Where the midlife crisis begins for others, he draws 8c. A conversation with the Valais boulderer Théo Chappex about his latest feat Ten Criminals, how he deals with long-term projects and his recipe for success, at almost forty he still climbs like a man in his mid-twenties.

you recently Ten Criminals (8c) first climbed. Congratulations! How long did you work on this project in total?

Thank you! In total, I needed about 40 to 50 sessions spread over four years. But I already knew the last crux, since Ten Criminals was included at the top Manhattan Pure Cantonale (8b+) converges. The latter is a line on the same block that I opened in 2016.

Théo Chappex in his first ascent Ten Criminals (8c).

How do you stay motivated on long-term projects like this?

This project took a particularly long time. My motivation went up and down. But basically I love to climb to my limit. As long as I can't get through a project, I keep thinking about it. But that's normal for climbers, isn't it?

"Ten Criminals was definitely the longest hard boulder I've ever climbed."

Théo Chappex

Many people know this feeling. Where did Ten Criminals push you the most?

The most difficult thing was definitely the length of the boulder: 16 hard moves at my limit. This was without a doubt the longest hard boulder I've ever climbed. I usually boulder lines that have less than ten moves, I'm much more efficient there.

The Valaisian is completely focused in his projects - like here in August 2020 in Thor & Dr Jones (8b +).

How do you deal with failures?

Of course, that often happens. I have many open projects. But if I don't make any obvious progress after a season, then I usually call it quits. While this is a little frustrating, it's also part of the game on first ascents.

“For me, the process is the most important thing. Being able to see a project through at the end is the supplement, but not always essential.”

Théo Chappex

But I don't see this as a total failure. For me, the process is the most important thing. In other words: the joint sessions outside with friends, nature, the fight with the blocks - being able to complete a project at the end is the supplement, but not always essential. I have the same feeling when climbing a mountain. Climbing a ridge is more important to me than standing on the summit.

When some time has passed, I often think back to these open projects and wonder if they are feasible now. I've probably gotten stronger in the meantime. So far, however, this theory has never been confirmed. The projects remained too difficult.

What does the first ascent of Ten Criminals mean to you?

That's a very difficult question. The feeling after a successful ascent is always the same and still very difficult to explain. Before the visit, your whole world revolves around this one project. And as soon as it's ticked off, you immediately think of what's next. Kind of a never ending story – at least I hope so.

What's the deal with the name Ten Criminals?

The block is located in the Val des Dix in Valais. The name of the valley comes from an old medieval legend. According to them, ten villains lived at the end of the valley and terrorized the population. At some point, the villagers made a fire in the forest and killed the villains.

"Ten Criminals is even nicer to climb than Manhattan Reine Cantonale, but it's not as pure in terms of aesthetics."

Théo Chappex

How and when did you discover the lineage?

A friend of mine, Jean-Marie, came across the boulder about ten years ago and showed it to me. I first opened Manhattan Reine Cantonale (8b+) on that block. In my eyes it's the most beautiful line, as it runs dead straight through the block and runs right through the middle of the overhang. Ten Criminals is even nicer to climb, but less pure in terms of aesthetics.

How often are you on the road to discover new blocks?

I find most boulders when approaching mountain tours or ski tours. I'll come back later to see if it's worth it. My list of boulder blocks that I still want to check out is long. We have had a dog for six months. This increases my chances of spotting more blocks during walks.

Théo Chappex and his girlfriend have had a dog for six months. This increases the chances of discovering new boulders during a walk.

How do you balance bouldering with work, friends and family?

My friend Marie Dorsaz is probably even more pissed off than me. From there it comes naturally. I work part-time as a consulting engineer, making durability diagnoses of concrete structures, such as bridges and dams. So I'm sometimes outside on the rope to do inspections and measurements, but often also in the laboratory to carry out analyzes under the microscope.

What is your favorite style when it comes to bouldering?

I'm relatively old school there: lasts with a slight transition.

Based on which criteria do you decide to project a boulder?

The line should match my style. And I have to like the place. Ideally it is above the tree line, because I prefer open places. And the more remote, the better.

The preferred "hunting ground" of boulderer Théo Chappex: open landscapes high above the tree line.

You had contact with mountaineering very early on. Which people have influenced you the most on your way?

My father first introduced me to mountaineering. Later I met my friend Samuel. I have tried out all facets of mountain sports with him for 20 years. Over time he worked more and more as a mountain guide, and I was more and more drawn to pure climbing.

In 2014 he passed away in an avalanche accident. Even today, he is still the person who influenced me the most. It is also Marie Dorsaz, my girlfriend for 17 years, who inspires and motivates me every day.

"I feel like this controlled climbing à la Fred Nicole is a good way for me not to hurt myself."

Théo Chappex

You'll soon be 40 and you're still bouldering at the highest level. What's your secret recipe?

That is hard to say. Basically, over the years I've certainly developed a sense of how to stay in shape efficiently. For example, I quickly realized that I didn't particularly enjoy flashing a boulder or climbing fast. I prefer to take the time to check out all the movements carefully and then climb cleanly. I feel like this controlled climbing à la Fred Nicole for me is a good way not to hurt myself.

I've also noticed over time that I feel better when I do several small sessions instead of exhausting myself completely. When I'm with youngsters and I train a little too long, I lose more than I win.

What kind of training effort is behind your successes? 

A moon board At home and the fact that I climb a lot outdoors.

Where is your focus now after the successful First Ascent of Ten Criminals?

I have a lot of big projects running around in my head. But now I have to make an effort not to start anything bigger, because I'm going abroad with Marie from March to April to climb. I'll see what to do next when we get back. There is still some time left until then.

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Credits: Cover image Christophe Schelling, images in the article: EB Climbing Shoes, Marie Dorsaz, Joel Guerra