensation on the wall. Most Mallorcan routes are fairly straightforward with many positive holds, but Black Pearl features slopey crimps across steep sections. By Sharma's estimates, the route breaks down into a section of 5.13a/b to a rest, followed by a 15-move crux sequence culminating in a dyno to the pocket--which he says feels like a 5.14b/c into a V9. Finally, Black Pearl concludes with 5.13b/c climbing to the top of the cliff. With no places to chalk up in the crux sequence, Sharma found fall temps to be favorable, even though the water was considerably colder.
In a way, Black Pearl was the easiest of all of Sharma's latest projects. He also described it as a refreshing change. "Deep water soloing is so much more than just climbing a hard grade, and the complexities of having to do a project over the water, it really changes the whole nature of the experience. This climb is maybe 5.15a, but it’s still very cutting edge for me to do a route of this style."
This year, Sharma committed to trying the route every weekend beginning in September. He lives near the Barcelona airport, and since the flight time is only an hour, he'd often take day trips when favorable weather windows appeared. Sharma's progression came steadily, but not without anxiety. Years of missed opportunities and conflicts left him all too aware of how easily projects slip away. On Tuesday, the nerves got the better of him and he fell on his first go.
"On my second try I thought this is one of the best routes I’ve been on in my life, and this might be one of the last times I get on this route this year, so I’m just going to go and enjoy this amazing climb," he says. He reached the dyno and committed. He stuck the pocket with two fingers, reeled it in, and kept it together to reach the top.
On the grade, Sharma says, "It’s basically right up there with Es Pontas and Alasha. It’s hard to compare... But it could possibly even be a bit harder than both of those."
Sharma wasn't ready to commit to an answer with regard to what's next. He did, however, mention his 2012 line Le Blond, in Oliana, which he's been attempting over the last decade and very well could be 5.15d.
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