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Simon Lorenzi On Making the 4th Ascent of “Alphane”

He spent 20+ days on the climb and says "Alphane" and "Soudain Seul" feel comparable

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Belgium’s Simon Lorenzi, best known for making the first ascent of Soudain Seul—a.k.a the Island Sit Start—a V16 or V17 in Fontainebleau, has done the fourth ascent of Shawn Raboutou’s Alphane, saying that the two problems feel similar in difficulty. 

Alphane was “quite a long process,” Lorenzi told Climbing. He spent more than 20 sessions on the climb this year after doing his first reconnaissance of the boulder in September. As with previous ascentionists, Lorenzi found that the boulder’s difficulty came not from the individual moves but from the transitions and links. But in just five sessions, he managed to climb the problem in two parts.

The ascent bookends a great year for Lorenzi, who in January established Big Conviction, a V16 in Fontainebleau, and then went on to make fast ascents of La Révolutionnaire (V16) in Fontainebleau; Practice of the Wild (V15) in Magic Wood; Foundation’s Edge (V15) in Fionnay; and Aidan Roberts’s new problem Everything the Light Touches (V15) in Brione. (For more information about the Belgian’s background, check out this short profile I did last year.)

Lorenzi used a mixture of the betas used by previous ascentionists—climbing the opening moves with the method developed by Aidan Roberts (compressing with your toes instead of using the tenuous left heel that Raboutou and Bosi used) but keeping to Raboutou’s less powerful but more tick-tacky method for the upper crux. “The first part was the hardest for me,” said Lorenzi, adding that it felt like a seven-move (including intermediates) V15. 

Lorenzi’s progress on the climb was delayed by a pair of injuries. The first, which he describes as a mysterious nerve impingement in his shoulder, made him suddenly unable to extend his right arm for a month. “Physiotherapy didn’t seem to help,” he said. “I just took a break and it disappeared.… After one month, I started climbing on easy stuff, and one week later I was back on track just with a small pain in full extension. I was not in a good shape but [was] so happy to climb again.”

Lorenzi, 25, is now the second person to climb two proposed V17s. Though he struggled in the competitions this year, his outdoor ticklist more than offset it. (Photo: Gilles Charlier)

Then, while recovering from the impingement, he injured his left index finger. This  limited his ability to try Alphane’s crimpy opening sequence when he returned for two weeks in November, but he used the time to dial the boulder’s second half. He sent on December 15, after two more weeks of effort this month—but not before punting off the outro traverse. 

“My friend Thomas Salakenos [and I] say in French that you are ‘couille de loup’ (wolf balls) if you fall when it’s over,” he said. “I said a few times that the end traverse in Alphane was easy and that I would not fall there. Then karma got to me… I did a pretty nice couille de loup a few days ago.” 

“The hardest part in the process was to be patient with things out of my control,” he says. First the injuries, then the weather or his skin. “A few times I was really close to sending but I had to wait a few more days for the bad weather… or for the split in my finger to heal. So in total it took me a bit more than 20 sessions but just a few where I could put tries from the start.”

With his send, Lorenzi becomes just the second person—after Shawn Raboutou—to climb two proposed V17 boulders, though the grades of both Alphane and Soudain Seul are the object of debate. (Will Bosi has said that Alphane seemed easier, in some ways, than Honey Badger, a V16 he’d previously established, but he did not go so far as to openly downgrade the climb. And Soudain Seul, which has been repeated twice, has been called both V16 and V17 by subsequent ascentionists.)

Grade aside, Alphane “is quite comparable in terms of difficulty and length to Soudain Seul,” Lorenzi says. “The hard part in Alphane is a bit shorter and it’s more finger strength oriented. Soudain Seul is more tricky and powerful. The biggest difference for me is that I needed everything to be more perfect in Soudain Seul to send. The conditions don’t matter as much for Alphane, and it allows more small errors if you have enough finger strength. In that way Alphane was easier to send for me, but it’s mostly a matter of style, as always in climbing.”

When asked what advice he has for aspiring projectors, he says: “I think that optimism is one of the keys. There are always [ways] to do something better, [to] spend less energy [on a] move. Being optimistic on the small things that I can improve is very important because the focus is on the action. Like that you can resolve every problem that you face step by step and not be too distracted by failure, because every step is a small victory that leads you to the top.”

What’s next? 

Lorenzi says this year’s flurry of fast V15 sends has “made me realize that flashing 8C (V15) is something doable that I would like to try seriously someday!” 

Mind blown. Stay tuned.