Seb Berthe repeats Trad masterpiece Bon Voyage (9a)

Seb Berthe secures the third ascent of Bon Voyage in Annot after James Pearson and Adam Ondra. With its rating of E12 or 9a, the trad route is one of the most difficult of its kind.

Bon Voyage, James Pearson's new trad testpiece in Annot, has been defeated for a third time. Just over a month after Adam Ondra could too Seb Berthe repeat the tough trad route.

The idea that a route on this wall can be freely climbed with mobile security is like a magic trick

Seb Berthe
Seb Berthe manages to climb the extremely difficult Bon Voyage trad route in Annot. Image: Soline Kentzel
Seb Berthe manages to climb the extremely difficult Bon Voyage trad route in Annot. Picture: Soline Kentzel

Bon Voyage – The Process

The strong Belgian spent a total of eight sessions on the route. Seb Berthe tried Bon Voyage for the first time in April 2023 after he met his little brother Le Voyage was able to flash. “I immediately fell in love with the line and decided to make it my goal for 2024.”

Rectangle_Knatsch in Magic Wood

In February of this year, a few days after Adam Ondra's climb, he returned to Annot. The Czech's incredibly fast ascent motivated him extremely, even though the weather conditions during the trip were quite mixed.

Rapid progress, then injury

Seb Berthe decided to tackle the route in the lead from the start in order to get used to placing the belays and the falls.

I made good progress and after the third session I was able to climb the entire difficult section in one go.

Seb Berthe

Unfortunately, the Belgian injured his little finger during the route's key move - a long pull from a one-finger hole. The diagnosis: a small tear or strain in the lumbar muscles in the hand. With that the trip was over.

Back on track

Just two weeks later, Seb Berthe was back under the line. This despite the fact that his finger was not yet completely cured. “The appeal of Bon Voyage was simply too great.”

The route really follows me and the weather for the next few days was perfect

Seb Berthe

"A voice inside me told me that despite the small injury, I could try again, that I could change my method in the crux and use a different finger, and that it should probably be fine for the other moves."

Said and done. Seb Berthe spent two sessions on the route. The good feeling returned pretty quickly, so he soon felt ready for a serious attempt.

«That day I put in a great performance and only fell at the crux. I felt very close to making it. Unfortunately, when I returned to the ground I discovered that I had torn my skin trying to get the crucial hold, the damn one-finger hole. Impossible to try again..."

In addition to a lot of climbing skills, Bon Voyage requires a healthy lead ethic. Seb Berthe sets a mobile backup. Image: Soline Kentzel
In addition to a lot of climbing skills, Bon Voyage requires a healthy lead ethic. Seb Berthe sets a mobile backup. Picture: Soline Kentzel

The passage

When he returned on March 19, his motivation was at its peak, remembers Seb Berthe. “I was fully motivated to attack the route.” Before the attempt, he felt butterflies in his stomach and was very stressed.

I knew it was possible, but I had to be good to excel.

Seb Berthe

We want to tell you what happened afterwards in the words of Seb Berthe: “I prepare meticulously; my rack is organized down to the last detail. I leave nothing to chance and make sure that everything is optimized for the following climb.

There are lots of people at the rock (James Pearson has just arrived to work on a new project nearby) and the atmosphere is fantastic. But as I set off, everyone stops climbing and stays silent to watch me; the tension is great. I give the final instructions to my belayer, James Taylor, an Englishman working on the Voyage, and off we go!

I climb the first few meters easily and quickly. I feel good and strong. After a few minutes of climbing I am already at the final resting point.

Coming into the section, I am determined and ready to give it my all. The cheers get louder the further I get through the difficult and demanding section.

Seb Berthe

Now I'm at the crux: I stick my middle finger into the famous hole and twist it so that it fits as best as possible. I immediately feel the handle attacking my flesh, but I don't have time to dwell on it.

I throw my body to the left and manage to grab the next hold with only my fingertips. And then the real fight begins. I know exactly what I have to do, I am precise in my movements, but I am in pain, I have to struggle with every movement. My friends downstairs are driving me on with their screams!

Now I have to stay focused, even though I know I've won. I make the final moves and scream with joy!

I did it! The relief and pleasure of having reached the top of this great line overwhelms me."

Seb Berthe

Bon Voyage – The Line

In 2023, after much hesitation, first climber Pearson suggested E12, the maximum E grade on the British scale, or the French grade 9a. Like Adam Ondra before him, Seb Berthe believes that Bon Voyage is 9a, even if the climbing is very specific and therefore difficult to evaluate.

As I have no experience with E-grades I cannot comment on the subject, but I found the mandatory and dangerous aspect to be really present in the process.

Seb Berthe

Bon Voyage starts in the famous Trad crack line The Journey and then branches off to the left into the impressive bare wall. This is followed by a few moderate but long strokes of good holds and bad kicks. At the final resting point, the final security is placed, a small blue totem cam.

From this point, according to Seb Berthe, the difficult part begins: “Twelve really intense and complex moves, hard on the fingers, which lead to an edge far to the left.”

This section alone could be rated 8c or 8c+. Then there are the runouts.

Seb Berthe

Potential for a bad fall

Even though Adam Ondra said it was “possibly safe” with a good belay partner, there is still this guillotine-like rock formation a few meters below. “It’s pretty intimidating,” says Seb Berthe.

I believe that falling at the wrong moment, with some slack in the system, could result in hitting it.

Seb Berthe

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Credits: Cover picture Soline Kentzel

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