HB: So Symon, you're in your mid twenties now, you grew up competition climbing, you've been on the French Ice climbing team for a few years, you've sport climbed 8c+, and have opened hard new mixed routes in the Himalaya...and you've re-created the tent bound experience on the balcony. How are you finding lockdown? Is motivation still high, or are you taking the time to try and work on something new like meditation or cooking? Maybe you're going mad?
SW: Motivation is staying high for sure! Many projects are still scheduled for this year, spending summer in Pakistan seems to be a no-go for now, but it's postponed to next year. Instead, I'll try to focus on my 9a project in Ceuse, trying to go back there as soon as we can go back climbing. Summer will be focus on multi-pitch climbing, maybe somewhere around Sweden.
Thanks to this free time I can easily work on the future projects and especially an expedition project for this autumn which will take place in Nepal.
Hopefully I managed to keep some proper training thanks to hangboard sessions. I have to admit that the first two weeks of lockdown has been really harsh, trying to keep motivation while seeing all the projects cancelled was hard. But later, I forced myself to keep some daily activities, I also continue my work remotely as meteorologist. Besides, I tried some new activities like cooking, knitting and yoga but I'm too messy for all this.
HB: As I mentioned, you're definitely a strong all rounder - is your comp climbing background where it all started? or did your parents bring you up going to the mountains a lot?
SW: My mother introduced me to sport climbing. She’s a sport climber, so as early as possible she brough me to the cliff with her and maybe that's where it all starts. At the beginning, I was really focused on Lead Climbing competitions and had some nice international results in the young categories but my studies forced me to stop climbing for two years and after that I stopped the competition to spend more time at the cliff and the mountains. So, I began mountaineering with a real background as a climber and it allowed me to improve quite fast.
HB: How was it that you started to get interested in new routes and big adventurous trips?
SW: Since the very beginning of my interest in climbing, I've always been fascinated by the people who went for expeditions and for big wall trips.
Firstly, I've seen it as a dream for the future but quickly I figured out that it wasn't so difficult to organize expeditions. Also, by chance, at that time, when I was staring to organise my own trips, I was selected to be member of the national alpinism team. I spent 3 years learning from the best of this country how to deal with risks, exposure and organization of expeditions and alpinism in general. During these years, I started my first travels from Caucasus to Himalaya.
Team summit selfie from Symon's 2019 trip to Pakistan
HB: And as more and more people start their climbing careers in gyms, pulling on plastic holds, what do you suggest to youngsters now who want to start moving to real rock? Maybe you could talk about the challenges that you see coming with this? Whose responsibility is it to teach mountain ethics and all that side of things? It's not just about the technique of climbing is it?
SW: Of course, the demand in climbing gym is growing everyday but alpinism is also on the same trend. I also work as a mountain guide and the number of people interested in alpinism is still growing. As most of the peaks around the globe have been done, making great first ascent is becoming harder and harder, but many great challenges remain. I think that the interest for alpinism is something that comes with some maturity going from the gym to the peaks for youngsters is something of a great experience. Many groups are organized to learn the skills and slowly go higher up.
HB: Is there a single thing that you think it's most important to remember when heading outdoors for the first time?
SW: Always keep the right balance between pleasure and safety. Going and planning to go for the hardest and most remote peaks of the world is easy, going to the top and back alive is another deal.
Safety first - keeping the fun Type 1 on the 1938 route, North Face of the Eiger
HB: You've been to Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and Nepal on new routing expeditions - all of which looked amazing. Where's next on the list once this lockdown slowly unwinds? Is it somewhere new, to explore a new culture or do you want to go back to get to know some of these areas and people a little better?
SW: My plan should have been in Pakistan from June to July but I think that this project will be postponed to next year, our plan was to try to climb Pumari Chhish East, a virgin peak in Pakistan at almost 7000m. This mountain has been attempted many times but no-one has ever got really close on the face. So instead my summer will be focused on rock climbing. First I want to do my first 9a, namely Le Cadre in Ceuse. Before the lockdown I was really close to sending it and hopefully the hangboard’s made my finger strength progress and the sending will be closer :)
After that, many multi pitch in the alps, a big project in the Dolomites, trying to work on Panorama in Tre Cime.
In October, I prepare an expedition back in Nepal in the area close to Jannu where many nearly 7000m summits remain unclimbed.
HB: Of the other climbers out there, either currently active or who have gone before, who do you admire most for the things they have done as people (not new routes)?
SW: As an alpinist, Voytek Kurtyka inspired me a lot. The quest for ‘alpine style’ is something that truly speaks to me and something I would want to follow in my projects. His ascent of the shining wall on G4 is to me the most impressive achievement in alpinism. I’ve many inspirations in high level climbers and the commitment they have to perform. I want to apply this training to alpinism. Ueli Steck inspired me a lot in this regard. He developed alpinism as a high level sport in its entirety, I love that, combining great skills in climbing and endurance running to be efficient in expedition and be able to climb at high level in high altitude. In the next years, my dream would be to climb mixed climbing routes as hard as in the Alps at 7500m or so.
HB: Quick fire round
HB:Favourite rock type?
HB: Favourite flavour Hard Bar?
SW: Apricot & Kernel
HB: If you could only climb at one crag where would it be?
SW: Ceuse, France
HB: Best place in the world to live as a mountain lover?
SW: The alps (from Chamonix to Briancon)
HB: If you couldn't climb or ski ever again, what would you do?
SW: When i was young I spent some years competing in whitewater kayaking. I don't really know why I stopped but would love to go back to this sport one day.
HB: Best base camp meal?
SW: Dal-Bhat !!