Earlier this week, 24-year-old Belgian climber Simon Lorenzi made the first ascent of The Big Island Assis [The Big Island Sit Start]. Located in Fontainebleau, France, the problem has long stood as one of the great open projects in the world class bouldering destination. After about 25 sessions on the boulder and countless hours scrutinizing his beta, Lorenzi sent The Big Island Assis. Though he has not assigned a grade, it’s speculated that this could be the world’s second V17.
“There was always a problem and every solution that I found added a new problem to solve,” Lorenzi wrote on Instagram. “It took me 15 sessions more of solving problems and finding as many details as possible to reduce my energy [dispensed] in the first part. Even the day of the send I found helpful new small tricks for my beta.”
The movement on this sandstone bloc is characterized by big moves to wildly overhung slopers and extremely difficult heel hooking. The physicality necessary to hold core tension through the sequence is on par with the laser mental focus required to perfect the beta.
The Big Island Assis is an extension of The Big Island (V15), which is an extension of The Island (V14). Dave Graham made the first ascent of The Island in 2008, and even then it was a longstanding and infamous project in Font. In 2009, Vincent Pochon added two moves to the start of The Island, establishing The Big Island and bumping the consensus grade up to V15. The full sit start variation remained an open project for another 12 years.
In October 2020, Lorenzi sent The Big Island in just two sessions. It was during that trip that he first laid eyes on the sit start variation, and it haunted his thoughts. Two months later he returned again to Font for a two-week trip and began trying it.
Watch Lorenzi send The Big Island.
“It took me six sessions to succeed at the first part,” Lorenzi wrote. “The very last day I fell twice to go to the crimp at the end and I thought, ‘I’m so close in only eight days. It’s hard but no harder than 8c+ [V16].’ The following events showed that I wasn’t that close.”
Lorenzi returned the following week with confidence, but it seemed as though every time he unlocked one piece of the puzzle a new problem would arise. After around 25 sessions and countless attempts on the boulder, Lorenzi sent The Big Island Assis.
About the grade:
“I don’t know if it’s 9a/ V17 because I don’t have enough experience to say, and there is no other 9a in the style to compare,” Lorenzi wrote. “It seems that the other guys who tried it think more for the 9a/V17 grade, but nobody really knows.”
In fact, Lorenzi suggested that The Big Island is no harder than The Island, calling both V14. If The Big Island Assis is indeed V17, it will be only the second boulder in the world of the grade. The only other suggested V17 is Nalle Hukkataival’s 2016 problem Burden of Dreams, located in the forests of Finland. Burden of Dreams has not seen a second ascent. In 2019 Charles Albert claimed V17 for his FA of No Kpote Only, also in Fontainebleu, but it was downgraded after later ascents. Ryohei Kameyama called the line V16/17, and then Nico Pelorson downgraded the problem to V15 using new beta.
“Having a new kind of reference in a level is something important in climbing,” Lorenzi wrote. “It pushes the sport further and it adds a new point of comparison in this grade. As always the time and the repetitions will tell us!”