A Legend in Her Own Time

“I always follow my instincts and they rarely let me down.” Is it instinct alone that brought her this far this fast, with many dazzling successes and the good sense to abandon the occasional project?

Catherine Destivelle was born and raised in Paris and was introduced to climbing at a young age in the Forêt de Fontainebleau on the outskirts of the city. By the time she was 15 she could climb the toughest rocks. At 17 she was spending her weekends scaling the highest peaks in the Alps. Around the age of 20, she settled down to a career as a physiotherapist, but after five years the lure of the mountains proved too much and she started competing in international climbing competitions. From 1985 to 1988 she was considered the world’s best woman climber. In 1990 she made her mountaineering comeback with a series of incredible climbs, including solo winter ascents of the three most legendary Alpine walls – the Eiger, the Grandes Jorasses and the Matterhorn – making her the outstanding female climber of all time.

Notable Achievements

  • In 1990 she free-climbed the Nameless Tower in Pakistan and solo climbed the Bonatti Pillar on Les Drus. In June 1991, she opened a new route up the famous west face of the Drus, during a remarkable 11-day solo-climb.
  • On the 10th March 1992, it took her 17 hours to solo the north face of the Eiger (3970 metres), in the Bernese Oberland, a mythical rock-face, regarded as the most fatal in the Alps. During the same year, she attempted the huge Latok in Pakistan. In 1993, she achieved the winter solo of the North Face of the Grandes Jorasses, and attempted the West Pillar of the Makalu in Nepal. In 1994, she soloed in winter the Bonatti route on the North Face of the Matterhorn.
  • In 1995 she climbed the South West Face of Shishapangma in Tibet, and attempted the South Face of Annapurna. The year 1996 was a break in her activity, because of an accident in Antarctica, but she recovered very quickly.
  • In early summer 1999, Catherine climbed the Direct North Face of Cima Grande di Lavaredo in the Italian Dolomites. Catherine was again the first woman for this solo ascent which took her 2 days.