Photo: Francisco Taranto
Why had I set my eyes on an objective I had none of the skills for? I had no alpine experience whatsoever. No knowledge of granite rock. No endurance in general.
The Voie Petit route is the creation of Arnaud Petit, a spectacular climber - a world cup winner and a mountain guide. A man who succeeded in reconciling two worlds that often look down on one another: rock climbing and alpinism. Arnaud and his partner, Stephaine Bodet were the sparks that lit my fire: having them as role models it was just a matter of looking at their routes. And so I did, and there it was, a dream in the air: the Voie Petit.
I'd been competing for 10 years in the climbing lead world cups. I'd won and made podiums. But there is a world between an eight minute exercise on artificial walls and free climbing a vertical or overhanging wall of granite above a glacier.
So when I finally decided on the route, I made a plan: I had to learn all the skills that I missed. And the list was long, from walking on ice with crampons to climbing very, very far above your last protection with the knowledge that injury would be the likely result of a fall.
I trained for a full year with my goal in my mind every morning when I woke up. I had set myself a few rules, because big wall climbing is full of shades of grey and you are the only one who can decide on limits. I could count on my indefectible partner, James Pearson, my husband and best climbing partner, to support me and belay me. But it was my project and I would be the only one to recognise the movements of the route and place the rope in dangerous sections. I wouldn’t use an easier route on the left or on the right to shortcut the recognition phase. I would climb only in the route, by my own abilities. Quite simply, I'd go from the bottom to the top and if I couldn't pass a section, I couldn't go up!
In total, I went to the route four times before climbing the whole thing to learn the movements of every pitch. At the beginning, it seemed like I was on the moon. But I trained hard and I trained right. Most of all, I'd done a lot of mental preparation, reusing all the things I'd learned over my competition years. Visualisation gave me a pool of energy to dig from on D-Day and I was handling the fear of danger like I used to handle the fear of failing in competitions.
I did rely on someone I trust entirely for all the areas where James and I are only beginners: weather, security on the glacier and altitude management are all the skills of Marion Poitevin, a young mountain guide and instructor for mountain guide aspirants. I counted on her for advice, just like I counted on Arnaud and Stephanie Bodet for the route’s specifics. But, more than that, they pushed me because they deeply wanted me to succeed.