Solène Amoros and Katherine Choong climb Alibaba (240m, 8a+) in Aiglun

The French Solène Amoros and the Swiss Katherine Choong manage the red point ascent of the difficult multi-pitch tour Alibaba (240m, 8a +) in Aiglun, France. Both athletes lead climbed all eight pitches in the correct order. They spent a total of three and a half days on the wall.

Just for the 20th anniversary of Philippe Mussatto furnished multi-pitch tour Alibaba (240m, 8a, 8a, 7b+, 8a, 8a+, 8a+, 8a+, 7b+) succeed the strong women's duo Katherine Choong and Solene Amoros a red point ascent of the tour.

A testimonial from Katherine Choong

These very steep pitches, the logistics, the fatigue of the short nights and the days of climbing that followed, made us push our physical and mental limits and mobilize within us the necessary resources to do it together. For us it is an adventure full of emotions, moments of joy, complicity and self-conquest that will be remembered as one of the strongest experiences of our climbing career.

Big wall style: Katherine Choong and Solène Amoros in Alibaba (240m, 8a+). Image: Melanie Cannac
Big wall style: Katherine Choong and Solène Amoros in Alibaba (240m, 8a+). Picture: Melanie Cannac

The idea of ​​the project

Since we are both passionate about climbing sport routes and hard multi-pitch routes, we came up with the idea last year to start a project for a long route together. Of course, we had both heard of Alibaba. This route is a classic in France due to its difficulty and the beauty of each pitch. We also felt like finding a route that wasn't too far from home and that could be reached without a plane.

«Instead of attempting a day climb, Solène suggested the idea of ​​approaching this route in a different way, new to us: lead climbing all the pitches one after the other, in the right order and without getting off the wall until it's done .»

FYI, we usually project pitches in advance (over several days) before attempting a push from the ground. This time we went in «Big Wall» mode, using a portaledge to be able to sleep in the wall. We had a time limit of three days and one morning, and we had taken the appropriate amounts of water and food with us.

Our idea also included documenting the ascent and having a photographer Melanie Cannacto invite you to our adventure - for a XNUMX% women's project! We also communicated a lot through our networks during the adventure to share our progress and get the project talking. Everyone was fully involved and that warmed our hearts.

Photographer Mélanie Cannac documents Alibaba's redpoint ascent.
Photographer Mélanie Cannac documents Alibaba's redpoint ascent.

The Process in Detail

Day 1

After some mechanical problems with Kathy's van that was supposed to take us to Aiglun, we end up aboard Melanie's Fiat 500, which has a full tank of fuel and is driven by Will, a climber friend. On the first day of carrying, loaded like mules, we take part of the material to the foot of the route before we spend the night in the Aiglun car park.

The approach is not an easy task: three hours on a steep path through the garrigue, then up and down on static ropes and finally in a seemingly endless boulder field to the foot of the wall. This first stage is already a task in itself, the adventure promises a lot! We return to Aiglun to eat and sleep.

Day 2

Second day of carrying, still in “Sherpa mode”, with backpacks almost as heavy as the day before. This time we sleep at the foot of the wall to be ready to start the next morning. It was going to be a difficult night with strong winds.

Day 3

In order not to burn too much energy, our plan was to practice each pitch first and then take it in turns to lead. Our strategy was to do two grade eight pitches a day. In this scenario there is no margin for error, each climb costs us a lot of energy, skin and time considering that at the end of the day we still had our two huge hanging bags (in addition to a small bag that we pulled up at each length ) and pull up the portal edge.

"The first three pitches are beautiful (8a, 8a, 7b+) and make our mouths water, but it takes a lot of energy to do them."

The warm-up is precarious and the first 8a length catches us cold. Solène really has to fight to make the second 8a length because her body doesn't respond well to the effort, the tiredness and the wind that is hitting us very hard. At Kathy's suggestion, she manages in extremis to reach the deflector of this pitch. She doesn't say so, but there are doubts as to whether she will actually be able to complete the tour, knowing that the most difficult pitches are yet to come.

After climbing the third pitch, grade 7b+, we come to a fairly comfortable climbing spot, but pulling up our backpacks (which are still on the ground) takes us a lot of time. After some difficulties we end the day exhausted at 23pm.

"We are beginning to realize the magnitude of our project and are questioning its feasibility for three consecutive days."

Day 4

It's hard to wake up after a short night's sleep. The sore muscles are noticeable and the skin on our hands is already pretty much grazed. L4 (8a) and L5 (8a+) are waiting for us. Two more 5-star lengths that we manage, albeit with a great deal of energy.

Kathy faces a huge mental battle to make L5, she's on the verge of falling at every crux, but she doesn't give up! In that moment we see the true warrior that she is and decide to name her Pocahontas. The haul is more efficient that day and by 21:30 p.m. all three of us are on the portaledge. A good freeze-dried wakes us up and we get an average, but slightly restful, night's sleep.

2022-Alibaba-melaniecanc-Full-1
Frenchwoman Solène Amoros in the heavily overhanging terrain of the Alibaba multi-pitch route. Picture: Melanie Cannac

Day 5

L6 (8a+), the most difficult route. The first ascent is difficult for Kathy, every hold degenerates what little skin she has left. The fatigue, pain and blocky movements at the beginning cause her some problems. But Solène motivates them and reminds them that anything is possible!

Solène is better that day. She has her methods well under control and shows a nice performance before clipping the deflector too! This time the fighting machine has started, nothing can stop us!

«Solène, who no longer seems to feel gravity, flies through the seventh pitch (8a+) before reaching the deflector in a moment of great happiness!»

As night falls and fatigue sets in, we save the last pitch for the next day and spend a final night at full throttle, three of us huddled on the portaledge. We didn't sleep much that night!

Day 6

Early in the morning we climb the last pitch (7b+) on sight before starting a long walk back to the village. The march back isn't exactly a gift either and our knees have suffered quite a bit. The route is very difficult to find and with our ultra-laden backpacks we cling to every branch. Three hours later we finally arrived and are on our way to St. Auban to toast with our friends!

Day 7

The mission is still not over! We briefly go to the base of the face and back to get Melanie's cell phone, which flew 250 meters off the summit during the last howl the day before. Relieved we find the phone, which still works well, after three hours of searching! end of adventure.

Short film about the inspection of Alibaba

A 15-minute short film will be released in 2023. It is intended to show that women are able to manage such ascents independently. An emotional film that shows beautiful climbing and strong values: complicity in the rope team, competition, dealing with emotions and self-control! The great route is for us a means to find our deepest resources and that is what we want to share with others. In addition, organization and strategy are given priority.

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Credits: Cover picture Melanie Cannac

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