Simon Chatelan, the climber who leads the way

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While contemplating the mountain, some pay attention to its silhouette. Others notice its rock faces and spot the ice and snow lurking there. Simon Chatelan, he sees lines. More than lines drawn according to the relief, they are for him invitations to adventure. Their stiffness will seduce him, their difficulty too, but it is above all the sensations they will give him that will make them what he simply calls “a beautiful line”.

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This 33-year-old Gruyérien leads the life of a mechanic and father of a family while satisfying his ardent passion for alpine climbs. Equipped with crampons and ice axes, he tirelessly traverses the routes that have seduced him. Of course, the discoveries of other climbers make him vibrate, but what takes his soul into stratospheric spheres is to climb the lines he himself has guessed. “I like to go where my gaze landed,” he explains, paraphrasing the famous French mountaineer Gaston Rébuffat.

A castle for the first time

Opening paths consists of first identifying them and then walking them for the first time. To hear him, this quest for novelty has always accompanied his desire to climb. His first ascent dates back to his 15 years, when he climbed with his brother the old stones of the castle of Vaulruz, the village where he grew up. “We had planted anchors to make sure we were able to climb this wall that we had seen since we were very young,” he recalls. Of course he is being punished. And of course, it doesn’t stop there. Today, it is with that same child’s gaze that he approaches the mountains.

Its goal? Discovery, surpassing oneself, but above all feeling free to do what he wants where he wants. “If the line has already been covered, it is of less interest to me,” he says. Therefore, without ceasing, he seeks. Although his activity, through the equipment he uses, is part of a modern practice of mountaineering, it is in the old guides of the Swiss Alpine Club that he finds his inspiration. “Many paths have been forgotten in favor of those which are more fashionable today. But more often than not, I find new lines by looking at the background of images posted by hikers on the internet. ”

Beyond the appearences

Some think that everything has been done in the mountains. This is not the case. As if paths were waiting to be grazed by his gaze to be revealed, he detects potential in lands that others consider doomed. One of these last openings is embodied by a line drawn on a photo of the north face of Mont-Collon, above Arolla. “Everyone considers this face dangerous because of the glacier that dominates it, but my route follows a ridge that cannot be seen well. It is therefore safe from falling seracs, ”he says.

A respectable climber in sport climbing, it is above all decked out with his crampons and ice axes that he dazzles his peers. Its discipline, dry-tooling, initially considered as training for the mountains and stunts, has become an activity in its own right. It combines techniques from climbing ice waterfalls and others from traditional rock climbing, and is not just a matter of physical strength. “Dry is a very mental discipline,” he admits. You have to convince yourself that the ice ax holds on the rock. The slightest doubt is synonymous with a fall. ” Is it his military past that forged this confidence in him? “It’s innate with me, I think I was born for it.”

The shock of the beginning

Yet he was not always aware of it. Taught late in the use of crampons and ice axes, he remembers his first experience in dry as a return to order. “The path we had chosen required total commitment. No equipment was in place, you had to climb by installing the anchor points yourself. And the only way out was up the track. I didn’t have the level. ” He decides to train. Hard.

It was in 2014. To progress, he spends his evenings on a cliff of brittle rocks that he is the only one to frequent. By the light of his headlamp, he busies himself with wedging the blades of his ice axes and clawing the rock with the tips of his crampons. It goes up, down, breaths, gain muscle, ease and endurance.

Only six years were therefore necessary for him to rise to the rank of the best in his discipline. “I’ve always skipped steps,” he comments. He is especially tough on evil and considers suffering to be a part of enjoyment. In 2016, he entered the Ice climbing World Cup. His ranking in the top thirty earned him a place in the Swiss team. But the competition bores him. The birth of her daughter, two years later, invites her to make choices. He frees himself from the race for the podiums and decides to climb just for himself, far from the crowds, far from marked terrain. Chamonix, its mountains, its success, its queues, he has had enough, and he sees in his region an unsuspected potential.

For the others

From now on, it is there that he traces his paths in rocks, ice or clods. They are recognized by rare belay points. The words of Michel Piola, a Swiss guide and opener, however, encourage him to rethink his creations: “If you open a path, you should be able to send your daughter there without being afraid that she will kill herself.” They still echo in his head. “Since then, I open for others, and I secure more,” he admits.

By dint of scouring the mountains, Simon Chatelan has accumulated enough material to write a guide for fans of climbing in mixed terrain – combining ice and rock – in western Switzerland. The collection is expected to be released this fall. For this mountaineer, sharing has become as important a rule as the ethics with which he persists in climbing his routes. Ideally, no trace of its passage is left, except on a photo in a notebook.

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