Catherine Destivelle

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Catherine Destivelle
Personal information
Nationality French
Born (1960-07-24) July 24, 1960 (age 54)
Oran, Algeria
Climbing career
Type of climber
Known for
  • Many popular rock climbing and free solo climbing movies since 1985
  • First woman to give her name to a climbing route (1991)
  • First woman to solo ascend the north face of the Eiger (1992)
First ascents
Named routes

Catherine Monique Suzanne Destivelle (born 24 July 1960) is a French rock climber and mountaineer.[1] In 1992 she became the first woman to complete a solo ascent of the Eiger's north face.[2] She completed the climb in winter in 17 hours. Her other notable climbs include the Bonatti Route on the north face of the Matterhorn and the southwest pillar of the Aiguille du Dru (the Bonatti Pillar).[3] Destivelle has been the subject of several documentaries,[4] including French director Rémy Tezier's, Beyond the Summits (Au-delà des cimes), which won the award for best feature-length mountain film at the 2009 Banff Mountain Film Festival.[5]


Catherine Destivelle was born in Oran, in then French Algeria, to French parents, Serge and Annie Destivelle. When Destivelle was a young teenager, the family moved to France where she attended the Lycée Corot in Savigny-sur-Orge. She then studied physiotherapy at the Ecole de kinésithérapie de Paris, and worked as a physiotherapist from 1981 to 1985.[1] While still a teenager, she had already made several challenging ascents in the Freÿr massif and the Dolomites, but did not take up a full-time professional career in rock and mountain climbing until 1985, when she became very popular in rock climbing movies and free soloing movies. 1985 is also the year she started competition, by winning Sportroccia, the first international competition that were ever held (in Bardonecchia and Arco, Italy), which later became the Rock Master annual competition. In 1986, along with her compatriot climber Patrick Edlinger, she won again the combined final ranking of the Arco and Bardonecchia climbing championships.[6] During these late 80s years, she was the main and most mediatized rival to sport-climber Lynn Hill, alterning with her the best places in various competitions, like in Grenoble and in Snowbird in 1988 and 1989, for the first International competitions ever held in the US.[7] In 1990, together with Christine Janin, she participated at the ski mountaineering event Pierra Menta. They placed third.[8]

With her fellow alpinist, Érik Decamp, Destivelle climbed the southwest face of Shishapangma in Tibet in 1994 as well as the icefall near Namche Bazaar, Nepal in 1997. During their 1996 expedition to Antarctica, they made the first ascent of "Peak 4111" in the Ellsworth Mountains before the expedition was cut short after Destivelle fell 20 meters (66 ft) from the summit and received a compound fracture of her leg.[9] The couple married in 1996 and their son, Victor, was born the following year.[10] She began to cut back on solo climbs in the late 1990s and developed an active career as a lecturer and writer.[11]

With Bruno Dupety since 2011, she recently became a publisher at Les Editions du Mont Blanc, specialized in books about mountain and alpinism.[12]

Rock climbing, notable ascents[edit]

During her competition years, Destivelle was considered one of the world's best trad climbers and free solo climbers.

  • 1983 – La Dudule, Saussois, France (third female 7a)
  • 1985 – Pichenibule, Verdon, France (third female 7b+)
  • 1985 – Fleur de Rocaille, Mouriès, France (first female 7c+/8a)
  • 1988 – Rêve de Papillon, Buoux, France (fourth female 8a)
  • 1988 – Elixir de Violence, Buoux, France (8a)
  • 1988 – Samizdat, Cimaï, France (8a)
  • 1988 – La Diagonale du Fou, Buoux, France (8a)
  • 1988 – Chouca, Buoux, France (first female 8a+)

Notable solo ascents[edit]

Notable first ascents in the Alps[edit]

Destivelle was the first woman to complete the following solo ascents:[1]

  • 1990 (October) – Bonatti Pillar of the Aiguille du Dru
  • 1991 (June) – Opening a new route up the Aiguille du Dru in 11 days, (June 24 - July 4). The "Destivelle Route" was the first rock face to be named after a woman.[13]
  • 1992 (March) – north face of the Eiger
  • 1993 (February) – Walker Spur of the Grandes Jorasses
  • 1994 (February) – Bonatti Route on the north face of the Matterhorn
  • 1999 (June) – north face direct of the Cima Grande di Lavaredo

Notable expeditions[edit]


Destivelle is the author of the following books:

  • Danseuse de roc, Denoël, 1987 (ISBN 978-2207233948)
  • Rocs nature (with photos by Gérard Kosicki), Denoël, 1991 (ISBN 978-2207238981)
  • Annapurna: Duo pour un 8000 (with Érik Decamp), Arthaud, 1994 (ISBN 2-7003-1059-4)
  • L'apprenti alpiniste: L'escalade, l'alpinisme et la montagne expliqués aux enfants (with Érik Decamp and Gianni Bersezio), Hachette Jeunesse, 1996 (ISBN 978-2012916623)
  • Ascensions, Arthaud, 2003 (ISBN 2-7003-9594-8)
  • Le petit alpiniste: La montagne, l'escalade et l'alpinisme expliqués aux enfants (with Érik Decamp and Claire Robert), Guérin, 2009 (ISBN 978-2352210382)


  • E Pericoloso Sporgersi, Robert Nicod, 1985
  • Seo, Pierre-Antoine Hiroz, 1987
  • Solo Thai, Laurent Chevallier, 1989
  • Nameless Tower, David Breashears, 1990
  • 11 Jours dans les Drus, Gilles Sourice, 1991
  • Eiger, Stéphane Deplus, 1992
  • Ballade à Devils's Tower, Pierre-Antoine Hiroz, 1992
  • La Cascade, Pierre-Antoine Hiroz, 1997
  • Rock Queen, Martin Belderson, 1997
  • Au-delà des cimes, Rémy Tézier, 2008

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Sleeman, Elizabeth (ed.), "Destivelle, Catherine Monique Suzanne", The International Who's Who of Women 2002, Routledge, 2001, pp. 139–140. ISBN 1-85743-122-7
  2. ^ The State, March 12, 1992, p. 4A. Retrieved 17 September 2010.
  3. ^ Jackenthal, Stefani Ellen and Glickman, Joe, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Rock Climbing, Alpha Books, 1999, p. 269. ISBN 0-02-863114-5
  4. ^ The Houghton Mifflin Dictionary of Biography, "Destivelle, Catherine", Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003, p. 429. ISBN 0-618-25210-X
  5. ^ CBC News, Finding Farley wins at Banff Mountain Film Festival, November 9, 2009. Retrieved 17 September 2010
  6. ^ International Federation of Sport Climbing, History of Competition Climbing. Retrieved 17 September 2010.
  7. ^ "Deseret News", 'French Dominate Climbing Meet at Snowbird", June 13, 1988.
  8. ^ Pierra Menta 1990
  9. ^ Decamp, Erik, "Misadventures Below Zero", in Christian Beckwith (ed.), The American Alpine Journal, The Mountaineers Books, 1997, pp. 98–107. ISBN 0-930410-65-3
  10. ^ Alpinist, "Faces: Catherine Destivelle", Issue 7, June 2004. Retrieved 17 September 2010 via Google cache.
  11. ^ Arthur, Charles "Mother of all climbdowns", The Independent, May 24, 1998. Retrieved 17 September 2010.
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ Slung, Michele B., Living with Cannibals and Other Women's Adventures, National Geographic Society, 2000, p. 56