On September 11, 2017, Anak Verhoeven, a 21 year old pro climber from Belgium, completed the first ascent of Sweet Neuf, a linkup at Pierrot Beach at Vercors, France. She graded the line 9a+/5.15a. If confirmed, Verhoeven is the first female to complete a 5.15a first ascent.
The route combines Sang Neuf, a 15-meter 9a/5.14d, and the 25-meter second pitch of the adjacent 8c/+ Home Sweet Home (5.14b/c), moving up the overhung limestone of the Northern Alps. Verhoeven completed the first ascent of Sang Neuf, bolted by Quentin Chastagnier, on September 4. The route had shut down strong locals for two years. She first attempted Sang Neuf in April 2016, but abandoned it due to cold weather. As she wrote on her website, her mother filmed her initial attempts so that she’d remember the moves if she came back. She completed Sang Neuf this season after three days of work. After her success, French climber and photographer Sébastien Richard suggested she then try to link the two routes. After a rest day, on her last climbing day of the trip, Verhoeven completed the full line.
Sweet Neuf marks the first-ever 5.15a first ascent, and the second 5.15a ascent, by a woman. Margo Hayes made the first-ever female 5.15a ascent on February 26, 2017, when she redpointed La Rambla in Siurana, Spain.
Anak Verhoeven began climbing with her parents at age 4. In 2016, she took second place overall in the IFSC Lead World Cup. Earlier this year she won the European Championships. In 2015, she won the World Youth Championship. She’s currently ranked #2 in the world by the IFSC. Verhoeven climbed her first 9a/5.14d with Era Vella at Margalef, Spain in 2015 (her full climbing resume can be found here). On her website, she reported being inspired to try the route by Sasha DiGiulian: “There are often morphological moves in hard routes, but since Sasha Digiulian had climbed Era Vella, I thought all the moves had to be alright for women.”
Verhoeven has also sent hard lines like Siurana's Broadway and La Reina Mora, both are adjacent to La Rambla, sharing some of the same terrain, and go at 5.14c/d. Her resume now includes 27 routes at 5.14a or harder.
In her IFSC profile, Verhoeven provides the following advice for young athletes:
“Don’t think that you are less than others. Don’t be intimidated by muscles, clothes, or whatever another athlete may have that you don’t. Climb a lot of hard routes and try to never give up. Don’t care about your weight. Just eat in a healthy way and give your body what it needs to live and perform.”