Ordinary mountaineering

Written by: Eliott Nicot



Time to read 4 min

From the first big climbs to ultra-fast extreme performances through the explosion of the ski industry in 1970, faces and summits have seen a large number of people with diverse and varied states of mind pass by.

What if by 2024, we were at a turning point? Just as the first conquest of Mt Blanc in 1786 launched the beginning of modern mountaineering, could our generation's encounter with the consequences of unsustainable exploitation of the mountains be the trigger for a new era? Could it be that of sobriety which does not taint performance, that of a more authentic relationship with and less consumption of our environment?

Mountaineering is intrinsically a sport of exploration which has historically given rise to permanent one-upsmanship towards the conquest of new summits, the opening of new faces and routes. Inscribing his name, planting the flag of a nation have punctuated the writing of an extraordinary history of mountaineering. The emergence of social networks and then their omnipresence have had the effect not only of the reproduction of these behaviors but their acceleration among an ever-wider audience. As for the athletes, faced with the difficulty of continuing to be part of this history due to an Alpine massif covered on all its sides, their areas of conquest are more and more distant and their exploits oversized. Finally, the great accessibility of high mountain environments due to the expansion of ski lifts, pushes towards practices focused on the search for the extraordinary, emblematic of consumption in a society which never stops accelerating. However, the quest for extraordinary sensations remains the very essence of mountaineering, which therefore requires rethinking the conditions for its exercise.

Moreover, a new wind seems to be rising on the Alpine summits: what if mountaineering and its associated practices were evolving? Indeed at the time of the climate assessment, like a light rising breeze, a real awareness seems to be in the air. This state of awakening must today be associated with a different education in technical and sporting performance, as well as our relationship to the joy of being in the mountains.

Firstly, the current conception of performance, based on the accomplishment of feats which free themselves as much as possible from slow times perceived as useless and tedious, must evolve. Thus, if sporting performance included in the imagination of practitioners the art and manner of the approach, then part of the problem of overconsumption would be resolved and the rising breeze would evolve into laminar wind.

Secondly, wouldn't the end of exploitation of the mountain environment come in the form of a voluntary and sincere approach to returning to basics? Each at our level, from the expert mountaineer to the beginner, from the contemplative hiker to the soloist, let us be convinced of the similarity of the object of our efforts: access to happiness and the exhilaration of life would be our essential. It would then be appropriate for everyone to become intoxicated with long paths and times, with lights and colors, with aesthetics and balances, with summits and wide-open spaces.

Charles Baudelaire exclaimed: “ Get drunk, get drunk constantly! Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish .” If this is essential to our inner balance, there is however a nuance: realizing that the state of happiness and lightness can exist outside of the patterns of something extra-ordinary allows us to convince ourselves to slow down the pace. Because to be satisfied with less is to love what we have, it is to feel the details of life that emerge over the silence found during a slowed practice. However, this state of mind is not incompatible with the achievement of technical routes and mountain feats. The mountaineer's sensitivity to appreciate what surrounds him, the slowness of his approach towards his objective, or the ascent of less distant routes do not taint his reason for being, nor harm his surpassing oneself or to the need for exploration.

With the firm intention of making a journey with different flavors, guided by the idea of ​​a revisited performance, we can start from lower down, take the time to camp, enter the world of the high mountains as the gentle evolution of the landscapes. We can also travel by bike and let ourselves be lulled by the mechanical clicking of the bearings, or explore routes closer to home. Rather than continuing to seek the extraordinary in our climbs, perhaps it would be time to contemplate the infra-ordinary. As Georges Perec wrote, “ Newspapers talk about everything, except the day laborer. Newspapers bore me, they teach me nothing. [...] What is really happening, what we are experiencing, the rest, everything else, where is it? “Part of the solution is certainly found in what we experience every day, in what we call the banal, the ordinary. However, there is nothing banal about our mountain adventures. If we learned to love the infra-ordinary in more detail, perhaps we would manage to get drunk more easily, and thus better reconcile our mountain practices with respect for the environment. Limit the multiplication of the extra-ordinary to appreciate the riches of the infra-ordinary.

However, while almost all practitioners are aware of the various problems linked to mountain exploitation, many rely on the actions of the State and companies to resolve them. For their part, the latter place the responsibilities on consumers whose behaviors and demands change little. In this triangle of inaction, one might think that the spearhead of this evolution would be the leading figures of mountaineering who would redefine the notion of performance. However, the real power for change is in the hands of everyone, the everyday mountain people, this powerful heart still invisible today which can and must be at the initiative to bring mountain sports into the mainstream. in a new era. In other words, it is the ordinary mountaineers, those we don't talk about enough, who also hold the keys to this change.

Learn more about ordinary mountaineering and sobriety in the high mountains

Directed by Julien Geay and Eliott Nicot, the documentary “De-escalation” sheds light on the dangers of overcrowding in the mountains.

Eliott Nicot mountaineering

Eliott Nicot

A military guide graduated from the EMHM in Chamonix, Eliott works as a journalist, videographer and photographer. Founder of a mountain film festival, he is passionate about mountaineering, paragliding and skiing. Up there, Eliott likes to create, tell stories, and pass on messages.

His portrait