Climbing a big wall, whatever it is, is always a bit of a mission. You have tons of gear, heavy bags with the portaledge, the equipement, the water and food you need for a few days. All this you have to carry it up, to haul it and then to carry it down. It’s nothing light but totally worth the experience.
Climbing a big wall with a woman who lost the use of her legs on a climbing accident is a total different story ! Nonetheless it’s what we did. « We » it’s Vanessa François, Marion Poitevin, Fabiend Dugit and myself. Vanessa got struck by a huge chunk of ice in April 2010 while climbing a very classic line on the South Face of Aiguille du midi. Since then she’s paraplegic. Vanessa is not the type of person that will give up and after a year of rehabilitation she rebuild herself and found new projects for her life. Climbing El Cap was one of them. Quickly Marion, Fabien, myself and a bunch of other friends started to help to make the project happening. Trainings, money funds raise, gear development, etc… After more than a year of preparation we finaly flew all the way to California with the hope to climb Zodiac on El Capitan, Yosemite.
We were not too worried about the climb itself but more about carrying up and then down Vanessa. For this we were hoping to find climbers at Camp 4 willing to help us. Unexpectedly, we arrived in El Portal -at the entrance of the Yosemite Park- on the evening they announced the shutdown in all the States. For us frenchies it was totally unbelievable. After a day of incomprehension, we realized that the best was to keep going for the mission we came for, without giving too much of importance to the shutdown. For three days we carried up loads of gear and fixed the 4th and then 6th fist pitches. If the shutdown made our project way more complicated (no others climbers to help us carrying Vanessa) and spicy, on the other hand it was an incredible privilege to climb El Cap with almost nobody else on the wall. The park was peaceful and quiet and we loved it that way.
To make a long story short, Vanessa, Marion Fabien and I climbed Zodiac from the 7th of October to the 11th. We got the support of Nico Potard and Victor Estrangin to carry loads and fix the first pitches and then we were on our own, on a ocean of granite with no other climbers around. We spent five fantastic days and four nights on the wall and slept another night on the top of El Cap. The energy between the four of us was amazing and made the experience very intense and very unique. Everyone was ready to help the other, to give a bit of itself for the rest of the team. We all knew we could rely on the other. The oneness between us was strong. Just once won’t hurt, we were three women and (only) one strong man which added a special taste to the adventure ;)
Vanessa was never tired, she was well trained and dialed all the pitches. The two last pitches were the mosit difficult for her since there was kind of slabby. But even here she just went one pull-up after the other and got to the top with a huge smile on her face…
The descent was the crux and it took us another small day on the 12th of October to get down. But we got really lucky to have met people to help Marion and Fabien carrying Vanessa (Julien, Niels and Mika).
Climbing a big wall climb with a paraplegic person is nothing impossible but it’s nothing easy either. Everything take time. Every little things can take its importance. You need to be more cautious on some things you would not have even think about before. But all those difficulties were nothing in regards of having Vanessa climbing Zodiac and sharing those intense days on the wall all together. I have done a few amazing things in my life, this one is a part of them and forever in my heart.
I really want to thank all the people who has donated to make this project happened, the companies who supported us since the really begining, Cyrilde, Julien, Niels, Mika, Cyril, Nico Hairon, Victor et NIco Potard, Bertrand, Eric, Andrew Kirkpatrick, Timmy O’Neil. And above all, my team mates, Vanessa, Marion and Fabien for this fantastic moment of life shared in a true friendship and a beautiful energy.