Female power in Annot: Soline Kentzel climbs trad test piece Le Voyage (E10, 7a)

Soline Kentzel repeats one of the most difficult trad routes in France: Le Voyage (E10, 7a). The young French woman is only the fourth woman to succeed in climbing the difficult line in the Annot climbing area.

An experience report from Soline Kentzel

The Journey always had a mystical dimension for me. I don't remember exactly how the desire, mixed with fear and curiosity, to take on this challenge arose, but it had been on my mind for a while.

Was trying to reach my maximum in trad climbing the logical next step in my climbing journey? Is that presumptuous?

Soline Kentzel

This feeling came over me when I... Video by Babsi Zangerl saw who is the climber I admire most. As I often say, if everything goes wrong, it would still be excellent training for my future goals.

Soline Kentzel in Le Voyage. Image: Seb Berthe
Soline Kentzel in Le Voyage. Image: Seb Berthe

And the first attempts at climbing confirmed my fears: dangling from the static rope, I knew nothing about climbing, and the distance between the belays seemed quite frightening. Nevertheless, it was love at first sight. Firstly because it is beautiful, but above all because I realized the importance of the challenge of this line.

I realized that my dream was to be a climber able to reach the top of that wall; and that I'm not ready physically and mentally yet.

Becoming that climber who is able to climb the line of her dreams, that unique crack line stretching toward the sky, will be my reason for climbing from now on.

Soline Kentzel
Bergpunkt Clean Climbing Courses

Le Voyage: That's the line

Le Voyage follows an obvious weak point over 40 meters, which can be divided into three parts. The route starts with a fairly technical 7a+ crack that leads to a complete rest position. After this break, a few movements lead to a good knee lock, allowing one to breathe and prepare for the first crux.

This first crux is quite long. Afterwards you have to quickly change pace to traverse, belay in this airy and fairly committed section and reach a decent resting place where it is possible to set very convincing belays.

The young Frenchwoman Soline Kentzel is the fourth woman to repeat Le Voyage (E10, 7a). Image: Seb Berthe
The young Frenchwoman Soline Kentzel is the fourth woman to repeat Le Voyage (E10, 7a). Image: Seb Berthe

Leaving this resting position makes it difficult to chalk again for the next 15 moves: you climb a bit before quickly placing the last piece of belay; for me a #0,2 cam. From there begins the hardest and pumpiest section: a series of vertical handholds and thin kicks that put you in very uncomfortable positions.

At the end of this section you are about 2-3 meters above your last cam and can place a bombproof fuse behind a shed.

Here begins the last section, about 7b, the most engaging part of the route: a nerve-wracking runout of at least 8 meters and finally the very technical final crack with tight handholds.

Soline Kentzel

The work begins

At the beginning I had to learn again to climb the surrounding routes with cams, to gain the necessary lightness to decipher the movements and to hang in the air on the static rope.

During the first trip, an annular ligament injury prevented me from focusing on the upper crux. So I turned my attention to the lower crux. At first I was bothered by the foot positions, which seemed either too low or too decentralized.

I saw that it was possible, but it would take a lot of climbing to put the puzzle together and get used to the discomfort of these movements.

Soline Kentzel

I quickly began to lead climb. On my second trip to Annot I still couldn't connect the lower crux. I fell into the air repeatedly, often more to the shock of my belayer partners than myself.

Gradually my finger healed and I was able to seriously work on the upper crux. It took several hours to master all the movements. All except one, which gave me difficulty on a daily basis: the very last movement of the hard section to reach the final grip.

Step by step, Soline Kentzel was able to put together the puzzle of Annot's most famous trad line. Image: Seb Berthe
Step by step, Soline Kentzel was able to put together the puzzle of Annot's most famous trad line. Image: Seb Berthe

On the last day of the trip, after a two-hour session of hanging on my Grigri before the section, I finally found my beta: a layback move where I pulled myself up on the last holds to put my feet a little higher .

On the one hand, I expected this moment and knew it was coming: the route worker's “Eureka.” On the other hand, I was discouraged. The sequence seemed extremely taxing on the fingers, with the movements 30 meters above the ground at the end of a strenuous section.

In short, I was frustrated - my method wasn't a miracle method, it was just pulling hard on the handles.

Soline Kentzel

Ready for the climb

Things were different on my third trip to Annot. I arrived knowing I was ready and here to try. So began the “two attempts a day keeps the doctor away” routine. Since then I have climbed almost exclusively as a lead climber.

If I couldn't clear a mandatory section, I would climb the static rope to set the next belays and then continue climbing in the lead.

A key moment in the mental process was clearly overcoming the first crux.

Soline Kentzel

The first time my fingers got stuck in the distant shallow pocket at the end of the first crux, I found myself caught in the moment. My brain began to fog, and as my thoughts became clear, I realized my heart was beating too fast. Controlling this emotion, reacting to these thoughts to affect my body was an exciting challenge. Because there is no doubt that the more fear takes over, the higher the chances of making a mistake and falling.

In addition, this section was always an intense moment every time it was played. I continued climbing to the next good belay each time, but with a clarity of mind and a precision of movement that was quite random.

Accepting that every attempt is unique and unpredictable and reassuring myself that everything would be okay was at one point my biggest mental challenge. And that has undoubtedly been reflected in my climbing.

Soline Kentzel
The psychological component played a big role in Soline Kentzel's ascent of Le Voyage. Image: Seb Berthe
The psychological component played a big role in Soline Kentzel's ascent of Le Voyage. Image: Seb Berthe

Loneliness and doubt

On the fourth trip, when I arrived more tired and less strong than before, I felt overwhelmed. Because of the fear and pressure I had put on myself before returning, I began to doubt. While ten days earlier I had fallen in the middle of the upper crux, I now fell repeatedly in the first crux.

I exercised patience and continued to make experiments, some more promising than others. I had spent a week sleeping on the floor of my friend Mich's van, who was also struggling with his project. We had both become integral parts of the place, beginning to become part of the landscape of Annot.

I saw people coming and attempting the route and scoring (congratulations to Philippe, Jean-Eli and Jabi who also climbed the route this season!) and I was still there. Finally the rain came and we felt tired: it was time for me and I to go to recharge our batteries.

It was several weeks of climbing and constantly being with only men. When my friend Juju visited me for a few days, I realized how much I missed and was sad about not having any friends to share my experiences with.

When climbing, as a woman, the further you get away from the beaten path, the lonelier you become. Trad climbing shouldn't be such a masculine activity: everyone decides their level of commitment, and what a shame it is to miss out on the satisfying moves of crack climbing!

Soline Kentzel

For me it's not necessarily much more dangerous, it's just climbing with even more freedom. At the end of this fourth trip I was overcome with a bitter feeling. While I was confident that no matter what, I would continue to fight this route and eventually succeed, my confidence took a hit.

I saw that maybe my body wasn't as strong as I wanted it to be. Most of all, I wondered if I would ever, soon, be up to these climbs that make me dream without my chances relying largely on hard work, patience, repetition and optimism.

Soline Kentzel
Soline Kentzel: “During the successful climb, even the runout section after the upper crux didn’t disturb my composure. Image: Seb Berthe
Soline Kentzel: “During the successful climb, even the runout section after the upper crux didn’t disturb my composure. Image: Seb Berthe

The final exchange of blows

By the time I returned for the fifth time, my attitude had changed: I arrived more humble, prepared for things not to go according to plan, and I found ways to relieve the pressure. Some of my close friends were there and I felt their support.

Deep down, I knew that this time I was here to deliver the final blow and that I would not leave without success, no matter what the consequences were for my studies and other commitments.

Soline Kentzel

Finally, this time the stars aligned almost perfectly: on the second day I fell with my hand on the last hold. No problem, I had internalized the sensations and it was only a matter of time. When I finally joined the movements, cheered on by my friends, not a grain of sand disturbed the unique sequence of this vertical precarity.

Even the runout section after the upper crux didn't disturb my composure (although my legs were shaking a little - it had been a while since I left the ground...). I breathed calmly before tackling the very last section, a round and unpleasant crack that had caused more than just a drop of sweat.

Finally, I clipped the anchor, overwhelmed with immense relief: I could finally end this exclusive relationship and leave this gem behind me. Enjoy a few moments of peace before I fall into the trap of another dream line again.

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Credits: Cover picture Julia Cassou

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