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Interview: Matilda Söderlund on “The Elder Statesman,” Her First 5.14d

The Markus Bock route is a major milestone in 27-year-0ld Söderlund's climbing.

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Söderlund in disbelief after sending her first 9a, The Elder Statesman, in the Frankenjura, Germany. Photo: Samy Dahlman

Matilda Söderlund has had a number of firsts in the Frankenjura, Germany. It was where she climbed her first 8c (5.14b), Odd Fellows. It was where got her first flash of an 8b+ (5.14a), Friends Like You. Both were in 2012.

Now, 7 years later, the 27-year-old Swede has scored her most meaningful first yet. On Thursday, October 17, Söderlund climbed her first 9a (5.14d), when she redpointed The Elder Statesman, a route established by Markus Bock in 2011.

Climbing 9a has been her longterm goal for nearly two years. Now that she’s finally done it, she told Rock and Ice, “It’s still pretty hard to take it in.”

Anyone who has been following Söderlund knew that it was simply a matter of time before she accomplished her goal. Last winter she sent Pure Imagination (5.14c), at the Red River Gorge, Kentucky, and in September she quickly sent two other hard Frankenjura routes, Klondike (8c) and Solitary Man (8c).

Below, read our full interview with Söderlund about The Elder Statesman.

Q&A with Matilda Söderlund

Congrats on the send! How does it feel?

It feels amazing and still, like, pretty crazy and unbelievable. Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed about climbing a route in the 9th grade, and for almost two years now that’s been the big goal I’ve been working toward.

So it feels incredible to reach this big goal of mine. It’s still pretty hard to take it in.

What have the past two years of prep been like?

I’ve been working toward it bit by bit. I’ve tried to build a better base, been climbing many routes up to 8c (5.14b) and a couple of 8c+’s (5.14c). I think that was important, both physically and mentally, to feel ready to climb 9a (5.14d).

And also, the training has clearly been to just improve my climbing overall. It’s very motivating to have this big goal to work toward.

So—The Elder Statesman. What’s the history of the route?

It was put up by Markus Bock in 2011. He’s put up hundreds of hard routes in the Frankenjura. He recommended the route to me when I was in the Frankenjura in April. When I was here then, my goal was to find a hard project to return to when I came back in October. So never tried it in April though.

It’s been climbed by a lot of strong guys—Markus, Daniel Jung, also Manuel Brunn, and Dai Koyamada. Dai did a 9a+ (5.15a) version of the route, where you start on this other boulder problem to the right that adds a plus to the grade.

And what is the climbing on it like?

Matilda Söderlund climbing in the Frankenjura, Germany.
Intricate beta on The Elder Statesman. Photo: Samy Dahlman.

The route is basically hard climbing from the second you leave the ground. There aren’t really any places to stop and rest, you can barely chalk up.

It’s a power- and power-endurance-oriented route. I think it’s around 15 to 18 meters long. Around 25 movements in total.

Elder Statesman has a hard boulder at the start—the key move involves getting into this mono with your left hand and then making a really big move off that. Then it’s really small holds, crimpy and powerful, with really long reaches.

The route isn’t very overhanging. It is quite vertical. The style—crimps and long moves, powerful, but not super morpho—suits me perfectly. I don’t think I’ve ever climbed on a route that suits me so well!

It shares a a section with an 8c+ you did just a day or two before right?

So Elder Statesman is like a straight line. If you come in from the left, you do maybe eight moves, and then it’s the same. That route is The Last Rites.

Starting on that was a strategy that Markus Bock recommended. By starting with the 8c+, then you know the moves on the route already, you have the necessary power endurance, and it gives you the confidence that you can do the 9a. That really helped, because once I got through the bottom boulder on Elder Statesman I knew I could climb it to the top.

How long did you work on The Elder Statesman for?

So the first day of my trip I went directly to the route. It was the first route I wanted to check out, and I immediately felt super motivated after trying it. I think it took me a little more than a week in total.

It was really a route, at first, where the moves felt pretty good, but the 8c+ was more challenging that I had expected after checking the moves. It all came down to super specific micro-beta for me. But I guess that’s how it is when you climb something that’s really hard for you.

What is it about the Frankenjura that keeps you coming back?

I don’t know. I’ve had crazy good experiences here. For example, six or seven years ago, I did my first 8c here. Then I flashed my first 8b+ here. So there’s something magical about this area for me.

I really like the style in the Frankenjura because it’s quite techy and fingery, which I prefer. And there’s a lot of climbing. So many hard climbs and interesting and challenging routes. So you never run out of projects.

And of course the history of this place makes it even more appealing, I think. And all my friends here have always been super welcoming and helpful, showing me the area, recommending routes.

Might we see you trying Action Directe at some point?

Everyone asks me that! Acton Directe doesn’t suit me well at all, it’s so powerful and overhanging. Maybe one day later on I would be keen to try it. But it’s actually not on my list for anytime soon.

On your website you write, “My lifetime goal and vision with climbing is to eventually master all disciplines (big wall climbing, traditional climbing etc.).” So do you have plans to branch out into those areas in the coming years?

So I’d never done any multipitch before this summer. I spent a couple of weeks in Switzerland climbing with a mountain guide I know. So I already have plans for next summer to do a big multipitch project.

I’m super keen to explore the other disciplines as well. I want to become the best sport climber I can be and then eventually, step by step, explore the other dimensions of climbing.

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