From Védrines to Lafaille, the new generation is shaking up mountaineering codes

The sun rises gently over the Vallée Blanche, famous for its many skiers who try their hand at a guided day of glacier skiing. From the Requin refuge, in the heart of the Mont-Blanc mif (Haute-Savoie), Benjamin Védrines quietly drinks his coffee in the middle of The North Face base camp, which welcomes apprentice mountaineers from the XLR P for two days ( the brand’s mountaineering program) eager to progress alongside some of the best mountaineers in the country.

At 30, Benjamin Védrines is part of a new wave of French mountaineering, a generation which has rediscovered media coverage in recent years, thanks in particular to the performance of one of the best climbers of the moment, the Frenchman Charles Dubouloz. The last remarkable achievement of Védrines, with his climbing partner Léo Billon, a winter in Gousseault-Desmaison on the north face of the Grandes Jores in 15 hours from Chamonix, moreover echoes the latest feat of Dubouloz, with his no less talented acolytes Symon Welfringer and Clovis Paulin, also in the Grandes Jores, also at a run in a committed route of the famous North face, the Directissime de la Walker.

“We ume today to talk about our fears. Not to hide our emotions. And take them on. »

Because this is the main niche, but not the only one, which drives Benjamin Védrines and many mountaineers of this new generation: to overcome the greatest difficulties of the mountain ranges in record time. It is with this same objective that he went to Broad Peak (8,051 m, Pakistan) last year, with the key to an ascent record: 7h28′ from base camp to the summit.

“I’ve always had this approach to the mountains where I told myself that speed was synonymous with safety and I still consider it todayexplains Védrines. It’s obvious to me: the less time you spend on a face, the more likely you are to enjoy good weather. You suffer less fatigue too, slowness is a vicious circle. Not to mention the objective risks of the mountain that you avoid by going fast. That said, this approach is not always the one I choose. Sometimes I like to take my time a little. Or, at the very least, spending time in a long race but still trying to go fast. What will best characterize me, I would sum it up as follows: a very minimalist mountaineering, as refined as possible. »

Charles Dubouloz accompanied by Symon Welfringer and Clovis Paulin.  (DR)

Charles Dubouloz accompanied by Symon Welfringer and Clovis Paulin. (DR)

But is there a common point between Védrines and other strong climbers of the new wave? Mastery of new tools. “It allows us to gain in efficiency and speed in difficult routes, he continues. In particular, our advanced practice of dry tooling (the use of ice axes and crampons in rocky routes) allows you to make hard mixed routes (ice and rock) much more efficiently than previous generations. » And the mountaineer continues: “We also have new toys, in particular the paraglider whose lightness of the sails today greatly facilitates many projects. »

Pasts of competitors, alpine skiing and climbing

It is time for the mountaineer to equip himself. We enter the shelter. In the early morning and in the middle of winter in the Mont-Blanc mif, there are no tourists or hikers ping through. We especially come across experienced climbers, the Pou brothers who have come straight from Spain and are leaving for a surrounding mixed route or even Fred Degoulet, the day before a daring winter attempt on the Gousseault-Desmaison route on the north face of the Grandes Jores, with his companion Thomas Auvaro. Closed face and concentrated mine: the stakes of the next day are high. But we also notice young faces with sparkling eyes and a more pleasant attitude: it must be said that their day will be less engaged.

Tom Lafaille, son of the famous and late mountaineer Jean-Christophe Lafaille, is one of them. His chubby face contrasts with the chiseled faces of the mountain dwellers of the great stories. But make no mistake about it: his route today allows him to climb roped up to the strongest. In the high mountains, the young man has already scored some major achievements, including a fine ascent in the Walker point of the north face of the Grandes Jores in 2020. But Tom Lafaille is not content with climbing: the young aspirant A 21-year-old Chamonix guide descends the steepest slopes of Mont-Blanc alongside French mountain skiing legend Vivian Bruchez, his mentor.

La Blanche de Peuterey on the North face“an original descent, very rarely repeated”, according to the young mountaineer. “Les Vires du Jardin” on the Aiguille d’Argentière, “skiing suspended in the void, hard to find more committed”. And especially the “Bruchez-Lafaille” descent on the Aiguille du Goûter, named after their two surnames, “a jewel of aestheticism that certainly knows very few equivalents in terms of scale”.

“Today, we congratulate you when you manage to do great things without taking excessive risks. »

Tom Lafaille’s background is another common trait of the new generation. Alternately a competitor in alpine skiing and then climbing, the young man is above all an athlete with solid fundamentals on skis, acquired between the poles and a high level on the rock (8th degree in climbing). He is also used to training rigorously.

We run into Védrines again, who put on their ski boots to bring lucky fans of the XLR P program to the mountains. We challenge him. What about risk taking? Fear in the mountains? Do you have the same apprehension?

“There is always a lot of commitment, like setting off on a hard route without taking a bivouac for example, confident in our speed of execution, concludes Benjamin Védrines. But I have the feeling that there is a less brutal confrontation with risk. There is also less competition between peers. In the evening, in the refuges, between guides, the discussion has changed. We no longer look each other in the eye. We ume today to talk about our fears. Not to hide our emotions. And take them on. Before, in the war of egos, you had to be the strongest, almost at all costs. Today, the solo is no longer valued as much. Today, we congratulate you when you manage to do great things without taking excessive risks. » A change that seems to go in the direction of the evolution of a younger generation that is more responsible and more in tune with its emotions.

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