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Seb Bouin Claims 4th Ascent of Jumbo Love (5.15b)

Despite the rugged approach and harsh desert conditions, the French endurance master sent America’s first confirmed 5.15b after just ten days on the route.

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On Wednesday, October 19, Seb Bouin sent Chris Sharma’s Jumbo Love at Clark Mountain, Nevada. It’s the fourth—and first non-American—ascent of the line, which has also been climbed by Ethan Pringle and Jonathan Siegrist. 

Bouin climbed Jumbo Love on his tenth day of effort. His larger goal is to climb a direct start, which involves replacing the 5.13a/b intro pitch with a 5.14c. 

“This route is really stunning!” he wrote in a press release. “An old dream came true.”

For Bouin, who started climbing in 2005 and grew up watching the Dosage Films, the route’s history was a major part of his attraction. “It was a true inspiration,” he says of watching Chris Sharma on the first ascent, “one of the most incredible climbing films I had watched at that time.”

First bolted as a three-pitch climb by Randy Leavitt in the mid 1990s, Jumbo Love was left largely untried until the mid 2000s when Chris Sharma first envisioned doing the route in a single gigantic pitch (it’s 250 feet long, much of it wildly overhanging). Throughout 2007, Sharma and Ethan Pringle vied (unsuccessfully) for the first ascent. The next year, Pringle was sidelined by a series of injuries, but Sharma returned, living below the cliff for several weeks. When he finally made the first ascent, Jumbo Love became one of just three proposed 5.15b’s (or harder) in the world—alongside Bernabe Fernandez’s Chilam Bilam (established in 2003 and originally graded 5.15c but subsequently downgraded to 5.15a/b) and Dani Andrada’s Ali Hulk Sit Start Extension (which, thanks to kneepads, now seems to weigh in at 5.15a/b).

(Tommy Caldwell’s Colorado testpiece, Flex Luther, was recently upgraded to 5.15b—but it’s unclear exactly how hard it was when Caldwell climbed it in 2003.)

Bouin low on Jumbo Love’s crux headwall. (Photo: Clarisse Bompard)

Knowing that Jumbo Love was his “pure climbing style” and epitomized “everything I like in climbing,” Bouin waited until he was well prepared for the route before making the trip. Earlier this year he established DNA, the world’s second proposed 5.15d, and then had one of the most productive summers of climbing ever in Norway’s Flatanger Cave, sending multiple 5.15s, including Nordid Marathon (5.15b/c) and Adam Ondra’s Change (5.15b/c).

Bouin was not disappointed by the line (“a perfect huge orange steep wall”) or the moves—but the Frenchman soon realized that “Jumbo Love is not just a hard line, it’s a whole adventure.” 

“I totally underestimated the total process,” Bouin said, “the drive, the off-roading, the hike in. We changed our car three times because it was not good enough to get to the crag. We also changed two tires due to off-road driving incidents. The [hour-long] hike really takes it out of you. I am used to climbing for many days in a row. But, here, that would be a mistake. We had to preserve ourselves. And keep our energy and motivation up. We were sleeping some nights in the desert, so as not to drive every day.”

Bouin at the no-hands rest that precedes the hard stuff on Jumbo Love. (Photo: Clarisse Bompard)

Unlike the previous ascensionists, Bouin climbed the route wearing kneepads—but says that this tactic doesn’t change the grade, or even make it much easier. “This kind of rock (orange rock with pockets) is actually not the best for using kneepads, but I still found it helped a little, with some tricky ‘expert ++’ kneebars.” In fact, he repeatedly fell out of the kneebars—and eventually considered just giving up on them, since the slightly more powerful beta used by the other ascensionist is higher percentage “if you have the strength required.” But ultimately, he decided to stick with the kneebars since the less powerful but more technical method was likely to be necessary when climbing in from the direct start.

“I still had a lot of power reaching the crux from the original start,” he writes in the press release. But to have a chance on the crux when coming from the harder direct start, he knew he’d “need to find some less powerful beta, even if it’s more technical. That’s why I stuck with my kneebar beta.”

The direct line, when completed (if completed), may well be the hardest route in the Western Hemisphere.