Canadian crack master Jean-Pierre Ouellet made the first redpoint ascent of La Zébrée 5.14a at Mount King in the Laurentides, Quebec, over a decade ago.
The crack is one of the most difficult trad free climbs in North America and was first freed by Jeff Beaulieu, who climbed it on pre-placed gear.
Ouellet made the first redpoint with a pre-placed first piece. In trad climbing, it’s generally accepted that having the first piece pre-placed still counts as a redpoint.
And then Sylvain Masse free climbed it and placed all of the gear on lead, including the first piece.
Story of La Zébrée
The line was first led as an aid climb in 1972 by Alain Haunault at A2. Others have attempted to free it, such as Louis Babin, Russ Clune and Peter Croft.
In the early 1990s Francois Roy came very close to freeing the 25-metre crack, but couldn’t overcome the crux section of the second roof. He one-hanged the route many times and rated it 5.13d A0.
And then came Jeff Beaulieu who, after a couple years of projecting it and over 40 attempts (25 in 2003), pinkpointed the route for its first free ascent. Watch him project it below.
In the world of crack climbing, placing gear on lead is a big part of the send, otherwise it’s similar to clipping bolts.
“I was really fortunate to be a witness of this ascent (I was belaying him on the send),” said Ouellet.
On May 12, 2007, after three years of effort, Ouellet made the first redpoint ascent with the first piece being pre-placed.
The leaning finger crack climbs trough two roofs on the steepest wall at Mount King, about one-hour north of Montreal.
Ouellet started projecting it in the fall of 2005 after a trip to the West Coast. “I knew the send would be difficult, but I had been looking for this kind of project for a while,” said Ouellet.
“La Zébrée is the perfect line, one of the best looking single pitches on the continent, but the climb is rarely in good conditions,” said Ouellet.
The crack seeps badly until mid-summer, but then the black flies come out. Then there’s the humidity. Even a little bit of rain can soak the route for days.
In 2006, it rained a lot and Ouellet had to project the route as it seeped. He began drying the climb with towels and sponges. Some days it took over five hours to dry the crack. And then it would seep soon after.
The crack is so steep that you can’t just rappel and clean it, you have to down aid. Between drying and cleaning the climb, Ouellet would only get about four tries a day. He visited Indrian Creek to stay in crack shape
Ouellet was climbing in Red River Gorge that fall when his friend phoned with good news, Le Zébrée was dry. It hadn’t rained for a few weeks.
On the fourth try of his third day back on it, Ouellet sent it. He pre-placed the first piece to avoid a ground-fall. But locals jumped on the chance to say the ascent wasn’t a pure redpoint.
Later that year, on Aug. 5, mid-30-year-old Sylvain “Sly” Masse redpointed La Zébrée after on-and-off sessions over two years. He didn’t pre-place any gear.
Ouellet belayed Masse for the third ascent of the route and said after, “What I can tell you about Masse? He’s effing fit. One-arm pull-ups are not a problem and one-arm front levers are not a problem either.”
And as for Jeff Beaulieu who made the first free ascent, he was one of Canada’s top big wall and aid climbers for year. He climbed 270-metre 5.13Rs on Cap-Trinite, made the first ascent of the 1,00-metre Nunatak VII A3+ north face of Mount Asgard, the first ascent of of La Colare des Dieux 5.11 A4 on the south face of the Sphinx in Peru and climbed new M10s, when M10 was the one of the hardest grades in mixed climbing.
Ouellet is still one of Canada’s most active hard crack climbers with a big resume of impressive sends to his name. He’s made first ascents of countless crack, including Necronomicon 5.13+/14-, Mexican Snow Fairy 5.13+ and Hypothenuse 5.13c.
When asked what his perfect day is, he said, “Waking up, double espresso, 12°C degrees, sunny, light wind, no humidity, a good friend/climbing partner, my dog, a steep one-inch finger crack and then a glass of wine.”