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Update: After this article was released, Bouin weighed in on the grades of the routes he’s climbed to date in Flatanger. Ultimately, he concluded that Change is 5.15b/c, Nordic Marathon is 5.15b/c, and Move, which he repeated in 2019 and was originally rate 5.15b/c, is the hardest of the three at 5.15c. You can find his rationale for these adjustments on his Instagram.
Last Friday, Seb Bouin capstoned one of the most productive trips in sport-climbing history by making the third ascent of Change, a 180-foot 5.15c in the Hanshelleran Cave in Flatanger, Norway.
Widely considered the world’s first 5.15c, Change was established by Adam Ondra in 2012 and repeated by Stefano Ghisolfi in 2020. Like Ghisolfi but unlike Ondra, Bouin climbed the route with kneepads—which streamlines its famously morpho iron-cross crux. (You can watch a comparison of Ghisolfi and Ondra’s methods here, but to summarize: the kneebar takes enough weight off Ghisolfi’s hands to allow him to match a hold that Ondra only uses an intermediate.)
Change was not on Bouin’s radar leading up to this trip. The route has has two distinct sections separated by a midway anchor and a good rest—and the first section involves a morpho boulder problem. Talking to me on Whatsapp a couple of days after his FA of Nordic Marathon (5.15b/c), the endurance specialist said, “I always thought this pitch was not for me. I thought it was too bouldery, too weird, too bad for the shoulder.” But after watching Switzerland’s Alex Rohr projecting the first pitch, which is graded 9a+ [5.15a], Bouin gave it a try. Armed with Rohr’s beta, he flashed each of the first pitch’s three cruxes in isolation.
At the time, he was working toward his main goal, Nordic Marathon, but he started giving occasional burns on Change’s first pitch to keep things fresh. He ultimately sent the first pitch on his eighth try.
By the time he finished Nordic Marathon on July 21, Bouin had only two weeks left in his trip and doubted whether this was enough time to link both of Change’s pitches together. “My body started to feel crushed by this cave,” he said in a press release. “But I wanted to play the game until the very end.” So he turned his attention to Change’s second pitch, which, though easier than the first, remains “quite hard.” (I’d say so: it’s graded 5.14d.)
It took Bouin five climbing days to do the second pitch, which involves resistance climbing through three distinct cruxes. But “I was not so much in control on the second pitch,” he told me by phone, “and I knew that coming from the ground I would have some problems if I was not more comfortable on the hard sections.” With just a few days remaining before the end of the trip, he decided to rehearse the moves on the upper pitch during his warm up, then give the route a try from the ground.
“It was a good way of doing it,” he said. “But I had only four days before my departure. It was quite a short time, and in my head I was like, Well, maybe I will do it, maybe not, but I will try. There was not much pressure. It was already a good trip. So I could just go for it and see if it was possible.”
“The first days of those four remaining days I didn’t climb because it was super warm, wet, and humid. The next day was also too humid and a little bit wet, especially the key holds, so it was not very good conditions, but I was like I have to try because I don’t have many more days. I sent the first pitch but fell on the second one.”
The attempt burned a lot of energy, so he intended to rest the next day to set himself up for a solid attempt on his final day. But when he went to the crag to belay his partner, he found himself in a predicament: he was tired but the conditions were amazing. Should he try to take advantage of the conditions or wait until he was fully recovered? Eventually he decided to warm up on the upper section, just to feel it out, and during that process he realized that he couldn’t pass up the opportunity presented by the weather.
“In the end everything went well,” he said. He climbed without making a mistake and “without much pressure, which was good, because I think you can fall easily in the end if you’re a bit stressed and tired.”
Asked why this trip was so successful, he said “I think I am in a good cycle”—a cycle during which, for whatever reason, he’s been able to execute without making mistakes. He said, for instance, that Nordic Marathon could easily have taken him several weeks more than it did—but almost as soon as his preparation aligned with the conditions, he managed to climb the line. “This isn’t happening often,” he said. “It’s rare on a trip to have only success. So I take it, for sure. It’s quite cool.”