Climbers, skiers, mountaineers, snowboarders, slackliners… I have been lucky enough to meet many of them. Each and every one has a story to tell, an adventure to illustrate, and is a fascinating figure, with a distinct aura.
Maël Baguet is precisely that, and more. His name, of Breton origin, is already intriguing – it means, in fact, “prince” and “chief”. I have already talked about him on this blog, when I saw him at the Grenoble Rencontre du Cinéma de Montagne, Maël was one of the guests at the Cogne Ice Opening last December and I spent some time with him.
This is an abridged version of an interview, which will feature in a UK magazine. Stay tuned!
When did you start climbing? I started climbing aged 14. Then, at high school, in the Maurienne region (one of the provinces of Savoy), I joined the sport club and climbed intensively, also taking part in various sport climbing competitions.
Were you successful? We won the French School Championships in 2007, when I finished my studies.
Were you already spending time with Dimitri Messina back then? (Dimitri Messina, rope-partner of Mael, tragically died in December 2014) Yes, Dim was already into ice-climbing and mixed climbing and introduced me to these practices. We were really young back then, we must have been 16 or 17, and were pretty “adventurous”, not wearing the proper gear, sleeping at the base or the wall we wanted to climb, just doing all the things that young people do.
You were then selected to be part of the very good training programmes which exist in France. as far as mountaineering is concerned Yes, I was initially a member of the Groupe Excellence, which was then directed by Christophe Moulin and lasted two years. Then I joined the FFME and I am now part of the ENAM (Equipe National d’Alpinisme Masculin).
I have always admired such programmes, as we have nothing of that sort in Italy. Would you say they helped you hone your skills? Yes, I think it was a very good opportunity to learn with competent people, have the chance to experience what you would otherwise not have been able to do. Young people hardly have any money at all, so with this programme you can travel extensively and are also given excellent gear.
Your opening of a new line on the north face of Siguniang (6250 m., Sichuan Province, China) had a vast resonance. “Ni Han Pio Liang” meaning “your are pretty” in Chinese, 1300 m., October 2011) Was it your idea to go there and try that line? I went there with Dimitri and three other friends (Fabien Suiffet, Jean-Baptiste Assier and Sylvain Rechu). Ours was a really close-knit group and we were looking for a place where the approach was not too long and there were several peaks close to each other, so that we could all aim at completing our own projects. Dim and I were strongly motivated for the Sigunang line, the others had other projects, so we spent time together at base camp and then we could all set off for our targets.
You also visited Peru and Bolivia You cannot really talk about an expedition there, but we deeply explored the area. I was with a friend who climbed really fast, and one day we set off from La Paz, we rented some motorbikes, we reached the base camp of Illimani and climbed it. In total a 22-hour long day. We were really tired at the end, we nearly fell asleep on our bikes!
The excellent video of your ascent of Ballade au Claire de Lune on the south face of the Aiguille du Fou (3501 m,, 6c/4A, Mont Blanc Massif) and then your jump from the top – the first one recorded – is astonishing. What’s the story behind this ascent? With Mathieu Maynadier we had a project of climbing a face and then have a chance for me to jump. It’s really difficult to climb a line on a face which is steep enough for a jump to take place. You also have to consider the conditions of the face, you need good weather, no wind, no fog… We had a unique chance at the Aiguille du Fou. I had already climbed its south face two years ago and had thought that it could be a good jump. If you climb the line with a partner, you clearly don’t want to leave him alone, but this time there were three of us, so it was just perfect.
You are clearly fascinated by base-jumping. Where did your first jump take place? It was in the Vercors, in Presles, from the Paroi de la Conque, a very steep face. Before then, however, I had jumped more than a hundred times with a parachute. A wingsuit is rather dangerous as it can hinder the opening of the parachute, if you don’t have enough training.
And then you jumped from pretty much everywhere. Yes, in the Alps and abroad, in Morocco, in Switzerland, in the Dolomites…
Can you tell me about your Scotland experience? Scotland matches no other place I have been to, especially as far as the extremely variable conditions are concerned. Its mountains are not high, but the proximity to the sea and incredible humidity mean that you are always surrounded by fog, always under the rain, but this sometimes transforms into snow, and you simply climb not paying too much attention to it. Some lines are always covered in snow, other ones are extremely icy, but at times it is too warm and you can only do dry tooling. You gain a lot of experience at low altitude and it is an undoubtedly superb training.
Have you also visited the Peak District? Yes, I went with Dimitri and two other friends at the end of school. We climbed lines such as London Wall and it was a great experience. I haven’t been back since, I think I have to go back again. It was my first time at crack climbing and I found it really hard. What are your future projects? We have our final expedition with the FFME group in September and it will be in Kazakhstan. Then we still have our expedition project with Mathieu, probably in the Himalayas.
Will you complete your mountain guide training? Yes, I will also become a full mountain guide in September. I think it’s a great job, I love it.
Have you been part of any humanitarian projects? We went to the Ivory Coast to do some humanitarian work last summer and we want to carry on with this project. We collected some money with a kisskissbankbank scheme and we will implement some more. There is a difference between spending money to try and reach a summit – and sometimes you don’t even reach the top – and giving money to people who really need it. It is a good thing to do both, so that you really understand how lucky we are and to what extent you can help the others.
Maël Baguet is sponsored by ABK Climbing, Julbo, Black Diamond and Asolo.