28.06.2021

Louis Laurent,
a relationship carved in granite

With bare-handed passion for alpine exploration, Louis Laurent loves aesthetical routes, especially when no one has thought about climbing them before. We interviewed him about his work at the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix as well as the specific relationship he has with his clients, among whom Thierry, a faithful belayer for 10 years now.

FROM A LARGE CAPITAL CITY TO THE GREATEST MOUNTAIN CLIMBS

Thierry, a 40-year-old financial analyst, has been living in London for 17 years and his life is punctuated by regular stays in Chamonix. Twice a year, he exchanges his white-collar shirt for a harness and leaves the busy ‘City’ behind for the rough granite of Chamonix. Each time, the ritual is the same: Thierry turns to Louis Laurent, a member of the Compagnie des guides de Chamonix. For over 10 years, this relationship has turned into a lot more than a ‘simple’ guide/client relationship.

Thierry fell in love with the mountains in 2005 while climbing his first 4000-metre summit. From the greatest alpine routes to demanding multi-pitch climbs, his practice has evolved a lot, and now focuses on sport climbing in summer. This is a passion he shares with his mentor, Louis, with whom he keeps making hundreds of memories during their wanderings.

LOUIS LAURENT, A GUIDE AND ARTIST ALONG THE WAY

Louis is known as an artist in the true sense of the word at the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, which Millet partners with since 2010. On top of his dexterity on the rocks, his role as a training leader to the entry exam to work as a guide for the Compagnie, and his long list of route openings, Louis likes to draw… Topo guides! He scribbles at the belay, and back home, sketches his mountain climbs, and then refines his work to have it edited. He is a real artist, but there’s more…

After 12 years working as a mountain guide, Louis Laurent is above all looking for Adventure with a capital A. For that reason, he chose to work on technical routes and explore new terrains. ‘Opening new routes from time to time, especially together with a second guide and a client, is an exhilarating feeling.’

Now this lifestyle choice, this job, is not a ‘soft’ choice, as he likes to say. A guide cannot rest on his laurels, especially concerning these types of climbing routes and projects. ‘A perpetual progression is asked for, because the commitment is continuous,’ shares Louis.

To maintain his passion for his vocation, this native from Auvergne, in the centre of France, living for 10 years in Vallorcine, admits to be looking for a certain amount of chemistry between the climbers roped together. ‘When the chemistry is there, work quickly turns to pleasure just sharing great times in the mountains with friends.’

The multi-pitch routes and demanding climbs he loves to enjoy with his clients imply a mutual commitment. ‘Myself for instance, expect serious preparation from my clients, which shows an important sign of commitment, this allows us to share the tasks and ensure the best chance to succeed in our project. These climbers roped together for the time of the route can then share true, unmasked emotions.’

What is Louis really looking for? ‘To live as unhindered a life as possible.’ This is probably the reason why he avoids many of the things he considers superfluous in his daily life, such as social networks.

I expect serious preparation
from my clients,
which shows
an important sign
of commitment.

10 YEARS OF MEMORIES ROPED TOGETHER

After 10 years sharing the same rope, Thierry agrees with this sense of mutual commitment. That’s why he qualifies his relationship with the guide as one of great team work. ‘The client relies on the guide, but the guide relies on the client too. When tackling demanding climbs, the client-guide relationship is a bonding moment which turns into friendship. But as a client, we can be under pressure.’ This is a situation which has to be handled by both parts of the team. Louis admits that ‘there is a lot to work, as a guide, in order to express things clearly’. Despite this dimension concerning the human psychology, when asked independently about their best memories in the mountains, both mention the Piz Badil Cassin route in the Dolomites, proof that these two are on the same rope!

Starting as a beginner in 2005, Thierry has been training hard at the climbing gym, in London, to reach the level required for the routes he dreamt about. ‘We based our projects on the 100 finest routes from Rebuffat (Editor’s note: a classic mountain read). As years went by, my climbing level improved. We have climbed together the North-West edge of Grands Charmoz as well as a dozen of the Chamonix Aiguilles.

Louis confirms: “Discovering new itineraries together is one of our strengths. This is very stimulating.” And Thierry adds: “Being roped up allows to explore places you don’t know. In the multi-pitch routes, when the leader carves his way through cracks, crests and other overhanging rocks, this rope connecting us becomes a symbol by showing me the way.”

This climbers’ duo looks like it will remain roped up for many more explorations. This is the story of a relationship between a client and a guide, built on year-long experiences and memories. A human story, really, like many others at the Compagnie des guides de Chamonix. But a unique story, for sure, whose secrets are known only by the mountains!