You have to get up early for trips to the mountains...but now you're in the valley, do you sleep late?
I like getting up early anyway! I injured my ankle in spring this year, just after the lockdown. So now my days always begin with physiotherapy... although I hope that will soon be just a memory! In any case, the morning is the time I'm at my best and I get things done. Time goes so fast, and if I get started early I have more of it!
You're a professional climber. Should we think of your life as like an athlete's?
Not exactly, because being a mountaineer isn't the same as being a top athlete. Of course you have to be in perfect physical condition, but the mountains aren't a stadium; you have to be alert and have a certain feeling about your surroundings. To be a successful mountaineer, I need to feel connected to nature, I need to think, even before setting out, about the conditions I'll find when I get to the climb. I check the weather forecast, then I decide where to go. I really like this aspect, having to imagine what the conditions will be. And then, when I'm in the middle of the action, if the conditions and the difficulties are as I imagined they'd be, I feel I'm in the right place at the right time.
A professional mountaineer is a good mixture of knowledge and training. Those are the rules of play which allow you to move safely in the mountains. I really love the feeling - especially on expeditions - when you're stuck at base camp in bad weather and you have to bring all your experience to bear in order to understand what the hell is going on up there and what condition the climb will be in when you eventually reach it.
Where's mountaineering heading? Stronger, or faster?
I think the current mountaineering challenges are in the Himalayas: climbing stronger, in the best possible style. Apart from Ueli Steck, nobody has climbed better than they did in the golden age of the Himalayas in the 90s. Fast climbing can only be done on fairly easy terrain, and the level hasn't increased since that time. Maybe it's because today's mountaineers are keener to stay alive...
I believe there are a few extremely strong, motivated athletes from free climbing or endurance racing, who could bring something new to the world of mountaineering. But they'll need some time to adjust and learn to understand the mountains.
When you say strong climbing in the best possible style, are you talking about Alpine style?
Yes, absolutely! Moving fast in the mountains is a feature of the Alpine style. But remember, speed isn't the goal, it's the key to success! If you're fast enough you take less time, you can carry less weight and you're less exposed to risk.
Apart from performance, what do you like to experience in the mountains?
I love pushing my boundaries, but performance isn't my only goal. First of all because it's too dangerous. Since I started climbing and going on expeditions, I've lost a lot of friends who devoted their lives to extreme mountaineering. And then there's a lot more behind the scenes of a climb, especially on expeditions. There are some incredible places, and people whose lives are completely different to ours. When I go back to the same place year after year, I see children growing up, but the mountains are always the same...
At the moment, my travels are focused on mountaineering, but one day I'd like to take another kind of trip. I'd like to travel simply to meet people and see what life in the mountains is like in different parts of the world. I also find it fascinating to imagine how people lived in the Alps in the old days. This winter, for example, I'm going to Pakistan to teach people to ski. We're going to take some equipment and teach them to use it. It'll also be a great opportunity for cultural exchange, and I'm really happy that Scarpa Spa® is involved in the project.
Talking about teaching, you're an Alpine Guide too.
Yes, I became an Alpine Guide when I was just twenty, and it was the job that paid for my expeditions! I've been doing it for ten years, and it's wonderful. It's allowed me to spend a lot of time in the mountains, meet interesting people and visit places in the Alps I'd never have been to otherwise. Working as a guide is a good way to experience the feeling with the mountains I was talking about earlier, but going to the mountains yourself and taking someone else are two very different things: in the first case I only have to think about myself, and my friends do likewise. But in the second case I'm responsible for a person, so I have to take care of them, teach them, basically, be there for them.
Another thing I like about guiding is that I go slower than usual and clearly I'm not focusing on performance, so I have more time and tranquillity to enjoy the scenery. However, for the past five years I've had the fortune to train the French national climbing team, and I have to admit it's extremely stimulating work! It allows me to use all my skills both as a professional mountaineer and an Alpine Guide.
Credits: Mathis Dumas