Marc-André Leclerc wanted to be brave in a world in which he did not fit. Diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, he could not choose many forms of expression that would allow him to demonstrate his worth, but at the age of eight he began to read adventure books, mountain books too, and decided that he would be a mountaineer. In her case, it was the only open door: a world without rules, without limits, wild, a world in which she did not need anyone and loneliness could be her best friend.
In March 2018 he died in the company of Ryan Johnson, both caught in an avalanche when they were descending the first ascent of the Mendelhall Towers, in Alaska. Leclerc was 25 years old and hardly known, but it can be said that decades will pass until a mountaineer is able to match what this Canadian achieved alone: the emperor’s slope on Mount Robson, the Egger Tower in winter in Patagonia, Cerro Torre in 18 hours round trip … and countless first ascents in full solo (without ropes or harnesses) or strung on rock, ice or mixed.
I didn’t even have a phone
Interestingly, the best mountaineer of the century had dodged all the radars. His brief passage through this world, however, leaves an astonishing intensity masterfully collected in a documentary entitled The Alpinist (can be seen on the Filmin.es platform) and directed by Peter Mortimer, the same creator of Valley Uprising Y The Dawn Wall. The same thing happened to Mortimer as to everyone who began to hear about Leclerc: they read one of his ascent in Patagonia and were hallucinating, but the more they searched the less they found. It’s not that he didn’t use social media: he didn’t even have a phone. But it was clear that he was a gifted man capable of climbing any remote wall.
Alex Honnold himself recognizes that he remains as an apprentice by his side. And is that although both climbed without rope, their motivations, the field of play, their philosophies of life had nothing to do with much that their beginnings were similar: two guys who did not fit into any mold.
Today, climbers and mountaineers have reached the status of athletes, mass characters and, consequently, climbing is experiencing unprecedented growth. Honnold has an Oscar and is one of its greatest exponents. Ueli Steck was. You don’t just have to be very good on the ground. It has to be especially when it comes to knowing how to sell. But Marc André-Leclerc seemed like the missing link between the generation of hippies and misfits of the seventies, people who only wanted one thing in life, climbing, and the present, much more focused on making a career and encouraged by their sponsors. to be seen on social networks.
His ability to live according to the basic need to climb led him to live in an apartment stairwell, or in a tent, hitchhike to get around or take refuge in the forests of Squamish, a landmark of the world. western Canada. With no money to travel, he began filling the gaps between climbs with cheap drugs: he was quickly lost until another climber, Brette Harrington, rescued him. She reminded him of everything she loved, and because she was also an exceptional climber, they soon began to travel the globe, hand in hand, from wall to wall.
Marc-André Leclerc only went to the mountains to live an adventure, to enjoy the simplicity of moving without pursuing any sporting challenge, no recognition, no reward except communion with the environment and with his interior. To live a life as full as it is simple, basic. It could have been famous; he could have made a lot of money; He could have puffed out his chest, asserted himself, shouted to the world how exceptional his ascents were. He could but didn’t want to, because it didn’t even occur to him to weigh these possibilities.
What for, if she was already happy? Less is more, he understood. His example is a breath of fresh air, as unexpected as it is necessary in an activity that increasingly shows more posture and false modesty than authentic passion. It will be necessary to search far from Instagram what really matters in the world of mountaineering. The images that open the documentary or those of his climb up the Stanley Headwall are as beautiful as they are chilling. Hours pass and one can still hear the sound of their ice axes and crampons on the rock and feel the fragility of those anchors and imagine the serenity and dexterity required to not fail when the rope is dispensed with.
Today, only a few will remember Marc-André Leclerc, so it is fortunate that the documentary The alpinist be on the screens. His creators persecuted him for two years to be able to film him and when they were finishing editing his work, it passed away. The film leaves an aftertaste of melancholy and not precisely because it includes his death and the last testimony of his relatives: it is Leclerc’s mettle, his childish smile, his genuine closeness, which makes one wonder how much he had to suffer until he found his way, when his mother took him out of school to teach him biology or geology outdoors.
His story is much more than just another mountaineering story: it is a matter of commitment to life, with a much simpler life that will inspire some and disconcert many. But thanks to this work, Leclerc will not be forgotten, not only because in his short existence he was able to redefine the limits of what is possible in the world of mountaineering, but also because of his extraordinary ability to be happy with what is fair and extract from the mountains the energy needed to face life. It is enough to see, in the documentary, his expression dancing a hula-hoop to understand that he was at peace.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.