French all-round mountain athlete Liv Sansoz (41) recently completed all 82 peaks over 4000m in the European Alps. Liv's journey from world class competition climber to more adventurous pursuits in the mountains - culminating in her latest challenge - has been documented in a new film 'Liv Along the Way,' due to be screened at Kendal Mountain Festival 2018 alongside a lecture event with Liv.
Liv became Lead World Champion in 1999 and 1997 and won the Lead World Cup in 1996, 1998 and 2000, before adding a win at the UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup in 2001 to her list. With her repeat of Hasta la Vista at Mount Charleston in the US, she became only the second woman in the world to climb 8c/8c+ in the year 2000. Currently based in Chamonix, Liv splits her time between - and performs to a high level in - a range of outdoor activities, including rock climbing, alpinism, paragliding, skiing and ice climbing.
We sent Liv some questions to find out more about her life and her latest challenge...
You participated in mountain sports in the Alps from a young age. How formative were these years for you?
Growing up in the mountains taught me a lot. How to move in the mountains, how to "read" them but also how to respect them and how precious and fragile they are.
You had a successful competition career. What were your most memorable achievements over the years?
I have quite a lot of amazing memories, but maybe my first win at the World Championships when I was 19 and also the World Cup in Nantes when I topped the super final route despite one spinning hold and in front of everyone standing up and encouraging me like it had never happened before. And of course, sending Hasta la Vista 8c+ back in 2000 was a pretty intense memory as well.
An accident brought an end to your competition career. What happened? Was it difficult to turn your back on competitions entirely?
Basically, the girl who was belaying me made a mistake. She was lowering me from my warm-up route and she held the Grigri brake and let go of the rope, so I went all the way down to the ground without being able to do anything to stop myself.
It was really hard to face a life without climbing. I was injured and in pain for many months. It was not only the fact I had to stop competing while I was at my best that was hard; it was not being able to climb and carrying a traumatic experience that was the hardest.
Did your competitor's mentality help you to perform on big walls and alpine climbs? If so, how?
As a competitor I was very determined with a strong will to succeed, but I always carried a bit of doubt that required me to be very well prepared in order to feel like "I can do it".
I guess determination and will are two important pillars for me in the mountains.
You do lots of mountain activities: alpinism, rock climbing, ice climbing, paragliding, skiing etc. Do you believe that this strict, regimented training and routine in the competition scene led to your being more interested in exploring other disciplines later on?
Hard to tell. For sure when you are a competitor, you are 110% dedicated to your sport and it could seem a bit strict. I think generally speaking I like to learn new things and acquire new skills. The mountains gave me that, more so than sport climbing.
How did the idea of doing the 82 x 4000m come about?
Quite simply in fact. I found myself on a 4000m in Switzerland, the Schreckhorn, surrounded by other 4000m peaks and I thought 'All these mountains are so beautiful, why not climb them all?' The idea was there, I just had to figure out how to do it.
Tell us about the best moments and the low points?
There were many enjoyable moments spent with my partners in beautiful surroundings. Perhaps the most memorable moment was the Peuterey Intégrale, because they were the last two summits and we finished on the summit of Mont Blanc. This was really a mad and crazy moment.
Then there were tough times, either due to fear, fatigue or the cold. For example, on l'intégrale du Brouillard on the south face of Mont Blanc. Huge boulders were falling down on us for over a minute and it was a very stressful situation. Then the traverse of the Jorasses was both an exhilarating and difficult climb. It was very cold, I was tired from the four days before and I started getting cramps. It was difficult for me physically…
You descended by paragliding from some summits and you didn't use lifts. Why were these methods important to you?
I found that always starting from down on the valley floor to reach the top of a 4000er was the best way to do this project. If you take a lift you lose a bit of the adventurous spirit and I wanted this experience to be something strong and pure for me.
Flying off a summit always adds a special element to the climb. And it's fun, so paragliding came quite naturally in the project.
You are one of the first French women to achieve this. Have you noticed any changes in the world of alpinism, concerning the number of women in the mountains or attitudes towards them?
I can see more and more strong women in the mountains and more and more climbing parties of women, which is really nice. Most men have respect for that and even better, they are supportive to women who try hard.
But of course you always have a few people who are not taking women seriously. It's not worth wasting your time and energy on these people.
The Olympic Games, Tokyo 2020. What do you think - of the format, of the growth in climbing in general? Would the Olympics have been attractive to your younger self?
I for sure had dreams that my sport would be in the Olympics and even that maybe I would still be able to compete by then. All athletes dream of the Olympic Games. If you had to win just one medal in your life, it should be an Olympic one.
Regarding the format for Tokyo, I guess it was a hard choice for the IFSC. It's for sure not 100% satisfying for the athletes and it's a bit sad for climbing generally, but hopefully something positive will come out of the Olympics for climbing itself and for the athletes.
As for the growth of climbing, I think it's great. Climbing is becoming more popular, it's growing really fast in cities. Of course there are some people who go to the climbing gym a bit like they would go to the fitness gym and the pure spirit of climbing and exploring is not here anymore, but in the end...where's the problem? Everyone can climb the way he / she wants to.
Do you have any more ambitions to go on bigger expeditions, like those in China/Kyrgyzstan?
It's been more than two years now that I haven't flown anywhere by plane. I try to reduce my carbon footprint and show others we can have fantastic moments right next door. The Alps are an endless terrain. That said, I sometimes miss higher mountains, so it's possible I'll be going on expeditions again once in a while in the future.
You live in Chamonix. Do you like it? There are currently major issues surrounding pollution in the valley and overpopulation on Mont Blanc - what do you think to these issues?
I really love Chamonix, for its mountains, for its people, for the easy access and for being able to do so much there (skiing, climbing, alpine climbing, flying, mountain biking, etc…)
The downside of it is that there are a lot of people, but sadly it seems we are going towards quotas in the mountains for routes such as the normal route up Mont Blanc. It's maybe a 'bad' thing that's ultimately going to lead to a 'good' thing.
Pollution… this is a big problem and I'm a bit worried people don't realise how bad it really is for our health and the environment. To be honest, I'm not exactly sure I would still want to live in Chamonix if we have another terrible winter again like we had in 2017/2018.
After the '82x4000m', what now?
That's what everyone is asking me! ;)
I have a few different projects in mind but nothing that I really feel like "OK, that's the one I really want to do now, that's the one that makes the most sense!"
Are you going to climb in England in November when you're over for Kendal Mountain Festival?!
I love the gritstone in the UK, but unfortunately I'll be only here for a very short time, so no chance to climb this time!
Kendal Mountain Festival (15th-18th November) is an award-winning event that has grown in size and diversity over the last 18 years. It is also the main social event for outdoor enthusiasts in the UK. Thousands of outdoor enthusiasts plus media industry specialists, athletes, top brands & equipment manufacturers, artists, photographers, adventurers, explorers and inspirational speakers gather every year to share adventures and celebrate the very best in outdoor and adventure sports culture.
Liv Along the Way will screen at Kendal and Liv will be speaking at an event taking place on Saturday 17th November 11:30-13:00.
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