Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Sad News on JC Lafaille?

The energetic, motivated and super-talented French alpinist JC LaFaille is missing and presumed dead on Makalu. This one tears at me, I've enjoyed meeting and climbing with him in a few different places. The first time I met him was in a gym in France--for some reason a few of us were climbing in a gym in winter, and this rather short guy shows up and starts just hiking the hardest routes in the place. We struck up a funny conversation and had some fun yanking on the plastic. I finally figured out who he was, a true legend in climbing for so many years, starting way back in the 80s with sport climbing and switching it up when he started climbing what I consider to be the boldest Himalayan alpine climbs of the last 10 years. I can think of no other climber, ever, who was so good at all aspects of climbing. 5.13 solo, big new routes in the Himalaya, hard dry tooling, he did it all. He was relatively unknown in the US and Canada, but he was a hero of mine for many reasons. A year or so ago I was cimbing in the Vsion in Canmore and who should show up but this rather short guy, you know the rest of the story. Chance meetings like that always made me smile, he was game for anything involving climbing, and I just kept running into him in Europe and North America. The media is not holding out much hope (story in French here, "pas de trace" says it all), but I'm not going to totally write him off just yet, he's come back from some pretty far out places before.

It always stops me in my tracks when one my heroes turns up missing. The Himalaya extracts everything from people all too often, it's just such a huge range--figuring out what's really happening on a 3,000 foot face at low altitude is difficult, figuring out what's happening in a range the size of the Himalaya, while at altitude, is about impossible judging from the number of super-competent people who have died there. It's not generally the climbing that kills people in the Himalaya, but the cold, mental collapse, bad systems, etc. JC was trying to solo a route in winter--this is closer to polar exploration than climbing in my mind, it just shows how far out of the box JC could think. How do you go from being a child sport climbing prodigy in France to suiting up for winter solo in the Himalaya? Amazing.

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