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Bon Voyage

Bon Voyage is one of the hardest trad routes in the world. It has seen ascents by trad dad James Pearson, to 9c sport climber, Adam Ondra. This ‘probably safe’ trad route clocks in at 9a or E12, making it the highest-graded trad in British grading.






9a E12



First Ascent

James Pearson

Date of FA


Bon Voyage

Ascent Log

ClimberSuggested GradeDateNotes
James PearsonE1210th Jan 2023After being reluctant to give it a grade, James graded it an E12, the highest E grade.
Adam Ondra9a E1216th Feb 2024This ‘probably safe’ route was one of the hardest things he’s done and if it were bolted he would grade it a 9a.
Seb Berthe9a25th Mar 2024Having no experience with E grades, Seb declined to grade it but said it was around the 9a realm.

Climb Profile

The Route

The route is situated in Annot, France which is known for its abundance of trad routes. When you first walk up to the route, all you can see is a blank, smooth wall. But, the closer you look, small holds begin to appear, bearing the question, could this be climbed?

James Pearson Bon Voyage
©Raphael Fourau

Bon Voyage shares the same start as Le Voyage, an easier crack climb established by James Pearson 2017. He graded Le Voyage a British E10 trad grade

After the crack boulder problem of Le Voyage, Bon Voyage veers left on a sketchy traverse with tiny pockets and ends on an even sketchier arete. The severity of the fall would be dangerous if you fell from the arete as there is a sharp guillotine boulder underneath it. An awkward fall from there could be pretty painful.

First Ascent

10th January 2023: James Pearson

James started trying Bon Voyage in 2021 and said it felt harder than anything he’s ever climbed before. James has climbed Rhapsody, Lexicon and Jacopo Larcher’s Tribe, so for him to say Bon Voyage is hard, it must be really hard.

It took him 20 days of preparation spanned over 2 years. Most of his time on the route was spent cleaning it and figuring out if it was even possible. Due to the very fingery cruxy section, James had to do some intense fingerboard training to get his fingers in top shape for those nasty little pockets. 

James Pearson on bon Voyage climb
©Raphael Fourau

Even though he put an immense amount of effort into Bon Voyage, he was initially hesitant to give it a grade. Partly due to first ascents usually being harder than subsequent ascents and partly due to his PTSD of previously massively overgrading a route to E12.

When James did the first ascent of Walk of Life in his early 20s, he graded it an E12, the highest British trad grade possible. Dave MacLeod, a British trad veteran subsequently downgraded it to an E9.

Having a route downgraded one grade is fair enough, but having it downgraded 3 grades below is a blow in the head. The scrutiny James faced as an overgrader forced him to flee to Europe, eventually settling down in France.

15 years later, and he still hasn’t forgotten the criticism he faced. Despite this, he believed in the route and himself that it was harder than anything he tried. He eventually announced a grade of E12 for Bon Voyage. 

Second Ascent

16th February 2024: Adam Ondra

The second ascent came by someone who has had lots of experience sport climbing, but not much trad climbing. Adam Ondra surprised us with a swift ascend of Bon Voyage. It only took him 2 days of preparation on a top rope and one day to send it.

Adam Ondra on trad climb Bon Voyage
Photos by Petr Chodura

Despite having little experience with British trad, Ondra agreed with the E12 grade. When talking about the route, Ondra said, 

‘’It took me 3 days of work, and I had to really put up a fight. The route felt challenging in many different ways, and apart from being very runout (but probably safe), it has some very hard (and odd!) moves where you really need to be a very complex climber’’

If it were bolted, Ondra said Bon Voyage would probably clock in as a 9a climb, but since the gear placement is challenging and the route runout at the top, it makes it a lot harder physically and mentally.

Adam Ondra Bon Voyage
Photos by Petr Chodura

Third Ascent

25th March 2024: Seb Berthe

The third ascent of Bon Voyage was made not so long after Ondra’s. Seb Berthe tried the route in April 2023 after he flashed Le Voyage and fell in love with it. Seb spent 8 sessions on the route, but it didn’t come easy.

Having no experience with E grades, Berthe decided not to give it a grade, but did agree that it is in the realm of 9a.

Seb Berthe on Bon Voyage

The E12 Controversy

Has James Pearson’s past of getting his hard routes downgraded made his E12 grade of Bon Voyage less credible? Dave MacLeod, one of the most experienced British trad climbers with multiple first ascents of hard E grades under his belt, has said that no climber has climbed an E12, not even him. 

That also brings the question of whether Adam Ondra, who has little experience with British trad, really knows what E12 means. I leave you with Dave McLeod’s video and you can decide yourself.

Header image by ©Raphael Fourau

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Meet Angel, a former desk-jockey turned global wanderer. After catching a severe case of the climbing (and travel) bug, she's now a world traveller, living the dirtbag dream. Highballs? Too mainstream for her taste. She's all about the thrills of lowballs, where the real action happens. Nowadays, you'll find her in Thailand, either precariously balanced on a granite slab or trading stories with Nemo and his buddies underwater!

The Walk of Life

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