In an interview with Tim Ferris, Alex Honnold, the subject of the 2018 documentary film Free Solo, is asked who impresses him currently. Honnold mentions Marc-André Leclerc, a climber who is relatively unknown due to his elusive and low-profile nature. There is little video footage of Leclerc’s climbs, because, as Honnold states, “He’s just going out and climbing for himself in such a pure style.”
In 2015, director Peter Mortimer, a climber himself, comes across a blog post about Leclerc, a 23-year-old Canadian who had solo climbed a famous climbing route known as The Corkscrew (1,250m, 5.10d, A1) on Cerro Torre. Mortimer travels to Squamish, British Columbia—the heart of Canada’s climbing scene—to meet Leclerc. Leclerc is quirky and unaccustomed to being filmed. Unlike others, he doesn’t care about accolades or fame; he simply climbs for his love of climbing and adventure.
Although Leclerc enjoys free solo rock climbing on Stawamus Chief in Squamish, breaking Honnold’s speed record on The Grand Wall (5.11a), his main aspirations are in solo alpine climbing. Mortimer’s crew travels with him to Canmore in the Canadian Rockies for ice climbing season. Although incredibly dangerous and rarely done, in a single day Leclerc solo climbs both ice and mixed routes of rock and ice, including on the notorious Stanley Headwall, where he free solos famous routes such as Nightmare on Wolf Street (WI6+, M6), French Reality (WI6+, 5.8), and Nemesis (WI6). This attracts the interest of local climbers.
Leclerc becomes restless as the film crew plans the next shoot and drops off the radar for months, to Mortimer’s frustration. The crew eventually tracks Leclerc down to the Ghost River Wilderness Area in Alberta. Brette Harrington, Leclerc’s girlfriend and fellow climber, remarks that Leclerc is a free spirit who doesn’t care about films or “making his own climb significant to the world.”
In April 2016, news breaks that Leclerc has completed the first winter solo ascent of the Emperor Face of Mount Robson in British Columbia via the alpine climbing route Infinite Patience (2,250m, VI, 5.9, WI5, M5). This sends shockwaves throughout the climbing community, and Mortimer is frustrated that Leclerc made the solo ascent without letting his crew know. Leclerc tells him that “it wouldn’t be a solo to me if somebody was there.” Having now completed the first solo ascent, Leclerc invites the crew to Mount Robson to film his method of solo alpine climbing. Leclerc carries no communication devices and climbs on-sight, meaning that he has never been on the mountain and “never rehearsed the route.”
Months later, Leclerc travels to Patagonia to attempt the first winter solo ascent of Torre Egger, and on-sight, a longtime dream of his. Leclerc allows one cameraman, his climbing friend Austin Siadak, but only for the lower sections of the route—a variation of Dani Arnold’s 2010 Winter Link-Up route that finishes with Titanic (950m, 5.10, A1) on the southeast face. Leclerc would then complete the summit push alone with a small camera. After days of climbing, a snowstorm hits, and Leclerc—only four pitches from the summit—is forced to abandon his bivvy, rappel the mountain in blizzard conditions, and hike back to El Chaltén.
Mortimer expects Leclerc to pack up and fly back home, but Leclerc is determined to complete the climb. No longer an on-sight ascent, Leclerc decides to raise the stakes by climbing without any additional food or bivvy equipment. On September 17, 2016, Leclerc completes the entire route in just 21 hours, thus completing the first-ever solo winter ascent of Torre Egger on a route with difficulties of 5.10, WI3, M5, and A1.