Hannes Huch accuses professional climber Said Belhaj of claiming ascents, that he never did. (LACRUX reported ). In the focus is Said’s ascent of Action Directe (9a) in Frankenjura. We talked with Said about the accusations.
In a recent article, Hannes Huch accuses Swedish professional climber Said Belhaj of not having climbed certain routes, one of it Action Directe in Frankenjura. The accusations are pretty heavy, especially for a professional climber, who’s supported by sponsors and is therefore in an ambassador.
This is how Hannes Huch justifies his accusations
There is no tangible evidence of Said Belhaj's "non-ascent" of Action Directe. Hannes Huch substantiates his allegations with statements from people who secured Said in the route prior to the inspection. Among others, the photographer Ray Demski is quoted, who confirms to Hannes that Said Belhaj never made the famous jump of Action Directe in the photo session. Hannes himself also secured Said and wrote in his article that the Swedish professional climber could not even have climbed the individual trains on the route.
The fact that Said Belhaj cannot get in touch with the person who belayed him when he did the red point ascent, is putting him in a difficult situation.
The other side of the story
We contacted Said Belhaj and talked extensively about Hannes Huch's accusations. Said is shocked by the accusations and irritated by the behavior of Hannes Huch and presents his version of the story.
LACRUX: Hannes Huch blames you for never having climbed Action Directe - and other routes. The allegations were made public in a recently published blog post. What do you say?
Said: The story of Action Directe has a long history. The whole procedure of Hannes Huch is unfair in my opinion.
In May 2018 I was in Frankenjura for one week and worked on the Route Action Directe. I was in pretty good shape after several months of mainly bouldering.
During this stay I checked out the individual moves and was able to do them although I didn’t have very good beta yet. That I could not even climb from bolt to bolt is not true, but the jump was tricky and hard, and I could only do it once on that trip. However, I did not make serious attempts during my trip in May.
Then I wanted to make a film about the history of the route and Hannes Huch, who was working for Café Kraft back then, got involved.
In fall 20 I came back to Frankenjura and wanted to try again. But it was never a question of doing it necessarily but just trying and climbing in general in the Frankenjura. I had only one month of training preparation before arriving and for me that was probably not enough. Also, the conditions in the fall were unusually warm, around 25 to XNUMX degrees. At this time I was far from the same shape that was in the spring. However, it was a good time to find better beta and just enjoy climbing.
"The conditions in the fall were more than bad."Said Belhaj
Since I could not seriously plan the Route Action Directe in this condition, I often climbed other routes in the region and occasionally got back into Action Directe. In general I climbed too much during this stay to have a serious chance on the route. But since it wasn't 100% in red dot mode, it didn't matter. From the many and intensive climbing, I grew tired until I reached the point where I had to go to the specialist Volker Schöffl to examine my fingers and check whether I could continue climbing the finger holes typical of the Franconian Jura.
During this time Hannes once came to the area to film. It was my fourth climbing day in a row, but we could not find another day that suited Hannes. Also with Ray Demski we did a photo shoot one day. On this trip I was able to climb Action Directe in the best "try" with a "hanger" after the jump.
After this one-month stay, I flew to Catalonia to give a climbing course. It was a good opportunity to recover from the intensive climbing in the Franconian Jura. After this break, I flew back to the Franconian Jura, well rested. In the meantime, the temperatures have fallen sharply, it was around eight degrees Celsius, which were the conditions for a red dot attempt. Anyway, I never thought I would climb the route that day. But I scored Action Directe.
Several weeks later I came back to the Frankenjura after a stay in Greece. There I mostly climbed long and pumpy Tufa routes. Winter has arrived in the Franconian Jura, but we still went into the area to film again. We didn't have much time because Hannes had to take Jerry Moffatt to the airport. So I got into Action Directe without warming up. It was bitterly cold and I was still struggling with a finger injury from the red dot ascent, which is why I didn't want to accelerate 100%, especially at the one-finger holes. Those two days were the only ones Hannes was there. I never had the impression that he was “always ready” to film (maybe I'm wrong here), but I was happy that at least there were film recordings, even if they weren't from my best days in the route.
LACRUX: Hannes criticizes that you cannot say who your belayer during the redpoint ascent was. What do you say about that?
Said: Well, as a professional climber you have a lot of time to climb and are often on the road. But you cannot always find friends who can travel to Frankenjura for four weeks just like that. So, you are often traveling alone and climbing with anyone you can find. Every year I climb with literally hundreds of people. Some become friends for a lifetime, some you only do a warmup or climb for one day and you never see them again. This was also the case when I returned to Frankenjura in autumn.
"As a professional climber, you are often contacted when, for example, you write on instagram, where you are or go."Said Belhaj
During my stay I was contacted by a guy on instagram who offered to climb Action Directe with me. Such a thing is nothing extraordinary. As a professional climber, I’m often contacted when I write on instagram where you are or go.
When I was back in the Franconian Jura after the break in Spain, I couldn't find anyone to climb with me and so I contacted the climber on Instagram. His name was Michael (or Mike). He was German and I understand that he was from the region. It was he who secured me during the red dot ascent. Unfortunately, his user profile and conversation on Instagram disappeared when I searched for it six months later and wanted to contact him. That may sound strange, but what can I do?
Hopefully we will meet again one day. But not as “evidence” but to climb together again. After the day when I climbed AD we only went out once but hardly climbed as it was raining, and we couldn’t find much dry rock.
During the whole period of trying the route I had over five different belayers.
LACRUX: Why do you think Hannes accuses you of not having climbed Action Directe?
Said: That's a good question. I do not know it, as much as I would love to know. I had a great time with Hannes, we shot the film he made for Café Kraft. Everything was normal. When Café Kraft quit his job, he looked for sponsors for the film and contacted my sponsor Patagonia. But as far as I know there was no deal 100% set for the movie with Patagonia however. About six months after my stay in Frankenjura and sending Action Directe, Hannes contacted me and asked for video footage of the redpoint ascent. I told him I don’t have any pictures as and that I couldn’t get in touch with Mike. Then suddenly an unlovely dynamic began.
"Hannes started to contact people in my environment."Said Belhaj
Hannes started to contact people from my environment but not me directly. He was spreading rumors and questioning my ascent of Action Directe. I tried to call him to talk to him about the accusations. He was my friend so why not have a talk and clear things up? But he didn’t want to talk.
He finally wrote me, let's say a ”not very positive" e-mail that I answered. I wanted to be transparent, so I also sent my response mail to the rest of the people involved. I thought that was it as there was nothing more to say and he didn’t want to talk to me.
A little later he also started to contact my sponsors and with that he crossed the line. My friends and sponsors are behind me. It is not okay for him to systematically try to discredit me. Under Swedish law, it's a defamation, a fairly serious crime. Nobody can just make such allegations without evidence. That hurts a person's reputation. Yes, we have freedom of expression, but that's different.
"I have the impression he just wants to damage my reputation."Said Belhaj about Hannes Huch
And you can ask yourself how you would feel if someone did this to you? However, I hope we can sit down with Hannes like friends one day and also put the Action Directe movie out there, the historical part is too good to be missed. I was never interested in having me climbing on the route as focus of the film, there are plenty of videos of this on-line. But to tell the history of the climb I think would interest many people.
LACRUX: The situation with Action Directe is confusing and it is unfortunate that you do cannot name the person who belayed you. Hannes Huch told LACRUX that people in your close environment also doubt the ascent of Trip Tik Tonik and Papichulo. Can you name the belayers in these cases?
Yes, sure. (Editor's note: LACRUX has the names and contact details of the two belayers, in the case of Trip Tik Tonik there is a confirmation of the belayer, that Said climbed the route redpoint. In the case of Papichulo there was no answer at the time of the publication)).
Said Belhaj after the ascent of Trip Tik Tonik
LACRUX: Pro athletes like Carlo Traversi and Daniel Woods have publicly commented on the story. They stand behind the idea of Hannes Huch that professional climbers who get support from sponsors should proof ascents with a video. What do you say?
Of course you can do that. But I'm not the guy who constantly publishes stories on Instagram and spends more time on social media than with climbing. This seems to me like something the younger generation do more? Also, in bouldering its generally easier to video all the time.
I also do not hope that it will come so far that professional climbers have to prove every single ascent with a video. At least not of a route with a difficulty of 9a. We are not talking about a historically important ascent.
On the day when I did AD some hikers came by. I think they filmed and / or took photos from below. To get it from them was the last thing on my mind after the ascent but was something Hannes asked for later, but I couldn’t provide.
"It breaks my heart that Hannes questions who I am and what I stand for."Said Belhaj on the allegations of Hannes Huch
Anyway, before me, Action Directe has already been climbed by countless people, young guys warm up on these types of routes these days! It's not a 9c route and not a 9a+ boulder!
In the case of a historically significant (first) ascent, one might argue about whether or not to provide evidence. But maybe not with a 9a. The ascent of a 9a is nothing earth-shattering. The ascent was of course not relevant for me for marketing purposes, as it’s ”only” 9a, it didn’t change anything.
LACRUX: Daniel Woods publicly raises the idea why you do not climb Action Directe again to prove it to everyone?
It's a nice idea and the route is awesome. But for me it is the completely wrong motivation to climb a route. It's not like I can climb the route briefly on any day like Alex Megos. Now investing so much time in the route again to prove something that I have already proven I will not do. There are other routes that I still want to climb. Just because Hannes Huch accuses me of not having followed the route, I don't have to prove the opposite to the world. I climb for myself and if you don't want to believe me, there's nothing I can do about it. And again: If someone thinks climbing Action Directe brings fame and money, then I can only say that this is not the case. I would also like to add that I am pretty sure that no climber, whether professional or not, can prove every single ascent.
LACRUX: What does climbing mean for you?
For me, climbing is freedom and trust. Climbing is not a sport for me with video evidence and witch hunts. If a friend tells me he has climbed a route, I'm happy for him and don’t question the ascent for a second, why would I? If someone would not be honest about a climb it’s their problem, no one else’s.
If someone does not tell the truth about an on-the-fly, it's their problem, not the problem of others.
For me, climbing is not about politics, not about criticizing each other, but about creativity, spending time together on the rocks, out in nature. It's about inspiring each other.
LACRUX: Thank you Said for the conversation and your view of things.
In addition to the interview, Said Belhaj asked for the opportunity to publish a short statement, which we publish here in English.
So, I went rock climbing one day. Sorry but I can't prove it but you can take my word for it. This is the last thing I want to say on this topic. It feels unworthy to answer more for who I am and what I've done in my 30 years of climbing. I want everyone to respect this fact. Normally I'm all about discussion and dialog, preferably in real life. But this situation was never any of these things. And besides, there are 99 other real problems out there, this is not one.
I will now move on, focusing on travel, culture, music and climbing as usual. And taking a break from social media, these platforms are in the end not where its happing in life, especially when (ab)used in this way.
I hope to see you all out there. Hopefully wild-at-heart Mike who seems happily unaware of what is going on in climbing’s social media right now. And hopefully all the rest of you, old and new friends around the world.
Rock climbing is not a crime but one of the most beautiful things and strongest expressions of freedom I know. Free to climb with whoever we want, when and wherever we want.
I will always keep it that way - no matter what.
One love / SB
+ + +
Credits: Cover picture Martin Argus