Homage to Patrick Berhault
The beauty in the gesture

At the end of April 2004 an earthquake shook the mountain: the indestructible mountaineer Patrick Berhault was killed whilst attempting to link together the eighty-two 4000 m summits of the Alps. Four years later, two biographies provided the opportunity to evoke the life of this climber who became a star.

TEXT & PHOTOS : Guillaume Vallot

Not committed properly to the pace of a climb, a hold overly elusive to the hand and the void too empty under the sole, I say repeatedly to myself "Think of Berhault!" This little ritual phrase has become my magic formula. To think of Berhault is to remember an infinite grace in the gesture and an Olympian calm in the mountains. Why were there so many of us to feel this sense of emptiness when Patrick fell in the mists of Täschorn? Amongst the editorial staff of the magazine I was then working with, the testimonies were innumerable. They were often anonymous and sometimes came as a result of a mere fleeting contact. A word, a gesture, a smile, during a conference or at the foot of a cliff was enough to touch them. This, without doubt, is what is most memorable about him. Beyond his shooting star motor control for whom every climb was a joyful, dazzling beauty, Berhault put a quite striking energy and humanity into his relations with others.
Far from being an angel
In the summer works, we learn of his childhood in Nice, where mountaineering diverted him from the fate of a little rogue, and there was incredible intensity and variety in his training alongside his blond brother, Patrick Edlinger. We relive, incredulous and in great detail, the long list of exploits which have discretely forged the legend of one of the most amazing climbers of all time. We also learn that not everything was rosy. Like most climbers who are passionate about altitude and voids, he had doubts in the valleys and escaped to the mountains. In this way, his famous long haul rides - a style which raised a certain ideal through the ecology of the means and the level of difficulty – enabled him to escape the whims of love for a while. Berhault was no angel. On the other hand, he did become a great Guide in the infinitely varied sense of the term. Before being hired among the crème de la crème as a teacher-guide at the National Skiing and Mountaineering School of Chamonix where his students called him "Berobocop, he had already explored all the ways to share his passion.
Death trap
Technical adviser to manufacturers of mountaineering equipment and specialised magazines, an organiser of training sessions for the visually impaired, and actor in theatre and mountain cinema and a vertical dancer, he had developed an ambiguous link with the media for the purpose of sharing. Adapting to the mountain conditions was the basis for his safety. He also said of himself that he escaped the mortal danger of media pressure because, unlike others, he “let them come”. But towards the end, he let himself be surrounded by a not insignificant media machine. The testimonies come together on the immense fatigue which saw the creation in the spring of 2004 of the race against the clock imposed by the slogan "82 peaks in 82 days." This schedule was not part of the original plan at all, but after the headline was thought-up by a daily newspaper, this formula was imposed ... until the point where the weather got so bad that this became a death trap.
Finally, I want to tell you one of the anecdotes which abound amongst those who crossed paths with him. This is one of those small moments in life that seem insignificant at the time. In 2001, during production of his film, La Grande Cordée, there were times when he snapped at the editing table and called me to straightaway go with him to the climbing room so he could release his pent up emotions. The first time, in full view of the audience, he crossed the large several metre horizontal roof via a green 7c route... without setting foot on it once. Several rope parties looked up to admire this phenomenal feat. The route complete, flabbergasted, I said, "but you’re crazy!''; “And why am I crazy?"; "Because you didn’t use the footholds?" And in fits of laughter he said: "Well, I was lost with all the colours upside down, so it’s easier with just your hands." There you have it. That’s what Berhault was all about. For the rest of us, it would have been "easier" to put our feet everywhere. For him it was a different matter; it was about going to the height of his art and to do it without feet. And enjoy it too...
To be read:
- “Berhault”, by Michel Bricola and Dominique Potard, Guerins publications, Chamonix, 2008.
- “Patrick Berhault, un homme des cimes” (Patrick Berhault, a man of the summits), by Jean-Michel Asselin, Glénat publications, Grenoble, 2008.

Read the rest of the article in the Mountain Report magazine - Where to find ?