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Words And Images By
Sylvain Thiabaud

Aid climbing – unquestionably the best way to forget your own everyday problems and focus on the present moment. Especially when you’re doing it solo! This is my plan for the next two days. Forgetting my everyday worries on ‘Seurs Tièdes’, an A3 aid route at Sinsat covering 280 metres of pretty difficult ground.

I arrive at the parking for Sinsat crag at 6pm and make a quick last check of my gear for the next two days. The 145L haulbag that will be my constant companion is full and as I try to pull the full 60kg of its load onto my shoulders I start to wonder why i do this to myself.

It takes me over two hours to reach the foot of the cliff ; a little longer than the usual 50 minute walk-in and I do the last part by the light of my head torch, the bushes at the base of the wall making the going even tougher.

I eventually find the base of the route and decide to get a head start on tomorrow’s climbing. The first pitch is 50m long and I place two Camalots for my ground belay before starting to climb. It’s a mix between aid climbing and crack climbing (A1/5+) and I find a good belay station after 30m.

I still have to haul all my gear, so I decide to stop here. In solo aid climbing, you have to do everything under your own power and right now, I don’t want to commit myself to more than I can manage in the dark. I rappel down, clean the pitch on the way back up, then haul my bags up to the belay. The hard work done, I set about unfolding my portaledge before enjoying a good beer as a reward. Drinking alone is probably socially acceptable if you’re aid soloing…

The next morning finds me up and raring to go by quarter to six. It’s a long day ahead and I want to make a good start. The second pitch is A2 and everything goes well with a little crux just before the belay providing the main difficulties.   

Pitch 3 and things are getting a little more interesting. A2+ climbed on hooks and plumbs with lots of pegs to clip. Now I’m really in it ! Just above my head I spy a big crack which sounds bad, with cold air flowing from it. I don’t want to touch it. Up here, alone, I’m more risk averse than normal.

Pitch 4 and I have no choice. I have to climb on the loose crack. I try to use mainly Camalots & aliens because it sounds far to bad for pegs. When the crack finally comes to a finish, I have to climb on a fat, loose flake that sounds even worse! Light peaks through behind it, but there’s no other option now I’m here. Maybe the name of the route, ‘Cold Sweats,’ comes from this crux ! I move and live second to second, ever hopeful, of an 8mm bolt at the end of this section and an easier finish to the pitch.

Luckily my prayers are answered on both fronts and I reach the belay. Same game again ; I secure the dynamic rope I carried up with me, do the same with the static one, rappel back down to the previous belay, drop the bags and portaledge on the static before finally heading back up on the dynamic to clean the pitch. Having done this already three times today, I decide a break is in order and promptly settle down to lunch.  

It’s approaching evening, but I still have time and the crux pitch is just above me, a slick, featureless wall. Very impressive. I decide to start and go as far as I can, fix the rope and finish the pitch tomorrow morning. Headlamp on the helmet and I’m ready to go!  

It’s really hard, maybe harder than I expected and I move slowly. Physically I’m fine, but this pitch is much more a mental game than those that have gone before. The only placements are bad 3 or 4 peg coupling, very small razor pegs and hooks. I only wanted to do a part of the pitch, but the anchors are so bad that I really don’t want to rappel on them. Looks like I’m going all the way.

3 hours later I’m at the top, with the pitch cleanly lead behind me. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to start. At least I won’t have this pitch as tomorrow’s warm-up. I rappel down to sleep, exhausted from the long day.

The next morning I clean the crux pitch and quickly come to realise how bad the pegs were, a number of them coming out without the need for the hammer.

The next pitch is the steepest one yet with very poor rock in the crack. In my head it was done, after the crux pitch but actually it’s still very hard and I have to stay focused to the limit. Finding good protection on this pitch takes all of my attention and experience. At the end of the pitch, my concentration briefly slips and I take a fall, hurrying to beat the incoming weather. Just two pitches to go now and it really is all over. The hardest challenges I face now are the thorn bushes in the cracks!  

I top out as the rain arrives and, aiming to avoid the worst of the weather, quickly rappel down ‘Spartacus’ – a wild 8a+ sport route bolted by a friend of mine. The haulbag is still heavy, but the rain stops for the walk back to the car.  

I’m tired, sore and I didn’t even get up the whole route clean.

How is it that this was such a rewarding experience? Such is the mystery of climbing.

Sylvain Thiabaud is a French climber whose endless passion for climbing keeps him busy all year round. From working hard sport climbs, to large ice falls and obscure multi-pitch aid routes, there is always something in condition. Sylvain also has an appetite for new routing of all kinds, with over a hundred new route to his name.