We took the opportunity of having Nina in one place for a while – not on a portaledge somewhere – to have a chat with her about life, lockdown, and some of the benefits and opportunities it’s bringing. It turns out it might just be the change of gear she needed. Out of lockdown, a more rounded Nina is emerging.
HB: So how are you feeling? It sounds like you had the virus – are you recovered and feeling healthy again?
NC: yeah, I was dizzy for the first week, ten days or so, now it’s good. Really good. We’ve been up here in the mountains for exactly a month, and we’ve only been three times down to the valley, two of us to do the groceries with masks and all that stuff, so we totally confined, and totally fine
HB: Sounds…kind of nice?
NC: It is actually. It’s really nice….I mean, there’s no climbing….we’re improvising, training things at home, and we’ve actually found a really small boulder bloc down in the forest. It’s only small tiny little crimps, so at least we crimp on something really small, so that’s cool. We’re getting creative, and accepting how it is. Apart from people - but really nice to be up in the mountains.
HB: …and it’s been sunny - in some ways a nice break even if it’s enforced?
NC: Yeah - a nice break – you just realise how much pressure we put on ourselves and how much we are running all the time and how much our brain has to work on. All the things we see and the lives we live, and all the influences on our brain is pretty intense actually.
HB: So you’ve not done any meditation retreats but – you take a month off every year around Christmas time and don't worry about climbing too much and go skiing…
NC: Yeah but this is not the same – then the world is moving on all the time. So even if I take a month off from climbing, I'm still working, being you know ‘a jour’. Now it’s not like this – up here for a month we’ve been really cut off, and really live life differently.
Lockdown Life – Photo Jeremy Bonnard
HB: So when you’re taking your month off, you’re still working, you’ve still got to get up in the morning..?
NC: Yeah you still have to get up, but it’s also that I catch on, and catch up, and yeah, up here it’s really different, really different. Of course you don’t really have the freedom as we’re used to having it, so it’s a little bit of an ‘acceptance’ thing too. My personality is more or less always like a rebel all the time.
Now I tried accepting it's just stronger than me and so it's just like the biggest test for me: it's just being really accepting of the situation and fitting into the majority. You know there's no reason to do things differently. Or to say ‘Ohh everyone is doing this but I don't, I do things differently or just to say ‘whatever’.’
It's a good thing for me to learn also to do things that are more community thinking - more than ever I would say. Globally but also in the house we live in. I’ve never lived in this kind of constellation, community, family, so it’s good for me.
Often relationships, you know any kind of relationships, they get a little bit complicated or they are kind of slowing me down somehow – I just quit – so that’s pretty easy. Or I can face it a little bit, but not really, or there’s always an escape, in the mountains, or in climbing - it calms me down and you know I can re-centre a little bit or find my balance. Here it it’s like – Okay. No. I take it. I face it. There’s no other way.
HB: …are you …making friends with yourself..?
NC: You know the others here, Anne, Eline, my boyfriend, especially Eline, who is like my little sister, who’s known me for so many years, like Anne, they really see how I changed. They’re really surprised by my way of being. They’ve never seen me so calm and I would say generous –yeah, it’s really changed me. And it’s good.
Although it's sometimes hard I just want to be like you know ‘Ah fuck it and whatever’ now it's a really big opportunity to me to learn how to face actually… I wouldn’t call it facing but you know, my project right now is working on relationships…
HB: which is something that's pretty difficult to do if you're on a portaledge 2000 miles away…?
NC: Well, there’s always the excitement, there’s always the adrenalin, there’s always a common goal which is really obvious. There's always this reason why you're there. And this helps to make the moment really perfect.
But here my goal is really ‘I want to work at this’. I always need goals you know. So yeah as I told you I see it as a big opportunity to work on that. It is actually essential. I mean wouldn’t say I’m completely bad at it…it or I'm completely like an idiot or like an asshole – not at all: but as soon as it gets complicated or really intense I could escape – or I could escape a bit, to find my balance, then I come back. And now I can’t. And that’s good for me.
HB: and that’s something you’d like to carry on with when the world ‘goes back to normal’?
NC: Definitely definitely. You know, now I’m 33 years old, the times of being like a young bastard kid are definitely over…
HB: …you can’t have been that bad!
NC: No, not at all but you know, I never really put lots of energy and time into relationships. My priority in life has always been the climbing – you know I had so many things I wanted to achieve. I knew exactly what I needed to do, and what I could or couldn’t do if I was to achieve those things – so as soon as things like relationships became energy taking, I became like ‘OK - I have these goals.’ So I preferred to quit, and to do these climbing achievements which is really important to me, rather putting lots of energy and time into those other things…but you see, there’s a time for everything.
I'm so sure that this will also help me so much in my climbing. To find even more peace in my climbing and to do things they really make sense to me and to do things way more with the heart.
Lockdown life – and thereafter a balancing act – Photo Jeremy Bonnard
HB: So it’s been tricky finding the finding a balance…and this is an opportunity to address that?
NC: That's exactly the thing - climbing right now is not really an option. About a year or so ago, I was a little bit tired of, not tired of being alone, but I slowly started to miss something.
So I knew the time had come for really putting energy into relationships, being a bit more social – so the Coronavirus is like perfect timing for me – it really makes sense actually. It’s perfect actually.
But I mean damn – I am climbing, that’s a thing that will ALWAYS be there, always always always, and sometimes I cry because I miss it – you know I miss the feeling of dancing up a wall. I miss it so badly, but at the same time, but the more we advance in this coronavirus confinement the more I can see how much it is really just a plus in my life, and when this will all go back a little bit to reality or normality I think I will become such a smoother, kinder beautiful person.
Because then climbing is not like ‘woah, fuck this is like my escape’ in periods of time when it’s not easy. It will really be different.
HB: Reading what you write, it seems and that these kind of changes or ways you're thinking have probably actually been there for quite a long time? Your work with and climbing with refugees is one example. Did spending like a month with Lynn* make it come to the fore even more strongly?
* [Lynn Hill, with whom Nina has spent considerable time working the Nose in El Cap, partly as a celebration of the 25th anniversary of Lynn’s free ascent – the first ever, in 1993]
Nina on the Nose, Photo, Lynn Hill
NC: I don't know. I’ve been having a hard time to put words on how much Lynn influenced me. There were definitely signs that were really encouraging. After all she managed really well to have a beautiful career in climbing, to be really focused and at the same time she did so many stupid, crazy funny things in life you know…really. So she was never just like ‘Okay I climb - get out of my way if it distracts from my performance’ or whatever. Not at all. She was always most super open for everything. But at the same time, she made choices in her life. I really see like “Ohh shit, Nina don't do it like that! Don't be so tight, don't be such a control freak, just have some trust in other peoples’ skills as well”. She's a really big control freak, having a hard time to let it go, to trust other people. To accept that things sometimes, they are running away differently and not in the way she had been choosing exactly.
So yeah it was an influence! It was definitely inspiring. In some things I could tell ‘Wow this is great.’ and other things I was like ‘Wow, Nina don't do it like that. Watch out.’ She definitely influenced me to have the courage to do other things in life. Just generally I would say. Being a bit more open.
HB: So maybe spending a month with Lynne is just another one of those bricks in the wall that builds towards how you’re feeling?
NC: Yeah - but - it was definitely intense, emotionally. But for everyone at my age if you hang out for a month person who is almost 30 years older this is always intense no matter who.
HB: So this letting go? It’s not letting go of the climbing addiction, maybe just of the performance addiction?
NC: Yeah, I really don’t care. Really not.
HB: Would you say that even about the Nose now? Or is that sort of a ‘It would be nice to free it but if it doesn't happen then it's not the end of the world.’
NC: Right now, the last year, the time I spent with Lynn, was so rich. Of course I would say climbing wise it was a little bit frustrating, because I was so focussed on free climbing it. But at the same time it was a little bit borderline of really pushing it hard really fucking up my health , my toes, my feet, all the drugs I took for pain relief. I was like ‘Nina, that is so stupid.’ Especially in contrast with now! But it pushed me into changing something which is now paying off. So even like I said, if climbing wise it was a little bit frustrating, experience wise it was the best thing ever. So intense, so many lessons I’ve carried since then. It wasn’t like just a climbing trip. A life experience trip. I felt no need to go back – really, it was so intense. Honestly.
Pete Whittaker & Nina at the top of El Cap, Probably by Lynn Hill