A conversation with record-breaking mountaineer Monique Richard

The Quebec alpinist has summited many peaks, including her record-breaking climb on Mount Logan in 2018.

In 2009, during a trip to the Mediterranean island of Corsica, mountaineer Monique Richard found her calling: exploring the untamed beauty of mountains. Following the trip, Richard was consumed by the desire to summit some of the world’s highest peaks, beginning with Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro. It wasn’t long before the Quebec mountaineer decided to immerse herself in training for the Seven Summits challenge, where she would eventually reach the world’s highest peaks.

The Seven Summits challenge consists of climbing the highest mountain in each of the seven continents. In 2014, Richard broke her first record: she became the first Canadian woman to summit Nepal’s Makalu, the world’s fifth highest mountain. In 2018, Richard broke another major record, becoming the first woman to ever reach the summit of Canada’s Mount Logan on a solo expedition.

As of late, the alpinist has taken some time off from climbing, preparing and training for future expeditions, as well as hosting motivational conferences. Richard sat down with The Concordian to discuss her passion for high-altitude adventures, how she overcomes adversity, preparing for solo climbs, and more.

The Concordian: What initially ignited your passion for climbing?

Monique Richard: My love at first sight for the vertical world was during the GR20 hike in Corsica, reputed to be one of the most difficult in Europe. Then, my first high altitude experience, on Kilimanjaro. After looking at the sun rise above the clouds on the summit of Africa, I was hooked! Kilimanjaro was the first in my quest [to complete] the Seven Summits from seven continents […] culminating with Mount Everest in 2012. 

TC: As an alpinist, what’s been the biggest challenge that you’ve had to overcome?

MR: From a mountaineering point of view, I would say my Mount Logan solo ascent in 2018. The remoteness, the hostile conditions, the solitude and isolation made this trip the most challenging climb I’ve done so far. From a human point of view, it was the death of my dearest friend Arvid Lahti in 2016 on Mount Rainier after reaching the summit together.

TC: Can you talk to me a bit about your 2018 climb, where you were the first woman to summit Mount Logan solo? How did this major achievement impact your future expeditions? 

MR: More than any other expedition, my Mount Logan solo ascent remains the one that has marked me the most during my mountaineering journey. Beyond the seven peaks, or the mountains of the Himalayas, Logan is the jewel of my expeditions, and it represents my biggest challenge.

First of all, because of the extremely hostile conditions on Logan: the altitude being 5,959 metres, the temperature being Siberian cold, storms (one of them immobilized me in my tent for six days), avalanche risks, white outs, and crevices.

And above all, because in addition to being solo, I had the luck, or bad luck, of being practically alone on the mountain. I was 100 per cent in charge of all aspects of the expedition, including orientation, camp construction, and meals.

This solo expedition really placed me in unique conditions that allowed me to live an unprecedented experience alone, facing this huge mountain, and facing myself, my dream, my doubts, my impulses, my fears, and of course, my past and the tragedy on Mount Rainier in 2016. 

TC: What have your expeditions taught you about yourself, especially in regards to overcoming adversity?

MR: I learned to never take anything for granted. Always question, doubt, evaluate, adjust, and accept what needs to be, without wanting to control events or nature, and even sometimes, let go! It’s part of life. It’s good to reach the summit, but the path to it has much more impact on us and is more enriching on a personal level.

TC: How do you prepare for a solo climb? 

MR: For physical preparation, I train four or five times per week. Usually at 5:30 a.m. for an hour and a half to two hours, with weights and cardio. 

For material preparation, [I prepare] all the regular mountaineering gear, with some adaptations: a tent for the lower altitude camps and an ultra light bivouac shelter for the high camps. I also bring my 8,000 metre boots because I expect extremely low temperatures.

For logistical preparations, I need to organize a support team of two: an expedition manager, and a router/weather forecaster.

TC: Can you talk to me about mentally preparing for a climb, especially a solo one? How do you get into the right headspace before your ascent?

MR: Mental preparation is essential in any expedition but especially in the case of a solo.

My mental preparation allows me to anticipate and envision various situations I might encounter during the solo climb. 

Since I attempted to climb Logan with a partner in 2017, when we managed to reach a high point on the mountain, it allowed me to become familiar with the route. With supporting photos and maps, I spent time visualizing the various sections of the route, the potential hazards, and picturing myself [climbing] solo in this environment. But I did not expect to not only be solo, but also to be almost alone on the mountain. This was quite an experience, and although it added to the challenge and the fear, I felt so privileged to experience this unique opportunity, alone on Canada’s highest peak.

TC: Do you ever envision yourself writing a book about your adventures in the future?

MR: It’s a project I’ve been working on for many years. The pandemic has been an opportunity for introspection and reflection, and I’ve started working on my project to write a story about my Mount Logan solo [climb], which will also include my other adventures.

My friend Arvid made me promise to one day write a story of my adventures in the mountains, and I intend to fulfill that promise!


Photographs by Guillaume Cossette

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