“If I could live my life all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing”

François Cazzanelli: new La Sportiva total look athlete

 “If I could live my life all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing”

As a small child, at kindergarten, he would while away the hours drawing pictures of the Matterhorn.  Then he grew up and has since climbed the mountain 92 times (the first time he climbed it he was just 13 years). Perhaps, those who believe in destiny, will say it was written in the stars: born into a family of mountaineers – his father and his grandfathers were all Mountain Guides – the surnames Cazzanelli and Maquignaz (on his mother’s side), are historically linked to the world of mountaineering. Growing up in Cervinia, in Valtournenche, where he still lives today, François perceives new routes to be climbed where other people see only rock, on the rock face close to home, as well as in Nepal, China, Alaska, Antarctica, Patagonia.  Maybe François Cazanelli, 31, Mountain guide since 2011, had a dream. And he is succeeding thanks to the help of La Sportiva who will sponsor the total look of the athlete from Valle d’Aosta

 

Tell us about yourself. Taboo words: Mountain and mountaineering

Hi, I’m François, the best words to describe me? Distracted and hyperactive.

 

You are a forerunner of fast & light… What thrill do you get in racing up a mountain?  It’s it a contradiction with respect to the new search for harmony and respect for the rhythms of nature?

The mountains offer us the possibility to moving according to our own rhythm.  Nature does not dictate time rather it is up to the individual to decide the speed at which to live.  For me, climbing quickly means being in totally harmony with nature that surrounds me, in this way I can further appreciate the greatness of the environment. I don’t find satisfaction in breaking records but in imagining a route on the rock face and trying it follow it as quickly as possible giving continuity to the line that I envisaged in my head without interrupting it.  This is the real charm of fast and light in my opinion.

 

Is mountaineering just for selfish people?

Well, I guess it is really.  As mountaineers we are all a little selfish, in our own way.   I consider myself to be a bit of an egoist because I am always searching for a personal wellbeing that I find only in the mountains, not always linked to the fulfilment of my projects, but in the search for what makes me feel good. I often think about the people who love me, and I try to reach some sort of compromise.  Those who know me well accept that my selfishness prevails at times.  It is something I know about myself, I accept it and try to compensate in other ways with my loved ones, for example by sharing my passion with them.

 

In 2018 you climbed Mount Everest with a client.  There are few mountaineers who make such choices…how do you know you can trust your climbing partner?  

There are several situations.  I climbed Mount Everest with a client after a long training period together, after a shared training expeditions and five years of climbing – almost every week – as climbing partners.  The right feeling was created and the essential conditions that allowed for the success for the ascent.   When it comes to the choice of a person for my personal projects instead, I rarely find the immediate, perfect harmony.  I usually start by getting to know the person on a simple climbing wall, and things start from there.  I am very attached to the relationships I establish with my climbing partners:  I believe that a team works better than a single person.

 

What do you look for in a climbing partner?

Most important of all is a personal feeling, which goes beyond the technical mountaineering value of a person.  I need to feel the pleasure of spending time together and later a sense of trust and security both technical and moral, as a determined companion, ready to suffer, rather than someone stronger than me but who wants to back out at the first difficulty.

 

Is mountaineering the search for suffering or for beauty?

Of beauty without a doubt. The doctor doesn’t order us to climb mountains, we do it for pleasure and it is for this reason that fatigue and pain take a back seat.  I never remember the suffering of an ascent.  I go to the mountains because I feel free, it makes me feel good.  The rest is superfluous.

 

What do you think of those who talk about their expeditions before their departure?

I don’t really like it… we live in a work where everyone wants to know everything immediately, but I have always been of the idea that it is better to try to bring home what you want to do and only then talk about it, that’s why I talk very little before my expeditions.   Sometimes high expectations are created and then the goal goes amiss

 

What does “Mountaineering by fair means”, mean to you?

‘By fair means’ just seem like big words to fill your mouth.  I prefer to say that in the mountains you need to be able to get by on your own: a mountaineer must be able to cope in every situation.

 

What was your worst experience in the mountains?

One of the worst was the accident I had in 2016, when with Giampaolo Corona I was trying to reach the unclimbed summit of the Kimshung (6781 m), in Nepal, and I injured my right arm by a volley of stones.  From that moment a difficult descent began, made possible thanks to the great ability and professionalism of my partner who saved my life.  Once we got back to the tent, a helicopter came to get me and took me to Kathmandu, where I underwent an emergency operation.

 

How do you imagine mountaineering of the future?

Mountaineering is a strange thing, in the sense that it goes through historical cycles.  Firstly, we “conquered” the mountains, then we climbed them again along the more challenging sides, then there were winter climbs and solo ones.  What we did in the Alps in now happening in the Himalayas   My wish for the next generation of climbers is this, that instead of retracing past routes, they will experience something new, using their imagination.  The mountaineer dies when he has no more imagination, which is what shows him new lines where those who have go before failed to see anything. In modern mixed or in dry tooling we have enhanced mountains that no-one previously considered.  Personally, I have experienced very intense adventures on peaks that most people have “snubbed” and this happened because I was driven by curiosity.  I hope that the mountaineers of the future will always have new ideas, are curious and have lots of imagination.

 

Which are the mountains that have been ‘snubbed’ by mountaineers?

In the mountains close to home for example, between Valtournenche and Val d’Ayas, we have opened three challenging modern mixed routes on the Gran Sommetta (on the summit there is a Madonna and a beautiful view of the Matterhorn), a mountain that may appear banal at first sight, but climbing a face that no one has ever wanted to explore has given us great satisfaction.  The same goes for the Himalayas: many times we head to the Base Camps of the eight thousand peaks with our goal in mind, without seeing what we have around us, while there is a whole world to discover. For this reason, I sometimes take more photos during the approach than of the mountain I have decided to climb.  I also like trying new things on important peaks, it attracts me to be outside the box and swim against the tide. Having climbed an eight thousand, Manalsu, in eighteen hours, was a great challenge that fascinated me a lot: there were many of us at Base Camp but only I had this project in mind.

 

When do you imagine a new line to climb? In the shower? Where does inspiration come from?

In the most unexpected moments. On the 31st of December I went to visit my 94-year-old grandma, with my girlfriend.  I don’t like New Years and I was working the next day. Alessia was talking with my grandma, and I was looking at some photos of mountains on the phone.  After a while, Alessia asked me what I was doing and when I told her she got cross and shouted at me (he laughs). But it is in moments like this that I find inspiration for my projects

 

You have been collaborating with La Sportiva for two years now, it’s time to take stock…

My evaluation is very positive: it is the first time that I have been so in tune with a company in such a short time.  With La Sportiva I immediately felt at home and having a good feeling with people is a very important aspect for me.  I believe I have also been able to contribute to product development and I have received great feedback.  

 

Now a new adventure begins that will see you dressed in a total look by the company from Ziano di Fiemme. What do you expect from this new collaboration and in which direction would you like it to develop?

I will become an all-round La Sportiva athlete and I hope to continue collaborating with the company to develop technical clothing for use in the mountains, at the same time I hope to contribute with my mountaineering projects too.  

 

The eight-thousanders are a unique environment...How do you know when you can trust a product even in a context that is sometimes extreme? How do you know it works and which aspects do you takin into consideration the most?...

The reliability of a product generates from certain bases.  I sometimes use prototypes even for demanding projects, but this is only possible because over the years great trust has been gained in the people who develop them, and also because I always try to test the products in less extreme contexts first and having gained a little experience, I can immediately get an idea of how far they can go.

 

For mountain safety, how important is it that brands like la Sportiva collaborate with Alpine guides?

It is fundamental.  My world is made up of three complementary circles that intersect: Franz Alpine guide, Franz mountaineer and Franz the helicopter rescue team member.  I find equal satisfaction in each of these activities and by experiencing the mountains in different aspects, I can get a better idea of what is really needed, perhaps to avoid a problem or an accident.  For a brand, it is important to count on technical figures who provide credibility and allow the production of reliable, quality products.

 

Where does the desire to help others come from with the activity of helicopter rescue?

It is something that has always attracted me. I have had the good fortune, or bad luck, depending on how you look at things, to have experienced a series of setbacks and difficult situations where I have found myself in the situation of having to help people.  On these occasions I immediately realized that I was able to keep my calm and reason coldly: I was automatically able to concentrate on what I had to do without being too emotionally involved. Hence the desire to help those in difficulty. Likewise, I hope that if I find myself in a bad situation there will be someone to give me a hand. I work very hard in this activity, even if, as in everything, there is the good and the bad. It is the experiences that we live that make us the person we are, something that we carry inside ourselves and that helps us grow and mature.  

 

Your bucket list of the three mountains to see at least once in a lifetime?

There are three perfect mountains, that a child can draw.  The Matterhorn, that I have climbed 92 times in my life, the first time when I was 13: a pure, triangular shape.  Then there is Cerro Torre, which I climbed in 2014.  Finally, K2, a perfect pyramid: it is impossible not to be fascinated by it.  I have been trying to organize myself to climb it for the past two years, but the pandemic has hindered every attempt.

 

Three things you hate?

The heat, it weakens me! Cheese, apart from mozzarella on pizza, I live off pizza. I hate all cheese that smells, let’s put it that way.  Supermarkets and department stores: these are places where I feel totally uncomfortable and after a quarter of an hour my eyes ache, and I feel more tired than when I climb an eight thousand.  

 

Who will Francois Cazzanelli in his next hypothetical life?

I have never thought of having a second chance, that’s why I try to live every moment to the fullest because I believe that it is unique.  If I could live my life all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.

 

What’s cooking for 2022?

I would like to climb K2, I’ve been trying since 2020! It is a mountain that has always fascinated me:  we are still defining precisely what we are going to do but for sure it will be something that reflects my style, a bit outside the box.

 

Author: Marta Manzoni

Photos: Matteo Pavana

 

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