Introduction by Pierre Delas of Kairn.com:
Patrick Edlinger, the 1980's icon of French climbing, passed away a few days ago aged 52.
Edlinger, who rose to fame after the films "Opera Vertical " and "La vie aux bout des doigts," blended the many faces of our sport and had a huge effect on the popularity of climbing. His climbing spanned many genres; barefoot solos in the Verdon, redpoints and onsights at the highest technical difficulty of the time, pioneering training in France (everyone remembers his cult book "Grimper!"), his fierce passion for competition climbing (Patrick was one of the few famous French climbers who didn't sign the anti competition manifesto of 19 in 1985), his tireless traveling, from finding new boulder problems in Fontainebleau to mountaineering with his close friend Patrick Berhault, with whom he maintained a brother-like friendship.
Patrick made an impact throughout the climbing world, his lasting mark still present in each small climbing universe. With his unique, almost perfect climbing style, his charisma, his bond with nature and his pursuit of happiness, he was simply THE benchmark.
It's clear that, without Patrick Edlinger, climbing would not be where it is now.
Rather than publish a standard biography, paraphrased from existing articles (also a full biography of Patrick Edlinger written by Jean-Michel Asselin is due out next January), the team at Kairn have compiled a selection of anecdotes from Patrick's close friends and other well known climbers that have rubbed shoulders with 'The Blonde'. We'd like to thank all those that responded so quickly. To preserve the authenticity of their stories, we have also published all the original texts in their original languages.
The photos that accompany this article are courtesy of Yves Ballu and are from a competition at Bardonnechia in 1986.
You're no longer here, tears fall, memories come back to me. In the 80's you were like my big brother, we were all a family of climbers who invented free climbing, our spirit was revolutionary. This energy stays with me to this day.
You etched climbing in to our culture, you brought climbing up to an art form. You lived climbing, it was your lifestyle, I was still a student, looking on. I loved to watch you climb, your suppleness passed over in to my body.
You were a big brother, a star that shone climbing in to the world, and I had the utmost respect for the values that you kept. Many times we found ourselves at the foot of the same route.
I was anguished by your hero-staus and by all those who followed you. Your stardom overwhelmed you. You were sensitive, and I admire your courage. You were one of three brothers who inspired me; Patrick Edlinger, Berhault, Cordier. Each of you unique, it was impossible to follow in your footsteps, I had to find my own way.
You told me "You see, I have not changed - , I climb when I want to"."
Your life has escaped from your finger tips, leaving drops of blood, sweat and chalk on the holds. My next climb at Buoux will be in honour of you: Pas de pet, Viol de Corbeau.
You made us dream, you make us grow.
I offer strong thoughts of courage to those who were close to Patrick.
Tu n'es plus ici, les larmes tombent, les souvenirs remontent dans ma mémoire. Dans les années 1980, tu étais comme un grand frère, nous étions tous une famille de grimpeurs qui inventait l'escalade libre, notre esprit était révolutionnaire. Cette énergie m'accompagne encore aujourd'hui.
Tu as gravé l'escalade dans notre culture. Au sein de notre société, tu as élevé l'escalade comme un art du chemin. Tu vivais ton escalade comme un art de vivre, j'étais encore un étudiant qui se cherchait. J'aimais te voir grimper, ta souplesse se distillait dans mon corps.
Tu étais un grand frère ; une star qui faisait rayonner l'escalade dans le monde entier et j'avais beaucoup de respect pour les valeurs que tu portais. Plusieurs fois nous nous sommes retrouvés au pied de la même voie.
Ton statut d'idole et tous ceux qui te suivait tout ça m'angoissait, le star système t'est tombé dessus, tu étais sensible et j'admirais ton courage. Tu étais un des trois grands frères qui m'inspiraient; les trois Patrick : Edlinger, Berhault, Cordier. Chacun de vous était unique, impossible de faire à l'identique, j'étais obligé de trouver ma propre voie.
Tu me disais « tu vois je n'ai pas changé je grimpe quant j'ai envie ».
Ta vie s'est échappée du bout des doigts, elle a laissé des gouttes de sueur de sang et de magnésie dans le creux des prises. Mes prochaines ascensions à Buoux seront en ton hommage : Pas de pet, Viol de Corbeau.
Tu nous as fait rêver, tu nous fais grandir.
J'ai une forte pensée de courage pour vous ses proches compagnons de vie.
I was just 16 years old when I first saw the film Opera Vertical. Never before had I seen climbers hanging from such steep and compact walls. But above all, I was fascinated by the grace and elegance with which Patrick Edlinger moved into the seemingly severed heights of the Verdon gorge. He was my hero and I tried to copy his style. But I soon noticed that it was not just smooth and flowing movements that characterised Patrick's climbing style. It was primarily an expression of his humility and his respect that he associated with the climb. Climbing had a philosophical dimension for Patrick. Through it, he managed to live out his sensitive, vulnerable and soft side, whilst the on-looking public still seemed often very dismissive.
Patrick fascinated me with far more than his climbing. I was able to get to know him privately as an amiable person, but also as an ambitious competitor in climbing competitions. He had the aura of a star. He was loved and admired by many people, but as often happens with genius, it seemed to me, as if Patrick was a lone wolf, a lonely prospector. Unfortunately I had relatively little contact with him, but he has still given me a lot.
Ich war gerade einmal 16 Jahre alt, als ich den Film Opera Vertical zum ersten Mal sah. Nie zuvor hatte ich Kletterer in so steilen und kompakten Wänden hängen sehen. Aber vor allem faszinierte mich diese Anmut und Eleganz mit der sich Patrick Edlinger in den schier haltlosen Abbrüchen der Verdonschlucht bewegte. Er wurde mein Held und ich versuchte seinen Stil zu kopieren.
Dabei merkte ich sehr schnell, daß es nicht nur harmonische und fließende Bewegungen waren, die Patricks Kletterstil prägten. Es war vor allem Ausdruck seiner Dehmut und seines Respektes, den er mit der Kletterei verband.
Klettern hatte für Patrick eine philosophische Dimension. Er lebte in ihr seine sensible, verletzbare und weiche Seite aus, während er in der Öffentlichkeit oft sehr abweisend erschien. Patrick faszinierte mich weit über sein Klettern hinaus. Ich durfte ihn ganz privat, als liebenswerten Menschen kennenlernen, aber auch als ehrgeizigen Konkurrenten bei Kletterwettkämpfen.
Er hatte die Aura eines Stars. Er wurde von vielen Menschen geliebt und verehrt, aber wie so oft bei Genies kam es mir vor, als sei auch Patrick ein einsamer Wolf, ein Suchender. Ich hatte leider wenig Kontakt zu ihm, aber trotzdem hat er mir sehr viel gegeben.
I didn't know Patrick well but met him on many occasions in the late 80s at competitions and on the crags in the south of France. He was passionate about his climbing, technically brilliant, elegant to watch and inspired a way of climbing that was adopted by many. His climbing achievements are second to none but more than this, he understood the value of life and of how fortunate he was to have found something he felt so passionate about. Although most of us would love to have pushed the limits of climbing like Patrick, at the end of the day it's not how hard you climb that matters, but how hard you try. I am sure Patrick gave his all as did others of my generation no longer with us such as Wolfgang Gullich, Kurt Albert and John Bachar to name but a few. They were all an inspiration and are sorely missed.
Patrick will always have a place in my heart and memories. The times I spent eating dinner at his house, laughing, working together for "Rock and Wall" magazine, and climbing on the beautiful cliffs of Southern France were precious moments of life. Being from the same generation, I was inspired by Patrick's visionary achievements when he came to the States and on-sighted many of the hardest routes in the country. I will never forget those magical moments when the sun burst through the clouds as he climbed to the top of the final route at the first International climbing competition in Snowbird, Utah. What enabled him to climb so well had to do with his inner nature and sense of integrity toward the people and values that defined his life. Patrick's love of climbing, nature, sense of freedom, adventure, and his fun-loving child-like spirit are just a few of the qualities that earned him the nickname, "Dieu". Adieu mon Ami! Your spirit lives on through all of the people your life has inspired!
What always fascinated me during our shared moments of climbing was Patrick's animal-like sensitivity, not only in the cat-like climbing, both intuitive and unique, but also in the non-judgemental way he dealt with people.
Loved or hated, envied or idolised, never throughout his exceptional career did Patrick fail to make an impression. He was one of the few people I have met who left a lasting impression and he has undoubtedly fed my great passion for climbing. I find it hard to believe that our paths will not cross again, but some of his flame will burn on with me on the sandstone tomorrow.
Ce qui m'a toujours fasciné dans nos moments partagés de grimpe c'est sa sensibilité animale qui ne se manifestait pas seulement dans sa grimpe féline, intuitive et unique mais aussi dans ses rapports avec les gens sans concession.
Aimé ou détesté jalousé ou érigé en modèle ; il n'a jamais au cours de son parcours hors norme laissé quiconque indifférent. Il est au nombre ce ceux que j'ai croisés- et il n'y en a pas tant que ça- qui ont laissé une empreinte indélébile et ont contribué sans aucun doute à alimenter ma passion dévorante pour la grimpe. J'ai du mal à penser que nos chemins ne se croiseront plus; mais une partie de sa flamme continuera à m'accompagner demain sur le grès.
Patrick was the top French climber when I started. I clearly remember seeing a photo of him, handsome and tanned climbing barefoot in the Verdon. It looked amazing and inspirational.
He was indeed a superstar. Just so elegant to watch climb, I wish I could have half his fineness on the rock. I spent some time at his house on the south coast in the late 90's. Ron Kauk was there and I think Lynn Hill also. They were magical free times just climbing every day.
A memory which stands out was when he took me out in his new HF Lancia Integral. He was a great driver and after warming up the engine went absolutely flat out! However at no time did I feel scared. Such was his charisma, he had an aura of total confidence and control.
When he spoke people listened, he was complementary to me about my climbing . That meant so much to me as after all he was Patrick Edlinger.
I am greatly saddened by his departure. As we all know he was an absolute legend and for me one of the greatest climbers of all time.
Rest in peace Patrick I will never forget you.
A sad day for climbing. Patrick was the one who freed climbing from the mountains, and made it in to a way of life. Outside our rivalry, I have always appreciated his passion and unique way. It is a Legend who has left.
Triste jour pour la grimpe. Patrick a été celui qui a émancipé la grimpe de la montagne et en a fait un mode de vie a part entière. En dehors de nos rivalités, j'ai toujours apprécié sa passion et son chemin unique. C'est un Grand qui est parti.
It has been a very long time since I have seen Patrick, but the time we stayed together is timeless in my memory. At his house in the south of France, which he called the reservation - like Indian Reservation - a place to hideout. With his family we picked olives, shared Christmas together, laughed and told many stories to each other. He is a very deep thinking person with so much passion to express himself, I called him Captain Maximum, he liked it and would call himself that. I think of him and it puts a smile on my face. It was all about the climbing but so much more. To him and his family I send all the love and respect and thanks for being so kind.
Patrick's death has come as a shock! I didn't know him well, but our paths crossed several times of course; on the crag in the heydays of the Verdon gorge, when all the climbers spent their summers there, and also a little bit in Fontainebleau (I remember memorable attempts on the problem Antithèse at Cuvier).
The first I heard of him was in Nice, I'd just begun climbing and myself and Jean Pierre Bouvier were invited there by Patrick Berhault. Patrick spoke about his close friend from Toulon with great respect. Then he was an unknown, but now we all know him. He was the flagship of an entire generation. Everyone can say a HUGE THANKYOU to a man who embodied the passion for climbing with so much talent.
Le décès de Patrick est un choc! Je ne le connaissais pas particulièrement, mais je l'ai bien sûr croisé plusieurs fois. En falaise à la grande époque du Verdon, quand tout le monde des grimpeurs se retrouvait là-bas l'été, et un peu à Bleau (je me rappelle d'essais mémorables avec lui dans "Antithèse" au Cuvier).
La première fois que j'ai entendu parler de lui, c'était à Nice. Je débutais en escalade et j'accompagnais Jean Pierre Bouvier qui était invité par Patrick Berhault. Patrick Berhault nous avait parlé de son copain toulonnais avec un grand respect. Il était alors inconnu et on connaît tous la suite... Il a été le phare de toute une génération. On peut tous lui dire un IMMENSE MERCI d'avoir su incarner la passion de l'escalade avec autant de talent.
Here are three stories from friends, that for me represent our emotions and the emotions of the climbers from the 80's and 90's.
"He will remain to me, as he will for the many climbers who knew him, near and far, who climbed with him, as one who opened your mind, one who brought a new perspective on life. A different view on what society at that time could offer. Inspiring many of us, at that time, to leave everything behind (studying, work, girlfriends...) and live the same passion for climbing. Thanks you Patrick, we will never forget you." - Dominic Page.
"Patrick is gone, and we are here like idiots, because history is not written in reverse. But the rock and the blueness of the Verdon remain and on these our fingers can still find this vibration that has helped us to find a meaning to live, and to love. It's thanks to men like him that we have opened our eyes." - Jerome Rochelle.
"Anyone who had a more than passing interest in climbing during the 80s and 90s had to have been inspired by Patrick Edlinger. The male climbers of my generation wore tights like his, tried to climb like him, and most of all wanted to be him. His films, pictures and philosophy shaped the sport and philosophy of climbing for me." - Will Gadd.
Voici 3 témoignages d'amis qui représentent pour moi nos émotions à nous , Grimpeurs des Années 80 et 90 :
"Il restera pour moi comme pour beaucoup d'amis grimpeurs qui de près ou de loin l'ont côtoyé; qui ont pratiqué à ses côtés; celui qui nous a ouvert l'esprit , qui nous a apporté un autre regard sur la vie. Un autre regard sur ce que la société à l'époque nous proposait. Nous sommes nombreux à l'époque à avoir tout plaqué ( études, boulot, copine...) pour vivre de cette même passion de la grimpe ! Merci Patrick, on ne t'oubliera jamais !" (Dominique Page)
" Patrick est parti et on est là comme des cons car l'histoire ne s'écrit pas en sens inverse. Il reste le rocher et celui bleuté du Verdon, sur lequel nos doigts peuvent encore retrouver cette vibration qui nous a aider à trouver un sens à nos vies et à l'aimer. Merci à tous ces hommes qui comme lui nous ont ouvert les yeux. " (Jérôme Rochelle)
Marc Le Ménestrel:
The last time I climbed with Patrick was in Fontainebleau. We ate with Stephan Denys, a friend in common, who helped to bring us together. We enjoyed easy problems, and harder ones, with friends and family, and realised that through climbing we shared the same passion in these magical places.
I had climbed Coup de fil - a difficult 8A problem. As Stephan wanted to take photos of it, we went on the only day we had left; Sunday morning! What a mistake! By the time we had warmed up at least thirty climbers had gathered at the base of the boulder. Patrick, who hated it (he enjoyed quietness), tried to be as discreet as possible. And then I couldn't even do the first move, I couldn't even pull on! I remember Thierry Ducrot saying "at least it's not too hard for the line-up" and all of us trying to laugh, a little embarrassed (especially me) - the situation being both difficult, and sublime. From these last moments of climbing with Patrick I remember the words of my wife Sybille: "Here's one who has a real passion for climbing."
La dernière fois que j'ai grimpé avec Patrick, c'était à Fontainebleau. Nous avions diné avec Stephan Denys, dont l'amitié commune nous avait aidés à dépasser notre méconnaissance mutuelle. On s'était régalés dans des blocs faciles et des blocs plus durs avec amis et familles, sensibles à cette vérité de l'escalade qui fait que l'on partage tous le même plaisir dans des lieux magiques.
Je venais de réussir Coup de fil, un 8a vraiment exigeant. Comme Stephan voulait prendre des photos, on y est allé le seul jour qui restait disponible : un dimanche matin ! Quelle erreur ! Le temps de s'échauffer, et au moins 30 grimpeurs étaient là autour de nous, au pied du bloc. Patrick, qui détestait cela (il aimait être « tranquille »), essayait de se faire le plus discret possible. En fait, je n'ai même pas réussi à faire le premier mouvement : je n'ai pas pu décoller du sol ! Je me rappelle Thierry Ducrot lancer un « au moins ce n'est pas trop dur pour la parade », et nous tous essayant de rire, un peu jaune quand même (surtout moi) d'une situation aussi loufoque que difficile à sublimer. De ces derniers moments d'escalade avec Patrick, je me rappellerai les mots de ma femme Sybille « en voilà un qui aime passionnément grimper ».
Note: Marc's full tribute is a little longer. The full version (in French) is on Kairn.com.
I learned the sad news from a journalist who wanted to ask me for a comment. I'm stunned. 52 years is young. Patrick is the guy who brought climbing across well on television through the film "La vie au bout des doigts". Actually it's much more than that. It's about life's ethics. A life devoted to climbing, and then for the last few years, and it could happen to anyone, a descent in to hell. Depression, alcohol. The beautiful moments we spent together still remain. The recklessness of youth. When anything is possible. The bohemian lifestyle in Buoux or Verdon. Goodbye great artist, and I grieve with those you have left behind. Patrick, we will never forget you.
J'ai appris la triste nouvelle par un journaliste qui voulait recueillir mon témoignage. Un peu abasourdi. 52 ans c'était jeune. Patrick c'est le mec qui a rendu l'escalade mediatique à travers le film "La vie au bout des doigts". En fait c'est bien plus. Une éthique de vie. Une vie consacrée à l'escalade et puis depuis quelques années déjà des problèmes comme tout un chacun peu en avoir et la descente aux enfers. La dépression, l'alcool. La galère. Resteront de beaux moments passés ensemble. Dans l'insouciance de notre jeunesse. Quand tout est à faire ! La vie de bohème à Buoux ou au Verdon. Alors salut l'artiste, et je m'associe à la peine de ceux qui restent ! Patrick sache qu'on ne t'oubliera jamais!
I met him first at Leeds Wall University Wall in 1983, he was visiting with a group of french climbers and architects looking at British Climbing Walls, he was the 'star' climber even then. In the early 80's Nick Dixon and I used to train at Stockton YMCA wall at the same time as the gymnasts did and we had got some tights from the gymnasts, navy blue, if I recall. Patrick asked me where I had got them from and I gave him a pair, whether this was the start of the lycra revolution I don't know, I don't want to be credited with the lycra fashion of the 1990's but Patrick always managed to look good in his! and he certainly helped spread the lycra reveloution.
Patrick was on a tour of British Walls visiting Richard Dunn, Sobell, Altrincham, Leeds University, and others, he had very sore tips by the end of the trip but he was an amazingly flexible and talented climber even then. He did some seriously hard climbing over those few days and certainly impressed the locals where ever he went.
I also met him at Leeds 1989 when he was a big favourite to challenge Jerry with Didier Raboutou, he came 4th if I recall. I always found him approachable and willing to chat about climbs or climbing areas. He was a great competitor never doubting his ability to climb to his mximimum, this was probably shown at the first really big competition in the USA when he won Snowbird.
Such a sad loss of an icon of the 1980's he was to climbing what McEnroe is to tennis.
I can only say that I admired Patrick... he was the one which we had been looking up to!
It was a really formative time for me, and getting to climb with him over several weeks was really special and impactfull. Over the years I've met him on several occasions and though we weren't super close there was always a really warm kindred feeling between us. It's hard to totally wrap my head around how much influence he's had on our sport. He legitimized and revolutionized the sport of climbing and yet it was clear that for him it was much more than just a sport, but a way of life and personal expression. I feel super fortunate to have known him.
This is really sad news. I am disappointed I could never shake a hand with this phenomenal personality. As it seemed to me, his passion for climbing seemed enormous. He climbed because he simply liked it. Possibly thanks to this he developed a style of climbing that is hard see at anyone else and which I have always admired. Fluent and graceful. No mistakes. His images and videos will keep inspiring future generations, as well as his proud first ascents.
Timy Fairfield (USA):
Patrick Edlinger is the most profoundly impactful figurehead in the sport of modern rock climbing. His image is recognizable to climbers and the general public alike around the world and across multiple generations (even amongst those who do not know his name or who have never seen his photos).
Patrick Edlinger is widely recognized as the individual who popularized and typified the notion that an accomplished rock climber must develop their own corresponding distinctive movement style to accompany their ability on the rock. Through his climbing pursuits he manifested himself at once as artist, athlete, philosopher, mystic and explorer. He implicitly demonstrated to the world that developing a profound personal relationship with the rock provides us with the opportunity to seek meaning in our lives by manifesting our passion as human beings through the language of climbing movement.
He profoundly influenced a potent nucleus of his contemporaries who would become the world's most significant trend-setting rock climbing icons during a crucial era of emergence during which the modern sport of rock climbing was defining itself in France. These agents of the modern era included the likes of such highly regarded legends as Patrick Berhault, Jibe Tribout, Antoine LeMenestral, Didier Raboutou, Alain Ghersen, Jean-Marc Troussier, Alain Robert, Catherine Destivelle, Jacky Godoffe, Lynn Hill, Ron Kauk, Wolfgang Gullich, Kim Carrigan, Luisa Iovani, Stefan Glowacz, Beat Kammerlander, Jerry Moffat and everyone who tried to emulate them!
Patrick Edlinger's inspirational approach and photographic images greatly influenced my personal decisions as a teenager on another continent (before I had met him or could even read French!) to pursue rock climbing as a lifestyle, athletic pursuit, career and subsequent relocation to France. I sought to train and learn from his contemporaries. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to meet this man, to witness him climb and to learn from his insights during my time in France as well as during his visits to North America.
In the collective consciousness of our sport he will always represent the ideal of self-expression through climbing movement. He transcended the timeless notion that the highest order to which we can appeal in our pursuit of the mastery of rock climbing is by embracing the beauty of our own style.
Everybody who loves this sport has been directly or indirectly influenced by Patrick Edlinger. He lived an admirable life filled with passion that I wish to emulate in many ways!
For those wanting to read more on Patrick, there is another tribute written by French Journalist Jean-Michel Asselin at the base of the article on Kairn.com.