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Interview: Alex Megos on “Bibliographie” (5.15d)

Establishing a 5.15d was the culmination of three years of work on a single project for Alex Megos. "It's always hard to say what your own personal limits are," he told Rock and Ice. "You always have the feeling it might be possible to climb just a little bit harder.'

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What does a “powerful” 5.14a to a four-move V12 to 25 moves of 5.14d equal? A 5.15d (9c), according to Alex Megos.

That’s the piecemeal breakdown of Bibliographie, his new ridiculously-difficult route in Céüse, France. It’s only the second-ever proposed 5.15d, the first being Silence, Adam Ondra’s 2017 route in Flatanger, Norway.

Rock and Ice caught up with Megos via email to get all the details about his historic new route and the journey to realizing it.

Q&A with Alex Megos

So when did you first try Bibliographie? Did you realize how hard it was from the outset?

When I first tried Bibliographie it actually felt quite possible. I knew it was hard, but I didn’t expect it to be that hard. I actually didn’t realize how hard it was until I gave it the first tries in September 2017.

You’ve been trying it for 3 years, about 60 tries total. Are those tries split pretty evenly over the last 3 years? Did you feel like you made good progress each time, or did something new click this year?

The progress was definitely not steady over the three years. I started trying it in June 2017 for one week. In September 2017, I returned for one month to send it. I never got past the boulder problem though.

In 2018 I only went there for two weeks in June. And another three days before and after the World Cup in Briançon.

I wanted to return in fall 2018 but I couldn’t due to an injury. Then 2019 was packed with competitions and when I had time I had another finger injury again, so couldn’t go.

In 2020, I  finally had a longer period of time to dedicate to the project. My first trip in June was not very successful. I haven’t done any specific training before, so I didn’t really have any chance on the route. I wasn’t really expecting to send it that trip anyway, I just wanted to give it two weeks of work to see how it goes.

I went back home for two weeks to train and then returned in July 2020. The first week of that trip didn’t go very well either. But then in the second week I suddenly had a breakthrough. For the first time ever, I passed the boulder problem in the middle.

Can you break Down the route for me?

The first section of the route is a powerful 5.14a. There is a rest about 10 moves before the boulder problem in the middle. The boulder problem itself is four moves, around V12. After the boulder problem there are still 25 moves to go and I’d say that part is around 5.14d.

The horror consists of crimps and pockets.

It was bolted by Ethan Pringle in 2009, right? So it was an open project, yes? Have other strong climbers given it serious attempts over the years?

Yes, it was bolted by Ethan Pringle. I don’t know exactly which year, but 2009 seems about right. Ever since it’s been marked in the guidebook as an open project. I haven’t heard of any other strong climbers trying this line. I’m sure Ethan himself tried it a little bit after he bolted it, but I’m not sure.

The actual send trip and day. How did it all come together? Was it one of those magical attempts where everything just felt easy and perfect, or was it desperate?

The send trip itself didn’t start off very good. The first week I didn’t seem to have a chance on the route. Second week though, I suddenly had a breakthrough and passed the boulder problem. I realized that it was actually possible for me.

After two good days, it got so warm that there was no way of climbing in Céüse. We left to climb in a different area for a few days.

Beginning of the next week, we returned to Céüse, as the weather forecast was showing a massive drop in temperature for two days. That’s where I saw my chance.

On the first cold day I had an amazing try where I fell on the last hard move! On the second day I fell four moves before the easy part. I knew I only had one good try a day and after those two days we were planning on driving back home. It was supposed to get warmer the next day anyway. We still decided to stay one more day though, so I could give it one more try, even if the conditions were not perfect.

That one last try ended relatively early and I was quite angry about that. Despite feeling good on the first half of the route I fell at the boulder problem. I didn’t want that to be the last try before heading back home, so I decided to give it a second try that day.

Expectations were low as usually the second go of the day was not as good as the first one. Very surprisingly though it worked out and I could climb it!

Did you do specific training for Bibliographie?

My specific training for Bibliographie was putting in more focus and endurance circuits. I once as well built a replica of the crux, but that didn’t seem to help very much.

Bibliographie” is a great name. Was it one you’d had in the back of your head for this line, and were just saving it for whenever you sent it?

Bibliographie was already the name of the project. In France, usually the guy who bolts the route gives it a name.

Speaking to Ethan though he didn’t remember whether he gave that name. It could have just been put in the guidebook with this name and since it’s been a project for so many years people knew it under that name. That’s why I didn’t want to change the name.

As with any projects that are at or near one’s limit, it can be a bit scary to think about whether you might not ever do it… Did you ever have doubts that it was just too hard?

It for sure was scary at times to think that I might never get up. There were a few trips and a few days where I had my doubts. It always depends on your expectations and the progress you are making.

Following up on that: Do you think this is your limit? Or can you climb harder. Is 9c+ (5.16a) something we’ll see in the next few years or is that further out?

It’s always hard to say what your own personal limits are. You always have the feeling it might be possible to climb just a little bit harder. Whether you’ll find that route and whether it’ll be enough for 9c+ is the big question.

What’s the deal with all those pizzas?! I take it they weren’t all for you…

I bought a whole round for all the friends at the campground! It seemed like a nice way to spend the last evening saying thank you to everyone for the support.

Were you at all upset that the pizza guy broke the news!?

I wasn’t really upset that the pizza guy broke the news. I would have wished he asked before, if it’s okay to post. I think people should respect that it should be my decision when and where I want to post the news. But water under the bridge. He made me a special deal for 12 pizzas.

Anyone in particular you’d like to give a call out to for support and help provided throughout the journey to finish Bibliographie?

That will be A LONG list. But there are always a lot of people involved and it’s important for me to show everyone that it’s okay to get help and its necessary from time to time.

I want to thank my family for putting up with me for almost 27 years now. I want to thank my friend Felix for always helping me to get things back into perspective. I want to thank Ken Etzel for everything he has done (there was a lot he did) and for making a badass film together. I want to thank my girlfriend Jenya for the endless belays, motivational speeches, all the understanding and supporting. I want to thank my two coaches Patrick and Dicki for helping me out for almost 15 years now!

And I want to thank Chelsea, Miguel, Mariana, Liam, Sam, Lu, Alise and Hans. They all have contributed to this.

So… are you going to visit Flatanger anytime soon and give Silence a try? It looks like it is a very different style than Bibliographie, but as the only two 9c/5.15d routes in the world, surely it’s intriguing. (Additionally: Have you chatted with Adam Ondra about Bibliographie perhaps? When might we see him trying it do you think?)

The styles of Bibliographie and Silence indeed couldn’t be any more different. Adam is very good in his style and it seems like Silence fits this style very well. I reckon people will struggle to repeat his route.

I haven’t spoken to Adam about Bibliographie yet. I did speak to Jakob Schubert though and he said he would be psyched to try it one day.

Check out “Rotpunkt,” the feature film about Megos!