In 1985 Catherine Destivelle became the first woman to climb the 'magical' grade of 8a, with Fleur de Rocaille, at Mouries in the South of France. Mouries is a long, thin band of rock, stretching out over the Provençal land like the back-bone of some long forgotten dinosaur. Its short, highly technical slab climbs were the testing ground for top climbers in the mid 80's, and particularly suited the female morphology and style - Being light with small fingers makes it easier! Right?
Well, thats what some people said back in the day! The 80's was a big time of change in climbing. It was the era of serious training, and of sticky boots. In 10 years the limit moved from 8a, to 9a, it was an era of progression. Yet at the same time, the ideas about women and their place in the world were often sadly dated. "Women will never climb 8a, its physically impossible!" was an opinion held by more than one of the top Male climbers of the time. Then Catherine did.
There are defining moments in our history where somebody does something extraordinary that makes all the rest of stand up and take note. Is this one of those moments, or was it just part of the gradual progression of things. Women have gone on to climb incredibly hard routes, all around the world, in every single style, and Catherine herself has done things on the cliffs and mountains that are almost unimaginable to most people! Are these achievements remarkable because she is a woman, or are they just remarkable, full stop!
Today Catherine runs a beautiful publishing company for mountain literature, http://leseditionsdumontblanc.com based out of Chamonix, France. She makes a few public presentations each year, and Meeting Catherine is more inspiring than you could dare to hope, however if you can't get to see her in person, her autobiography, "Ascensions" is well worth a read.
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