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On September 30, Sean Bailey became the second American in history to climb 9b+ (5.15c) after clipping the chains on Bibliographie, in Céüse, France. Chris Sharma was the first, with his 2013 send of La Dura Dura in Oliana, Spain. To date, there are only half a dozen routes proposed at the grade.
Bibliographie was bolted by Ethan Pringle and first climbed by Alexander Megos, who initially proposed 9c (5.15d) making it one of only two routes at that grade in the world at the time (the other being Silence, Adam Ondra’s line in Flatanger, Norway).
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Bibliographie, however, was downgraded in late August this year, after Italian climber Stefano Ghisolfi made the second ascent and recommended 9b+ (5.15c), with Megos later agreeing with the amended grade. The route runs alongside, and is named for, Sharma’s legendary line Biographie (9a+/5.15a). Biographie, which Sharma tackled in 2001, was the first consensus 5.15 in the world.
“Easily the hardest battle I’ve waged with myself,” the 25-year-old Bailey wrote on Instagram after the send. “I’ve never been so obsessed. I woke up thinking about the route. I fell asleep thinking about the route. It was nonstop. I was lucky to get through the middle crux pretty quick but proceeded to pump off the final boulder 12 or something times.
“Every time I was so blown I needed a rest day, so essentially I was getting one try every two days,” he added. “It felt like I was resting more than climbing. I spent a lot of time questioning why I was putting myself through it. I knew I could train for it, come back another year with the right fitness and a fresher mind, and probably have an easier time at it. In the end, I realized I needed to see this process through just as much as I needed to send, I’m glad I did!”
A number of professional climbers, including Ghisolfi, shared their support in the comment section. “You looked solid from the first day, it was just a matter of time!” the Italian wrote.
To come directly out of comp season and send 5.15c on rock is no small feat, and it’s even more impressive when you consider that Bailey’s competitive season was nothing short of spectacular. Despite failing to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, the American has had an utterly smashing year.
He grabbed three IFSC gold medals, first at the Bouldering World Cup in Salt Lake City, then back-to-back at Lead World Cups in Villars and Chamonix (where Ghisolfi placed second). Bailey went on to land a more than respectable fourth-place finish in Briançon only a few days after Chamonix.
He is now not only the second American to have clipped the chains on a 9b+ (5.15c), but one of only a few climbers in history to have done so. These slim ranks include Ondra, Ghisolfi, Megos, Sharma, Jakob Schubert, Will Bosi, and now… Sean Bailey.
“It taught me so much about the process,” Bailey wrote of his experience working Bibliographie. “I spend a lot of time trying to make things happen, but sometimes you have to let things happen too.”
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