Catherine Destivelle is a legend of climbing. Making multiple first ascents and paving the way for female climbing in the ‘80s and ‘90s, she continues to inspire and encourage climbing at all levels and abilities through her talks and books.
Born in 1960 in French Algeria, Catherine cut her teeth bouldering in Fontainebleau when she joined the Club Alpin Francais after moving to Paris as a teenager with her parents and 5 siblings. As the daughter of an amateur climber and mountaineer, the rocks ran in her blood. From these beginnings, she moved into route climbing in Burgundy, and alpinism in the Massif des Écrins. In 1985, she began a full time climbing career after working as a stunt women in films and television programmes. For five years, she worked the competition circuit, before returning to her passion of alpinism in 1990. With the first female ascent of Fleur de Rocaille, Moriès (7c+/8a) in 1985 and first female ascent of Chouca, Buoux (8a+) in 1988 under her belt, over the next 10 years Catherine was prominent in the female first ascent scene.
Her achievements include:
- A new route up the west face of the Drus in an 11-day solo climb, 1991
- 17 hour solo climb up the north face of the Eiger, 1992
- Winter solo climb of the Bonatti route on the North Face of the Matterhorn, 1994
- South West Face of Shishapangma in Tibet, and an attempt up the South Face of Annapurna, 1995
- Solo climb of Old Man of Hoy, Orkney Islands, 1997
- First Female solo ascent of Direct North Face of Cima Grande di Laveredo in the Dolomites, 1999
In 1996, Catherine went on an expedition to Antarctica with Érik Decamp (who later became Catherine’s husband and father to her son Victor). Making a first ascent of Peak 4111 in the Ellsworth Mountains, the expedition ended when Catherine fell 20 metres (66ft) from the summit, suffering a compound fracture on her leg.
Following her accident, Catherine cut back on her climbing career and instead began to focus on lecturing and writing. Authoring and co-authoring more than 6 titles, she became a publisher at Les Editions du Mont Blanc in 2011 specialising in mountaineering and alpinism.
Having spoken at the Women’s Climbing Symposium in 2015, Catherine’s achievements have not faded, and her impact continues to be felt. Catherine was one of the key idols that inspired Shauna Coxsey to get into climbing, and it’s hard to imagine what the UK climbing scene would be like without her influence.
Most recently Catherine has branched out into publishing, with the book The 9th Grade: 150 years of Free climbing showing just how far women and men have come in free climbing in the last 150 years. By buying the book you’re getting your hands on a beautiful piece of well crafted climbing literature, as well as supporting Catherine in her publishing career.
Catherine’s websites a source of lots more information: www.catherinedestivelle.com