For Solenne Piret, climbing was as natural as walking, as she was born into a climbing-centric family. Her parents, who met in Fontainebleau, introduced her to climbing when she was a child. They lived in Paris, and every Sunday the family went climbing or exploring. But Piret stopped climbing—perhaps because she was not as strong as she wanted to be, or because of her disability, or both. Piret was born without her right forearm.
Ten years later, lots of Piret’s friends were talking about Arkose Nation, a new climbing gym in Paris. Piret decided to push past her shyness of showing her disability, and reentered climbing.
“It was a revelation,” wrote Piret in an email to Rock and Ice, “this was my sport, the only one giving me the needed present moment sensations.”
Since starting to climb again in 2017, Piret, 28, has won the Paraclimbing World Championship for her category (forearm amputee) in 2018 and 2019, and is part of the French Paraclimbing team.
Her latest accomplishment, Onde de Choc (7B/V8) in Fontainebleau, began in November 2018 when Piret’s good friend Christophe Cazin suggested the problem. To Cazin, a French routesetter, it was the most beautiful 7B of the forest—and he believed it was possible for Piret. In 2018 and 2019, Piret tried Onde de Choc a few times, but she struggled on the first moves.
“At that time, I hadn’t done harder than 6C [V5] in the forest, so I hadn’t seriously considered Onde de Choc,” wrote Piret.
Indeed, Piret believed she had to send a 7A/V6 and a 7A+/V7 before taking on Onde de Choc. For a year, Piret turned her attention elsewhere, doing circuits in Fontainebleau to work on technique and add to her library of movements. Moving near to the forest that year allowed for easy access.
Then this past summer, Piret sent her first 7A+ boulder in La Capelle. She felt ready for Onde de Choc. Piret started training specifically for the line with personal trainer Guillaume Levernier.
“Months passed and it started to scare me,” wrote Piret. “I think it was because deep down I knew it was possible [but didn’t know if I’d actually do it].”
Without her right forearm, the crux is different for Piret than for other climbers; whereas the difficulty eases off for most climbers near the top of the boulder, Piret’s crux is almost at the finish. For this reason, she worked the top of the climb three times with a rope to find her own beta.
Although Piret was encouraged by devising a method that worked for her on this top section, it turned out that without a rope the sequence didn’t hang together. So she went back to the drawing board once again. She abandoned the toe-hook she had been using, and found a super tiny right foot instead. Super tiny—but usable.
“I took a few big falls slipping on that foot,” Piret wrote, “but in the end it worked!”
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Fully trusting her spotters and having piles of crash pads on the ground made the difference the day Piret sent. She cleared her mind near the top and went for it. And she stuck it.
Finishing the problem was an intense moment for Piret. “It was like the end of a long story, when you close your thriller after reading the last page: you start breathing, you feel a bit stunned to have reached the end, and at the same time you feel a bit disappointed to have finished your book… and you want to begin a new one,” wrote Piret.
For her next project, Piret is looking for something bigger, but grades will not necessarily be her guide. And though she worked her way up the grade ladder to reach 7B, she is less concerned about following it in the future, instead focused on just picking something that is right for her.
“I don’t want to wait to send every grade before trying something really hard, because now I know that the grade doesn’t mean a lot for me,” wrote Piret. “I just have to find boulders that fit with my disability, whatever the difficulty is. Sometimes, I can’t even climb a 5+ [V2], but sometimes I send a 7A [V6] in just two tries!”
Piret enjoys physical climbs on good holds, because then she is not forced to catch a small right handhold that she cannot grab. Flexibility is one of her strengths, something that helped her send La Faim du Tigre (7B/V8) in November, 2020.
In addition to her next project, Piret wants to develop paraclimbing further. She hopes to see paraclimbing at the Olympics one day.