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A Climber We Lost: Marcel Remy

Each January we post a farewell tribute to those members of our community lost in the year just past. Some of the people you may have heard of, some not. All are part of our community and contributed to climbing.


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You can read the full tribute to Climbers We Lost in 2022 here.

Marcel Remy, 99, July 10

If there ever was a poster child for “age is just a number,” Marcel Remy surely fit the bill. The Swiss climber, who died in his sleep on July 10, was perhaps best known as the father of prolific alpinists Yves and Claude Remy, who, throughout their backyard of the Swiss Alps and the world at large, have some 15,000 bolted routes to their name. Marcel was a strong and varied climber himself, but it was the elder Remy’s later years that saw him gain even wider acclaim and respect, as he continued climbing regularly throughout his 70s, 80s, and 90s. 

Born February 6, 1923, in Gruyère, Switzerland, Marcel Remy was the son of a railway worker, living at the rail station of Les Cases. After an avalanche killed his mother and sister in 1942, Remy, aged 19, began working for the railway himself. He took up climbing shortly after, diving into ascents of well-known walls such as the Miroir d’Argentine, a sprawling, mirror-like limestone slab rising some 1,500 feet between Cheval Blanc and the Haute Corde. 

Though he climbed extensively throughout Europe in the years that followed, from the Dolomites to Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn, Remy was a climber from the age before sponsorship and “professional” climbing, and it was ultimately his two sons, perhaps the most prolific route developers in Switzerland, who managed to garner sponsorships and make a full-time career out of climbing.

In some ways, Remy was a patron saint of the old guard, affectionately known as the “Patriarch of the Cime.” His sons recalled fondly how he stuck to the old ways, stubbornly wearing hobnail boots onto the rock and tying into hemp ropes well after rubber rock shoes and dynamic rope came into being. “He was a tough dad,” Claude told AFP in 2021. “With him it was do or die, whatever the conditions.”

But this resistance to change is perhaps what kept him on the wall decades after other climbers his age hung up their helmets. Remy, introduced to the sport paradise of Kalymnos by his sons in the early 2000s, took regular birthday trips to the island throughout his 80s, not fazed by his new cardiac pacemaker, prosthetic hips, or any of the other hallmark handicaps of old age. On his 85th birthday, he onsighted a 5.10a. Shortly after, he redpointed 5.10c. He led 5.9 to celebrate his 92nd. He even began skateboarding in his 80s, introduced to the sport by a neighborhood kid. 

Remy stated on many occasions that he felt this constant push to remain active, a refusal to spend his later years on the couch, was what kept him in such remarkable physical and mental shape. “It’s the rhythm that you have to take, for breathing, for the movements,” he told AFP last June. “If I go beyond that, there’s a price to pay afterward … It’s better to go calmly, without over-exertion, and then it works. It gives me a lot of pleasure because you have to work, think and surpass yourself; that’s what suits me well.”

Among Remy’s most celebrated later life feats was a send of his beloved Miroir d’Argentine, aged 94, via a 12-pitch linkup of three routes, pushing through rock graded up to 5.8, as well as a notoriously steep, loose approach. “I’m already so pleased because I can tell it’s going to be OK,” Remy said, bivouacking at the base of the route before the climb. “I will struggle, but it will be fine.”

“He is a man with lots of determination, and incredible motivation,” his son Claude said in a MAMMUT documentary focusing on the 2017 ascent, which Remy performed with his sons leading the way. Remy trained religiously for the endeavor, putting in lap after lap at local rock gyms in preparation. In classic form, he opted for a tandem paraglide down from the summit, in lieu of a normal descent. At the time, he estimated that he’d climbed the gargantuan face somewhere between 200 and 250 times in his 70+ years of climbing.

“To be honest, I think it was his strength of character and determination that got him to the top,” said Claude, who admitted that initially, he was unsure if his dad would make it. “You need to be one tough cookie [to do something like that].”

The nonagenarian continued climbing regularly for the rest of his life. Two years after the Miroir, aged 96, Remy roped in for a strong attempt on Les Guêpes, a multipitch his sons had put up in 1974 at St. Loup. Though he was stymied by the second pitch, an overhung 5.10a, Remy vowed to return. He celebrated his 99th birthday, with typical panache, plugging his way up a 5.6 (on lead, of course), at a local rock gym in Villeneuve, clipping the chains before lowering for birthday cake.

Though he made countless ascents across Europe, what’s most impressive about Marcel Remy is the sheer duration of his efforts on the wall—lifelong is the only word to describe it. The Swiss climber laid claim to a mountain career spanning eight full decades. 

In a culture and community often over-concerned with the next 5.15d or V17, Marcel Remy was a quiet, unassuming reminder of the power of true passion, both for extending one’s life and making it worth living in the first place. “I can’t figure out people who don’t understand that at my age you can still be active,” Remy said.

“If I’m still enjoying it and feeling good… Why not carry on?”

—Owen Clarke

You can read the full tribute to Climbers We Lost in 2022 here.