Lise Billon is located in Valence, in the south of France. She has just returned from her latest trip to Patagonia, her fifth. Hair tousled and eyes thirsty for adventure. Adventurous is precisely the adjective with which Lise would like to be associated. Adventurous and dreamy. Despite the dreamy spirit, the things she wants, Lise takes. He doesn’t just stand there and dream.
The mountains have always been a ‘family affair’: her father is a mountain guide and despite not having been born in the mountains, she has always frequented them as a family. In fact, when he wanted to rebel against his parents in his teens, he rejected climbing by taking up handball. A sympathetic story. Who knows, were it not for the attraction to mountaineering, maybe instead of the Piolet D’Or in his hand he would have a few titles at the Handball World Cup. Since childhood close to the mountain environment, she has always dreamed of expeditions, storms and portaledges on the walls of Patagonia.
Today you climb those same walls you dreamed of as a child. How did this expedition go?
This is the fifth time I have returned from an expedition to Patagonia. The first few times it was always about exploring very remote areas, whereas El Chaltén has all the facilities in the valley…maybe 20 years ago it could have been called an expedition but now you go there and climb. In recent years I have begun to want to enjoy places where there is no extraordinary or unexplored. We had bad luck with the weather, but the uncertainty was in a way a source of fun. We climbed known and non-extreme routes, nothing crazy but extremely beautiful.
Is that perhaps why on your socials you and Federica Mingolla have recently used #notherefortheglory?
There is much tragedy in El Chaltén. People who go and do not return. Sometimes through unforeseeable accidents, many others through mistakes and lack of experience. The fact that it has become a popular destination has made people forget that it is still high mountains. Plus there is the issue, as always, of why. Each of us does mountaineering for different reasons. Some do it for recognition, some for a sense of freedom, some for pleasure, and some for fun. It is easy to lose one’s focus for glory and success, which is as overwhelming today as ever, especially for us women. It is helpful to remind oneself why we are here. We’re here-at least I’m here-to play. I want to have fun.
There was a moment while climbing a route where we realized we were not having fun, the risk was considerable, and I said to myself, “Cmon! We’re not here for glory and we’re not having fun…let’s get off.” Reaching a summit and glorifying oneself without having fun does not interest me at the moment. I have great ambitions and plans but these are not necessarily aimed at success and glory.
It is nice to see on your social channels the naturalness with which you talk about the ‘failure’ of a project or a way.
I want the message to get through that there is no need to justify or blame yourself. Sometimes conditions do not allow us to complete a climb. Sometimes we are tired, sometimes we are not having fun. It is totally normal to come down and say, “This time it didn’t go, it will be for the next one.”
You have also often addressed the issue of difficulty in finding partners.
Indeed! And I speak for both men and women. You need someone with whom (especially inEl Chaltén) you can get along in life downstream. A good friend whom you love and with whom you share motivations and ambitions. Finding someone who meets all the points is difficult. For the few women in the mountaineering world (excluding the reality of the 8000s, which is another matter) the challenge is even more difficult. Over the years, I have realized that as a social matter, everything is easier with women. With a man you have to make sure that the relationship is clear, that the girlfriend is not jealous. I prefer to climb with other women. It’s easy, you talk about personality and feeling. With Fede (Federica Mingolla, ed.), ambitions and motivation are the same. We understand each other great, even if she is even more hyperactive than I am!
Talking about your career, what events have made you who you are now?
Of course, the Piolet D’Or, in 2016. But I think some of the success is almost due to the fact that, I mean, I’m a woman and I’m a mountain guide. I don’t think there are currently that many female mountain guides. Gradually the number is increasing, but it used to be not so. I am definitely not the strongest mountaineer in the world even among women, but I am very motivated and am constantly looking for new expeditions and projects. I have been devoting my life to the mountains for more than 10 years now.
What do you think was your greatest mountaineering achievement?
Al100% theCerro Murallón in Patagonia. It was my first real expedition and also the most important one. I was very naïve and didn’t realize what I was actually doing. We spent thirty-two days in total autonomy. In five, carrying ten 20-30kg bags for up to 12 hours. No Sherpas or support. We also found ourselves in the middle of a storm. We stayed 11 days on the wall without weather information because we had no availability of good satellite or efficient devices.
And how did your mountaineering journey begin? What would you recommend to a child who, like you, dreams of big walls?
Until I was 18, I was struggling to close a 6b. I then started with ice climbing and taking part in courses organized by the French federation for young climbers. I have never taken part in competitions. I was not a strong climber. I went through industry associations, met people and made friends who shared my passion and goals. You can also approach the world of mountaineering through ski mountaineering, and participate in courses and classes. It is important to gain knowledge and become independent.
You are also a mountain guide, do you do that as a job at the moment or not anymore?
I used to work a lot, while now thanks to sponsors I can focus on my projects, which is quite recent as a thing. I continued to coach a group of young girls. There are six of them, and in a three-year course we teach them everything they need and then conclude with an expedition. Over the years I have seen that it is not so much teaching them technical skills as it is conveying confidence and teaching them that on their own they can succeed in what they aspire to. I would like to take to the world of mountaineering, where success is often made up of individuals. the concept of collectivity.
How do you see the figure of women in the mountaineering world instead?
If years ago we had to prove more to make our point, what happens today is a little different. The industry realized that there were not many women in the industry. For different issues, she started working to push young girls without skills to showcase themselves as super heroines. When at bottom there is nothing special or heroic. For me what must come first is mountain education. It’s not about putting a pair of pants and a shell on a girl to make her a mountaineer, maybe even putting her in danger. This is why I work to emphasize values and passion above all else. It is not important that the community of women is large, what is important is that there are female mountaineers who are doing this out of passion and within their means.
How do you choose your projects?
I really like vertical mountains. I don’t care if they are the highest as much as they are unexplored. I’m very curious and I’m always trying to find something I don’t know just to have the beauty of exploration. When we went to Nepal, the idea was actually to go to Pakistan. We had problems with a visa, and within a week we had to look for another destination. So, if anyone ever wonders-yes, it is possible to organize an expedition in less than a week, and that is where being aligned with your team becomes essential.
What is your relationship like with Ferrino?
I have been together with them since last year. If there’s one thing I like, it’s when a brand contacts me and enthusiastically lets me know that they care about having me on board. Communication is always effective and smooth. When I found out that holding the reins of the whole company was Anna, a woman, I really thought to myself, “That’s so cool!” Sponsors in the end are a bit like rope partners. You have to have the same vision and be able to work well together, have a connection on a human level.
Plans for 2023?
If everything lines up, we would like to try Pakistan again, but we will see if we can put all the pieces together. And again Patagonia, my place of the heart.