Siebe Vanhee and Sébastien Berthe climbed the difficult multi-pitch route Fly (14c, 2021m) in the Lauterbrunnen valley rotpunkt on Monday, June 8, 550.

And there they are again, the strong Belgians. The Berthe-Favresse team made headlines last summer - not always for the good. This year did each other Siebe Vanhee and Sébastien Berthe together and drove to Lauterbrunnen at the beginning of May with a clear goal in mind: a ground-up ascent of the 20-pitch route Flight (8c, 550m). A few days later, Fly was no longer a project, but another difficult one Multi-pitch Tour in the route book of the two top climbers.

A report by Siebe Vanhee

The Fly route has been on my wish-list since I focused on difficult multi-pitch routes in my climbing career. For a route like Fly you need a good partner. Together with my compatriot Sébastien Berthe, we drove to Lauterbrunnen Valley on June 12, 2021 to climb the route ground-up in as few days as possible. For us, staying on the wall until you have completely climbed the route is the cleanest ascent style for an alpine multi-pitch route.

We have from Cédric Lachats We heard about the ascent and their difficulty and prepared us for five days on the wall. To record our inspection, we have our colleague, the professional photographer Julia Cassou, involved. That made us the perfect team for such an adventure.

Surprisingly good start to the project

At seven in the morning, Seb and I got on the route. The portaledge was a fully packed haul bag for the time in the wall. Our goal for the day was to get to the ribbon below the 17th pitch, alternating in the lead and climbing everything freely. Of course we also had to carry our “household” with us.

It was a pretty ambitious plan, considering that the difficulties are in the upper 7th grade and we had quite a bit of luggage with us.

The first pitches are very flat, difficult to read and quite dirty. Nevertheless, we managed to climb everything on sight except for two 7c lengths. At 14.30 p.m. we were already at the said ledge, in time to fry in the sun and not lose any valuable finger skin. That night, Julia, our photographer, came to us and installed fixed ropes to photograph us the next day.

Seven Vanhee on the most difficult pitch of the Fly route. (Photo Julia Cassou)
Seven Vanhee on the most difficult pitch of the Fly route. (Photo Julia Cassou)

Good start to the key lengths

The next day we started as early as possible in order to be able to climb in the shade for as long as possible. That day Sébastien started and climbed the 17th pitch (8b) directly onsight. With that he set the bar high. I was pretty nervous but managed to flash climb the pitch while Julia was taking pictures of us. I was the first to climb the most difficult pitch of the tour, the 8c length, bouldered the trains, cleaned the handles and kicks and made tickmarks.

Climbing a multi-pitch alpine route can be quite intimidating. The holds are sometimes dusty, there are hardly any or no traces of magnesium and the climbing is exposed.

After Seb also bouldered the length of the pitch, I made my first serious attempt, but fell because a grip broke in an easy section. I gave a third try, even though I was tired, had barely any skin on my fingertips, and was climbing rather unsteadily. But: I scored the length! Unfortunately the sun was already around the corner - a good reason for Sébastien to save his strength and finger skin for the next morning. We rappelled down to the ledge and sizzled in the blazing sun for a second afternoon.

The two Belgians at the ledge maintain the 17th pitch of Fly. (Photo Julia Cassou)
The two Belgians at the ledge maintain the 17th pitch of Fly. (Photo Julia Cassou)

Last hurdle on the third day

For me the next day there was only one difficult length on the program. Sébastien was in a more difficult position because he still had to score the key length. But mentally strong as he is, he climbed solidly to the deflector of the rope length. And so it was my turn again with the last difficult length (8b +), a 15 meter long slab. Here, too, I worked on the perfect beta and cleaned the handles. Then it was Seb's turn to boulder out the length of the pitch.

Sébastien Berthe on the last difficult length of the route. (Photo Julia Cassou)
Sébastien Berthe on the last difficult length of the route. (Photo Julia Cassou)

I gave a first try, but fell after pulling the key because a microscopic bar broke out below my ring finger. I returned to the booth and gave one more try straight away. With two taped fingertips and two other battered and bleeding fingers, I clawed my way through the key point - and scored the pitch!

Our thanks go to Roger Schäli for opening this tour and thus a further enrichment for the climbing community. We would also like to thank Cédric Lachat and Tobias Suter for the information about the logistics in the route.

But the project wasn't over yet. Now it was Sébastien's turn. Two attempts later he also reached the deflector - everyone was very happy! The third and fourth free ascent of Fly was successful.

Siebe and Sébastien propose devaluation

It happened the way it had to. On their European tour in 2020, Sébastien Berthe and Nicolas Favresse downgraded numerous old alpine classics - and not only made friends with them. The same fate now overtakes the Route Fly, previously rated 8c. After talking to Cédric Lachatwho succeeded in the second red point ascent, and the developer of the route, Roger Schäli, the two Belgians decided to downgrade the first difficult length from 8c to 8b +. The two of them also rate the second difficult pitch, originally rated 8b +, to 8b.

The last pitch was rated 8b + by Alexander Megos and Cédric Lachat. For Sébastien and me, the length felt more like 8b. Sure, we had good conditions on the route. But, in our opinion, a correct evaluation should be based on good conditions.

Siebe Vanhee

Fly - a project by Roger Schäli, first started by Alexander Megos

The Fly route was set up in 2006 and 2009 by Roger Schäli, Michel Pitelka, Markus Iff, Bernd Rathmayr, Mäx Grossmann and Stephan Eder and named “Fly” after the many base jumpers in the region. From the fourth to the eighth of June 2014, Roger Schäli, Alex Megos, David Hefti and Frank Kretschmann in the route. The German professional climber managed the first free ascent of the route with difficulties up to 8c.

Facts about Fly at the Staldenflue

  • 20 pitches
  • Difficulties up to 8b + / 8c
  • Climbing length 600m
  • Wall height 550m
  • First ascent: Roger Schäli with Michel Pitelka, Markus Iff, Bernd Rathmayr, Mäx Grossmann and Stephan Eder as rope partners
  • First free ascent: Alex Megos with Roger Schäli, David Hefti and Frank Kretschmann
  • Second free ascent: Cédric Lachat with Tobias Suter
  • Third and fourth free ascent: Siebe Vanhee and Sébastien Berthe

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Credits: Pictures Julia Cassou Photography, Report Siebe Vanhee