“Snowbird!” he said with delight.
I knew that face. That waving, sunlit wheatfield of hair. Who didn’t? Patrick Edlinger was strolling along the broad and grassy top of the high crag near Gap, France. Mike and I had just finished a several-pitch route—a 5.12a that was, typically for the cliff, sustained and with spaced gear (in fear, I’d hung)—at the grand cliff of Céüse, central France.
The friendly exclamation was occasioned by my head. Headgear. In the slamming sunshine, I was wearing a white baseball cap (actually a visor, though I can hardly bear to admit it, ever since Jonathan Thesenga derided those as “Climbing Deal Breakers”), with a Snowbird insignia.
Our faces lit up. Practically capering, Mike and I told Edlinger we’d been there when he won the first climbing World Cup in the United States, the only entrant to go over what then seemed a gargantuan overhang up on the side of the Cliff Lodge, Snowbird Ski Resort, Utah. It was Edlinger’s biggest win during what turned out to have been a surprisingly short competition career.
I know that only because I have just been reading a beautifully written retrospective feature on Edlinger, who died suddenly a year and a half ago at only 52. The story, to run in our next issue, is by the English climber/author Ed Douglas, who several years ago brought us a haunting feature on Kurt Albert.
It’s hard to overstate Edlinger’s importance to the sport. Films of him climbing and soloing in Buoux and the Verdon, especially one in 1982 showing a moment where he, ropeless, pauses on a roof to hang by one hand and chalk up, took his image worldwide.
I remember seeing a young male American climber or two at the time, thankfully roped, suddenly hanging by one hand to chalk up, especially in the presence of a camera.
Edlinger was an ideal candidate for film, because he had a particularly beautiful style of climbing. And was himself a lanky beauty. The tousled hair helped, too.
His presence helped popularize and legitimize sport climbing, ushering in the inspired and youthful masses. But he not only did the hardest sport climbs of his time, he climbed everything: from mountain routes in the Alps to many trad and desert routes, as well as hard boulder problems, with repeated visits to the United States.
This week I have perused many photos of him, especially those in the 300-page biography Patrick Edlinger
(Guérin Editions) by Jean-Michel Asselin, with whom Edlinger worked right up to his sudden, unexpected death.
I was struck by how few of the images show Edlinger smiling.
Patrick seemed well-liked in America after his visits, and while here he caused a sensation, both by doing the hardest routes quickly and through his persona and retinue—traveling with a personal photographer and dazzling girlfriend. He was downright otherworldly. He remains, especially here, enigmatic.
In his own country, Edlinger was separated geographically from many others of the top climbers, and he shot so high so fast into the firmament that it was perhaps bound to create rivalry. His nicknames Le Blond—and Dieu (God)—weren’t always intended too nicely, and his brooding photos probably didn’t help. In them he can look too
soulful. Self-conscious. But the era, of the first climbing professionalism, was redolent with photo-readiness, especially among the open-minded Europeans. And Edlinger’s image blew up when he was only 24.
“Your stardom overwhelmed you,” Antoine Le Ménestrel wrote on ukclimbing.com upon Edlinger’s death. “You were sensitive, and I admire your courage.”
Ed Douglas’s piece explores both Edlinger’s great and richly varied climbing career, and eventual isolation and depression. When the early reports came out about Edlinger’s sudden death, many thought it was suicide.
When any life ends early and sadly, you wonder if, and hope, it was meaningful.
Patrick had a multitude of successes, but I think of Céüse, to which he turned his attention as he segued out of competitions, as one of the best. For all the adulation Edlinger received, as Marc Le Ménestrel wrote on ukclimbing.com, he was dismayed when the two of them went climbing at Fontainebleau and immediately attracted 30 watchers. “Patrick, who hated it (he enjoyed quietness),” Marc wrote, “tried to be as discreet as possible.”
Edlinger put up line upon line at Céüse, made it a destination, created and bequeathed exhilaration and athleticism in that quiet, windy setting at the end of an hour-long uphill hike. Many climbers have called it the most beautiful crag in the world. I think of it as a monument.
While many of Edlinger’s ascents in Europe are recorded and will be cited in our feature, information on his climbs in the United States is harder to come by; below is a draft compilation. Please make any corrections or add any information. Readers out there will surely have gems of knowledge.
Edlinger always liked the United States, and he made many trips here. He especially loved Hueco Tanks.
In an obituary in Gripped
, Timy Fairfield listed free soloes of the Naked Edge
in Eldo and Asteroid Crack
at Joshua Tree among Edlinger’s climbs. In correspondence, Fairfield recalls that he received the Naked Edge
info from the now-deceased Charlie Fowler. If either or both of these soloes occurred, does anyone know when?
Edlinger did an early double-dyno boulder problem in Joshua Tree in 1985. Anyone know its name?
And a highball boulder problem in Hueco Tanks called High Pro Glow
• In Colorado, Edlinger onsighted Genesis
(5.12c/d) and redpointed Rainbow Wall
(5.13a) in Eldorado, and made essentially a one-day ascent of Sphinx Crack
(5.13b) in the South Platte. He did it in less than 24 hours, having arrived in late afternoon and gotten very high on his first try, then sent it his second try, the next morning.
• In New York, he flashed Gravity’s Rainbow
(both 5.12+), and Intruders
(5.12d/13a), the Shawangunks.
• In California, he nearly flashed the testpiece Grand Illusion (5.13c), Tahoe area. Asked by e-mail how many tries it took, Gérard Kosicki, a photographer who worked with him for 10 years, replies, “I'd say on the third? He was using for the first time some hand-made prototype ‘quickies’ we just bought in Yosemite … and was afraid none of them would work in case he jumped very hard!” Kosicki calls the effort “maybe the most impressive performance of our 1985 tour-book!” Edlinger onsighted Equinox (5.12c), Joshua Tree.
• While making the film "Arrowhead", Edlinger climbed at Smith Rock, Oregon, doing many 5.13s though he was thwarted on White Wedding, a 5.14a. Recalls Russ Clune, an American who traveled and climbed with him, “He worked it a couple of days and then one morning sent the crux, only to have a hold blow on him at a rest stance. Lots of French curse words….”
Says Clune of Edlinger’s visits, “He pretty much hiked the routes and he was a damn good boulderer.”
• Edlinger flashed When Legends Die (5.13b), Hueco Tanks.
• Flashed Superfresh (5.12d) in the Flatirons, Boulder.
This clip is the classic newscast on the 1988 World Cup at Snowbird, Utah. Patrick Edlinger appears at 1:15. Also see Christian Griffith at 1:18, Ron Kauk—taking a mondo fall—at 1:21, and Marc Le Ménestrel in an awful one at 1:29. A teenage Scott Franklin focuses, 2:46. The big daddy fall of all is by Dan Goodwin in the last seconds of the clip, at 5:00. Consider it a bonus Weekend Whipper, on Tuesday.