On the 5th of August, Alex Megos climbed his long-term Ceuse project, Bibliographie, with ‘one last go’ on the last day of his trip. After taking approximately 60 climbing days Alex suggested a grade of 9c (5.15d). There is plenty of news out there already (as well as some great stories on Alex’s own Instagram feed). However, Ben Bransby caught up with the man himself to ask some of the important questions, like what is your second favourite brew, plus a little bit of the history from fellow DMM athlete Ethan Pringle.
Q: First of all, congratulations Alex on sending Bibliographie—an amazing achievement.
Alex: Hey Ben, here we go. I’m starting to answer some questions. I’m laying in bed now in my underwear, because it’s absolutely boiling here in Nuremberg. And it’s humid as f**k. I think the only place still climbable in the Frankenjura is Café Kraft because they’ve got air-con.
Q: Ethan Pringle bolted Bibliographie in 2011 and I think he only gave the line a quick look. When did you first spot the line, start trying it, and did you know it was possible the first time you tried it?
Alex: I first started trying the line in June 2017. I think a day after I did Jungle Boogie. I kind of ran out of things to do in Ceuse, so I tried another 9a+, but couldn’t get to the anchor because it was spaced out between the bolts with zero chalk, and after taking a couple of massive falls I was not psyched any more.
So, then my attention was drawn to this project right of Biographie, and I thought “Oh, I’ll just go up and see if it’s possible”. And I think it took me an hour-and-a-half to get to the anchor, but I knew it was possible straight away. I knew it would be hard, and that the boulder problem in the middle was hard, but I knew that it would be possible.
Ethan: I bolted it in May of 2011. I only went up it on lead once. Even as I rapped down it to bolt it, I could tell it was going to be so, so hard. I predicted 5.15c (9b+). I went up it once on lead just because I had gone through the trouble of bolting it, but I knew it was way over my head in terms of the physical strength it obviously required. But I could fathom—someone, or myself in better shape than I’d ever been in—doing the moves.
I’m so psyched Alex put in the effort to see it through and liked the line as much as he did. Honestly, after I bolted it, I thought it would never get climbed, except maybe by someone of Alex or Adam’s calibre. When I heard a few years ago that Alex had already put something like 30 days into it, I was like, “wait, what!?” I was so happy.
Q: An 8B boulder crux is going to be pretty punchy on any route but especially so after 8c climbing to get there. How were you finding the crux in isolation? Was it a case of having to climb the 8c so well you were virtually fresh when starting it?
Alex: I think I have to sandbag grades a little bit. I think it’s probably an 8b+ route into an 8A+ boulder problem. After I found a tiny little micro-beta in the boulder problem, I think it made it a touch easier, but nonetheless it was a bit of an issue to get past the boulder problem after climbing the first part of the route.
The crux in isolation I think took me about three days to do, still with the old beta, then I improved the beta a tiny little bit on my last trip which made it a tad easier, but it was always depending on conditions actually. I mean if I had some wind and dry skin, the friction on the holds was better and I could climb the boulder problem starting from the rope no problem. But on a really bad day I couldn’t hold on to the holds. I never actually was fresh when I got to the boulder problem climbing the first bit, like around 8b+. I obviously tried to climb it as efficient as possible and all the time actually I literally got to the crux and almost didn’t feel any pump. So it was about making the first bit as perfect as possible and really trying to climb as efficient as possible to get to the boulder problem with enough power left.
Q: I was chatting with Sam Whittaker after he had belayed you on it a few years ago and he said you were taking some big falls off it. Was it just too hard to clip during the climbing or were you just mega-psyched and skipping clips going for it?
Alex: Yeah, so when I was there with Sam in 2017, and 2018 too I think, I was skipping the clip right before the crux, because it seemed to be easier that way not having to clip. When I did it, I actually clipped that draw. To begin with I thought the fall was ok how it was, but if something would have happened to the bolt or the quickdraw underneath, somehow would have unclipped, then I would have definitely decked and that would not have been very pleasant from 15 metres. So I tried to find a way to clip it, extended the draw for it to be easier to clip, and it anyway felt better to chalk up my left hand, so I could do chalking and clipping at the same time pretty much and that’s how I did it in the end. So I didn’t take that big a fall anymore. I still did the big run out up top though, but there when you are falling it’s no problem, so up top I skipped two clips.
Q: Sam also mentioned you recently found a slightly better hold for a little shake out, were there any other sequence breakthroughs or changes you found?
Alex: Yes, I did find as well some better hold to shake out about 10 moves before the boulder problem in the middle. I was using that only as a foothold before because it seemed a little bit out of sequence but considering that it was a much better rest than the rest I had before, I tried to figure out a way to include it into my sequence. So, I changed a little bit my beta which made a massive difference I think, but just in general there was a lot of breakthroughs.
The first time I climbed it in two parts was in 2017. Up top, I had completely different beta from what I was using in the end. In September 2017 when I came back it took me two weeks to work out new beta for the top and it ended up being completely different than what I’ve been trying before. Then over the years and over the multiple trips I did to Ceuse there’s always little beta improvements. It might have been you know like a different foothold or a slightly different handhold or whatever, but I think they all were important just to make everything a little bit easier.
Q: This route has challenged you way more (time wise) than any other, did you approach it in the same way as normal, but just taking more time or did you change your approach?
Alex: It’s hard to say if I changed my approach to this route compared to any other route, of course I was thinking on a much bigger scale, I was not thinking “well, you know, I’ll invest two weeks and I’ll get up it”. I was already saying I’ll invest multiple trips to get up it.
And sometimes for certain trips I’d only set certain goals: so climb it solid in three parts multiple times, climb it in three parts as well when skin and conditions are not good, and those sorts of things. And that’s how I got closer and closer to the send, and I was as well trying to incorporate more rest days to feel fresher on the project. What I think helped a lot as well was that we got a couple of e-bikes for the last trip, on the trip where I actually sent we could ride half the way up to Ceuse with the e-bikes which made it a lot easier.
Q: Conditions can be a bit fickle in Ceuse in August and you only managed Bibliographie on the last day of your trip. Had you been struggling with conditions? Were you climbing quite late in the day when it had cooled down? And were you doing anything special nutrition/warm up wise to optimise your attempts?
Alex: I’ve been struggling with conditions in Ceuse quite a few days, especially on the last trip. There was a period in the middle where it was insanely hot, like 34 degrees, so even getting up the hill was a massive problem, there was no way of climbing anything hard up there, there was zero wind, and just standing in shorts and no shirt you wouldn’t cool down at all. We sorted the issue by actually leaving Ceuse for a couple of days and going climbing somewhere else with less approach, and then there was a window of two days, with better conditions, when the temperature was supposed to drop by 10 degrees, and that’s when I went back to Ceuse. On those two days I messed it up, but then on the 3rd day, on my last day there, I managed to get up it.
I only gave the project one or maximum two tries a day, so yes, I was generally climbing relatively late in the evening. We went up there usually about 1 p.m., which means that we got to the crag by 2 p.m., and then before three I wouldn’t even start warming-up and normally before five or six I wouldn’t actually try the route. Warm-up wise I would always go from bolt to bolt through the route, just to memorise every move again, and before that I would just do some fingerboarding, and that pretty much was my perfect warm up to save enough energy for climbing, but still do some hard moves before actually trying hard.
Q: Obviously there have been some big changes going on in the world in the last few months; one small change has been the delay in the Olympics. Instead of going to Japan for July and August you were at Ceuse and climbed Bibliographie. Have you been enjoying the time on rock rather than training for and competing in the Olympics? And how excited are you for the rescheduled Games?
Alex: I’ve really been enjoying my time on rock and I’m quite happy that I didn’t have to compete very much this year. I think I made good use of the time and I’m psyched to continue rock climbing a little bit, it’s actually quite pleasant actually.
Q: On the carrots theme, if you had to choose one – carrots or tea? Being born in Yorkshire myself I’m all for your love of Yorkshire Tea, what other brews do you like?
Alex: I can’t choose between carrots or tea. I mean, that is just not possible. I mean it’s like if you would have to choose between your left and your right climbing shoe. That’s not an option, you know like you’ve got both of them or you don’t have them at all. So, carrots or tea is either none of them or both of them. Preferably both of them though. There are no other brews than Yorkshire Tea.