Seb Bouin Does Potential 5.15d FA, World’s Second of the Grade

This article originally appeared on Climbing

Seb Bouin has just made the first ascent of DNA, in France's Verdon Gorge, for which he proposes a grade of 9c (5.15d). Found high above the valley floor, in the ever-impressive La Ramirole cave, DNA connects pockets, pinches, and tufas through a 5.14b intro, two distinct cruxes of V11 and V12, and a 5.14c outro as the cave's unrelenting tilt forced Bouin "to stay lucid" until the chains.

Bouin bolted DNA in the summer of 2019 after making the first ascent of La Rage d'Adam (5.15 b/c), also at La Ramirole. "I wanted another challenge," Bouin said in a press release. "I needed a line that would motivate me to go back again and again, something beautiful, impressive, [and] in an inspiring location." While certainly beautiful, DNA had another appeal: its proximity to his home.

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Bouin has climbed at La Ramirole for over 10 years--the steep limestone cave is the style that suits him best, and provided the necessary setting to reach a new level in climbing. "It’s a cliff I know by heart. ... If there [was] a place to take on such a challenge, it [was] here," Bouin said. According to Bouin, "DNA starts with an 8c (5.14b) intro of five quickdraws to reach a rest. Then there are some moderate moves to reach the first boulder crux at 8A (V11). It is a rather special bouldering move. You have to throw a right foot like in the modern bouldering competitions. Then you must propel yourself [onto] a very, very far tufa. The physicality of the move makes it low percentage. It’s really random.

Seb Bouin climbs 5.15d in the Verdon Gorge.
Seb Bouin making the crux moves of DNA. (Photo: Lena Drapella / Black Diamond)

“Then there is the second crux of the route, an 8A+ (V12) boulder. This crux is really physical, with a left-hand pinch to hold in order to go to an undercling that often slips. This section is quite dependent on friction [and] the weather conditions play a big role. At the end of this crux, there is a rest that allows you to recover your spirits before setting off again for a last fight [of] 8c+ (5.14c)."

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Seb Bouin devoted more than 150 days (and 250 individual tries) over three years before finally sending DNA on a crisp spring day. The following moments held pure elation, but a question loomed: This was the hardest and most-enduring project he’d ever had--what was he going to grade it?

Bouin compared the 150-plus days of attempts with his past projects: 40 days on Move (5.15b/c); 25 days on Mamichula (5.15b); 50 days for Beyond Integral (5.15b/c); and, though he has not yet sent Bibliographie (5.15c), Bouin said DNA felt significantly harder.

Bouin also made an effort to acknowledge La Ramirole's steep and physical climbing style that he has grown to love: "La Ramirole is the cliff that suits me best ... [and] the fact that DNA is 100 percent my climbing style should be considered in the rating," he said. Indeed, one wouldn't--or shouldn't--confidently grade a next-level slab climb if they don't feel well versed in the style and Bouin felt a similar responsibility with DNA. "For example, the routes at Ceuse, such as Bibliographie, are not my style of climbing. Small holds and not much overhang. I’m not very strong. So, if I consider the fact that this route perfectly suits me, the fact that I put a lot more investment in it than in the other routes, and that I feel this route is harder, [then] 9c would seem appropriate," he explained.

Bouin climbs one of the hardest routes in the world in France.
"The place is magical and makes you want to try hard," Bouin said. (Photo: Lena Drapella / Black Diamond)

Even so, Bouin is hesitant to claim 5.15d. Creating (and then climbing) a first ascent is far more demanding than making the first repeat--just ask Alexander Megos, whose proposed 5.15d, Bibliographie, was downgraded last summer. Finding the line, equipping and cleaning the rock, and finding a workable beta--with no help from!--is a much different experience than pulling onto an established route. But Bouin said a 5.15c grade wouldn't have honored his experience at La Ramirole. "Our sport is beautiful [because] we don't need judges, we are the judges," he said. "It's beautiful, but at the same time quite hard in this kind of situation--at the very cutting edge. That's why I would love to invite the world's top climbers to come and give DNA a go."

Anthony Walsh is a digital editor at Climbing.

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