The Life of Hugues Beauzile

The Life of Hugues Beauzile

When my friend Aimee Copp, the director of the Adventure Film Festival invited me to come to Boulder to take part in this wonderful event she asked me, “So James, what are your working on?”. I immediately told her about an exciting story that I’m writing  for Alpinist Magazine about a French climber who died on Aconcagua in 1995. She asked me to appear on stage at the Boulder Theatre to tell this remarkable story.

If you’ve read the memoir of the great American climber Lynn Hill you may remember a mention of a friend of hers named Hugues Beauzile. A  dynamic young athlete Hugues came on the French climbing scene in a sudden rush of enthusiasm, natural talent and skill in the 1990s. But what made him truly stand out was his rebellious spirit and his unapologetic embrace of his African heritage. Hugues was bi-racial, half Haitian and half white. He wore his hair in a thick mane of black dreadlocks like his musical hero Bob Marley and in the French climbing community he was known as Le Rasta. He was a pure spirit of great kindness and warmth and brought those wonderful characteristics into his climbing.

With very little training he became the driving force of sport climbing in an area of France called Montpellier. Guided by his mentor the legendary alpinist Luciene Bérardini he established a crag called Claret. Today of the 177 routes in this area Hugues created 135 of them. With a special interest in creating a supportive climbing community he established a school called Scalta Nature, where he personally train more than 50 young climbers. The school will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2018 and today has more than 100 members.

Following in the footsteps of his mentor Luciene Beradini whom the young climbers called Lulu, he ventured out into the French alps. Within months of putting on crampons for the first time he successfully soloed routes in winter called the Walker Spur and Thomas Gross. When asked why he would take on such difficult climbs in his very first season he replied “I thought everyone did that sort of thing! I was at my limits, but I like to push myself.”

From France he and Lulu came to the United State where Hugue climbed the Nose and Zodiac on El Capitan. On this trip he met Lynn Hill and they became friends. Training for his next objective they climbed in Red Rocks, Hueco Tanks and Joshua Tree. And after returning home he prepared for an objective in South America that Lulu had first climbed in the 1950s, the Western Face of Aconcagua. And that was where Le Rasta met his destiny.

There are those who would say that this brash, defiant climber had gone too far, ascended too fast, climbed too high. But accounts of his death reveal that he died while saving the lives of two climbers a man and a woman he met along the way who had less skill than he. In his last journal entry Hugues wrote  “They don’t know how to Jumar. Three hours lost, suffering, on the face we can put fifty meters of rope, but nothing to eat since yesterday.”

They ran out of food. They ran out of fuel to melt ice for water. Finally they hunkered down and the man went for help alone. But he became lot in a storm and it took him two days to reach the base of the mountain. When search and rescue finally arrived the woman lay unconscious and Hugues, in a final gasp of anguish, passed away in the arms of the EMTS

Hugues Beauzile died in pursuit of his highest aspirations, but he gave his life so that others might live. Though few remember him today, Hugues left behind an enduring legacy that continues to inspire a generation of new climbers who may never know his name. As one who spends much of my writing career telling the stories of forgotten adventurers who are people of color, I’ve grown a bit obsessed with this most compelling narrative. Through a series of translated interviews and his personal dairy entries from his last days on Aconcagua, with the invaluable help of my editor Katie Ives I’ve put together a detailed profile of Hugues Beauzile coming out in Alpinist Magazine#60.