Patrick Edlinger, one of the world's great climbers in the 1980s and 1990s, died on Friday, November 16, at his home in La Palud-sur-Verdon in the Alpes de Haute-Provence in southern France at age 52. The cause of death is unknown.
Edlinger, nicknamed Le Blond for his long golden hair, was simply one of the best climbers of his day and was one of the great French climbers who ushered in the sport climbing age of bolts and hard redpoint routes. Edlinger was also a minimalist climber who often worked up dizzyingly high cliffs without a rope, climbing with precision and purity.
Patrick was the central climber in several French climbing films, usually free-soloing airy routes in his beloved Verdon Gorge (Gorges du Verdon) a few miles from his home as well as at Buoux. Edlinger became famous after being featured in the 1982 film La Vie au bout des doigts, cranking hard routes at Buoux, one of the world's first sport climbing areas.
Besides establishing routes at Verdon, Edlinger developed most of the classic routes on the central cliff at Ceuse, a high-altitude cliff in France that is often called the best climbing area in the world. Patrick's routes at Ceuse are bold, technical masterpieces with only a bare minimum of bolts for protection.
In 1995, Edlinger basically gave up hard climbing as well as free-soloing after taking a serious leader fall while skipping bolts on a sport route. He had a cardiac arrest afterwards but was revived. Jean-Michel Asselin, his friend and writer of a biography of Edlinger that is set to come out next spring, told a French newspaper yesterday, "The passion never left him. He continued to climb and planned to do a world tour."
Valerie Founeyron, French Minister of Sports and Youth, said in a statement, "A pioneer in France for free climbing at a high level, Patrick was a man who had a thirst for the absolute challenge. He refused to compromise and disdained conventions. He dedicated his life to his passion--climbing." She also said, "He was the first to establish climbing as a true discipline of live art, paving the way for many to climb with respect for nature."
Patrick Edlinger, a truck driver then superstar climber, was a French icon and revered for his achievements as well as for his humbleness. Social media has been buzzing in France since his death. One Twitter post read, "The cliffs are orphans at Verdon. An icon is gone."
Photographs above: (Top) Edlinger walking the finals route at the first international climbing competition at Snowbird in 1986. (Bottom) Edlinger gracing the cover of the French climbing magazine Roc n' Roll. The cover copy reads: The Passion of Climbing with Patrick Edlinger.