Alex Megos on Bibliographie 9cInterview

© Jenya Kazbekova

We recently reported that Alex Megos had climbed his long-term project at Céüse after spending 60 days on the route. Bibliographie was bolted and named by Ethan Pringle. The line tackles the steep ground to the right of Biographie's famous blue streak and was confirmed at 9c by Alex after much speculation online.

Sometimes the odds are against you, but it doesn't mean you don't have a chance. Yesterday evening, on my last day of the trip, it definitely wasn't looking good after messing up the first (and only) try I wanted to do that day. I fell relatively low on the route though, so I decided to give it an infamous "one last go". I passed the crux in the middle of the route, and found myself on the poor rest before the final hard section. Twice prior to this burn I had fallen on the last hard move of the route, so I wasn't feeling super confident. Nonetheless I started off after the rest with full pace and only briefly slowed down to adjust one hold and to get it perfectly. I passed my 'trouble move' seemingly effortlessly and despite being completely pumped out of my mind, I was able to pull off the sequence of the last four moves. After clipping the anchor it seemed like all of the days of work I have put into the route were passing in front of my eyes. With approximately 60 climbing days over the past three years "Bibliographie" has been by far my longest project to date. I know there are many speculations about the grade and I think grades are very subjective. My personal suggestion for the grade is 9c (5.15d). Considering the fact, that "Perfecto Mundo" (9b+) has taken me 16 days of effort, "Bibliographie" with around 60 days and more specific training felt a lot harder. Of course, as the first ascensionist you don't have your perfect beta from the start, you have doubts whether it is possible or not for you, if you are completely missing something, or if you are just not in the best shape. It is always harder to grade something without any other opinion. I am very curious about what the future of the route will look like, and grateful for other people's opinions. Independently from the grade, this has been a very valuable experience for me. It marks a personal milestone in my climbing life, one I would have not been able to complete without the support and help of all of my friends and family. Deep gratitude and thanks goes to all of you! (And yes, there is send footage 😉) Pic @ken_etzel

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After Adam Ondra's historic ascent of Silence 9c in 2017, Bibliographie is only the second of the grade in the world. The route breaks down into a powerful 8b+, a rest, ten moves then a four-move 8A+ boulder problem, topped off with 25 moves of 9a climbing to the chains.

The line's name has an amusing backstory. Ethan Pringle was initially unsure what to name his project, and when asked by the child of an acquaintance what he would call it, he replied "I don't know." The child wrote 'I don't know' on a plaque at the base of the route, which remained in place for a while. Pringle toyed with other names, including 'It', but he eventually settled on Bibliographie.

Following his ascent, Alex bought a round of twelve pizzas to celebrate with friends. The owner of the new pizza van in Céüse was the first to break the news on Facebook. Alex has since chronicled the the story of Bibliographie in a series of Instagram posts.

Not long after climbing Bibliographie, Alex made the second ascent of L'étrange Ivresse des Lenteurs 9a+ - also at Céüse - first climbed by Adam Ondra in 2010. He wrote on Instagram: 'In total I think it took me 5 or 6 tries over 3 days and once I fell on the last hard move with my face at the anchor. It felt hard for the grade to me so I went and tried Biographie a day later to compare and I personally think L'étrange Ivresse felt more like 9a+/b to me (Adam proposed 9a+). It felt harder to me than both other 9a+'s in Ceüse.'

In the past 12 months or so, Alex has achieved both Olympic qualification and the world's second 9c. We sent him some questions to find out more about Bibliographie and balancing rock and competition climbing...

Ethan Pringle bolted the line over ten years ago. What first attracted you to it, and what were your first impressions?

When I first tried the route in 2017, what attracted me was that I thought it was natural and that it seemed to be possible but very hard - that's kind of rare to find I would say, because usually when you try something it either straight away you realise it's impossible or you realise that it's actually not that hard! After trying it for a few more weeks in September 2017 I really became even more attracted to the route just because I realised how hard it was and I had lots of fun trying it.

How was lockdown for you - where were you and how could you train? What did your specific training for Bibliographie involve?

During lockdown I was here in Germany in the Frankenjura and I think in Germany it was not as bad as it was in other countries, so we could still pretty much leave the house without any specific reason because we could the house for more than an hour, so I could still go climbing in the Frankenjura, bouldering mostly and the German national team had an arrangement with most of the gyms in Germany so we could still access the gyms to train. So it was actually an awesome set-up for lockdown, although I was not very motivated to go to the gym so I ended up not even going really, but I had lots of fun climbing in Frankenjura as the conditions were amazing.

In the film Rotpunkt you spoke about your fear of failure preventing you from working on hard, long-term projects in the past. You've climbed over 2,500 routes of 8a or harder, but you haven't spent much time on routes at your limit. How have you learned to handle the pressure of redpointing in recent years?

Yes, I was afraid of failing on routes because it always seemed to me back then like a waste of time to try something and not get up it, so I was afraid of investing a lot into a long term project and then in the end not even being able to climb it and seeing this time I invested as useless or a waste of time, which I see a little differently now but I think I've just realised that if you want to climb at your limit you need to invest the time and you cannot care too much whether you get up or not, so you have to be willing to put in a lot of time even if you don't know what the outcome will be.

Bibliographie process part #1. In 2007 @ethan_pringle repeated the infamous "Biographie". A few years later he borrowed a drill and some bolts from @arnaudpetit_climb and bolted a line to the right of "Biographie". He didn't know what to name it so when people were asking him he said "I don't no". He wrote it on a plaque and placed it at the base of the route. A little later the guy writing the guide book asked him under which name he should put it in the guidebook and the first thing that came to Ethans mind was "it". He changed his mind though and randomly called it "Bibliographie". From that moment on its been in the guidebook under that name and I thought it would be strange changing the name after so many years. Thanks again to @ethan_pringle for bolting that thing 🙏🏼 @patagonia_climb @redbullgermany @goretexeu @tenayaclimbing @cafekraft_nuernberg @sterlingrope @dmm_wales @frictionlabs @fazabrushes Pics @ethan_pringle archives

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You climbed Biographie 9a+ in a day. Is Bibliographie comparable in style to Biographie, being right next to it? Would you say the route is 'your style' despite it taking much longer than other projects? There must be similarities between the pocketed limestone of your native Frankenjura?

I would say that Biographie and Bibliographie are similar in style of climbing, they are on the same wall, they climb through the same rock, so I would say especially the upper part of Bibliographie is very, very similar to most of the climbing on Biographie. It's very pocketed limestone, but interestingly you don't really take most of the pockets as proper pockets, you actually crimp them, especially on Bibliographie since the pockets become a lot smaller and are not very deep.

Yeah, I would say that Bibliographie probably is my style - I mean, Biographie was too. I think the style of the Frankenjura is very, very different to Céüse. Interestingly, in the Frankenjura you don't have very many hard routes with lots of pockets and that is a bit different in Céüse. In the Frankenjura, I would say it is very, very common to have pockets on routes up to let's say 7c+/8a, but after that a lot of the hard routes are actually more crimpy than pocketed and in Céüse it's more of a mix. I would say that there are actually more hard routes with pockets in Céüse than there are in the Frankenjura.

People have a tendency - rightly or wrongly, perhaps annoyingly! - to compare your performances to those of Adam Ondra. Adam congratulated you on your ascent saying he was happy you gave it 9c. When you were considering the grade of Bibliographie, how did you deal with the conjecture prior to the news breaking and then the comparisons to Silence online since?

First of all I want to say that you can't really compare Silence to Bibliographie in my eyes since they are two absolutely different styles of climbing - it's like comparing competition bouldering and outside. I think most people would probably favour the style of Bibliographie just because it is more straightforward and more what we climbers are used to, so I hope that'll make a few people try it.

It's always hard, I didn't really know what to grade it at first to be honest, but then obviously when the news came out and people were speculating that it is 9c, I kind of wanted to stay true to myself and ask myself 'Well, what did it feel like to me?' and it definitely felt a lot harder than anything I've climbed so far, so my suggestion was 9c. It doesn't mean that it is 9c, so I'm always happy to hear what other people have to say, but for now I wanted to give it 9c because my personal feeling was that it felt a lot harder than anything I've tried so far.

Bibliographie process part #8. The June 2020 didn't go as well as I had hoped but after two weeks of training I already went back to Ceüse with @jenya_kazbekova in July. The first week passed without any major breakthrough but during the second week I finally climbed through the boulder problem coming from the ground and fell 4 moves before the easy top of the route! I finally knew it was possible and that I was close. By the end of week two the temperatures were up to 35 degrees so we fleed to another climbing area for a few days. Beginning of week three the weather forecast was looking good for two days before it was supposed to get warm again. On day one of the two good days I fell on the last hard move! On day two I fell 3 moves before that. I was ready to go back home but @jenya_kazbekova convinced me to stay one more day and give it one last try. So there I was on day three back at the crag and I messed up my last try big time despite feeling good. I couldn't just leave like that so I decided to give it another try, which ended up being the send go! Climbing really is weird sometimes 🤷🏼‍♂️ Thank you for the support @jenya_kazbekova 🙏🏼💛 @patagonia_climb @redbullgermany @goretexeu @tenayaclimbing @sterlingrope @cafekraft_nuernberg @dmm_wales @frictionlabs @fazabrushes #stylefirst #carrotsforpower Pic 1: @ken_etzel Pic 2: @jenya_kazbekova

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How did it feel when you clipped the chains? Is the satisfaction you get from a hard redpoint project different to an onsight or quick ascent, which you've done much more of?

Yeah the satisfaction of clipping the anchor of a long term project is very, very different to an onsight or flash attempt, I would say. I mean, you have just invested so much time and effort in this route, there was so much training that went into this one route and so many trips, so on clipping the anchor, on the one hand you feel absolutely relieved and satisfied and you feel just happy that it actually worked out, but on the other hand sometimes - or especially in this case - I almost felt a bit sad because with just one go everything is over. Your whole climbing just revolved around this one route and you did everything to get up it and then with climbing it this whole process just suddenly comes to an end and obviously since you don't know when you will climb it - sometimes I don't even know if I will climb it - and then suddenly all your future trips to Céüse are cancelled and you have to look for something new to do now.

Would you be keen to bolt and establish more of your own routes in future? What about doing more trad climbing? (the Brits want to know...!)

I would for sure be keen to bolt a line myself if I find something that is worth bolting. I don't want to just bolt something to have bolted something - if I bolt something I want it to be amazing and I want it to be worth trying. For now I think there are still quite a few projects I would like to try that are already bolted, but who knows - maybe at some point I will find a line that is worth bolting and I'll take a drill and bolt it. I think I'll do a bit more trad climbing when I get older (or nuts, haha!) that's my plan for now - I'm focused on sport climbing hard and pushing my limits and I feel like trad climbing is pushing the limits but in a bit of a different direction and I feel I can still do that in 10 years or so, but I will see - maybe once in a while I'll do a little bit, it's kind of fun, it's alright.

Who's your money on for the second ascent?

I don't even know who my money is on to be honest for the second ascent. So far only Jakob has tried it the week after the Briançon World Cup, so I'll just put my money on him because he seemed to really like the route and he was psyched to try it - so let's just go with Jakob.

Ed.: Update - Jakob has now completed all of the moves on Bibliographie in just three sessions.

A day after the comp in Briançon we were already in Ceüse for some filming. Between all the filming I could still find a little bit of time to give "L'étrange Ivresse des Lenteurs" one try after checking it out a few times on my previous trip to Ceüse. Surprisingly I could link all the bouldery section this route has and did the second?! ascent of it after the FA by @adam.ondra in 2010. In total I think it took me 5 or 6 tries over 3 days and I once fell on the last hard move with my face at the anchor. It felt hard for the grade to me so I went and tried "Biographie" a day later to compare and I personally think "L'étrange Ivresse" felt more like 9a+/b to me (Adam proposed 9a+). It felt harder to me than both other 9a+'s in Ceüse. Curious to hear what other people think. It looked like people started trying it. @patagonia_climb @redbullgermany @goretexeu @tenayaclimbing @cafekraft_nuernberg @sterlingrope @dmm_wales @frictionlabs @fazabrushes #stylefirst #carrotsforpower Pic 1: @ken_etzel (Bibliographie) Pic2: @sytsevanslooten (filming in Bibliographie)

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2019 was an Olympic qualification year and you were primarily focused on competitions and you injured your finger in Hachioji - fortunately after qualifying. Ordinarily, you would have been training for Tokyo this summer. Did this shift in focus somehow prove helpful for Bibliographie, do you think?

Yes, 2019 definitely shifted my focus on competition climbing because I kind of felt like I needed to put in the work if I wanted to have a chance to qualify for the Olympics, but as to whether this shift to competition climbing was helpful for climbing Bibliographie, probably not I would say. I think if I had stuck to rock climbing from 2018 onwards I would've probably already climbed it a year or two earlier, but that's how it goes sometimes and I think now with all the competitions being cancelled and being able to shift back to rock climbing, that was definitely helpful for climbing Bibliographie since I was getting very, very tired of gym climbing and competition climbing and being able to shift back to rock climbing was a huge motivation boost for me and therefore probably enabled me to give Bibliographie everything I had.

You haven't done quite as many senior IFSC competitions as other athletes. What's your mental approach to them - you appear more relaxed than some competitors, but does the fear of failure you have in redpointing also apply to comps? Is there a difference?

I would definitely say that my approach to competitions is more relaxed than the approach of other athletes and I think that is probably key for me and it's probably key for some other athletes too. I see that a lot of athletes struggle when they take the competitions too seriously - they make mistakes or are not able to climb at their best. Obviously taking a more relaxed approach to competitions is a bit more risky - I would say it can end the competition early for you, but it works well if you have a good run as it'll enable you to actually climb at your very best.

Interestingly, I don't experience that fear of failure as much at competitions. I mean, you just have to be prepared that you might slip at the first bolt and it's over and this has already happened to a lot of professional and top athletes, so if you're prepared for that to happen then you've got nothing to lose.

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Alex has risen quickly through the ranks of German climbers to become a globetrotting superstar of the modern climbing scene. His phenomenal sport climbing achievements place him as one of the most important climbers of...

Alex's Athlete Page 91 posts 10 videos

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8 Sep, 2020


8 Sep, 2020

Apart from his climbing, his English is amazing (unless it's a translation.)

8 Sep, 2020

We used Whatsapp voice messages and transcribed them, so no translation nor any careful editing on Alex's part. He loves drinking tea so he's pretty much British :)

8 Sep, 2020

That's actually quite cool! The simplicity nowadays, just shoot some voice messages and done with an interview. The future is now.

8 Sep, 2020

Yeah, it seemed like more work for us at first, but then we discovered the dictate feature in Word. Works a treat (mostly). It interpreted 'I think I'll do a bit more trad climbing when I get older' as 'I think I'll do a bit more attractive climbing when I get older' which I thought was quite funny.

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