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Janja Garnbret and Domen Škofic, two of the world’s top competition climbers, have summited the highest chimney in Europe via the world’s longest artificial climbing route, a 13-pitch behemoth rated at a brutal 8b+ (5.14a).
A RedBull documentary showcasing the climb (which took place under wraps back in October 2020) depicts a sequence that looks plucked straight out of a James Bond movie, with Garnbret and Škofic launching massive dynos hundreds of feet in the air as they climb the 1,181-foot tall spire.
The route, christened Never Ending Story, is situated on the side of a decommissioned chimney in Slovenia’s Trbovlje Power Station. Garnbret (21) became widely known after she became the first athlete to sweep a season, winning every single event, for the IFSC 2019 Bouldering series. Škofic (26), was the IFSC 2016 Lead champion. Both climbers are Slovenian, as well.
Though it’s not the hardest artificial line in existence (which currently goes to The Project), Never Ending Story is the world’s hardest artificial multi-pitch. The route was set by veteran IFSC setters Katja Vidmar and Simon Margon, but Škofic and Garnbret tackled it with no prior knowledge of the layout. Their first attempt saw the pair top out after a painstaking 12-hour, dusk to dawn effort. However, although the climbers completed all pitches between the two of them, they both didn’t take down each pitch (they moved on to the next pitch once at least one of them completed it).
Four days later, they came back recharged, and both sent the line ground-up without a single fall, in a 7-hour 32-minute blitz.
Never Ending Story was no one-pitch wonder, either. All pitches on the line were at least 7b (5.12b), with six of them 8a (5.13b) or harder. Meanwhile, the sole 8b+ (5.14a) pitch, Pitch 10, was extremely high off the ground, positioned over 250 meters (820 feet) up the tower. This made for some extremely scary projecting.
Even more stunning is the relative lack of experience both climbers have with this style of climbing. While both are more than accomplished in the competitive scene, Never Ending Story was Garnbret’s first multi-pitch, and Škofic’s second. “I was a bit scared before the start,” Garnbret noted in a RedBull press release, “I was afraid of falling, which can get really nasty in case of a vertical wall compared to an overhanging wall where you hang in the air. Here you can quickly hit a wall or a hold before the rope stops you. Thus, I needed to fall a few times until I finally relaxed and banished the fear.”
Škofic called Never Ending Story “the sickest project in my climbing career” on his Instagram. “The chimney is completely different from anything I’ve climbed so far,” he noted in the press release. “It is a giant, artificial object, which I found rather mystical. I felt discomfort, strong fear of the unknown but I quickly made friends with the chimney, as the route was really beautiful and challenging. Once I started focusing on climbing, all other thoughts were gone, and I was just enjoying it.”
Though it remains unclear if Never Ending Story is a permanent installation on the tower or if anyone else will be allowed to attempt the line, the send is a stunning accomplishment and represents a proud moment for Slovenian climbing.