Saturday, April 15, 2006

Jean-Christophe Lafaille, Climber

An old friend emailed an interesting Observer Magazine article about the famous French climber, Jean-Christophe Lafaille.

Jason Burke wrote, On his last morning alive, Jean-Christophe Lafaille woke up perhaps the most profoundly alone man on the planet. His tiny tent, specially designed for ultra-high altitude, was perched on a small ridge at around 25,000ft on an icy shoulder of Makalu, the world's fifth largest mountain. Either side of the tent, huge rock and snow cliffs and avalanching slopes swept down to the distant valleys of the high Nepalese Himalayas. There was nothing above him except Makalu's summit, some 3,000ft higher.

Lafaille had slept through his alarm and woken around 5am, when he called his wife Katia to tell her he was now up and moving. Ahead of him was a day that few normal human beings could have survived for more than a few minutes. Even by the standards of this most gifted and hardened mountaineer, the task Lafaille had set himself was almost unprecedented in modern mountaineering. Outside it was around -30C, still dark, with a light wind. The summit of Makalu would take 10 hours of hard and dangerous climbing to reach; up steep ice slopes, through crevasse-strewn glaciers and rocky cliffs, gasping in the thin air at an altitude at which passenger jets cruise. No one had ever climbed the mountain in winter before - let alone without oxygen, or back-up. Lafaille made himself a hot drink, ate a little, stuffed food and water in his rucksack, pulled on his boots and picked up his ice axes. Before leaving his tent, he rang his wife again. And then the finest climber in France, arguably in the world, disappeared.

It was late January this year and Lafaille, 40, was climbing in the hardest way possible. He had no rope mates, no porters, no rescue team. At his base camp, 7,000ft below, there were three local Nepali sherpas with a radio. There were no other expeditions anywhere near him, and no one else on the mountain. Lafaille, as he always preferred, had the huge expanse of rock and snow and ice, and the cold and the wind and the great arcing vault of the Himalayan sky all to himself. His only link to the rest of mankind was a portable satellite telephone - which he had been using to call Katia and his four-year-old son several times a day.

This is a story of love and death, of the complex and often difficult relationship that a prodigiously gifted, driven man such as Lafaille can have with a sport - a sport which for him was a profession, a vocation and a passion. It is a tale of his extraordinary relationship, framed by the world's highest and most dangerous peaks, with his wife, lover, closest friend, professional partner and the mother of his child. This is the story of the short, happy life of Jean-Christophe Lafaille.

4 comments:

shashikiran said...

I read this yesterday and came back again for inspiration.

woman wandering said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it ... I couldn't resist posting it after reading it. His life seemed like a life well lived :)

Anonymous said...

Yesterday his wife, Katia, and 5 year old son, Tom, bicycled through our little town of Bluff, Utah. She is cycling from Durango to Flagstaff. She was having bike trouble so stayed at our motel and was considering giving up the trip. By morning she had re-engineered her bike and trailer and left. Only then did I find her story, only then did I realize she was carrying a heavier weight than the 5 year old in her trailer. Good life to you, Katia.

Anonymous said...

Yesterday his wife, Katia, and 5 year old son, Tom, bicycled through our little town of Bluff, Utah. She is cycling from Durango to Flagstaff. She was having bike trouble so stayed at our motel and was considering giving up the trip. By morning she had re-engineered her bike and trailer and left. Only then did I find her story, only then did I realize she was carrying a heavier weight than the 5 year old in her trailer. Good life to you, Katia.