Empath (9a+) is a crazy granite tufa route in Kirkwood, California. In June 2021, Connor Herson secured the seventh ascent of Carlo Traversi's line. Recently the youngster has returned and has been climbing the line trad style. Does this make Empath the hardest trad route in the world?

empath (9a+) in Kirkwood counts since the first ascent Carlo Traversi among the most difficult routes in North America. Snake-like structures, cracks, pincers and slopers characterize the line in the grey-black granite.

«This is truly one of the best routes out there with some of the best moves I've ever done on granite»

Connor Herson

The young high flyer Connor Herson liked the route so much that he climbed it twice. First time secured to bolts, second time trad style. "This is really one of the best routes there is, with some of the best movements I've ever made on granite," enthuses the young American after his most recent ascent.

Video: Connor Herson climbs Empath (9a +) in June 2021

Empath mobile secured - a risky venture

In the summer of 2020, a handful of the world's top climbers projected those of Carlo Traversi and Jimmy Webb discovered line. The topic of mobile backups was also discussed. Jimmy Webb assessed a Trad inspection as possible despite the outwardly widening cracks, but described such an undertaking as "bad and very dangerous."

«The route has hardly any horizontally resilient holds and requires precise shifting of body position between moves.»

Carlo Traversi

In the discussion about the difficulty of Empath, the Spanish 9b route was also mentioned First Round First Minute used. Daniel Woods assessed the line in Kirkwood, California, as similarly difficult during the project. In the end, Empath got grade 9a+.

Ethan Pringle questions difficulty

The first climber to question the grade, albeit in a very relativizing way, was Ethan Pringle. After the sixth ascent of the route, he expressed thoughts on the subject: "I can imagine that Empath with the beta of the first four climbers feels like 9a +, especially in suboptimal conditions." But with his size, his refined crux beta and passable crack and jam skills, he sees them more on a par with other high-end routes like Kryptonite (9a) or Made in Time.

Video: Carlo Traversi on the first ascent of Empath (9a +)

Connor Herson - A name to remember

Despite this line of thought from Ethan Pringle, Empath can be viewed as a confirmed 9a+. As a logical consequence, this would mean that 18-year-old Connor Herson wrote climbing history with his trad ascent and climbed the most difficult trad route to date. Connor Herson himself has not yet commented on the level of difficulty, nor has he made a big deal about his ascent with mobile belay devices.

This suits Connor Herson, who from an early age amazed the climbing scene with incredible achievements. Would you like a few examples? At the age of 14, he had already drawn 14 sport routes in the 8b+ to 8c+ range. At the age of 15 he climbed the nose of el Capitan free. And before his eighteenth birthday he completed the challenge of scoring fifty routes between 8b+ and 9a.

Video: Wide Boyz analyze the jam possibilities in Empath (9a+)

The question of whether Connor Herson made Empath the most difficult trad route to date with his most recent ascent cannot be answered conclusively, as strong climbers like Jacopo Larcher often tend not to rate their first ascents.

Jacopo Larcher last caused a stir in March 2019 when he started his long-term project in Cadarese Tribe first climbed. Since then, Tribe has been traded as a possible 9a and thus as the currently most difficult trad route in the world. Other high-end routes to be protected by mobile are Blackbeard's Tears, Meltdown, pure pure, Recovery Drink and Rhapsody – All 8c+. All in all, Empath takes a new lead here.

Overview of the ascents of Empath (9a +)

1Carlo TraversiDezember 2020
2Jimmy WebbDezember 2020
3Daniel WoodsDezember 2020
4Nathaniel ColemanDezember 2020
5Keenan TakahashiJune 2021
6Ethan PringleJune 2021
7Connor HersonJune 2021
8Trad style Connor HersonJune 2022

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Credits: Cover picture Christian Adam