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 By: Johan Svensson  | Date: 2008-09-07  | Category: Interviews    | Comment  
Stephanie and Arnaud Petit
Life style climbers

S: I started climbing at 15, I m now 31 and nothing has change. I m always enthusiastic and I still have so many projects in big walls, bouldering, sport climbing and multi pitch. Too many things, too many countries to visit for one life! (Stephanie on Free Rider, Yosemite © S Leary)
About ten years ago Stephanie and Arnaud were among the world’s best competition climbers. In 1996 Arnaud won the World Cup and became the European Champion in lead, and Stephanie won the boulder World Cup in 1999. These days they’ve stopped competing and from their base camp in Ceüse (in Gap, France) they travel around the world, looking for extraordinary climbs. They particularly look for beautiful and remote multi-pitches, and Arnaud with friends have equipped a lot of really long routes. A few examples are Les Rivières Pourpres in Marocco (350m 7b), Jihad in Jordan (400m 7b), Futuroscope in Mali (400m 7c+), and Delicatessen at Corsica (120m 8b).

The highlight of 2007 for Stephanie was when she did the third female ascent of the Free Rider in Yosemite Valley. Later that year, she and Arnaud, together with Fred Gentet and Nicolas Kalisz, did the first ascent of Babel, 800m 7c+, on Tagoujimt n'Tsouiant in Morocco's Taghia Gorge. Obviously this couple is in it for life and there is no after climbing. It is inspiring to see how life as a climber transforms as you change focus, and Stephanie Bodét and Arnaud Petit are the perfect example of how you can live climbing to the fullest. I got a hold of them just before they left for Morocco and here’s what they have to say.

What is the essence of climbing?
S: I have a poetic vision of climbing. Something like finding your own way without always thinking about the goal, enjoying the features of the rock and the obstacles. It's also like being a curious child, always enthusiastic when discovering a new place, a new line or a new kind of rock.

A: To imagine a new line, the expectation of climbing it and not knowing if it is possible or not. This is incredible to me.

Which is your best and most memorable achievement?
S: I really don't care about ranking things in climbing or in life. My practice is very eclectic so each experience has been unique: Winning the bouldering world cup in 99, and climbing Trango Tower, El Capitan or Salto Angel. All was very exiting! I just remember that I was not a self-confident teenager. Climbing really helped me to feel stronger and give a sense or a direction in life. That's a kind of achievement, no?

A: Climbing ”Octogénèse” 10 years ago, a 300 m slab route with 8b pitches. More recently in 2006, I guess the Salto Angel, a very serious trad free climb where we needed 14 days for 30 pitches. I had to push myself as well as manage a big team, not easy. What else? I used to love competing and being able to win some World Cups was great. I am also proud of the routes I have equipped in Marroco and Jordan, not because they were hard but because they offer something new to climbers. Especially ”Jihad”, in Jordan, a compact sandy face that looked impossible at first.

A: For me, there is no after climbing, it's a life style. Climbing is not a matter of numbers. Getting less strong is not a problem. Even when I get older I am sure I can discover new places for climbing and equipping routes or keep doing books. That's what I like! (Arnaud having breakfast at Free Rider © S Bodet)
Got a favourite place to climb? Does atmosphere matter?

S: I grew up in Gap, so definitely Ceüse because of the landscape that I love since I was a child. And also Taghia in Marocco for the people, the language, and the culture, which is so different. With regards to atmosphere, I have never been an opportunist climber who can climb with all sorts of people, especially on multi pitch routes. I like to climb with Arnaud and my friends in an ambiance of good emulation, and speak about something else than climbing is sometimes refreshing.

A: Ceüse, no doubt. I love Corsica too because of my climbing memories from spending time over there as teenager. I am able to deal with a horrible atmosphere but I like places with a pure spirit. I have to say that the spirit in Cëuse during summer is very nice, even when it’s crowded.

What were your best climbing experiences in 2007
S: One is enough for me: Free rider in Yosemite. It was hard for me because even if I had some experience in crack climbing, I’m not a crack climber. So I had to adapt and that was interesting. The grades of the 35 pitches might not seem impressive (7c max), but when you have to deal with a forty-meter off-width, it' s a taunting experience and I have rarely pushed myself that much! That huge rock face has been in my dreams for a long time: The granite is so perfect! It was also a nice adventure for Arnaud and me. Arnaud helped me and supported me for that project and it was wonderful.

A: I don’t know. Probably my on sight of Less Than 0, 5.13a, at Indian Creek. And of course when I climbed Dures limites, 8c, in Ceüse, just in two tries.

Any projects or expeditions?
S: Since two years, we have been travelling a lot. Last December, we went to Mexico, then to Patagonia in January-February before a two months trip to the US. Always being on the road is great but it's also difficult. This year, I would like to spend more time at home to climb in the south of France and open routes in Ceüse. We also go to Taghia, Marocco, in September, to open a multi pitch route.

A: This autumn we are going to Taghia (Marocco) again. We are four climbers that will equip what should be a fantastic climb, 20 pitches that include all types of climbing, maybe up to 8a.

What else do you do?
S: After I stopped competing in 2001, I worked two years as a French teacher in college. During this time, I didn't climb much and I realised that climbing and travelling was the most important thing to me. Used to my freedom, I was not happy in a system. Now, with Arnaud and the help of our sponsors, we live on giving lectures based on our expeditions. Sharing is important to me. Some people realise that when you love something, you can build your life on it, even if you don't make much money. I 'm very impressed by unconditional climbers (like Bruno Clément who lives in Verdón) who preserve their freedom for climbing and setting new routes, out of the consumerist society. My other passions are literature and writing. I am now writing a small book about our adventure of last year in Salto Angel in Venezuela.

A: Taking pictures, writing books, and all the stuff linked to a professional relationship with my sponsors. So far I’ve published two books, Parois de Légende, Monde, and Parois de Légende, Europe. I also work as a guide when I need more money, but not so much. Right now what I need is time to climb as much as possible. I mean, I like photography but climbing is so rich to me. I love bouldering, sport routes, trad climbing, cracks, big walls, equipping new short or long routes, high mountains... yes everything. I don't need other passions.

Arnaud at Scarface, Indian Creek © S Bodet
Does family fit this life style?

S: I hope so! Climbing is a life style. You just have to be less exigent with yourself I think.

A: Of course, there are many examples of people that live a climbing life with children. Our projects will change, but not so much. Since a few years back I don't get money from sponsors since I am not competing or doing hard routes, but I am sure it's always possible to get money from climbing in some way.  And maybe it's more interesting for people to come to a conference and see the story of a family living completely differently than they do. I can also be a guide or train young climbers.

Community advice
S: I don't know if I can give any advice, but for me, the most important in climbing or in life is not to be in a hurry. Take time to do things well! I also admire people who are able to climb in all type of rocs and who try things endlessly, until they get it. That's not my best quality, and I like to watch people as Sylvain Millet. You can learn about patience from those guys and also distance yourself from grades, which is a very small thing in climbing compared to how beautiful it is!

A: You have to be involved in what you do. For example I am not climbing chipped routes anymore. I have realised now that trying a chipped route on a crag like Ceüse is just nonsense. Each generation should think about the next one and pass on the pure spirit of climbing.