Matty Hong Claims First Repeat of ‘Flex Luthor,’ 5.15b, 18 Years After First Ascent

Climbing
matty hong 5.15b
Matty Hong on 'Flex Luthor'.

In a testament to the difficulty of one of America’s hardest sport routes, Matty Hong finally claimed the first repeat of Tommy Caldwell’s Flex Luthor on October 12, 18 years after the first ascent.

In January 2003, a fresh-faced Caldwell redpointed the steep 37m line at the Fortress of Solitude, near Rifle, Colorado. He’d already established America’s most challenging route with Kryptonite, 5.14c/d, in 1999. How hard was Flex Luthor?

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Caldwell said after four months of working the route. He proposed 5.15a, making Flex Luthor America’s new standard for climbing difficulty.

Almost two decades later, the route seemed to get harder during Hong’s redpoint attempt. Breaking holds and finicky surface conditions dogged him as he fought for the second ascent.

“[T]he first attempts were mostly me breaking holds and struggling to find sequences that worked. After more and more effort, I started to unlock the moves and began realize the climb would be possible,” Hong said. “One particularly challenging thing is how difficult it is to find good conditions to climb in. In spring, the route seeps and a lot of the holds are wet until all the snow has melted above the cliff. By that time, it’s usually too hot to climb.”

Hong reported that he could only make one solid attempt on the route each day, adding to the difficulty.

“Physically, it’s some of the most demanding climbing I have ever done. The route is long and steep with gymnastic movement and hard climbing until the last move,” Hong said.

matty hong 5.15b

Hong assigned Flex Luthor a personal grade of 5.15b. One big question is whether Caldwell initially climbed the route at 5.15b or whether the broken holds increased the grade. If it were 5.15b in 2003, it would have predated the world’s first route of that difficulty (Chris Sharma’s 76m Jumbo Love, in California) by five years.

“I am sure Tommy climbed 5.15 when he did the route in 2003,” Hong said, “which is truly amazing and a display of what a prolific climber he is. Since his ascent, I know a few key holds that have broken, making the sequences harder, including one in the most difficult section of the climb.”

Via Instagram, Hong also said he believes that “the majority of the climb stayed intact.”

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Matty Hong (@honngy)

Hong is no stranger to 5.15 territory. In 2018, he became the fourth American to climb 5.15b with his repeat of Fight or Flight in Oliana, Spain.

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About the Author

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents' evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.

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