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From V17 to V16 and Back Again: Fontainebleau’s Hardest Problem Sees a Third Ascent

Soudain Seul is the hardest problem in Fontainebleau. But it's unclear how hard it actually is.

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After two years of effort, France’s Camille Coudert has made the third ascent of Soudain Seul (also sometimes known as The Big Island Sit) in Fontainebleau—which is V16 or V17 depending on who you ask.

Established by Simon Lorenzi in February 2021, Soudain Seul is the low-left start to The Big Island (V14/15), which was put up by Vincent Pochon in 2010 and was itself a slightly lower start to Dave Graham’s The Island. When Lorenzi made the FA, he proposed a grade of 9A (V17), but the problem’s second ascensionist, Nico Pelorson, suggested V16.

Coudert has tentatively affirmed Lorenzi’s grade.

“I’ve been trying [this boulder] for two years,” he told Climbing. “I broke the block down into several sections, and at the end of each session after working on the movements, I tried to do each section as many times as possible. The last two months, I did the standing start several times per session.”

Coudert grew up near Paris and, amazingly, didn’t start climbing until he was 18. He climbs almost exclusively outside.

“For me,” he says, “Soudain Seul is at the border of 8C+ [V16] and 9A [V17]. But it’s very hard to determine if it’s more [one than the other] as it’s so above my level. I compared it to the 8C+s I had already tried, and Soudain Seul was still much harder. Maybe those 8C+s are easy, but I didn’t think it made sense to rate Soudain Seul the same way. That’s why I opted for 9A.”

In an email to Climbing, Pelorson (who is close friends with both Lorenzi and Coudert—they all worked the problem together) applauded Coudert’s send while standing by his own downgrade.

“For me,” he says, “V17 is impossible for Soudain Seul because you do a V12 before a V14/15,” and compared to Daniel Wood’s Return of the Sleepwalker, which links a V13 into a V17, “it’s not the same game. In my mind, V17 needs to be an ultimate grade that only three or four climbers in the world would be able to climb after a big investment.” He worries that to call Soudain Seul V17 might set the wrong precedent. “I am worried that in a few years we will see twenty new V17’s due to that.”

Before Lorenzi’s ascent in 2021, Soudain Seul was one of the most iconic projects in Fontainebleau—one that withstood the efforts of Jimmy Webb and Jan Hojer, among others.

For Coudert, the end of one project means the start of others. “I have a big project in mind for the next few years,” he says, but first he intends to try a few (slightly) easier boulders.

Read This: An interview with Simon Lorenzi