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French Climbers Trounce Smith Rock...Again.

posted by dpm on 10/02/2013

French superstars and Smith Rock go hand in hand, kind of like baguettes and jam or rose moves and spandex. The history of American sport climbing was written on the walls of Smith Rock, Oregon and, ironically, the French did a lot of the writing.

America's first 5.14a was established in 1986 at Smith Rock when Frenchman J.B. Tribout sent To Bolt or Not to Be. Then he ruffled feathers when he snatched up the first ascents of Badman (5.14a), White Wedding (5.13d) and Scene of the Crime (5.13b) in the late 80's/early 90's. J.B. was so ruthless and relentless in his pursuit of Smith Rock first ascents, it's rumored that a local climber filled in the pockets of his project with Sika to prevent Tribout from sending it. After J.B. left, the equipper chipped the glue out and sent the route Villain (5.14a).

But J.B. returned again in 1992 to send America's first 5.14c, Just Do It. You'd think the Americans might have snagged the 2nd ascent of Just Do It but no... once again it was Frenchman Marc LeMenestrel that claimed that as well. Since those early days of Smith Rock dominance, French climbers seem to have an attraction to these world famous routes established by their countrymen. In 2009, Pierre Bollinger ticked off the first ascent of Shoot 'em Up (5.14b), one of the last undone projects in the Aggro Gully. Then Enzo Oddo visited in 2010 to claim the youngest ascent of Just Do It at the age of 15. As one Smith Rock local put it, "I don't know what it is? Smith Rock just lifts its skirt every time Air France unloads in Bend, Oregon."

Flo on Spank the Monkey (5.13d). Just Do It (5.14c) climbs the face to the left. Photo: Gerome's Blog

This year, it's Gerome Pouvreau and Florence Pinet that have made the journey to one of America's top sport climbing areas and, as is the tradition, they are crushing it. Flo made short work of Spank the Monkey (5.13d), a massive, and terrifyingly runout arête on the Monkey Face, while Gerome sent the neighboring Just Do It in a mere four tries. Was this the fastest ascent to date? Not quite. Gerome is tied for that record with American Dave Hume...not that it's a competition.

Gerome also ticked To Bolt or Not to Be in five tries as well as The Big R (5.14a). And who, you might be wondering, got the first ascent of The Big R? In 1995, Marc LeMenestrel put up that one and couldn't stop laughing about the name of the local farm supply store so he named the route after it. On his blog, Gerome says his next challenge will be to tackle The Big R's right variation finish, Starvation Fruit (5.14b), but rest easy America; that one is a Joe Brooks route.

Check out Gerome's blog for more great photos and follow along during their trip to the States. The rumor is that they'll be here for an extended stay so look for their tricked-out and unmistakable hippie van. If you see it roll in to your local crag, you might want to fill in the pockets of your project with some glue. You can always chip it out later...

Note: DPM does not actually condone the use of glue to render routes unclimbable and finds it depressing that this disclaimer is necessary.   

Gerome on Just Do It (5.14c). Photo: Gerome's Blog

Update: Just after this story was posted, Florence Pinet sent To Bolt or Not to Be (5.14a). Hers is the fourth female ascent of the route after Lynn Hill, Beth Rodden, and Paige Claassen.