Sébastien Berthe on form in Spain
- Tuesday 5th September 2023
Sébastien Berthe is smashing out the routes in the Picos di Europa, Northern Spain.
Belgian climber Sébastien Berthe’s year is getting better and better as time goes on. In January this year, and after 14 sessions, Séb successfully repeated La Rambla (F9a+) at Siurana. Then in April Séb made the first flashed ascent of James Pearson’s Le Voyage E10 7a/F8b+) at Annot, France. That was one of the hardest on-sights of a trad route ever achieved. Click here to read our report about that ascent.
Fast forward to earlier in August, Séb made an on-sight ascent of Ajo Crudo, a F8c sport route at La Cicera, Picos di Europa, Spain. If the route name sounds vaguely familiar, that’s maybe because – as we reported here – Italian climber Laura Rogora also on-sighted it very recently. Whilst La Rambla, Le Voyage and Ajo Crudo are single-pitch routes, Seb has turned his attention to longer multi-pitch routes in the Picos as well.
Séb’s first multi-pitch success – climbing with fellow Belgian climber Siebe Vanhee - was a repeat of Rayu. Originally established by Iker and Eneko Pou and Kico Cerdá in 2020, Rayu received an all-female ascent by Sasha DiGiulian, Matilda Söderlund and Brette Harrington in the autumn of 2022. Getting an early start on the route, the pair made rapid progress up the route climbing the easier but still challenging pitches quickly. Feeling that Seb’s chances of flashing the crux pitch were greater than his, Siebe Vanhee made the first attempt and despite getting high on the pitch he finally fell. After working the pitch, Siebe returned to the belay and Seb tied in and using Siebe’s beta was able to flash the pitch. Siebe then also redpointed the pitch. The pair then continued to the top of the route summiting at 19:30 having made the first “in-a-day team flash” of Rayu.
Talking about the grade, Séb’s said; “Rayu’s amazing crux pitch was proposed as F8c by the first ascensionists. We had the feeling that it could be a bit easier though. Despite the reasonably good shape we are in, we can’t honestly say that we are able to send an 8c pitch that quick, high on a multi-pitch. Compared to the recent sport climbs I’ve done, it felt closer to F8b+. The rests are too good and the moves are probably too easy to make it a proper F8c.”
Next up, Séb– again climbing with Siebe Vanhee - turned his attention to Orbayu the second difficult multi-pitch in the Picos de Europa. A French team with Soline Kentzel, Ugo Monier and Erwan Rucay also climbed some of the pitches with Séb and Siebe. Located on Picu Urreillu (Naranjo de Bulnes), Orbayu was also originally climbed by the Pou Brothers albeit back in 2009. Siebe Vanhee had made an ascent of Orbayu back in 2020; previously it had been repeated by a variety of teams including Nico Favresse and Adam Pustelnik in 2011, Cédric Lachat in 2014, Edu Marin in 2016, Gorka Karapeto in 2017.
Once again Séb and Siebe were able to make an “in-a-day” ascent of Orbayu. Again the pair started early and having flashed/on-sighted all the easier lower pitched arrived at the crux pitch by 10:00. Séb wasn’t able to on-sight the pitch but worked it. The weather deteriorated for his second and third attempts which also failed.
Séb described his fourth attempt on the crux pitch saying; “I felt tired and pessimistic. But Soline, Ugo and Erwan were so happy and psyched! The mood was great and I can only recommend you to bring in your own multipitch project 🙂 I decided to give it a last go, just for the game. The climbing was hard, I was slow and weak. skin hurt. The crew was cheering so much. The battle was on! Somehow, thanks to those guys, I climbed my way through the crux. I now needed to stay really calm and focused. I took my time and fought so hard in the final section, feeling tired and pumped. What a moment to finally clip the anchor after about 30mins of fight! Wow, I couldn't really believe what I had just done… It was 5pm (spent about 6-7 hours on that pitch) and we had to be fast: there were 10 more tricky pitches on gears…”
Finally, Séb and Siebe summited at 23:00 and descended to the parking by 03:00 the following day! Commenting on the grade Seb said; “Hard for me to give an honest opinion about the grade of the crux pitch. Conditions were probably not optimal and I struggled quite hard… Previous climbers gave it around 8c. Compared to the other sport climbs I’ve done around here, it felt similar to the F8cs I’ve tried. Still, I would not be surprised if it was F8b+. It is probably harder than the crux pitch of Rayu. Anyway, another great climb out there!"