When Free Solo won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Alex Honnold shocked the world by showing how to solo on the rocks. But out there, in the wild spaces of Canada, there was a young unnoticed guy who was pushing the limit even further. Marc-André Leclerc completed the first winter solo ascents of the Torre Egger in Patagonia and the Emperor Face of Mount Robson, climbing without ropes on mixed terrain (ice, snow, and rock). With his achievements and climbing philosophy, he rewrote the story of alpinism. Leclerc died at only 26, during an expedition in Alaska in 2018. The Alpinist documentary feature tells his story.
A wild child, an elusive climber
Marc-André Leclerc was a hyperactive child diagnosed with ADHD. He spent his childhood wandering around the mountains and was schooled at home by his mom Michelle. Once out of high-school, Marc-André moved to Squamish, the center of the Canadian climbing universe, living in a tent or in a stairwell. He experimented with everything, including drugs. But when he realized they could stand between him and his passion, he cleaned himself up and became a professional climber.
When he reached his first big exploits, the world didn’t even know his name. He simply didn’t care if anyone was aware of his successes. To him, the experience was everything. Lonely, dangerous, pure. For a long time, Marc-André didn’t even have a phone. The Alpinist‘s crew of filmmakers gave him one, but sometimes he was able to disappear into the mountains for months, creating all kinds of troubles concerning the shooting. The craziest thing about Marc-André solos was that he climbed on-sight: meaning that he had never been on that route before.
The Emperor Face: Mount Robson
In 2016, Marc-André had disappeared from the radar until the crew discovered he was climbing in the Ghost Wilderness, Canada. They had to contact a local filmmaker to track down Marc-André and his fiancè and adventure partner Brette Harrington.
They knew he was planning something big, but they couldn’t imagine it was the first solo ascent of the Emperor Face on Mount Robson (3,954-meter-height). 1,500 meters of mixed climbing, crevasses, and bad weather. Marc-André followed the “Infinite Patience” route. A legendary objective, even with a rope. Except he didn’t use it.
The harder peak of Patagonia
In September 2016, only four months after Emperor Face, Marc-André Leclerc was headed to Patagonia. Again, he was raising the bar. He wanted to do the first winter solo ascent on Torre Egger (2685mt) and, as always, wanted to do it on sight.
Torre Egger is probably the most difficult peak in Patagonia. In winter, the conditions are even harder: high hazard of avalanches, horrific weather. Because of that, his first attempt ended at only four pitches from the top, where he set a campfire. He had to abandon the mission. Some days after, Leclerc found out another window weather. The only problem was that he would have to do it all in one day. A crazy task. He succeeded in the ascent and came back home alive.
Searching for limits
Marc-André Leclerc is the last heir of a revolution that changed the climbing world. From the first large-scale expeditions of the early 20th century, with lots of equipment and manpower, by the 1950s climbers have gradually evolved: smaller teams using less gear. Climbing harder, climbing faster. It was not only about getting to the top of the mountain but how to get there. And eventually, the ultimate experience of freedom was reached. Climbing alone, without a rope: the state of the art of alpinism. The Free Solo.
The death of Marc-André Leclerc
In April 2018, Marc-André was climbing in Alaska together with his partner Ryan Johnson. They reached the narrow summit on the North Face of the Mendenhall Towers, following a new route. Once at the top, they sent texts and video messages to their relatives. But by the next morning, no one heard from them. A storm started raging in the area. For days the rescue services couldn’t send a helicopter.
In the end, they found traces of their bodies covered by an avalanche. Marc-André Leclerc died at 26. He lived accepting risks that most people consider unacceptable. An all-in on his greatest passion: climbing.