Wednesday, 17 February 2016 12:07

Catherine Destivelle: Rock Queen reviewed

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Originally published in Paris with the title "Ascensions", Rock Queen is the English translation of the autobiography of one of climbing's most iconic figures of the last half a century.

Rock QueenThe original "this girl can", Catherine Destivelle could be described as the most accomplished female climber ever but to do so would is some ways be a disservice; her achievements and public recognition went far beyond the limitations of gender with one in every two people in France knowing who she was in the 1980's. Her trailblazing ability to attract sponsors laid the groundwork for today's sponsored athlete while together with American Lyne Hill she effectively created the sport of competitive climbing which is hoping for Olympic representation today.

To anyone even remotely interested in climbing in the 1980's and 90's just the mention of her name will instantly bring a mental image of Catherine Destivelle adorning a poster, magazine cover or TV image. She was the first real "face" of modern climbing, but being the first wasn't easy at a time when many in the sport weren't ready for commercialization. In Rock Queen the author describes the birth of sponsored athletes and competition climbing from a unique perspective but the book is far more than a set of timelines and route descriptions. While the behind the scenes insights into those early competitions are illuminating and the descriptions of iconic 1st ascents later in the book are riveting, the real joy of reading Rock Queen is the mental processes going on inside her head.

Rock Queen deals with the emotions of climbing as well as , if not better than, any other climbing book I've read. Fear, insecurity and a need to control are met head on and expressed in a way anyone who's stepped onto a rock face can understand. The book opens with the author falling into an Antarctic crevasse and an Ogre inspired escape, making the Intrduction by Doug Scott even more fitting, before looking at her introduction to the outdoors as a child. The early years as a teenager first on the boulders of Fontainbleu, then on illicit weekends in the Alps, laid the foundations of a career that first dominated competition climbing then redefined the limits of female climbing and mountaineering both in the Alps and the Himalayas.

Her accounts of climbing the Aiguille du Dru, soloing the north face of the Eiger, the Grandes Jorasses and the Matterhorn in winter are punctuated with expressions of her inner thoughts and feelings in a way that puts the reader there with her. An amazing ability to compartmentilize her life sees the paradox of a climber who dominated the competition scene she never wanted to be a part of and a person who would dismiss the hardships of a gruelling ascent in a single sentence to the waiting journalist yet could burst into uncontrollable tears at any moment halfway up a mountain.

As a historical record Rock Queen gives an invaluable insight into the early days of competition climbing and sponsored athletes while the descriptions of the headline ascents of the 90's are both gripping as narratives and invaluable as records. Where Rock Queen really makes an impression, however, is the way in which it delivers lessons we can all learn from. Unrelentingly confident in her own abilities from an early age she remains very humble, obsessed with safety she epitomised the public's perception of danger for 2 decades, and driven by extrems she finds balance.

Read 951 times Last modified on Tuesday, 22 November 2016 22:26