Date of birth : 17/11/1970
Lives in : Annecy and Chamonix, Haute-Savoie, France
Finest achivement : “Reticent Wall”, El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, USA, 2005.
· Discovered La Giettaz icefall site at Le Nant de l’Enfer (Les Aravis), with Yann Borgnet. First ascents of 11 new one- to three-pitch routes. January 2010.
· Discovered the Compote icefall site: west face of Le Trélod (Les Bauges), with Yann Borgnet. First ascents of five new one- to six-pitch routes. February 2010.
· Ice trips in 2009, 2011 and 2012 to explore Norwegian ice wonders, from Bergen to the Lyngen Alps.
· Ascended “Tale of the Scorpion” (VI A3+ 5.10, 600m), Streaked Wall, Zion National Park, October 2011.
· Ascents in the High Sierra, California (Mt Conness, “Incredible Hulk”, etc.), October 2011.
· Opened a new route up the north face of L’Aiguille de Frébouze (IV 6c M5 A2+, 550m), February 2011, with Lionel Daudet and Pierre d’Alboy.
· Opened “Homéostasie verticale” (IV 6+ M5, 400m) with Dod and Ludovic Seifert.
· Opened mixed lines (M6 to M11) at Véry, Megève, February 2009.
· Opened “Le Flocon de Koch” (IV 5+ M6 A2 400m) with Lionel Daudet, Vallée de Fressinière, February 2009.
· Crossed South Georgia via its summits, November 2007 to February 2008, with Lionel Daudet and Manu Cauchy, transported on a yacht by Isabelle Autissier.
· Three new routes in Les Grandes Jorasses: “A lei” (February 2003), “Heidi” (March 2005), "Little Big Men" (March 2006).
· Yosemite: nine routes on El Capitan: “Reticent Wall” (A5, moderne!), “Sea of Dreams”, “Pacific Ocean Wall”, “The Nose”, “The Shield” “West Face”, “Magic Mushroom”, “Sunkist”, “East Buttress”.
· West face of Les Drus: repeat and completion of Voie Lafaille in February 2004 (with Guillaume Avrisani and Christophe Dumarest).
· Mont Blanc, Hypercouloir du Brouillard, solo, 19 March 2003, in 5hrs.
· Dry-tooling ascent of north couloir of Les Drus with Jeff Mercier, difficulty ratings up to M8+.
· Vietnam: climbing in Along Bay, exploring and equipping, October 2000.
· First ascent of icefall on Le Pas du Roc (VI, 6+/7, 300m).
· First ascent of “La Sorcière Blanche” (V, 6+, 400m) at Fer à Cheval.
· Co-authored the icefall routebook du Leman au Mont Blanc with Ludovic Seiffert (published by Editions JME). An exhaustive survey of the icefalls in Haute-Savoie.
· Took part in the film Les Amants des Drus, a 52-minute documentary about the west face of Les Drus, directed by Bertrand Delapierre (producer: Sevendoc).
· Other films: The Love Boat (dir. Bruno Peyronnet, 2009), La Sorcière Blanche (dir. Bertrand Delapierre, 2007).
What are your three finest achievements in the mountains?
“Reticent Wall”, El Capitan; “Little Big Men”, east face of Les Grandes Jorasses; Hypercouloir du Brouillard, Mont Blanc, solo in winter.
Who do you prefer practising alpinism with?
Guillaume Avrisani and Lionel Daudet.
Your best moment, high up?
When I was close to the summit of Cerro Torre – on the final pitch, the famous Bridwell Pitch – we were visited by two condors. They hung there, in stationary flight, a few metres above our heads. A magical encounter with these gigantic birds, on top of one of the most beautiful mountains on earth!
And the worst...?
It was at Véry, near Megève. I wanted to climb a slender free-standing pillar: 30 metres high, and a diameter of just 10cm at the base. When I was about 10 metres up, the ice split between my two axes. I was left hanging on the axe for half a second, then the ice above me broke again. I woke up in the snow. I didn’t know where I was or what I was doing there. My injuries weren’t too serious: a broken rib, multiple sprains, and head trauma. A month and a half later, I was back climbing; but for a few years, I was fairly suspicious of free-standers.
What do you like doing when you’re not climbing?
I enjoy spending time with my family. I have an adorable little girl who I like playing with as much as work allows.
What’s your involvement with the Millet Design Centre and in product development generally?
The evolution of alpinism is closely linked to the evolution of equipment and training techniques. I think that Riccardo Cassin or Gaston Rebuffat could not have envisioned “No Siesta” or “Heidi”. Today’s equipment is more efficient, safer and lighter. We train all year round, doing icefall and mixed climbing. All of this lets us create new lines where previous generations wouldn’t even have stopped to look. Clothing has also made huge progress: garments are stretchier and allow greater freedom of movement, but are also warmer, lighter and more waterproof. Nowadays, who’d like to tackle the north face of the Eiger with a Bonneval wool blanket and nailed boots?
So if you evolve the products, you evolve the activity too. Just as I commit in the mountains, I get as involved as I can, alongside the men and women of the Millet Design Centre, in designing new products.
How do you see your discipline evolving in the next few years?
Technology has changed alpinism. Weather routing has become an asset. The router has become the third guy in the rope party: he helps us take decisions. When we climbed Mount Paget in South Georgia, we headed off for a 2,000-metre route when big snowflakes were falling. The router had forecast a sea of cloud. We departed in doubt, and we did indeed pass through the sea of cloud, and emerged into splendid sunshine. Clearly, without weather routing we would never have dared commit to this route. In regions with small weather windows, routing lets you anticipate these windows and depart just as the disturbance is ending – that way, you benefit from the entire window of good weather.
The internet has also changed behaviours. When a race is announced on a website and conditions are good, dozens of rope parties will rush to try the route. Some lines are becoming easier: walking in ice and adding pitons are further expanding the number of users. And that ends up causing accidents.
From an ethical perspective, I regret that a number of mountaineers and climbers don’t respect the mountains and aren’t interested in what their predecessors achieved.
Our society – and this is perhaps truer of France than of Spain or the USA – praises adventure but refuses risk. French cliffs have been fitted with sealed bolts, even in places where it was obviously necessary to place protective equipment. It’s very sad to lose that rich variety of climbing, when you have to manage your protection as well as your moves.
Some mountain routes are going the same way. Guides have equipped easy ridges in the name of client safety. This trend didn’t seem to have reached the US, but in recent times, to promote free climbing, many bolts have appeared in walls such as those of El Capitan. “Liberators” have perforated the rock to place bolts in historic routes such as “Jolly Roger”, “Magic Mushroom” or “Flight of the Albatross”. That is highly disrespectful to the openers who rolled back their limits and reached the heights of expertise in their field. And what’s even more depressing is the size of the holds, and the fact that it doesn’t shock anyone. “The Nose” wouldn’t have been free-climbed without the holds carved in the “Jardine Traverse”. The Yosemite granite is far more fragile than that of the Mont Blanc Massif. “Triple Crack”, the key pitch of “The Shield”, was opened with 35 rurps. The holes have got bigger, and then they had to place copperheads, then pitons, and now you can put yellow aliens in. The initial A5 rating, when it was opened, has dropped to A2…
I’m also amazed by the “liberators” returning to the much-decried Himalayan style. Some climbers will completely equip long classic routes. Just imagine: you dream of climbing a great classic route, but when you arrive there on foot, it’s been completed equipped, with portaledges every five belay points… That shows a lack of respect for other climbers, and is totally at odds with how alpinism is evolving.
Alpinism’s problem has always been that performance cannot be quantified. In athletics it’s simple: the stopwatch/chronometer validates the performance. In alpinism, the value of the ascent is given by the alpinists’ account. And that does not necessarily reflect the actual difficulty: some crafty characters have understood the system, and do not hesitate to outrageously “big up” their performances. All of this harms alpinism. The crooks will ultimately be unmasked; but the major media – which already struggle to understand modern alpinism, where performance is no longer reaching the summit but how you do it – are completely lost, and only mention the discipline when a disaster happens.