19 years after his first attempt, Didier Berthod climbs Cobra Crack

© @pim.shaitosa

19 years after he sought to make the first free ascent of the 25 metre finger crack, Didier Berthod has returned, and - at the age of 43 - finally made a free ascent of Cobra Crack (5.14a).

The line was first climbed back in the 1980s, when Peter Croft was able to make the first aid ascent. Twenty-five years later, Didier was amongst a group of climbers seeking to make the first free ascent of the line, as seen in the Sender Films movie, First Ascent: The Movie.

Didier was unsuccessful in making the first free ascent of Cobra Crack, which went to Sonnie Trotter in 2006. Didier returned to attempt the route in 2006, but broke his knee at the campground, before even having a chance to attempt the route.

Thereafter, the notion of Didier's Cobra Crack story coming full circle seemed to fall away, as he withdrew from climbing, and chose to prioritise religion. In the documentary Fissure, he said that climbing had left him 'like a junkie, someone who craved a daily dose of climbing. If I didn't get it, I got angry. I hated that feeling because it kept me from being truly free'.

In the years that followed, new generations of crack climbers made the pilgrimage to Squamish to test their fingers on the route, which remained a testpiece, attainable only to the very best. Ascents from climbers such as Will Stanhope, Yuji Hirayama, Alex Honnold, Pete Whittaker, and Tom Randall came and went, before Didier - a decade after leaving the climbing scene, and now an ordained priest - began to climb again. 

Didier Berthod attempting Cobra Crack at Squamish
© First Ascent

It would be another seven years until Didier returned, in 2023, for the third attempt at Cobra Crack.

Writing in early July 2023, Didier said:

'Two weeks ago I had the sense that the time had come to give it another go. I was fit. The mood was good. The happy friendship spirit wind was blowing all around. During my first two days of tries, I took a couple of falls after the invert, the new crazy beta. The fall was, as usual, intimidating. But safe'.

'Last Sunday however, things went differently. I fell where probably nobody had fell before (well, yes, you never know), on the very last move to the good hold up left (I can't say it's a jug but it's a good one). Both feet were after the lip. The fall changed from just being intimidating to being something really big and scary. I ended up really low on the wall. I was also a bit twisting when flying down. I didn't get to hit the wall with my feet. My wrist did the job. But was a bit too weak for that… CT scan is still to come but X-ray already told the radius is broken in three little cute pieces'.

'I do agree that this is hardly believable. It's so crazy. Even a bit too much. I won't go anymore through mystical interpretations with concepts like "angels pushing me down", or "curses", or anything else (and, to reassure some of you, I won't go again into a monastery). I just don't know what's going on here. And [I don't] feel the need to know, to understand. It's ok like that. It's weird, but it's ok. I also don't know if I'll be giving another go on this one. Maybe yes. Maybe no. I'll see. No rush on that'.

Fortunately, Didier did return for one last go, and early this week the story, finally, came full circle.

Sharing the news on social media yesterday, Didier said:

'I don't know if it's a chapter closing or a chapter opening. But what is certain is that what I experienced yesterday will mark a major turning point in the course of my existence'.

'I (finally) sent Cobra Crack'.

'After many trials and doubts of all kinds. But yesterday it went, and this day will remain engraved forever in my history'.

'My deepest and most sincere thanks to all those who have supported me in this adventure, starting with my two loves, Thomasina Pidgeon and Cedar. And a very special thought for Mason Earle, to whom I dedicate this climb'.

'Never stop dreaming big, against all odds'.

Didier writes his name in history  ©  @rach4thesky
Didier writes his name in history
© @rach4thesky

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17 May

So cool! What a story!

17 May

This is amazing! The First Ascent film was great, I hope they can do a follow-up- would be a great end to this chapter for him.

17 May

Is help from Above ethical? Maybe I should join a monastery, get ordained and then go for some of those big ticks on my list …

Best news I've heard in a good ol' while. Brought tears to my eyes. Genuinely so inspired and impressed by this story. What an absolute wad. The original First Ascent film was immense. The podcast with Grimer was stunning and now this. Just climbing perfection.

Fantastic, well done Didier! Whenever I see or read anything about Cobra Crack it’s always his name that comes to mind. It always felt like he really deserved to get this done and his section in First Ascent is probably one of my favourite bits of climbing film.

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