Seb Bouin and his (9c) grading

19 May 2022

Sebastien Bouin has done some 60 routes 9a and harder out of which 25 are FAs, including DNA 9c in Verdon which he did last month. Interestingly none of these FAs have been repeated although half of them were put up between 2011 to 2016. The 29-year-old is well known for giving personal down gradings like for Chilam Balam 9a+/b, Era Vella 8c+/9a, Esclatamasters 8c+/9a and Akira. The latter was put up as the world's first 9b and Seb did the first repeat after 20+ years calling it 9a.

Who belayed you during the 250+ tries on DNA and who has tried it?
No other climbers have tried it. I had many friends and also my girlfriend has belayed a lot. However, my mother has done most of that hard work. She lives just 30 min from the crag and I have actually stayed there a lot in between sessions. I live some three hours away.

How were the mental ups and downs during the three year process?
In the beginning, I could not do all moves and I did not know if it was going to be possible. Spending time in this beautiful place unlocking the moves and the sequences was great fun. Later the process got more frustrating. Last Christmas I had a mental breakdown after falling four times close to the top. I had invested so much time and effort and besides almost only projected for several months including multiple redpoint sessions also on Bibliographie. It was kind of a mistake to try both routes at the same time. I had to focus on DNA and mixing with Biblio was fun. But I was missing the focus to close such a hard project. This winter, I had forced the process too much. I missed travelling and climbing easier routes and got very frustrated. Later I had to recharge by going on several trips and also doing some hard indoor training but no replica training.

What would you have done if you had not sent it?
I had plenty of time before the summer heat so I was not under so much pressure. I was enjoying the process and would have continued in the autumn. I would have recharged again during the summer and eventually done it. I bolted it in 2019 and it has been in my heart since. It is such a beautiful place and route so, during this spring, I enjoyed every session. It's different from winter, spring helps a lot in the process.

What was your rationale suggesting 9c for DNA?
Giving this grade was really hard. I was thinking about it a lot. It was hard to choose between 9c and 9b+ (read the black diamond story). I have based the grade on the comparison with other routes (in terms of time and feeling), and with the climbing style (which is 100% mine). I like endurance challenges on big overhangs with tufas etc. I talked to Adam Ondra to discuss that. Happy to see the good feedback. He has been in the sector trying some of my other FAs.

I could never have done a 9c in Norway as Adam did. One key for the send was actually that I could stay and be belayed by my mother. The grade was secondary. It was the perfect beautiful project which I wanted to complete. I do hope many climbers will come and try the routes in Ramirole and enjoy the crag. I always invite other climbers to come and many top climbers have been there. You will see when the video comes out that it is an amazing place and route.

What about upgrading some of your FAs in order to increase the interest in them?
I know I could upgrade a couple but I will not do this. I welcome others to try my routes and suggest upgrades if they feel it is needed. It feels wrong to suggest upgrades just because your routes are still unrepeated. My FA grades are based on how difficult and how many sessions were needed for me to do them. Possibly you could add a + to a few of my FAs if I compare them with some of the popular 9a's in Spain and other countries.

Detailed info in regards the process since 2019 can be found on Seb's Insta (c) Lena Drapella

(Jens Larssen: From a personal point of view it is a bit sad that I needed to talk about the grade so much with Seb. I have been communicating with him for ten years and he is not in it for the grade whatsoever. When we talked about Akira he could have taken the easy path calling it 9a+ but honesty is very important for him. He actually said that it is probably 8c+ with a knee pad but at the time, I did not publish this. Seb is just a very passionate climber who has been focusing on doing FAs. I think he is the perfect role model and he will become one of the more influential climbers in the world. In one way, we can also say that he is like a late bloomer meaning that I think that there is plenty of more 9b+ and 9c's to come, although some of them will get these grades due to upgrading. He is a very modest and humble guy.

When I called him, I started with a joke using french. "Je m'apalle Jens dans le huit a...". Then he answered my questions about DNA for a couple of minutes and he actually thought he was communicating with an anonymous person until he started laughing.

- Ahh, it is Jens! I am sorry for my bad English. I did not recognize your voice.

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