Théo Blass, 10 years old, likes judo, skiing and mountain biking—and the latter “he finds much more fun than climbing,” his father, Vladimir Arnaoudov, told Rock and Ice. Which is quite something considering last week Théo became the youngest person to climb 8c (5.14b). Just imagine if he liked climbing more than mountain biking!
On Wednesday, June 10, Théo redpointed Souvenirs du Pic (8c), Saint Guilhem le Desertin, France. Eleven years old was the previous low-water mark for climbing 8c, something accomplished by Ashima Shiraishi, Brooke Raboutou, Adam Ondra and Illya Bakhmet-Smolensky. (In 2015, Rock and Ice and several other outlets reported that Angie Scarth-Johnson, then 10, had sent Welcome to Tijuana (8c), but she later clarified that she had sent an 8b+ (5.14a) variation.)
Théo has been climbing since he was 7 years old. Both of his parents are avid climbers, and he grew up spending many a weekend playing beneath overhanging limestone crags in France.
At 8, he started “climbing more regularly,” his father said. In short order he climbed his first 7a+ (5.12a) and then his first 7c (5.12d).
“Last summer he sent a few 8a’s [5.13b’s] on lead and an 8b [5.13d] on top rope—he was too scared to lead it,” Théo’s father said.
Last fall Théo ticked his first 8b, Bertane, also at Saint Guilhem le Desertin. It took him a mere five or six tries over two sessions.
This year Théo set his sights on 8c. Prior to the COVID-19 lockdown in France he was projecting La Theorie des Cordes, an 8c at St. Leger du Ventoux, but has not returned to it since restrictions began to ease.
Instead, once he could get back on the rock, Théo went with his parents back to the crag of his strongest work to date.
Souvenirs du Pic shares the upper section with another 8b that Théo climbed on top rope last summer, his father said. In that sense it was an obvious choice for his first 8c, since he’d only have to focus on the first half.
But in another sense, it was a stretch for the young climber. The steep bottom section of the route follows a series of tufas, and “was much harder for him because some of the moves are quite reachy and he had to find his own, sometimes very improbable, beta.”
But by his seventh session on the route, Théo started making big links and something clicked. “The few first sessions progress was slow, Théo could barely link up more than a few moves at a time. The style of climbing in the lower section is quite different to what Theo is used to and is not very kid friendly—long moves between tufas, with bad feed, requiring a lot of body tension, coordination and some explosivity. At one point he adapted to this style of climbing and progress became much faster.
Finally on his eighth day on Souvenirs du Pic, Théo clipped the chains.
His proud father shared the following, endearing details of his 10-year-old’s climb: “The conditions were very good: cold, dry and very windy weather and only a handful of people at the crag. Theo was climbing effortlessly, in a fast, precise and confident style, letting his feet cut loose deliberately to save time on some of the steeper sections with bad feet. As he is quite scared to lead, he clipped a couple of extra draws (one was on a route crossing the line of his route in the lower section and the other was a long sling hanging in the upper section where the falls are quite unpleasant and potentially dangerous if you cannot give a proper dynamic belay, (which is sometimes challenging when the climber weights 29 kilos)).”