Catherine Destivelle Earns Piolets d’Or Lifetime Achievement Award

Destivelle becomes the first woman to receive the award since it began in 2009.
Publish date:

The Piolets d’Or jury has chosen Catherine Destivelle to be the recipient of their 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award. Since its inception in 2009, the Lifetime Achievement Award is meant to honor climbers who’s careers serve as inspiration to following generations, and has been awarded to legendary climbers such as Walter Bonatti, Reinhold Messner, and John Roskelley. Catherine Destivelle is the first female recipient of the award..

Screen Shot 2020-07-23 at 1.58.09 PM

Destivelle was born in 1960 in French Algeria. Her family moved to France when she was a child. She began bouldering in Fontainebleau when she was 12 years old. As a teenager, Destivelle got a taste for mountaineering in the Alps, but in the 1980s turned her attention to sport climbing—a rapidly growing discipline in Europe at that time. She was the first woman to redpoint 8a (5.13b).

Destivelle was one of the pioneers of climbing competitions as well. She won the Italy's Sportroccia in 1985, the first international climbing comp. Throughout the late-1980s, Destivelle and Lynn Hill often rivaled one another for first place at international competitions.

Though Destivelle was a top-tier sport climber, her true passion was alpinism, which she made a triumphant return to in 1990 with a solo ascent of the Bonatti Pillar on the Petit Dru. In 1992, she became the first woman to solo the North Face of the Eiger, which she completed in winter. The following year, she did a winter solo of the Walker Spur on the Grandes Jorasses, and a winter solo of the Bonatti Route on the North Face of the Matterhorn the year after that. Destivelle then took the skills she learned in the Alps to the Greater Ranges, climbing high-altitude routes in the Himalaya and Karakorum.

Catherine Destivelle crushed the stereotypes that top level sport climbing and daring alpinism were reserved for men. She is one of the most well-rounded climbers of all time—from the boulders of Fontainebleau to the Himalaya—and her storied career serves as inspiration to climbers everywhere.

Read the full Piolets d'Or announcement below:

We are happy to announce that the Piolets d’Or 2020 event will go ahead as planned during the 25th edition of the Ladek Mountain Film Festival in Poland. Access to a large area and the adoption of precautionary measures will allow us to safely welcome over 1000 members of the public.

We also have the immense pleasure of announcing that on the 19th September, during this festival, the 12th Walter Bonatti - Piolets d’Or Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to Catherine Destivelle.

Catherine Destivelle started making a name for herself in the climbing world during the 1980s, a time when sport climbing was exploding in popularity and grades were rising rapidly. The media focused its attention on this new discipline, ignoring the fact that Catherine had been an alpinist from a young age. Shortly after discovering climbing at Fontainebleau at the age of 12, she was tackling big routes in the Mont Blanc massif. However, by the mid-1980s she had started participating in sport-climbing competitions and her success in these, and the fact she became the first woman to redpoint 8a, turned her into a rock climbing star. But few people knew that as a teenager she had climbed some of the biggest routes in the Alps.

In 1990, the rock star made her mountain comeback with an impressive solo ascent of the Bonatti Pillar on the Petit Dru. This finally gained her recognition as an alpinist. She went on to open a new route on the west face of the Petit Dru over 11 days, before completing a solo winter trilogy; the north face of the Eiger in 1992, the Walker Spur on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses in 1993, and the Bonatti route on the north face of the Matterhorn in 1994. This latter route is still rarely climbed today. It was her second big Bonatti route and the first time a woman had climbed at such a high standard in the Alps. However, Catherine didn’t just want to be known as an accomplished female climber, she wanted her performances to be measured against those of any alpinist, no matter their gender. How many people could claim to operate at this standard? Catherine had proved that women could climb just as hard as men.