by Ale Zeni
Since the dawn of time, man has had the need to conceal and protect communications and documents from prying eyes and ears. From the ancient Egyptians to the present day, the mysteries hiding behind enigmas of all kinds have fascinated us. Cryptography is the process of encoding a message to make it incomprehensible to everyone but the legitimate recipient.
This art of inscrutability is also part of Nature itself, and without the right decryption system certain puzzles cannot be solved.
For me it all started in 2017, when the desire to challenge myself with something really difficult propelled me from the other end of the Alps to the Saint-Loup crag in Switzerland to try a slab that had something legendary: “Bain de Sang.”
For me this route was not just a number; it was the test slab, the passage to the next level, a route embodying a spirit and the story of a generation that found a way of life in that climbing style.
“Bain de Sang” was bolted and freed in 1993 by the great Fred Nicole and became the third 9a route in the world, the first slab route to receive this grade. A route that required not only great finger strength but also good awareness, an attribute that is not so easy to develop.
It is precisely in this style of climbing that the physical disparity between men and women narrows, which is why this was also the route on which Josune Bereziartu became the first woman in the world to climb a wall of such difficulty.
A beautiful almost 30-year history, which is now also part of mine. It was thrilling for me to retrace it all and climb that slab that had become famous for its tiny holds.
But after this climb the hunger to explore persisted, and I turned my gaze to the right and discovered “Bimba Luna.” This line was bolted and freed by François Nicole, Fred’s brother, who, though the two moved side by side, had a completely different style.
If “Bain de Sang” was fairly consistent, on “Bimba Luna” everything was concentrated in a mid-route boulder section of just eight moves, graded 8b/+. This slab was legendary too, one of the first routes in the world to be graded 9a/+.
I totally immersed myself in this project and shortly afterward succeeded in completing one of the rare repetitions of this incredible slab.
After climbing it, I realized that the time had come to try to do something new, something that had never been done before. The inspiration came after I learned about the curious connection that Fred Nicole climbed in 1988 that combined the two “easier” parts of these two routes and that took the name of “Anaïs et le cannabis,” graded 8c.
At that moment I realized that it would be an interesting project to try to connect the most difficult parts of these two legendary slabs, the first part of “Bain de Sang” and the second part of “Bimba Luna.”
I didn’t know if this would actually be possible, but it would certainly be much more difficult because with this variant the rest point in the middle of “Bain de Sang” could no longer be used.
The real puzzle would be the connection between the two pitches. Was it really possible?
So I started trying, and after a few attempts I was able to find the connection, but I immediately realized how much more difficult the “Bimba Luna” boulder was when I was reaching it with already tired fingers and pumped arms. Another big problem was related to the fact that the holds on “Bain de Sang” in the first part were extremely sharp, and even the “Bimba Luna” boulder easily cut my fingertips. So the next step was to perfect my grip on every individual hold in order to cut myself in different places and allow for at least two attempts per day.
But despite all these measures, I still didn’t have enough strength in my fingers to make the boulder without a break.
I trained hard for this project, and when I returned in March 2019, I just barely failed during an attempt to climb the route at night.
It was extremely frustrating to fall when everything seemed to be finished. A single mistake had erased everything, and “Cryptography” had won again.
The fact is that on this route, being in good form wasn’t enough ... It couldn’t be too cold, or I’d get to the crux with frozen fingers, but not too hot either, or I wouldn’t be able to grip those small holds without cutting my fingers. I also needed calmness to control every single step, every breath and every move. Many factors that are difficult to combine, especially when you’re 700 kilometers from home. Of course, I would have to train hard again.
A whole year passed, and when I went back to “Cryptography” at last, I realized that something had finally changed. Not only had I improved physically but I had acquired composure and awareness, which perhaps were the real key to being able to solve this puzzle.
That day I was able to endure the pain and grip those tiny razor-sharp holds, smearing my feet on nothing and finally solving the puzzle that had made me suffer and dream for a year. I climbed without worry or concern, simply following my instincts, and when I finally grabbed that hollow at the end of the difficulties, the spent energy gave way to a complete and wonderful calm. “Cryptography” had become reality!
We are surrounded by many messages that we no longer understand, because one day we started moving too fast, beginning the progressive abandonment of a delicate climbing style that can be understood only by slowing down. I believe that routes like this go beyond grade, having their own spirit and identity. Because the history of routes of this type is primarily a history of ideas, stories and words.
“Cryptography” is not simply a difficult climb; it is the blending of two routes that have shaped the history of this climbing style. Two routes representing two legends of the sport: Fred and François Nicole, who many years before me were able to visualize and climb two truly futuristic lines. A wall slightly more than 20 meters high that is still able to inspire those who have the desire and patience to decode an enigma that — precisely because of its complexity — if solved, allows us to understand a part of us that we didn’t even think we had.