This woman completely redefines living on the edge

"I would be lying if I said I don’t get scared."
Gulp © Simon Carter
By Jo Stewart

Monique Forestier has carved out a career from getting caught between a rock and a hard place. The difference between Monique and other people though, is that she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.

As a highly accomplished rock climber who has completed some of the most difficult climbs in the world, Monique has allowed rock climbing to infiltrate almost every part of her existence.

When she’s not travelling the world climbing, coaching others or speaking about climbing at events, she works with her husband Simon Carter on his photography business (which focuses on rock climbing of course).

Here we catch up with Monique to find out how someone who trained in Industrial Design ended up building a career out of climbing some of the world’s most hellish terrain:

So Monique, what do you do for a living?
I’ve been rock climbing for twenty years now. I conduct coaching clinics and have private clients and I’m also working with World Expeditions to run their inaugural rock climbing trip in Sicily.

My husband is a rock climbing photographer who produces images for magazines, and publishes his own calendars, guide books and books, so I help out with his business too.

Time for a dip? © Simon Carter

How did you get into rock climbing?
Rock climbing just landed in my lap. I’d just finished university and was quite determined to become a professional working in Industrial Design. Rock climbing just came from leftfield, and when it did so it completely disrupted how I thought my life would pan out.

After I started climbing as a hobby, it took control over my life and I was forced to address this magnetism that climbing had over me. So, I started slowly. I started working part time to accommodate more climbing, then I moved up to the Blue Mountains, then I gave up working in the city altogether and integrated climbing into my life and work more, so I had the flexibility to take my climbing to a higher level.

You just mentioned the magnetism of climbing. What is it about climbing that does it for you?
Climbing has given me a real outlet to push myself both mentally (because of the problem solving aspect of working out the intricacies of the route), but also the physical aspect of being able to perform the moves and put it all together. So rock climbing allows me to challenge myself physically at a higher capacity than I could achieve with my gymnastics when I was a teen.

Where in the world has rock climbing taken you?
I’ve climbed in Canada, China, Vietnam, Borneo, United States, Spain, France and Italy, but I think out of all of them, Madagascar would rate as the most out there location I’ve climbed at.

When I was climbing in the extremely remote interior of Madagascar I soon realised that there was no room for error. I was always on edge during that trip because I knew that if I made a mistake, it was up to me to fix it. There weren’t any helicopters around to winch me out of there.

Do you ever wonder ‘what the hell am I doing up here?’
I can definitely say that about some of the climbing that I’ve done previously but since having my daughter Coco I really don’t put myself in situations that are irreversible or detrimental anymore. Climbing is an adventure sport, so every time you go climbing something could happen, but the same could be said for getting in a car and driving to Sydney.

But yes, I still get scared because I climb cliffs that are so far off the ground and the exposure can be quite overwhelming. But I build up slowly and gradually by exposing myself to fear over and over again, then I can manage to package the fear in the back of my mind somewhere and concentrate on what I’m doing on the rock. But I would be lying if I said I don’t get scared.

It's a long way to the top... © Simon Carter
...and it's a long way down © Simon Carter

What’s the rock climbing community like?
I just came back from climbing at my favourite cliff in Spain called Oliana, where I achieved my hardest climb (graded 34 or 8c+ in international grades). Chris Sharma (one of the world’s best rock climbers) established that route and it’s very challenging.

I felt so much support and encouragement from people who were watching me climb that day. It’s quite an exhilarating feeling at the end of the climb to hear people cheering and clapping. Even if you don’t succeed in your climb, you’ve still got that support. It’s a lovely community. It’s a positive environment and I love being with such people and also supporting and encouraging them too.

Do you ever feel like you just can’t complete a climb?

Certainly. I’ve given up on a lot of climbs because I can’t figure out the moves or I’m not strong enough. Sometimes you just have to walk away. I can’t do everything but I do choose my battles carefully. I choose hard routes that are beautiful aesthetic lines, as I want to be motivated and challenged by a route, not bored.

The ascent begins © Simon Carter
Mad for it! © Simon Carter

Do you ever get time to just stop and take in the view?
Yes, all the time! Particularly in my backyard in the Blue Mountains. If I’m out climbing with my husband or friends, it’s so beautiful to turn around and look behind you. It’s a stunning playground and that’s half the reason we climb. I certainly stop and smell the roses – it’s all a part of it.

What are some of your favourite rock climbing memories?
For me, it’s when I climbed a route called Tom et je Ris (in Verdon Gorge, France). I completed that route after having a child and it was the first hard route I’d attempted overseas. I waited three years to try the route.

Logistically it was very difficult for me as we had to put our daughter into babysitting at 7am, it took an hour to walk in and we had to be off the rock before 2pm before the sun hit – it was a big juggling act that one. On the day, it was a really tough fight, yet somehow it all came together.

Could you imagine yourself doing anything else with your life?
No, I wouldn’t change it for anything. I don’t know how I ended up here! I had a clear life path in my mind focusing on a professional career, but I really had to surrender to my climbing and let that other career path go.

So, it’s been a roller coaster ride of adventure but I couldn’t see myself doing anything else now. I consider myself very fortunate. Climbing has taken me to amazing places and handed me unforgettable experiences which I otherwise wouldn’t have had.

Follow Monique Forestier's climbing adventures on her website.

All photos courtesy of Simon Carter's Onsight Photography

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