James Pearson manages the first ascent of his long-standing Trad project in Annot. Bon Voyage is probably one of the toughest trad routes in the world, and it doesn't need to fear comparisons with Tribe or Lexicon.
James Pearson releases his long-term project in Annot, France. The line traditionally to be hedged with the name Bon Voyage shares entry with Pearson's Testpiece The Journey (E10, 7a) from 2017. It then leads left over a series of flat holes into an imposing blank wall and ends in a technical intersection.
One of the toughest trad routes
Even if the strong Brit has not yet submitted a rating, Bon Voyage is likely to be one of the most difficult trad routes in the world. James Pearson has never invested more time in any of his previous first ascents or repeats than in Bon Voyage.
James Pearson's most recent First Ascent joins his ascents of other landmark Trad lines such as Tribe in Cadarese or Lexicon (E11, 7a) in Pavey Ark.
James Pearson on the style and difficulty of the route
“I discovered the 2021 line and have been actively preparing for it ever since. It was quite a step up compared to other hard trad routes I've tried over the years. But I really enjoyed the process of developing new skills and strengths to even have a chance.
After Bon Voyage and Le Voyage share, a first bouldering problem leads to a few good holes (the last protection of the route) and a small rest point. From there it's 20 hard strokes to the final lead, almost exclusively on flat holes and tiny ledges. The route definitely has long runouts and wide falls. But you would have to be pretty unlucky to get injured if the hedges are well placed.
«A true miracle of Mother Nature»
Annot has some of the most featureless walls I've seen. Often they can be sandy and loose which means the routes follow the obvious rift systems. Bon Voyage follows a diagonal layer of bulletproof sandstone with tiny holes. A true wonder of Mother Nature and a reminder why all those years of searching were worth it.
This route took me longer than any other route or boulder I've ever attempted. Both in terms of the number of days I actively tried them and the time it took me to prepare (~20 days over 2 years and 10 redpoint attempts).
A lot of time invested
I've redpointed more Bon Voyage attempts than Tribe or any of my other 9a sport routes. I had to train specifically on the fingerboard to be able to do the movements and the links in the intense and very finger-heavy key sequence.
Around the same time I was able to do the first ascent, I climbed a couple of 9a's of a similar style and length. This one took me about four sessions and four to five redpoint attempts. The sport climbing routes were both a bit more overhanging, with easier moves, but poorer resting points.
I'm aware that it's a first ascent and always feels harder than a repeat. Out of the 20 days, I spent at least four days cleaning holds and trying to understand if the line is even possible.
Training raises questions
Bon Voyage is minimally overhanging - a difficult angle to judge. The grips are so small and pathetic that the moves felt difficult at first, but quickly became easier as you learned the intricacies of each position.
Holes dominate the route. A climbing style that I would rather describe as a weakness of mine. However, the holes are often so narrow that they're more like crimps (my forte), and because sides of the holes don't allow you to use your thumb, you're forced into a half-crimp (my strongest grip type).
This raises questions for me: did I have to train specifically to get to a good level, or did I train to make my existing strength even stronger? The answer to that question changes everything.
«Definitely not a one-move wonder»
The key train is very filigree. I fell many times before completing the spot. And even after I passed the spot, I still fell out three times in the penultimate and last boulder and I almost fell in the final technical corner. Bon Voyage is definitely not a one-train miracle.
At the moment I don't feel able to give a grade for the route, which always sounds funny, since suggested reviews are just that, a suggestion. In theory, I should just say what I think, let future repeaters give their opinions, and then come to a consensus together. Maybe I'm more sensitive than the average person, but in practice I've seen and felt that it doesn't work that way.
"Stagnation of degrees is of no use to anyone"
I could go with my gut and remind myself that at 37 I'm too old to be upset about things like that. I could also undervalue the line, i.e. devalue it myself before someone else has the chance to do so.
But this has resulted in grade stagnation as we have with many trad lines in the UK and this is of no use to anyone.
However, both options would require me to have a fixed degree in mind, and I just don't have that yet for the reasons above.
Before I give a rating, I would like to try a few more difficult sport routes to better assess my level and also climb with other top climbers in Annot. Hopefully that will give me a better idea."
That might interest you
- Pearson and Larcher on what is probably the most difficult trad route in the world: Tribe
- James Pearson climbs tribe - hardest trad route in the world?
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Credits: Cover picture Raphael Fourau