In Täschhorn, Switzerland on the April 28, 2004, Patrick Berhault died in the midst of a greater achievement than most of us would ever dream of. He was attempting to link up all 82 Alps 4,000 meter summits in 82 days— an incredible feat. Tragically, while he and Phillippe Magnin were climbing the summit of Dom— which itself measures 4,545 meters— Patrick fell off the slopes above Saas Fee. His body was found two days later. He had already climbed over 60 over the 82 peaks.
Despite not completing his final challenge, his epic, astounding accomplishments still live large in the climbing community. Berhault was credited with making the sport popular in France and for elevating climbing to another level with his creativity and grace. “One of the premier French free climbers of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Berhault found his true home in the mountains,” Climbing Magazine explained. “He climbed Everest and Shishapangma, as well as other high peaks around the world, but it was in the Alps that he best applied his talent and creativity. In 1991, he made a solo traverse of the Mont Blanc massif by some of its most difficult routes, including a new line on the Aiguille Rouge de Peuterey”. He was also famous for being one of the first climbers to develop light and fast mountaineering.
If you want to get an understanding of why Berhault was so significant, so inspiring, you don’t need to look any further than his climbing itself. Even in this short video, you can see the incredible skill, grace, and power he climbed with. ‘Like Dancing On The Rock’, the title says— and it really is. Set to Janis Joplin (of course), you don’t have to be a climbing enthusiast to be in awe of his artistry and power. Take a look here:
He moves like someone not of this world. He moves like gravity doesn’t exist. It’s easy to see how he enthralled both climbers and non-climbers alike. “Berhault began linking hard rock-climbs, soloing up one and then, to the horror and amazement of onlookers, descending another, before carrying on up an adjacent one,” the Independent explained. “He soon took this skill into the Alps, climbing long, serious mountain routes in unprecedentedly fast times, such as the North Face of Les Droites in five and a half hours, a route which normally took days, not hours, and required bivouacs. Berhault’s seemingly out-of-this world speed and stamina would subsequently earn him the moniker ‘ET'”.
It certainly fits. The impact that Berhault had on the sport by the time he passed is impossible to exaggerate. And this is truly a man who died doing what he loved. “Climbing and mountaineering is all about adventure and adapting where there is often an element of risk and surprise, which you have to try and face – that’s part of the game,” he once said. He was committed to the sport and an inspiration to those who were lucky enough to see him climb— as well as to all the climbers who came after him. He was truly one of a kind.