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Total Solitude

An Interview With Sílvia Vidal
Jamie Bunchuk

Sílvia Vidal was born in Barcelona, Catalonia, and first started climbing after participating in the Raiverd Multi-Adventure Marathon whilst she was at university. In her own words, events progressed ‘fast’ from there on out, and it was in just the second year of her climbing that Sílvia received the Spanish ‘Piolet de Oro’ award from The Spanish Mountain Federation for her solo 1996 ascent of ‘Principado de Asturias’ (A4) on Naranjo de Bulnes in Northern Spain.

The ascent jumpstarted Sílvia’s career making ground-up first ascents of remote big walls, often climbed solo and without any phone, radio or means of communicating with the outside world. She has now mounted many spectacular trips to different parts of the world – including the Himalaya, Karakorum, Baffin Island, Cordillera Blanca, Patagonia, Africa – and, it is fair to say, is pushing the limits of what can be done on copperheads, hooks and pitons many hundreds of metres above the ground.

We managed to catch up with Sílvia before her talk at this year’s Kendal Mountain Festival, to ask her a few questions about her career, the future of big wall climbing, and what she’s seeking by going it alone.


Sidetracked: Hi Sílvia, thank you for taking the time to chat with us in the run up to your talk at the Kendal Mountain Festival. Firstly we wanted to ask what has attracted you to the big walls you’ve spent most of your professional career climbing on?

Sílvia Vidal: I think what has attracted me the most is the landscape of these wild places and the fact that I could spend weeks living on those walls. It’s life in the vertical.

How did you first get into the activity? Did you start off sport or trad climbing first? Or was big walling and aiding something you wanted to do from the very outset?

I began with traditional climbing first. Then I progressed to aid climbing and sport climbing. But everything came really fast, from the start, and almost together.

Do you have a ‘landmark ascent’, one that you consider a Magnus opus in your career thus far?

No. For me each ascent was the challenge at that specific moment. Therefore the memories that I have from all of these climbs are very special, and I don’t consider any one of them a greater ascent than the others.

You’ve been on many far-flung expeditions to very remote locations; are you just looking for that stunning line that has never been climbed before? Or is there more to an expedition than the ascent?

The main reason for such trips is that I’m looking for places where I won’t find anyone else and usually that’s only possible in remote and not-too-known locations. And of course there is more to an expedition than the ascent. The ascent is just a part of it and there is still the rest of the expedition to contend with; that’s usually harder than the climbing itself.

Apart from the logistical and physical requirements, there is the whole experience entailed in any expedition: the total solitude during weeks and months, the isolation, no communication devices.

You often climb solo without any communication devices, no phone, radio, or means of contact. What are you searching for through making ascents in this manner?

It’s a personal choice. It is the way I want to experience the climb. If I go alone I want to be alone and I want to feel alone. If you have a radio or phone it changes the whole experience and also the commitment.

There are certain section of the climbing community that disapprove of the aiding ethos, arguing that high peaks should only be attempted in an Alpine style. Have you any thoughts on this?

No.

How do you see solo big wall climbing developing in the future? Do you think there will be any major changes in equipment, or the development of new aiding techniques over the next few years?

I don’t see that many changes right now, but who knows in the future!

We understand you don’t want to give too much away in the run up to Kendal – but could you please give us a quick explanation about what your talk will be on at the event?

I’ll show my last expedition in the Chilean Patagonia. A solo ascent in a remote area, where I spent there almost two months totally alone and 32 days living on the wall, with very poor weather conditions.

Lastly, out of interest, is there a particular quote, poem or piece of literature that you take inspiration from as to why you live your life the way you do?

I don’t know it in English but there’s a quote in Catalan: ‘preu per preu, sabates grans’. The literal translation is: ‘price by price, big shoes’. For me the meaning is that if you want to do something, you best bet high.


Sílvia is sponsored by Berghaus, Boreal, Black Diamond and Sterling Rope.

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