Caroline Ciavaldini, from the French island of La Réunion east of Madagascar, is one of those climbers who seems to succeed in every style she tries, be that competition, bouldering, sport climbing, trad or multi pitches. I asked her some questions:
You grew up on La Réunion. Can you tell me a little bit about how you got into climbing and how the community of the island has shaped you as a climber?
It nearly shocked James [Pearson], the first time I brought him on my Island: in every high school, there is a climbing wall. It is the 2nd most popular school sport after football. That is, I think, a result of a very dynamic federation, and surely has to do with the tropical weather: no mist, not much rain, to make a basic climbing wall, you just need to screw holds on the side wall of the building don't you?
So as a kid, I got introduced to climbing when I moved to high school, at 11. We just had a cycle of rugby, then a cycle of climbing!
And with this surrounding (no need to precise that there is zero trad climbing), climbing is tightly associated with competition. After tasting climbing, I signed for the after-school climbing lesson, which is directed by the teachers too, fro 4pm to 6pm. They made us discover outdoor climbing very fast, and of course, competition. Where I grew up, competition was, and still is, the fine end to climbing.
So, there is a strong community in La Réunion. Why do you think that is? Is there anyone who has played a more important role in the development of the climbing?
There are definitely a lot of climbers on this tiny Island. Just under a million habitants, and everyone knows what climbing is about. Mainly, it is a very athletic Island, a paradise for trekking, running, parapenting, canyoning... because of its geology: a volcano rising up to 3000m high, while the Island is only 100km north to south. I can't really tell then, who "made" climbing there... Lots of volunteers, who are ready to teach the kids for free, a motivated federation... maybe that's all it takes after all!
This summer, you, James, Yjui Hirayama, Jacopo Larcher and Sam Elias went on an expedition to La Réunion. What were your plans and expectations before you went on this trip? You obviously knew more than the others. Do you think they were surprised about the potential?
The plan was to go back on my ultra competitive island to give a glimpse of something new, something I had discovered on my way in the world.... TRAD! And what I call adventure climbing in general... hopefully, that would be opening a route ground up, a concept that, lets admit it, is fairly unknown there, and with as much trad as possible. To open the minds...
I don't really know if there is a huge potential left. I haven't been hiking enough around all the paths. On this island, all the heart of the land is quite wild... Hard for me to say how many other virgin walls there are, we'll just have to go back!
James, Sam, Jacopo and Yuji, I am pretty sure they didn't expect to have such an intense trip. Reunion is more famous for surf, beach, canyoning. The first day, we went green climbing on my childhood cliff. I think Jacopo was pretty amazed.
Tell me about Zembrocal. What were the high- and low points? What are you the most proud of?
Zembrocal [7a, 8a, 8a, 8a, 8c+, 6c, 7a], we named it after a famous local dish, representing the mixed blood, mixed culture, mixed religion on the island. Every climber would say of his route that it is amazing. But I think Zembrocal has something very special: it is a basalt multipitch. This rock is quite unusual, very slippery, and in La Chapelle, the wall is very overhanging with big features. And as we discovered at our expenses, out of the crack, angles, and other obvious features, there is nothing but perfectly smooth faces. Zembrocal is, I think, the only way up the wall. We couldn't' start anywhere else, we couldn't have turned left or right. How magic is that?
Every pitch has a completely different character, from slabby crack, to slopers, dihedral, overhanging dihedral crack, roof traverse...
Opening it was hard work. Very hard work. I guess opening is always tough, but on this wall, there were a lot of big, huge boulders, just standing on the edges, ready to fall at a kick. I remember placing a gear in a small crack, climbing on it, only to realize afterwards that the right side of the crack was just a loose flake!
The best moment.
The fifth pitch is the overhanging dihedral crack. A tiny crack, in some places you can't slide your fingers in it. James and Jacopo could do the moves, but not link it. Yuji had more troubles finding the methods, but then... he has the experience. It was our last day on the island, Yuji was having a final attempt. It was already 5pm, everyone but him and Sam were already in the outskirts of the Island, preparing the bags. I thought, "right, Zembrocal won't be finished. Maybe that's good too, a challenge to motivate other climbers to come." And then, I got Yuji's text message: " I did it! Thank you team!" Magic moment.
How do you prepare mentally when climbing sport, trad, multi pitch? Is it possible for you to push as hard when trad as when sport climbing? Is pushing your mental limits something that's important to you? If so, why?
I usually say that what amazes me the most in competition is when a climber that is not the strongest on paper succeeds to win. Then you can be sure he won in his head. That's as well why Yuji has always been my climbing hero. Because the magic is all in his mind.
So, how do I prepare for any hard performance? I figured out, whether it is fear of competition failure, fear of hurting yourself, fear of the exposure, all of this thoughts, even if they are very different, at the end, are just thoughts that have no place in a performance. The best way to climb at your maximum (for me) is to focus on the movements, the rhythm, the climb. Even if you go for a dangerous trad route, there is no point being scared!
The decision of committing to a risky route, you took it beforehand, you calculated it, you accepted the risk. When you go for it, you have to find a way to leave the fear out. My way, as I have discovered, is always the same. I found it while I was exploring the vast area of competition mental preparation. I focus very close, on the pleasure, the luck I have to be there, and the movements.
You used to be a competition climber. Is this something you can see yourself doing again?
No. I loved it, competition made me grew up. But it's hard. I would say it's the hardest thing I have done in my life. And I have done it for 10 years. That's enough, no? Now, I am more than happy to compete for fun, like the Kalymnos North Face Festival next month. But serious competitions, this is behind me. Now I want to climb outdoors.
What are your plans for the future? More bouldering, sport, trad, multi pitch, alpine?
More bouldering, more sport, more trad, more multi-pitch. James and I are going for a road trip around eastern Europe, Greece, Turkey... until Christmas. We have barely any information, and guess what... it will be great!
Well, no plan is sometimes thebest plan, so good luck with that Caroline, and have fun doing it!