Théo Blass, an 11-year-old French climber, had only a year of climbing under his belt when he was sending 7c (5.12), at the ripe old age of 8. Now, just a few years later, he has managed to clip the chains on no less than three 8c (5.14b) routes, with a tick on Sunday of Super Samson, solidly cementing his status as a 5.14b climber.
With two climbing parents, Théo was on the wall from a young age (and, well… he still is at a young age). He sent his first 8c, Souvenirs du Pic, last June in Saint Guilhem le Desertin, after skipping the 8b+/5.14a grade entirely.
He was 10 years old at the time, and was the youngest to climb the grade. Before Théo, Ashima Shiraishi, Brooke Raboutou, Adam Ondra and Illya Bakhmet-Smolensky collectively held the “youngest to send 8c record,” all having managed ticks of the grade at the age of 11.
Super Samson is located at the same crag in Claret, France as Théo’s second 8c, Guère d’Usure, which he completed this January. Though he began projecting it as soon as he sent Guère d’Usure, Super Samson posed a unique and more difficult challenge compared to his other hard redpoints. While Guère d’Usure is more of an endurance testpiece, heavily compression-focused with bad feet, Samson is almost the exact opposite. The route leads to a sharp, bouldery crux rated approximately 7C+ (V10), with positive, but uber-small holds and feet.
“He managed to do the crux after a couple of tries,” said Théo’s father, Vladimir Arnaoudov, “which led him to believe that he could send the route very fast, but the battle took longer, about 8 to 10 sessions.” After initial efforts, Théo took a little break to avoid getting psyched out, visiting some other crags and doing some skiing, before returning fresh and ready to send. Upon his return Sunday, Super Samson fell swiftly and easily.
Tthe route consists of a 7a+ (5.12a) section leading into a solid rest, followed by 7c (5.12d) “where you have to climb fast and precise” leading up to the crux, Arnaoudov said. Post-crux there is a finishing section of 7b (5.12b). Théo used the same holds as the adults (Ondra, Megos, and a few others have sent Super Samson) working with massive lock offs between holds. He found no intermediate holds that could work for his shorter wingspan.
When the 11-year-old descended from the route, he apparently commented, “No pain, no send,” as a couple of his fingers were bleeding from a painful cut behind the nails.