After Seb Bouin became the second Frenchman ever to climb a 9b by repeating Barnabé Fernandez' Chilam Balam at Villanueva del Rosario in southern Spain, Pierre Délas over at Kairn asked him a few questions.
Although not that well known outside France, Seb is one of the most accomplished sport climbers in the world with many hard routes including quite a few in the 9a-9a+ range under his belt.
Can you introduce yourself for those who do not know you?
I'm 22 years old, and started climbing at the age of 11/12 years.
I currently live in the south east of France. I just got my degree and I'm now a Sport teacher.
One could say I'm a bit of a "binge climber"... I mean I really climb a LOT on rock and it's climbing that's controlling my life, and not the other way around.
I love trying beautiful routes that are too hard for me. This shows me in which direction I have to move. So as soon as something is done, I'm probably about to get stuck in a new project...
First, tell us about your successful attempt on Chilam balam and that crazy day
That day I didn't really feel in any particularly good shape. I even struggled to repeat the first part. I suffered more at the rest, wasn't feeling that good, in short nothing made me think I was going do the route.
However everything went smoothly, no errors, not too much pressure. I could hear the Spanish encourage me, everything was perfect.
I think the fact that I had fallen in the last move two days previously had made me really understand that to give everything I had to be able to break away from the objective and focus on the specific problem i.e the top boulder. To brush the feelings aside...
Tell us about the process of working the route.
This year I went down there twice. First during the easter holiday, and then two weeks later.
The first time, I didn't think I would necessarily try this route. I was a bit unsure about my form and I didn't think I had the level. In fact, just before leaving, I tried a project in Drôme that I thought was around 9a+. But I could not do it... So, 9b... forget about it.
So, I began doing the easier routes there, like Matar a platon, 8c+, MD-MDA, 8c+, Rubia, 8c+, and seeing that in fact it was not going too badly, I started trying Chilam....
I worked it just a little bit at first, like in the beginning and the end of the sessions, so I could do other routes nearby.
Then, seeing that I made progress, I decided to focus more on that route, and after 5/6 days of work I began making redpoint attempts.
I fell once in the second part and then on the next try I came pretty far, falling high on the route. The problem was I only had two days left... So I rested a day and made an attempt on the last day. BUT I fell. I think I put too much pressure on myself.
Immediately when I came back home, I bought tickets to leave.
The thing is...normally I should have gone to the French championship at this time, I already had the tickets... But choosing between Chilam Balam and the championships of France ... voilá what. Especially since I did not feel prepared for a competition.
So; when I went down south for the second time, my thoughts were not at all the same as the first. This time I was going to do it!
I was ready to go to battle, Ponpon (François Poncet, the photographer) was with me, and I arrived at the crag ready to make attempts
But I had forgotten a small detail: Dani Andrada and Edu Marin were also working the route, doing 1h30 work sessions, so it wasn't possible to attempt the route the first day...
The nerves ... The second day, an opening, it's free, yes!. But being still too much under pressure I fell on the f***ing last move to final bucket....
I had two choices, either I could try it again right away, or I could try my luck in two days. I chose the second option :)
Why did you choose a route so far away this spring? What motivated you to try it
I must say that it is a crazy line. I think I like this kind of line with the scale and atmosphere. It is also pretty much my style hehe. And I'm not going to lie, I also went for the grade. It seemed to me like sort of a bargain for 9b, unlike other routes (First round first minute...).
What was the main difficulty climbing this route? Describe the crux and what is needed to be able to climb Chilam balam
. The redpoint crux is at the top, in the last 8 meters separating you from the chain. I fell three times in this final section. Once I got stuck, once while clipping, and once on the last move to the top jug. It's a bouldery section that begins on flat pinches, followed by some undercuts to get to the final slab section.
This section is hard, but it is however not the only thing to handle...
Already at the beginning of the route there is a crux you need to redo every time, being as relaxed as possible. Then you have to do big physical moves for 40 meters. The trick is to do them spending as little energy as possible.
You must manage the contradiction of not falling while spending as little energy as possible to avoid being smoked up high.
On a mental level, this route seems very hard at first. How to handle the fact that you could fall after 70 meters of climbing? Or worse, falling several times and reclimb 70 meters each time? In fact the first time I got up high, I put a lot of pressure on myself to avoid falling and not have to do it all again. So I exploded... The pressure had a negative effect on me.
What allowed me to redpoint the route in the end was accepting the fact that I can fall at the top like in a normal route. To use all my power remain relaxed, I had to break away from the goal. Indeed, I did the top section a bunch of times before the ascent. This has allowed me to say: it's like a short route, you have to give everything without thinking about the success.
Being down again several times enabled me to return to the routine. At the end I didn't feel any pressure to do the bottom part, every time I knew i would do this. This allowed me to focus on the top part.
What do you think of the difficulty? Barnabé said 9b+, Adam low end 9b...
It is clear that 9b+ was a mega joke! I do not think it's a real 9b. For Adam Ondra it is a low end 9b. For Dani Andrada who tried it with me it is 9a+. Edu Marin says 9a+/9b. After reflection I propose 9a+/9b. I think there are 9b's that are much harder...
Chilam balam can be divided into four parts:
First an 8c+, then an 8c, followed by an 8a+/b, and then the top boulder section. And this section is not extreme, just a bit random. For Adam it is ~7C, 7A+ for Dani, I'll find a middle way, so 7B/+ :)
At 22, do you think you can still improve? How hard can you climb?
I hope so!!! Anyway I'd do anything to improve. I've never actually done much bouldering. I do not have too much power, and I'm not as good at short routes or fingery stuff. So my goal is progress. Especially since next year I'll make a long trip to Fontainebleau...
It seems you have a thing for King Line scale routes. (Madonna, Complex, Staphylococcus and more) Would it be correct to define you as an endurance climber constantly on the hunt for new lines?
Whatever happens to me beautiful lines will always attract me. I'll always be ready to get involved in a project that makes me dream. Endurance is my strength for sure, but that's not what makes me choose a route. This is perhaps what allows me to do hard and long routes.
I also like to try other styles if they are beautiful. For example, right now I'm trying a project at Drôme that I bolted, "Jamais deux sans toi" (9a +?). This way is rather fingertip strength, but I love it too. As it is a very beautiful line, and I'll keep at it until I do it.
Biography, La Rambla, Change, Akira, Direct Action. Names that motivate you or not?
La Rambla, Biography, yes. Akira not. Change I think it is too hard. And Action direct, that would be for the historical significance, but it's typically my antistyle. But it's true that these are routes that are part of the history. And this is important, we must not deny history hehe.
And multi-pitch routes? Is this a challenge that interests you?
Big routes...I don't do it a lot, but yes, that's someting that interests me as well. This summer I would like to try a multi-pitch at the Ramirole (Verdon gorge) which is extremely long!
What are your next projects, including this summer? Later in the year?
This summer I want to go back to Norway to try Thor's hammer, 9a+, and perhaps Move, 9b/9b +.
Now I would like to do my project in Drôme I mentioned before. I'll also go to the Ramirole, the Basque country, Rodellar...
Despite your many performances in the 9th degree, you're still not that well known and you don't seem very interested in media etc. What is your perspective on this?
I think I'm not on the sidelines. I try to find financial and material sponsors. However I do not handle it very well I think. About the media I'm working on it. What I would like is climbing full time, but for now I have not enough income to do so. I am very far off. So you have to work. Maybe one day...
Seb Bouin is sponsored by: EB, Tendon, Nograd and YY Climbing belay glasses