Seb Berthe Sends Six-Pitch Once-Chopped 5.14a in a Day
Monstserrat is an area with strict bolting ethics and big run-out aid climbs
Belgium crusher Seb Berthe has made a one-day repeat of Tarragó, a 240-metre 5.14a up a huge tower at Montserrat in Spain. The route’s history is one connected with local bolting ethics debates that go back decades.
In 2002, David Tarrago along with Raul Ballesteros, Dani Fernandez, Xavier Garcia, Toni Castelló and Ana Valero bolted the line. They selected the wall because of its solid rock and potential. The route crossed Àrea Reservada A4+ 280m, which was soloed for its first ascent by Jaume Clotet ‘Paca’ in 1997.
Late in 2013, Iker cleaned and freed the Tarrago route over six days, grading it 5.14. Returning to complete a film of the ascent, Iker and his brother Eneko found the bolts had been stripped and the climb was no more.
Montserrat is a rocky massif in central Catalunya, near Barcelona. Serrat means saw-toothed and from a distance the range is a collection of pink, conglomerate, jagged peaks. There are dozens of towers, each with classic lines such as Cavall Bernat, the normal route at 5.8 80m, and La Momia, the normal route at 5.7 90m.
The area has a history of hard aid climbing. Famous big-wall climber Silvia Vidal started her aid climbing career on the walls of Montserrat, close to her home town. She repeated hard routes such as Mirall Impenetrable A5, and Vudú A4+ on Aeri de Montserrat, both with Pep Masip and the second with Pere Vilarasau. She also climbed Incontinència d’Inconsciència A5 with Pep Masip and Miquel Puigdomènench and Silenci A5/5.11 on the Ecos. The techniques required to aid the conglomerate are different from those needed on El Cap. In a 48-hour, 600-metre aid competition, a strong Russian team gave up, unable to climb an A3 pitch.
The Catalans have a strict local ethic against bolted routes on or near existing aid lines. Although Tarrago was bolted 12 years before the send, it was not chopped until it was freed, which raises questions about the chopper’s motive. In Catalunya, climbers do not record first free ascents. The first ascent, however much aid was used, is considered the only one that matters. Most of the classic routes in Catalunya were done with a lot of aid, now most are free, but grades and records are not kept. Many locals are against media of the area as they want to keep the cliffs to themselves.
The Pou brothers released a statement about the chopping: When you put a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of effort and hard work and succeed, it is a dream come true. Our relationship with the route began in September 2013. On our the sixth day, Nov. 5, with Jordi Canyigueral who had come to record the climb, we sent. Many hugs at the summit between the three of us, we were very happy. On Nov. 25, we resumed filming, but that day brought us several unpleasant surprises, one is that the bolts and anchors were gone, the entire route was stripped, we were crushed. The truth is that we do not understand any of this.
We have always believed in consensus decisions, as we have believed in tolerance and mutual respect, which puts us against taking unilateral decisions. Almost a lifetime devoted to the activity on the mountain and common sense has taught me that in life and in the mountains no one is in possession of absolute truth. We want to hear the alleged reasons for stripping the route, but whatever they are, nothing justifies this act, especially 12 years after the bolts were placed. We have always tried to lead by example. Each climb is ethical, cams and nuts before pins and bolts, always starting from the bottom and free climbing when possible. We have given the best of ourselves to Montserrat, as we have always done, with the best of our intentions. If some people think that events like this will kill the future, they are wrong.
The Pou brother’s ascent is one of many recent bolt-war stories. Top-down methods are frowned upon, as is over bolting. No one has claimed the chopping of the Tarrago route, but Tarrago replaced the bolts in spring the following year.
Berthe has climbed 5.15a, recently flashed Mind Control 5.14c, has repointed The Nose 5.14 on El Cap, climbed the Alpine Trilogy, and will now stay in Monstserrat to project Edu Marrin’s Arco Iris, a 200-metre 5.14c.