[Photo] Matt Van Biene
Those who’ve been following the Patagonia season this year may have noticed one name popping up over and over, attached to big news out of the Chalten Massif: Marc-Andre Leclerc, a 22-year-old climber, known for his free climbing, ice climbing and free soloing, from Squamish, British Columbia. From January 18 through 22, he and Colin Haley made the first ascent of La Travesia del Oso Buda, aka the “Reverse Torre Traverse,” covering rock and mixed ground to enchain Cerro Torre, Torre Egger, Punta Herron and Aguja Standhardt. From February 2 through 3, he and Haley made the first integral ascent of Cerro Torre’s north face. And on February 21, Leclerc made the first solo (self-belayed, in spots) of Cerro Torre’s Corkscrew (5.10d A1 90 degrees, 4,000′).
In light of these ascents, Leclerc’s many solos in his stomping grounds of Squamish and a recent multiday ice binge in the Canadian Rockies, Leclerc has received the 2015 Guy Lacelle Pure Spirit Award. Named for the late Canadian ice climber, who perished in a fall in 2009 at the Bozeman Ice Festival, the award is given to a climber who, according to its organizers, “embodies the spirit of integrity, humility and joy that Guy brought to his climbs.” (The award is a joint venture between Arc’teryx, La Sportiva and Petzl.) Leclerc has an unshakable love of climbing and an unassuming mastery of many mountain genres, as Sonnie Trotter explains, “He’s definitely got the spirit. Fun to climb with, inspiring, young and open-minded.”
[Photo] Marc-Andre Leclerc
Alpinist caught up with Leclerc, back home in Squamish from Argentina, for a few questions about his recent climbs and his approach to soloing.
Alp: Tell me about your recent solo of the Northeast Buttress of Mt. Slesse [in British Columbia].
ML: Slesse was awesome. Climbing it in winter is one of those things I had wanted to do “in theory” for ages. I actually wanted to find a partner and try either Navigator Wall or East Pillar Direct, one of the hard lines, but no one jumped on board so I went alone.
There was one section on the Northeast Buttress where I was not sure if the compact granite would be friendly to solo with crampons. It’s a series of slabby ramps that bypasses a steep section midway. That whole section was bomber 75-degree ice and neve; I was cruising and psyched.
Higher up, the rock changes and is better for crampons, but there was still some really exposed and tricky mixed terrain that demanded a lot of attention.
Alp: You attempted Aconcagua, correct? How did it go?
I went to Aconcagua to see how I reacted to the altitude, and if all went well I wanted to climb the South Face. I learned a lot about acclimatization, but I ended up getting a bad stomach infection and leaving the area. It took me a solid three weeks to recover, but there were lingering effects for much longer.
Alp: How does soloing connect you with the vertical world (versus climbing with a partner)?
ML: When I’m alone, my brain goes into a hard-working mode, where I’m always problem-solving and thinking ahead, no slacking off. With a partner, you share the difficulties and make team decisions. I find that my mind performs really well when I’m alone because there is no one else there to pick up the slack when I start feeling tired, so it just stays turned on.
Alp: How do you select the routes that you’ll solo?
ML: When I look at a mountain or climbing area, there are always routes that look rad that I would like to try with a partner, and there are routes that look rad that seem ideal to solo. The Reverse [Torre] Traverse and North Face of Cerro Torre were both sick lines that I wanted to do with a buddy. But the Corkscrew looked totally “solo-able” from my perspective, so I just wanted to do it in that style because it would be an awesome experience.
Alp: We’ve done quite a few interviews–from talking about your Squamish solos, Canadian Rockies solos and your recent solo of the Corkscrew. What do you tap into when you’re soloing complex routes that require a mix of free, aid and ice?
ML: I like soloing complex routes because I feel it’s a good way to actually use a wide variety of my skills to accomplish a single task. I’ve spent all this time learning to climb rock, ice, aid, etc., [so] why not choose an inspiring objective that will require all of it combined? I used to practice using hooks and dry tooling on the bricks on our chimney when I was fourteen; it’s cool to be doing it on the side of Cerro Torre eight years later and see the progression.
Alp: Speaking of the prize you just won, has Guy Lacelle been an influence?
ML: I only learned about Guy Lacelle after his tragic accident, but, yes, he became an inspiration for my ice climbing right away. I’ve had a lot of influences while growing up climbing. Reinhold Messner has always been an influence; Guy Edwards and Dougal Haston are a couple of others who come to mind, but there are lots.