Fred Nicole, climbing legend… Known for the unique and spectacular lines he discovered in many corners around the world.
I had the chance to interview this climbing legend after almost 5 years of admiring climbs on his routes with sweaty palms. After he agreed the interview, I spent couple of nights studying all the articles about him. As I read, I was getting more and more inspired but also a bit worried since he was ‘diverting’ the climbing related questions. Either by generalising the scope or dodging with ‘Eh, I just sent it’ type of answers.
Drinks ready? Good. With great excitement and honour, I am delighted to present you, Climbing Posts’ interview with Fred Nicole!
We would like to start with thanking you for your time.
It has been a challenging year for everyone due to Covid-19 outbreak. We hope you and your family are safe. How was the progression of the pandemic in Switzerland? How did you spend your time in the past couple of months?
Thank you as well for your interest in my activity and my vision of climbing! I would like to visit Turkey as it looks like it has a lot to offer not only for the climbing but also for the cultural and historical aspect of the country.
The pandemic has had a big impact on the people and the society for sure. Luckily my family and I are safe so far. Switzerland is in the second wave and it’s not doing so well. In the past couple of months the situation was not so bad and I was able to continue climbing and working.
While we were in our homes, we witnessed nature healing itself and a reduction of harmful gasses in the atmosphere. Do you think the pandemic was a warning from mother nature?
Since we were not able to fly it seems that nature has been able to recover a bit. This part of the Covid crisis is the only positive thing about it. I really hope that we learn from this situation to apply more sustainability to our development and see the nature not just as a source of endless resources for our needs but as for what it is: the only ecosystem which make life possible on this planet.
You have a strong stance against global warming, pollution and high plastic consumption. As a person who climbed in many places around the Globe, do you think climbing communities in these places care enough about the environment?
I sincerely think that the climbing community is in majority a relative nature conscious population. For sure it still needs more information and education about the matter. Many people don’t realize how fast we impact environment and how critical the situation really is.
Unfortunately, many rock climbing spots in the world have been under the radar of mining companies. Fontainebleau is a recent example of this. As a person exploring and climbing there since 1995, what are your thoughts on this, what can/should be done?
This is a tough question as the climbing community still has only a little impact on the economic development. Unfortunately for the moment the system will almost always privilege economy before nature and recreation. On our side we can fight with petitions and sensibilization in our communities.
Your name is associated with aesthetic climbing lines and climbs that are a step further than others. In 1983, when you were going to your first climb with your brother François, have you thought it would be such a great adventure?
No for sure not. I was 13 years old and not smart enough to plan anything. I remember it as a great day but climbing was not easy for me. It still isn’t, that’s probably why I’m still trying.
Have you been interested in the nature and rock when you were a child, or have you had other sports and hobbies that kept you busy?
I wasn’t very much interested in sports as a kid. I spent my time reading, drawing and walking my dog.
After 1990s, there was a great acceleration in the routes you have created and climbed such as Bain de Sang, Dreamtime or Monkey Wedding. During those times, were you doing any extra training or diet besides climbing?
I trained a lot from 84 till 90’s with my brother, but in the 90’s I mostly climbed and learned how to use my potential. I’ve never diet but I was natural skinny at this time.
While we are talking about you, we must touch on South Africa. We would like to hear more about Rocklands from you! Your first visit, the discovery of the area and first boulders…
We arrived in South Africa in 1996 with a crew of friends from the USA, Canada and Europe. It was Todd Skinner’s idea to show us this place he had seen during his first trip to South Africa. Back then the only possibility of housing was either in Clanwilliam in the hotel or in a camping place in the Cederbergs. We opted for the camping for financial reasons. The camping is already surrounded by beautiful rock formations and therefore we started climbing there, today know as Campsite with the classic “Tea Pot”.
On top of the pass there was a parking and a hiking trail that brought us directly to the Road Side. It was when we discovered “The Rhino” and “Question of balance” for ex. “Black Eagle”, “Pedragon” and “Leopard Cave” just to name a few examples, were also issued during that trip.
With both Cameroni’s and your climb, ‘‘Legacy’’ has been a benchmark route in Rocklands. What is the story of Legacy?
“Legacy” is a nice route and a great line. It’s more like a high boulder problem and not a classic sport route. I found the line and started working on it years after that. My Southafrican friend Sean Maasch bolted it for me since you need an authorization to bolt in the Cederberg and we had to wait for the approval. I was very happy to climb it last year just after Giuliano did the first ascent.
In 2016, Nalle Hukkataival climbed Burden of Dreams which trumpeted in the climbing community. Do you think this boulder could be the beginning of a new level in bouldering?
It’s really cool, and Nalle is certainly one of the most significant climber of his generation! It’s a logical progression that he brought a new grade to the activity.
In 2019, you developed Five Ten Aleon in collaboration with Five ten & Adidas Terrex. How was the progress here and should we expect more models with your signature on?
It was and still is a great experience to be able to develop new shoes. I would like to continue the collaboration with Adidas but future will tell.
Could you describe us the ideal climbing shoe?
Precise, sensitive, powerful while still comfortable and ergonomical.
Related to the previous question; more and more people are interested in climbing everyday as the sport gets more popular. We have observed that many beginners have problems with choosing the correct model as there are many options in the market. As a climbing shoe designer and manufacturer, what are your recommendations for a person looking for their first pair of climbing shoes?
You should look for a shoe that fit your foot, give your foot a good support, but still let you feel the rock and footholds.
What does being creative mean to you?
Creativity is an ability that keeps your mind open for everything.
If everything goes smoothly, we will watch climbing in the Olympics next year. What are your thoughts on sport climbing being part of the Olympics?
It’s a logical progression of the sport considering competitions exists since a long time.
How do you think the methodical approach, scores and awards that come with competitions affect the very nature of the sport which is deeply connected with nature?
It is a system that rationalize the activity. It makes it easier to understand and explain the activity to the non-climbing community. But at the same time it takes away some of the romantic of our sport. It’s like the map versus the territory. The map will try to explain the territory but even if at a small percent some territory will remain unexplored and needs to be experienced to be understood.
As the technology and training methods develop, highest grades climbed also increase. What do you see in the future of sport climbing and bouldering in the coming years?
It is obvious that it will continue growing. Performance will increase, but access to natural spaces might become even more of an issue.
Lastly, what are your future plans? Is there a new line you are working on or are you planning to open an exhibition with your paintings and drawings?
Right now it is difficult to make plans, so I climb a lot in Switzerland, which is not a bad place to be. I have numerous shoes and models I’m working on. For the moment no exhibition planned for my paintings but who knows what the future brings…
First of all, Fred Nicole, sir, thanks you so much to share your ideas with Turkish climbing community and with us. That article would be a corner stone for Climbing Posts.
Also, I would like to thank Arman Zonuzi for his translation and suggestions.
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