WHEN MAXIME TURGEON AND LOUIS-PHILIPPE MNARD stepped onto the Ruth Glacier in the spring of 2005, no one in the climbing community had ever heard of them. But the two Alaska first-timers, far from intimidated by the committing faces and treacherous weather, embarked on a climbing spree that culminated in an ascent touted as the best of the season: Spice Factory (AI 5 M7 5.10 R) on the north face of Mount Bradley.
“I was pretty surprised,” says Turgeon. “Suddenly everyone wanted to write articles about us, Grivel offered me a sponsorship, and I found out that we were being considered for the Piolet d’Or.”
Turgeon excels at ice climbing, though he has also been known to put up hard and runout rock routes throughout Québec and the Adirondacks. In Canada alone, the 26-year-old Montréal native, who graduated last year from the École de Technologie Supérieure with a degree in mechanical engineering, has pulled free winter ascents of Andromeda Strain (WI 4 5.9 A2) and Nightmare on Wolf Street (WI 6+ M7+) in the Rockies, and La Ruée vers l’Or (VI WI 6 M7+) and Le Mulot (WI 6+ R) in Québec. In Québec he also free-soloed La Pomme D’Or (V WI 5+), hiking the 26 mile approach. Recent ascents include The Real Big Drip (WI 7- M8) and Cryophobia (V WI5+ M8+) in January in the Canadian Rockies.
Turgeon returned to Alaska in 2006, teaming up first with Will Mayo on a new route on the south face of Mount Foraker, completed in a 40-hour push (WI 5+ M6 A0); next was a new route on the south face of Denali, the Canadian Direct (Alaska grade 6 AI4 M6 5.9), with “L.P.” Ménard.
More significant than the difficult ratings of his new routes is Turgeon’s refreshing style. He and Ménard arrived at the base of the south face of Denali without bolts, radio or detailed plans.
“We had a picture of the face and a map of Denali and just spotted what looked like a good route and went for it,” he says.
Most recently, Turgeon, again with Ménard, traveled to Pakistan for a two-month adventure in lost baggage, disastrous weather and open bivies. Nevertheless the duo attempted the futuristic North Face of Latok 1, reaching 17,400 feet, and the much-tried North Ridge, also to 17,400. Both times they turned back due to poor conditions.
Late one night at a hip, dimly lit café in downtown Montréal, with a bone-chilling autumn wind and light snow blowing outside, Turgeon appeared dressed in a T-shirt, a light soft-shell jacket over his arm. Ordering his favorite local brew, he casually answered every question in a charming yet typically rough Québécois-French accent.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO CLIMBING?
I used to ski a lot. Then a couple of years ago I went to Whistler with some friends and skied a bunch of powder, after which it was impossible to go back to skiing on the ice of the East. So I picked up ice climbing instead.
YOU HAVE A DEGREE IN MECHANICAL ENGINEERING. ARE YOU HOPING TO COMBINE A CAREER AS AN ENGINEER WITH CLIMBING?
It’s almost impossible to be a pure professional climber, so I have to do something to earn a living. I like working for short periods and then climbing. L.P. works full time, and so has less time to climb … but he’s got a sweet apartment and drives a new Outback, if you know what I mean. I still live with my parents!
WHAT’S UP WITH THE NAME SPICE FACTORY?
L.P. really likes spicy food so at the grocery store we bought only the spiciest stuff and brought some hot peppers as well. Then it just sort of became a theme for the trip … every hard pitch was “spicy.”
We hear you are into salsa dancing.
What can I say, I like to dance! I was always shy, but my friend just recently convinced me to start taking salsa courses with him. It’s a great way to meet people.
HOW DID YOU COME TO BE SPONSORED BY GRIVEL?
I wrote them a letter before my first trip to Alaska. They wrote back [with a polite “no thank you.”] After our ascent of Spice Factory, Jack Tackle and some other heavy hitters checked out our line from below and must have sent word to Mark [Twight, president of Grivel North America], because soon after I got back to Montréal there was a personal letter from Mark in French inviting me to come out and visit him in Salt Lake.
YOU AND WILL MAYO WERE THE LAST PEOPLE TO SEE KAREN MCNEILL AND SUE NOTT BEFORE THEY DISAPPEARED. DID THEIR ACCIDENT SCARE YOU?
For sure! Accidents can always happen; it is a fact in the mountains. Will and I had been climbing under a huge serac on Foraker and the whole thing collapsed just after we got off our route. Right after that we ran into Sue and Karen. On Denali too, L.P. and I had quite a few close calls descending after the south-face route. But none of this really changes how I think about climbing.
WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS?
I’m gonna spend the winter in the Canadian Rockies and then return to Montréal. L.P. and I are, of course, planning on returning to Pakistan. Originally in 2006 we wanted to attempt the North Face of K6 but were denied the permit, so we’re hoping it will work next time around.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON STEPHEN HARPER?
THE PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA!
Oh, him. … I don’t know much about politics. I just love to climb.