“The best view comes after the hardest climb,” is a fitting mountain mantra for the penultimate leg of The Climb, HBOMax’s competition reality show. The four remaining climbers — Cat, Robyn, Alice, and Dom — head back to Spain and will have to dig deep down to reach their tallest peak yet.
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Host and climbing icon Chris Sharma chooses a “badass” multi-pitch climb in Riglos to put the amateurs to their toughest test yet, in order to win the $100,000 cash prize and sponsorship from prAna. This style of climbing, a continuous grind up hundreds, sometimes thousands, of feet of wall, is not only about endurance and stamina, but remaining calm when you’re super exposed. You’re so high up, there’s nothing but birds above you and air under your rear end. It’s a very vulnerable place to be.
The Pair Climb
“Sometimes you can’t reach the summit alone,” Sharma says, then informs the group that they will be climbing in pairs. In multi-pitch, the leader ascends the pitch, which is a rope length, places gear, anchors themselves in a belay station, then waits for their partner to climb to them. Then they swap leads until they get to the top.
How the pairs work together will be critical to win the round. Trust and communication are key because you’re putting your life in someone else’s hands. “Some partners might start fighting,” Alice explains. “Like, that’s not how I do an anchor. Who knows that’s going to happen up there.”
To pick the pairs, they first must compete in a jumar drag race under a bridge. Jumaring means using a device to ascend the rope instead of being on the rock. Cat, who photographs climbing, has an advantage because he’s done this a lot before. Sure enough, he tugs and bounces his way to first place, with Dom the slowest in last place.
Cat picks Robyn, because she’s known for her endurance, plus she’s “bubbly and fun,” which is about as useful as a screen door on a submarine. Cat, on the other hand, has bouldering experience so they will balance each other well. It’s a smart choice, as Alice still has confidence issues and Dom has been in the bottom of the last few challenges.
When Alice finds out Dom will be her partner, she looks like she just ate a sour pickle. “I know I’m not your first pick,” he says. “How do you feel?”
“I feel fine,” she lies, forcing a tight-lipped smile. She’s as good of an actress as Madonna.
Despite having zero chemistry, Dom feels confident in his rope management skills and, though he’s a slow climber, Alice acknowledges he knows his systems and is organized, “which is really important.”
The oblong formation the gang will climb is called “The Red Needle,” or “La Aguja Roja.” It looks more like a gigantic baseball bat (this is family website), and frankly, it’s terrifyingly tall. “I’ve never been on a route this high,” Cat frets. Alice admits that she cried a couple times that morning. “It’s real spicy,” Dom confirms.
The route, “Pecho Lobo,” has four pitches, and at the end of each are anchors. The third and fourth pitches have a lot loose rock, so there’s no room for mistakes or getting flustered. If both groups top, then the winner will come down to the pair who do it the fastest. Which seems kind of dangerous, but nobody argues about it because $100,000?
“Have fun,” Sharma says. Nobody looks like they’re having fun. But nobody ever looks like they’re having fun right before a climb.
Dom and Alice go first. “Going second is like allowing someone to throw the first punch,” he posits. “I’m not afraid to go first.”
The climb is a little “pumpier” than Dom first thought, meaning it’s tiring him out quickly, so he makes an adjustment to pace himself. He needs enough juice for all four pitches. He makes it to the first anchor and puts Alice on belay. She heads up and her foot slips because she’s distracted by her own fear, which “isn’t super new for me.” She pulls herself together.
“It’s hard for anyone to sprint up a climb and find steady pace,” Sharma explains.
Alice climbs super-fast, she’s making good choices, but Dom isn’t used to the pace, what he calls rage climbing. “Where do I go?” he says at one point, seemingly a million miles off the ground. The collective holds their breath.
But guess what, Dom and Alice end up summiting and embrace in an emotional hug. They seem genuinely thrilled to see each other, and it’s a really cool moment that garners chills. You really don’t want anyone to fall or fail in this competition. The courage it takes to do these climbs is so inspiring and courageous. It’s too scary and heartbreaking when they don’t make it.
By the way, nobody ever explains how the heck they get down from these giant peaks. Do they belay? Does a helicopter pick them up? Anyway…
Cat and Robyn are up next and now they not only have the pressure of making it up there, but in a faster time than Dom and Alice. Which, again, seems kinda dangerous. Multi-pitch climbing is a marathon, not a sprint. You just don’t want to see anyone get hurt because they’re watching the clock instead of their feet and hands.
Regardless, Robyn is like a machine, she flies up the first couple pitches like a speed demon. Cat struggles a little, “I’m just tired,” he says at one point. He’s also freaking a little about the elevation. “There’s a lot of exposure under my butt,” he says. “I trust the gear but oh fuck, what if the gear fails? It makes me sick to my stomach.”
Weirdly, a fear of heights is common in climbers, Sharma explains. Huh. Learn something new every episode.
On the last pitch, Cat’s rope is completely tangled and it’s costing the pair precious time. it seems for a minute that Alice and Dom might have a shot at winning this. Nah. In the end, Cat and Robyn top and basically cream the other team by like 20 minutes. Wasn’t even close.
The Elimination Round
Poor Dom faces yet another elimination round, this time against Alice. They all head to Sharma’s super shiny climbing gym warehouse in Barcelona and he announces that the challenge will be a speed route, like the kind you’d see in the Olympics or World Cup.
Basically, first one up the wall who rings the bell wins. “Oh shit,” Dom says. “I shied away from [speed routes] because it doesn’t align with what I look for.” As Dom is a super slow climber, tenacious Alice seems like a shoe-in. But Dom is also explosive, so it’s anyone’s game.
The cool thing about the sport, Sharma notes, is that women and men can climb just as hard as each other.
Co-host Meagan Martin is so nervous, she can feel her pulse racing in her neck. It’s a close race, but Dom edges Alice up the climbing wall and rings his bell first. “It’s always bittersweet,” he says graciously.
Despite her somewhat low self-esteem, Alice really killed it in the competition and it’s sad to see her go. She’s an excellent climber, and it seems like a bummer that she goes out on a speed climb, when she obviously has so much skill and so much more to offer in more complicated styles of climbing.
But even she knows she has room to grow, especially when it comes to her confidence. “My goal was to learn about myself…pushing through the things I’m scared of and coming out stronger.”