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Swiss trad climbing ace Didier Berthod returns to climbing

The Swiss climber was once pushing the limits of trad climbing

Didier Berthod, a top crack climber from Valais, Switzerland, has returned to the rock after leaving the religious life.

In 2003, Berthod removed the old green-painted bolts from an overhanging thin crack in the Orco Valley in Italy and free-climbed it with clean gear. Green Spit (spit meaning bolts), became one of the first 5.14 trad routes. Berthod then toured the world red-pointing hard trad routes, but is perhaps best known for his exploits in Squamish.

He then travelled to Utah where he established Learning to Fly 5.13+ and From Switzerland with Love 5.13+ in Indian Creek.

In 2005, he spent two months trying Cobra Crack in a campaign recorded in the video, First Ascent. Berthod failed, injured himself and returned to Switzerland. The first ascent was made later by Sonnie Trotter at 5.14.

Shortly after he returned to Switzerland, at the height of his powers, Berthod gave up climbing and joined the Catholic Eucharistein community near his native Valais. The community’s founder, Nicolas Buttet, took vows of celibacy in 1985, after his girlfriend told him she was pregnant.

When it turned out she was not, Buttet founded a religious community that specialized in welcoming people form all walks of life. In 2006, Berthod joined the community and in 2016 he was ordained a priest.

In his recent interview with German podcast Actiontalk TV, Berthod said, “In recent years I quit this [monastic] way of being Christian and I embraced a way more humanistic way of being Christian.”

Although Berthod once told a Swiss newspaper that his faith was ‘in deep continuity with his life as a climber,” he completely quit climbing during his life at Eucharistein. He now says he has “begun work on reconciliation with his history, his family and friends and my identification with the climbing community.”

At first, he says, “I went back to climbing, just once a week, then things went and started becoming a lot again.” Meaning definitely more than once a week.

Certainly, he means to get back in to top climbing form. On the granite needle of the Petit Clocher du Portalet he has already completed a new bolted 8c crack and has equipped a new route.

His project on the same formation is an alternate finish to L’histoire sans fin, (The Never-Ending Story) a 5.14a eight-pitch route he put up in 2001 with Bertrand Martenet, Fabian Borter and François Mathey. “It’s going to be world-class” says Berthod.

Clearly Berthod has not just returned for a little pleasure climbing.

The interviewers at Actiontalk TV ask Berthod about “an outstanding bill,” at Squamish, “that he could not settle before he entered the monastery,” meaning Cobra Crack, “and if [Berthod] was going back to Squamish to settle this bill.”

“I have no idea if I will go back,” says Berthod, looking a little wistful, “If I do, I would love to go out there and try to finish.”

Here’s to the never-ending story.

2020 Interview