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Alternative Rock In the burgeoning world of bouldering, nobody has a better grip on the sport than Chris Sharma

He doesn't do any training outside of climbing, and he barely
does warmup routes before tackling the big stuff. He doesn't even
have great technique. So why is 20-year-old Chris Sharma so much
better at bouldering than everybody else? "The only explanation I
can come up with is that his fingers seem to stick where others'
slip off," says photographer and fellow climber Jim Thornburg.
"He's like a gecko."

Sharma does appear to be exempt from both the physical and mental
weight of gravity's pull. "Chris doesn't have the fear of failing
that afflicts most climbers," says Tom Davis, who runs the
Pacific Edge climbing gym in Santa Cruz, Calif., where Sharma
started scaling walls eight years ago.

Sharma, who still lives in Santa Cruz, first tried climbing at
age 11 and was so smitten that he saved his paper-route money to
buy a membership at Pacific Edge. His rise to the elite level of
bouldering (a subcategory of rock climbing that features short,
unroped ascents with the emphasis on difficulty) was swift. He
won the nationals and completed his first 5.14 (the highest
difficulty category) climb at 14, and earned an X-Games gold
medal at 18. In his eight years of climbing, he has won dozens of
competitions--often by scores that are more than double that of
the next-highest climber--and achieved hundreds of first ascents,
including the Mandala, a virtually hold-free, house-sized boulder
in Bishop, Calif., long regarded as unclimbable.

For Sharma, who has a bent for Eastern philosophies, the appeal
of bouldering is in the means, not the end. "The magic is in the
process," he says. "It's always a little anticlimactic getting to
the top. I find myself thinking, Now what?"

This month Sharma will return to Southern France and what he
calls his "nemesis"--Biographie, a limestone face with holds no
bigger than bottle caps. He doesn't think the established 5.14c
route (which he and two others have completed) has a proper
finish, so he wants to extend it 60 feet. He has spent seven
weeks trying to do so and fallen 19 times. Will finally reaching
the top be an outcome that he could get attached to?

"All I know," says Sharma, "is I'll be happy to get there."

--Kelli Anderson

For more photos of Chris Sharma, go to

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PATITUCCIPHOTO Serious ups"He's not attached to the outcome of each move," Davis says of Sharma (bouldering in The Buttermilks near Bishop, Calif.), "so he can give 100 percent on each move. That's unique."