Last week, top French climber Caroline Ciavaldini, 38, climbed Le Voyage in Annot, France. The route was established by Ciavaldini’s husband James Pearson in 2017 at E10 7a, which roughly equates to spicy 5.14-.
The 38-metre route starts with a 5.14 crack before moving into a good rest position. A traverse on tiny holds follows, with the finishing moves in an upper crack with lousy jams. Throughout the route, there is just enough protection to keep it relatively safe.
The full list of climbers who’ve sent Le Voyage includes Pearson, Siebe Vanhee, Jacopo Larcher, Babsi Zangerl, Symon Welfringer, Jonas Schild, Steve McClure, Ignacio Mulero, Seb Berthe, Robbie Phillips and Ciavaldini. This is Ciavaldini’s first E10, read her story below and watch a short film about her from two years ago.
Le Voyage by Ciavaldini
I am resting at the middle break, 2/3 up Le Voyage. For the very first time, I have passed the second crux, a very long and technical 7A+ boulder, quite a few meters above my last protection, a No. 6 RP. Just before beginning the crux, I heard James, four-year-old Arthur, and two-year-old Zozo cheering me from below. James and the kids were hiding before, maybe because James was hoping to give me more space to focus, as Zozo constantly asks for me today. But right before the crux, I wanted them to be there. Being a mom is disturbing for your climbing, but at the same time, they are my people. I also look straight up at Raph, who is hanging on a static. He is here today as he was supposed to film James in Bon Voyage, his latest hard route, and has made the most of it to film my attempt. Carl and Antoine are here too, belaying and taking more video from below. Carl made some light jokes as I was putting my climbing shoes on, and I was super aware that he was trying, and succeeding, to create just the right mood for me. It does really matter to me to have these people here today. I can feel them gently pushing me up.
I have done the hardest by far, and it has taken me two years to be where I am today. Two years to get back from baby number two, with the constant help of Maddie Cope and Lattice. Getting pregnant, people say, isn’t an injury, I would say it’s way worse for your climbing than any pulley (I had two) or other climber’s injury.
Le Voyage finishes with a last easy section on fairly bad rock and a final crack around 7b+, from which you would hate yourself if you fell, yet you could. I am resting and trying to channel my internal dialogue. I have what it takes, but I need to climb well. Emotions are always there, fear of failing, fear of breaking a hold and failing, fear of over-gripping or slipping. My brain won’t stop, just like it did at the rest before the crux. It’s been so long since I was last trying so hard that I don’t know what I was doing to sort that before being a mom. Did I always have all this internal dialogue?
Le Voyage is my longest project ever. Two years. But at the same time, as a climbing parent, you have to take things differently. You don’t get many attempts on a climbing day, technically, I only get one at the minute when Zoellie snoozes. We have belayed on lead with her in the back in a baby carrier when she was smaller, but that wouldn’t work now. You check the weather forecast all the time, but you still have to balance your goals with the family’s life. You need so much more patience, but you are also so much more patient because that’s what babies teach you. Family life gives you more rhythm, and that has been good for training. I have had to train so much just to get back to my former level, then reinforce my shoulders because Le Voyage is so demanding. I have even done some specific leg training. I have never been as specific. But I don’t think I have been obsessive. I can’t. Because I am still a mom. First? I don’t know, for sure maybe sometimes I have been stealing some time from my children for my training. I am somewhat selfish. But it’s made me very happy to create that space for my climbing. It has made me be Caroline again.
Guilt, mom’s guilt, is also on the menu in my internal dialogue. And after months of that, I had taken the decision to find a mental trainer. The last time I had one, I was a World Cup competition climber. I had then considered for years that I was self-sufficient, but for this route, I have realized that asking people’s (the right people) help will just make me stronger. Angus from Strong Mind has helped me listen, accept, and channel all this internal dialogue. I had a lot of fear of falling, and we sorted that, so fast. I still have the dialogue, but rather than freaking out when my brain begins, I listen, I sort, and I use what is useful. Mindfulness, that’s the word.
Most of all, Maddie, Angus, but also Carl and James have helped me enjoy the whole process. It is only all worth it if I enjoy it all, even the doubts. Sometimes it’s type-two fun, as the Brits say. When I was terrified of falling on the first crux, that’s type-three fun. I didn’t enjoy it when it happened, nor when I visualised it. I only managed to enjoy it when I actually removed the emotion from my visualisation. I just left the sensation of the movements, tried to be blank, or even better, enjoy the fear, and that was it. It clicked, and suddenly I could be in my climbing and enjoy most of it.
At some point, I begin climbing again. Not that it feels perfect, just, I can’t procrastinate forever. Somehow, I am executing the last movements just right, and I know that for the last two movements, I must just enjoy it all. I have finished Le Voyage, my hardest trad route ever. When I first went up it five years ago, I couldn’t even do all the movements, and I was aware that this technical, bouldery style wasn’t my best point. I had no children at the time, James had just opened the route, and it seemed unattainable. I only began thinking of it after Zozo was born. I really love to see that my mental limits have changed. My patience has increased. Time to be proud of myself.
Thanks a lot to Maddie and Lattice for the training, Angus for the mental training, Carl for the belaying and friendship, James for everything, my children for their patience, Marie for babysitting, Emmanuelle for the physio, The North Face and Respire performance for the NSP program, La Sportiva, Wild country, Sunn and Glorify, and all my people who push me up every day.