Patrick Berhault, a star was gone

Exactly twenty years ago, on the 28th of April, 2004, Patrick Berhault disappeared in the mountains, on a Swiss peak as part of a project of climbing the 82 summits of 4000 meters in the Alps. A gifted climber, he was also a very good mountaineer. An endearing personality, as gifted in solo as in friendship, Patrick Berhault was not only a virtuoso climber, but also a man with a style all about flexibility and elegance: gesture and grace* incarnate. In the 1980s, Patrick Berhault climbed the sun with Patrick Edlinger, and the north (and south!) faces with Boivin. Claude Gardien was a member of this team, and here he pays tribue to his friend who fell in an easy climb, an ironic twist of fate for one of the best mountaineers of his generation.

It was 20 years ago, it was yesterday. The news came, in all its brutal reality. Patrick Berhault fell during his 66th “4000”  climb, the Dom ridge, during an incredible journey with Philippe Magnin.

It was 45 years ago, it was yesterday. For those of my generation, at least. The french magazine Alpinisme et Randonnée published a photo of a young man in his early twenties, wearing the kind of heavy blue canvas climbing jacket we liked to wear at that time. The posture – one foot high, chest arched against the wall, gaze upwards – suggested the following movement, in all its fluidity, in all its efficiency. The title of the article was: “A star is born”. Alpirando, as it was already known, had made no mistake. The name of this prodigy photographed on a rock in Nice immediately impressed readers’ memories: Patrick Berhault.

The legend was quickly forged: at the Verdon, the temple of climbing at the time, he was reputed to climb the hardest routes of the day, wearing these “Super Guide”, big mountaineering shoes designed by René Desmaison… This Berhault was curious: on my first visit to the canyon, in 1973, I had already chosen climbing shoes. Just like everyone else. And he was running these difficult routes in mountain boots!

What followed were some of the hardest routes of the time, such as La Haine at La Loubière, probably the first 7c+ in France (5.13a). And a meeting with another Patrick, this one Edlinger. A cocktail that was going to be powerful. While they invest the walls of the Baou de Toulon, passing spits every 6 meters without worrying about any other criteria before moving on to their creations, they also visit the high mountains. The first winter ascent of the voie des Plaques on the north-west face of Ailefroide, in 1980, left us stunned: the two Patrick trotted up it in 23 hours, including the round trip from Ailefroide…

There were breathtaking solos on the northern couloir of the Drus, on the Devies-Gervasutti on the same NW face of the Ailefroide, and elsewhere. The legend also includes incredible stories, such as when he and Pierre Brizzi were caught in a gully on the Pelvoux, when a flow swept them away. 800 meters below, they woke up, bruised but alive…

Patrick doesn’t give the magazines a moment’s peace. Everything seems easy to him, and above all, he does everything in his inimitable style. His climbing is choreographed, and he dares to go all out, feet first on the rooftops. You had to think about it. You’d think he’d end up walking on the ceiling, which is what he does in Bernard éteint la bougie, a big roof on the Baou de St Jeannet. And as Laurent Chevallier films his delirium, we’re obliged to believe him…

Patrick Berhault


For a time, Patrick retired to his native Auvergne, where he worked as a farmer. Patrick goes through life casually. What stands out about him is his even-temperedness, which makes everything possible, both in climbing and in everyday life. He knows how to cultivate friendship. Berhault’s visits to the french magazine Vertical, where he met Edlinger, then editor-in-chief of Roc’n’Wall french magazine, were full of laughter and cheerfulness. These two were inseparable, and the years seemed to have no effect on their eternal youth. Patrick Berhault takes life like climbing, climbing like life.

One more great trip

The two Patrick got together for a big ride. Patrick B. has been climbing for several years with Francis Bibollet, Bruno Sourzac and Christophe Frendo. In 2000, he set off to cross the Alps, from Slovenia to the Mediterranean… with the intention of climbing some of the most famous routes along the way. His first companion on this pilgrimage will be Patrick E.

The two Patrick will cross the Dolomites together, re-forming the roped party of their youth. The images in Gilles Chappaz’s film La cordée de rêve (The Dream Rope) reveal how happy they are to be out on the mountain, day after day, both horizontally and vertically. Patrick E. laughs at one point: “The same bullshit, twenty years later!” Before bursting out laughing.

Patrick Berhault in the Bodin-Afanassieff gully, in Tacul (France). ©Claude Gardien

In the western part of this wandering adventure, Patrick B. will team up with Philippe Magnin, like himself a teacher at ENSA. The kind of rope that multiplies possibilities: they climb the three north faces of the Jorasses, the Eiger and the Matterhorn in very tough conditions. These two will meet again.

In winter 2003, they set up their base camp at the Eccles hut, and in two stages, like pearls on a necklace, string together eight rock routes and eight glacier routes on the Brouillard and Frêney sides of Mont Blanc. They seem to enjoy it. It leaves us stunned. And envious.

Patrick clearly enjoys spending time in the mountains, it’s a fact… His 2004 project will take him across the Alps to the chain’s 82 peaks of 4000 m. It was here that the star climber, who had devoted himself for a time to dance climbing, made the first faux-pas of his fabulous career.

That day in April 2004. I remember an immense emotion.

Emotion… Isn’t that what Patrick left us?

His climbing and mountaineering were imbued with emotion. The beauty of the gesture, which he pursued to the point of dance… The love of cliffs and mountains, of the landscape… The art of coming up with improbable ideas, and turning them into reality… The laughter, as in Bernard extinguishing the candle, as he swings, head down, feet hooked in a tub of this immense overhang…

His climbing wasn’t just about flexibility, balance and technique.
It was inventive and always turned towards beauty

His climbing wasn’t just about flexibility, balance and technique. It was inventive and always turned towards beauty. Like the memory that remains with us. That of a friend who was always affable, capable of all types of climbing, but incapable of grading them: “Patrick, what does this route grade?

– It’s difficult…

– Yes, but…

– Difficult, yes, it’s difficult…

Difficult for Patrick, we translated. Too difficult for us!

Grading a route? For him, it was neither an art nor an emotion. Patrick passed on to us an emotional definition of mountaineering and climbing. The star is still there, through a message that he never formalized, only through his art of living and climbing. The two go hand in hand.



* Il Gesto e La Grazia (Gesture and Grace), the title of the short film dedicated to him by Italian director Fulvio Mariani in 1997.