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As a child of the 1980s, I have a soft spot for vintage sport climbing areas. Bolted face climbs were totally new then, and the grades were only slowly being pushed from the seventh grade on the French scale—or roughly 5.12a to 5.12d—into the eighth grade: 5.13b on up.
One of the most important areas for that leap was Cimai, a limestone fin of perfect, gently overhanging blue-gray rock in the south of France. Like many crags from that era, it was all the rage in the 1980s and 1990s, but is less well known now as the focus in hard sport climbing has shifted to radically overhanging caves and endless resistance routes. Still, the testpieces at Cimai remain timeless—and as demanding as ever, with hard, technical movement on thin holds that demand precision and commitment from the climber.
In the video below, the French rockstar Seb Bouin, as part of the Vintage Rock Tour of his country, revisits some of Cimai’s best-known routes. These include Samizdat, the first 8a ever onsighted, by Antoine Le Menestrel in 1986; the stellar, off-balance crack of Orange Mecanique (8a); Sortilége, the first 8b climbed by a woman—Isabelle Patissier in 1988; and Masse Critique, the first 8b+ climbed by a woman—Lynn Hill in 1990. Feast your eyes, and fingers, on the perfect rock of this venerable crag, one that set the stage for the sport’s evolution today.
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