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Marc-André Leclerc, Alpine Soloist For The Ages

The Canadian climber was largely unknown for much of his short life, but was among the most bold, talented, and prolific solo alpinists of his generation.

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This biography of Marc-André Leclerc is part of Climbing’s ongoing Who’s Who biographical study of climbing’s all-time greats, achievers, and, in the cases of Aleister Crowley and Leni Rienfenstahl, its most notorious and disreputable. See the links at the end of this article for more. 

Marc-André Leclerc (October 10, 1992 – March 5, 2018) was a Canadian climber known primarily for his solo alpinism. Among numerous other alpine solos, Leclerc made the first winter solos of Patagonia’s Torre Egger (8,809 feet) and the Emperor Face of Mount Robson (12,972 feet) in Canada.

Leclerc died at the age of 25, after he and his partner were struck by a storm while descending from the summit of the Main Tower (6,910 feet) in the Mendenhall Towers Massif, Alaska, after climbing the formation via a new route. Leclerc was the subject of the award-winning documentary The Alpinist, released posthumously in 2021.

The Calculated Madness of Marc-André Leclerc

Early Life

Leclerc was born in Nanaimo, a port city on the eastern coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, in 1992. When he was four, his family moved inland to Agassiz, a small community just outside Chilliwack. Here Leclerc began climbing at the age of 10, after joining the Project Climbing gym in nearby Abbotsford. Soon he began cutting his teeth on real rock in earnest, particularly the local crag of Harrison Bluffs, where he would ride his bike after school. Leclerc also competed in youth competitions during this time, winning the Canadian Nationals in 2005.

Leclerc was an avid member of the British Columbia Mountaineering Club throughout high school, and soloed the north face of Cheam Peak (6,903 feet) on graduation day in 2009. After graduating, he moved to Squamish to pursue climbing full-time.

Climbing Career

In his late teens and early 20s, Leclerc made a handful of notable ascents in British Columbia, including breaking Alex Honnold’s existing speed record on the 1000-foot Grand Wall (5.11a) with a 57-minute solo. He also completed a 12-hour free solo linkup of Grade IV climbs Navigator Wall (5.10+), East Buttress Direct (5.10+), and the Northeast Buttress (5.9+) on Mount Slesse (8,002 feet) in 2014. He made the first winter ascent of the Navigator Wall, difficulties estimated at M7+ R, with Tom Livingstone that winter.

Leclerc largely flew under the radar during his career, only achieving widespread fame and recognition after his death. However, he became recognized in the climbing community at large in 2015, after making the first solo of the 4,000-foot Corkscrew (5.10d, WI5, M4) on Cerro Torre (10,262 feet) in Argentine Patagonia. It marked the granite spire’s hardest solo to date. Leclerc was a mere 22 years old at the time. 

(Photo: Scott Serfas)

Later that year, he made a solo linkup of Tomahawk and Exocet (5.8+, M6, WI6, 3000 feet) on Aguja Standhardt (8,957 feet). The following year, he made one of the finest ascents of his life, soloing the Torre Egger in winter via the East Pillar. In the process, Leclerc became the first person to summit the peak alone in winter and completed solo climbs of all three main Cerro Torre peaks. 

Leclerc made a number of other notable ascents, primarily solos, during his short but illustrious career. Among the most groundbreaking was a solo of the 7,200-foot Infinite Patience (5.9 M5 WI5) on Mt. Robson’s Emperor Face in 2016. The same year he made triple solo free ascents of the imposing Stanley Headwall with the routes French Reality (M5 WI6+), Nightmare on Wolfstreet (M7+ WI6+), and The Day After les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (M5 WI5) all in a single day.

Leclerc began a relationship with American climber Brette Harrington when he was 20, while living in Squamish. The pair established several climbs together, including Hidden Dragon (5.12b) on Mt. Rexford’s Chinese Puzzle Wall, and were together until his death.

Why Marc-André Leclerc Agreed to Be Filmed in “The Alpinist”

Death on the Mendenhall Towers

Leclerc died on March 5, 2018, after summiting a new route in Alaska’s Mendenhall Towers with partner Ryan Johnson. The pair sent messages to friends and family from the summit, but disappeared while descending after being hit by a storm. Search and recovery teams discovered their ropes several days later in a crevasse near the base of the route, leading to speculation that the duo was struck by falling rock, a cornice, or an avalanche while descending, though the bodies were never recovered. He was survived by his parents, Serge Leclerc and Michelle Kuipers, brother, Elijah, and sister, Bridgid-Anne Dunning.

Leclerc was the subject of the documentary film The Alpinist, directed by Nick Rosen and Peter Mortimer. The film was in production for much of the later years of Leclerc’s life, but was released posthumously in 2021. It won an Emmy award for “Outstanding Long Documentary,” and was also nominated for “Outstanding Camera Work – Long Form.”

Notable Climbs

  • The Last Temptation of St Anthony (5.13a), Squamish Chief, British Columbia, Canada. First free ascent (2013).
  • The Grand Wall (5.11a), Squamish Chief, British Columbia, Canada. Fastest (at the time) speed solo of 57 minutes (2013).
  • East Pillar Direct (5.10+), Navigator Wall (5.10+), and Northeast Buttress (5.9+), Mount Slesse, Cascades, Canada. Speed free solo triple link-up in 12 hours, 4 minutes (2014).
  • Navigator Wall (M7+ R), Mount Slesse, Cascades, Canada. First winter ascent with Tom Livingstone (2015).
  • Muir Wall (5.13c) El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, California. Free ascent (2015).
  • Reverse Torre Traverse (5.10), Patagonia. First Ascent with Colin Haley (2015).
  • The Corkscrew, Cerro Torre, Patagonia. First solo ascent (2015).
  • Tomahawk/Exocet, Aguja Standhardt, Patagonia. Onsight free solo (2015).
  • Infinite Patience (5.9 M5 WI5), Mount Robson, Canadian Rockies. First solo ascent (2016).
  • French Reality (M5 WI6+), Nightmare on Wolf Street (M7+ WI6+), The Day After les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (M5 WI5), Stanley Headwall, Banff National Park, Canada. Triple solo linkup in a day (2016).
  • Leclerc-Lindic Route (M7+ WI6+ R), Northeast Face, Mount Tuzo, Canadian Rockies. First ascent with Luka Lindic (2016).
  • East Pillar, Torre Egger, Patagonia. First solo winter ascent (2016).
  • Premature Ejaculation (5.10+) Ha Ling Peak, Mount Lawrence Grassi, Canadian Rockies Free solo (2017).
  • Cheesmond Express (5.10) and [EEOR’s] Tail (5.10), Ha Ling Peak and East Mount Rundle, Canadian Rockies. Free solo linkup (2017).
  • North Face of the Main Tower, Mendenhall Towers, Alaska. First ascent with Ryan Johnson (2018).