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Monique Forestier with Ton Sai  Wall in background, near Railae, Thailand.Interview: Monique Forestier
[ More Interviews ]

Date: 25 October 2003
Intro: Monique possibly thought that being the first person to onsight the entire The Totem Pole (25), in Tasmania in January was going to be the highlight of her year. She was, however, launched into the spotlight in May when she became only the second Australian women to climb a grade 30 route with an ascent of Pigs In Space Direct (30). She quickly followed that success with an FA of Mission To Mars (31), making her the only Aussie women to date to tick this grade. Not content to rest on her laurels Monique rose to the further challenge of grade 32 with an ascent of Intergalactic Lactic Spastic, to effectively push the Australian women's barrier by two grades. All three routes rise up the same piece of steep cliff at Alien's Domain in the Blue Mountains, however Chockstone found Monique frequenting Arapiles and the Grampians with climbing photographer Simon Carter during October and was fortunate enough extract the following interview.
[ All photos by Simon Carter of Onsight Photography ]

A group of local climbers relax on couches in the morning sun in the backyard of Steve Monks' Natimuk abode. Some head off to the Grampians or Arapiles for the day. Simon Carter & Monique Forestier are on a rest day.

Q: First question I usually ask is how did you get into the sport of climbing? Can you recall your first experiences?

I first got into climbing through my brother, basically I was belay bunny. He took me to the Blue Mountains and we top roped at Shipley, I really enjoyed it. I thought it was fantastic but I was doing gymnastics at the time, so it didn't interest me. I sort of forgot about it for years, until after Uni., when I started going to the gym once a week with a group from the Adrenalin Club. And then it became twice a week. And then it really had me hooked.

Q: So how did you progress from bumbly to way honed?

Initially I'd spend a lot of time training in the gym because for me at first it was just another form of exercise. I'd do a lot of swimming, but I was sick of the other indoor sports I was doing. I wasn't doing gymnastics and I’d quit acrobatics. Climbing sort of filled the gap. I picked it up really quickly. I guess I got quick returns and that sort of just kept me wanting to go back.Monique Forestier leading (24) at The Freezer, in the Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia.

Q: Did you have a mentor?

Not really. Initially it was just what I saw in the gym and magazines. I remember seeing Christina Bedard in the gym one day and she just cruised this red overhanging route, I was just blown away. Like number one it was a girl, and number two she just walked it and I was like “wow, she can do that”. None of the guys were even trying these routes. I was very impressed. [laughs]. But then, mentors from then on, I just... I get inspired by different people. What I get inspired by most is people's determination and motivation. I also find it really encouraging to see climbers giving it their all – no matter what grade they are climbing.

Q: So you're mainly into sport climbing, or trad climbing?

Definitely sport. I guess the reason I like sport climbing is that it allows me to really push myself physically. Just the movement involved. I love some of the crazy positions you can get yourself into. For me clipping bolts I feel at ease, but when I'm placing gear I'm just a nervous wreck. At that level anyway. If I had to place gear on 29 I'd just be outa there.

Simon: It's not that you're not interested in trad though?

No, it's not that I'm not interested, but what I find appealing about sport climbing over trad climbing would be that. But yeah on the other hand I recognise that trad climbing is a weakness of mine which I want to develop, but not at that level.

Q: You've done some competition gym climbing as well. Can you tell us a bit about that?

I do enjoy competition climbing. I enjoy onsight lead Competitions the most, but they are a lot of work as well. Like sitting in isolation for hours is quite taxing. And you know you'd rather be outdoor on rock as well. It’s a shame that there are not more of these types of competitions in Australia. I mean I was really stoked to go over to the World Cup last year in Singapore. It's something that I've always wanted to do. And I hope that that was not my last World Cup. Monique Forestier leading Bas Laici/Simtoi (25) on Batman Wall near Bau on the island of Borneo, Sarawak, Malaysia.

Q: How'd you go?

I came 16th in the lead and 9th in the speed. I don't think I was particularly strong at that point in time, and I think I could do a lot better, but I wouldn't be disappointed if I didn't place anywhere near that again, but I would like to have the opportunity of going into more competitions. As far as bouldering comps go... they're not my cup of tea, it's not really what inspires me. When I'm training I'd rather do laps on lead, or just laps rather than boulder. I guess that's not good though because it doesn't work my weakness.

Simon: So you're more inspired by doing routes than competing?

Definitely yeah! My focus in climbing is doing routes. That's what really inspires me. It's what keeps my motivation high, and keeps me going to the gym to get fitter, so I can get up more routes.

Q: What moved your focus from gymnastics?

With gymnastics... yeah I just got bored of it. I got to the stage where I'd being doing elite for a while and training so hard, and I just wasn't making that break-through. I don't think I had the guts for it to be honest. In retrospect sometimes I think if I'd just had a few months break I could have gone back to it.

Simon: And then you got into acrobatics after that?Monique Forestier bouldering above the sand flats in Bako National Park, near Kuching on the island of Borneo, Sarawak, Malaysia.

Yeah, I don't know how I got into Acrobatics. Later on someone said "do you want to try this?", so I went along.

Q: How has gymnastics helped your climbing do you think?

Well, I'm really flexible and I know I can get my way around climbing problems just by using some extreme body positions. Like, it might be a reach problem or a power problem and I'll just pull on something absolutely tiny or get my foot way up high and rock onto it.

Simon: How does the training compare? What you do now for climbing how does that compare to what you used to do with gymnastics?

I find that a bit of a joke actually because I know when I was an elite gymnast I trained loads harder than I do now. I was training five or six days a week, four and a half hours after school every day, and Saturdays was all day. And now, I'd love to have the luxury to climb that much.

Others: Just work is getting in the way of that?

Yeah, just work or life. Just general everyday things get in the way. I dedicate a lot time to training but I know that I could be a lot more specific exercises and just tailor my training. Like periodisation training and so fourth, but I can't even tell you what days I'm working next week, or what day I'll be able to climb, what gym partner I'll be able to wrangle up. That's one problem that I'm finding with climbing at the moment, just trying to get some consistency there. It's just all up and down.Monique Forestier, The Only Fruit (24), Whitewater Wall, Freycinet Peninsula, Tasmania, Australia.

Others: How much time do you spend on average training each week?

It depends. Sometimes my training is on rock. Or it might be a project day. So I'd consider that a training day. But normally I'd probably train twice in the gym and both days on the weekend. It just depends on how often I'm working.

Simon: But you also do a lot of cross training, like swimming in the morning before work.

I do. I swim a mile before work, not every day, but every 2nd or 3rd day. That helps with recovery. Also I do some weights in the gym.

Q: Your recent success on Intergalactic Lactic Spastic (32) at Aliens Domain in the Blue Mountains in July this year has made you the first Australian women to climb a route that hard, and push the women's standard up by two grades. It's an amazing achievement. Now that the dust has settled can you reflect on what this has meant to you personally and what changes, if any, it has brought to your life?

Climbing that route was not on my agenda this year. I have short, medium and long term goals for climbing and one of my goals this year were to climb a 30. And then it was like a stab in the dark, like "oh maybe I'll being looking at a 31 or something". In a way it's big deal, but in a way it's not. For me it was a natural progression from doing the 30 to the 31 to a 32. But no, it hasn’t changed my life much at all. Certainly it has increased my motivation and determination, but I still need to go to work and do the hard training like everyone else.
Monique Forestier on Intergalactic Lactic Spastic (32, 8b+, 5.14a) at Aliens Domain (AD), Bowens' Creek, Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia.Monique Forestier on Intergalactic Lactic Spastic (32, 8b+, 5.14a) at Aliens Domain (AD), Bowens' Creek, Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia.Monique Forestier on Intergalactic Lactic Spastic (32, 8b+, 5.14a) at Aliens Domain (AD), Bowens' Creek, Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia.

Q: Obviously something attracted you to these routes? Did they suit your style?

Yeah, they definitely suited my style. I'm very endurance based. As long as there is a rest somewhere I can recover on pretty poor holds fairly efficiently. And there were no really powerful moves in the climb. Actually the 32 had a dyno finish, and normally I never dyno. But definitely it was my style: resistance route on small holds.
Monique Forestier on Intergalactic Lactic Spastic (32, 8b+, 5.14a) at Aliens Domain (AD), Bowens' Creek, Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia.Monique Forestier on Intergalactic Lactic Spastic (32, 8b+, 5.14a) at Aliens Domain (AD), Bowens' Creek, Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia.

Q: What kept you motivated? You spent about a month on it didn't you?

I was out there for a while.

Simon: Between starting the 29 and completing the 32 was about two or three months.

Yeah, it was a while. I didn't go out every weekend. What kept me motivated? Initially the fact that we were the only ones out there I really liked. I enjoyed the privacy. Just doing what you wanted to do. And it was great in the sun when you would be freezing your butt off if you were at any other cliff. The route also appealed to me a lot.
Monique Forestier on her Mission to Mars (31) at Aliens Domain (AD), Bowens' Creek, Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia.Monique Forestier on her Mission to Mars (31) at Aliens Domain (AD), Bowens' Creek, Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia.

Q: How'd you deal with the ups and downs, because I'd imagine you'd be falling off a lot.

On the 29 and the 30 the last move always, or normally always, aggravated my shoulder. So I'd go for this last move and my shoulder would just go crunch and sub-dislocate. That was incredibly painful plus demoralising and frustrating. But in terms of motivation I was pretty psyched because the routes were just so consistent. It wasn't like there was a crux down low and then easy pickings to the end, you had to fight your way up the whole route and then there would be a sting in the tail. To me that was a real challenge. Some days I'd go up there and fall off the last move and it was like "Damn, not again", but on the other hand it just made me even more determined to do the climb.

Q: Do you ever just kick back and cruise something 15 grades less than what you're capable of?Monique Forestier atop the summit spire of Ancient Art  (5.11a) in the Fisher Towers, near Moab, Utah, USA.

Occasionally. I'd like to do it more often. I guess the problem with me is that I don't have that much time on rock, so when I do have time I like to challenge myself. But that's not to say that I don't kick back and climb easier things. We're already taking about going back to the Bluey's and doing some Pierce's Pass routes - long multi-pitch routes that are a lot easier but are just fabulous all day outings where you're like "oh my God, I'm in this special place". That's totally enjoyable to me. It's equally challenging and enjoyable doing an all day multi-pitch affair as to punish myself on hard routes. It's two different things but it's still being out there enjoying climbing and the places it takes you.

Q: Can I ask you a bit about your onsight of the Totem Pole, in Tasmania? Does the romantic appeal based on the photos live up to the reality? It just looks awesome.

The Totem Pole has always been special to me. One of my favourite photos is the original Totem Pole shot [by Simon Carter]. When I first saw that shot I was absolutely blown away, both for the photography itself and for the wild place. I just remember looking at it and thinking "Oh my God, those guys are absolutely crazy, I could never do that". I could never see myself getting on that thing. Then over the years I sort of gradually built myself up to "oh, maybe one day I could get the courage to be able to go out there and do that". Initially it just seemed really unachievable to me, I don't know why.
Monique Forestier becoming the first person to onsight the entire Totem Pole (leading both pitches: 24 and 25), an extraordinary 65-metre dolerite column at Cape Hauy, Tasmania, Australia.Monique Forestier becoming the first person to onsight the entire Totem Pole (leading both pitches: 24 and 25), an extraordinary 65-metre dolerite column at Cape Hauy, Tasmania, Australia.

Q: What was it like when you did get on it?

When the trip came up it was very quick, so I didn't have too much time to think about it. I was there before I knew it. When I first arrived it was very intimidating. To actually climb the Totem Pole, well, it's one of the best things I've done. On a personal level and a climbing level it was a real significant achievement for me. It certainly lived up to and surpassed the romantic ideals that I had in my mind.
Monique Forestier leading pitch two of the Free Route (25) on the Totem Pole, Cape Hauy, Tasmania, Australia.Monique Forestier using a "Tyrolean Traverse" to get off The Totem Pole - a 65-metre dolerite column at Cape Hauy, Tasmania, Australia.Monique Forestier atop the Totem Pole after becoming the first person to onsight the entire Totem Pole (leading both pitches: 24 and 25). The Totem Pole is an extraordinary 65-metre dolerite column at Cape Hauy, Tasmania, Australia.

Q: You'd read Paul Pritchard's book about his accident on it? Was that in your mind when you were climbing?

The book itself or the instance wasn't on my mind, but certainly it made me very aware of the situation that we were in. Although we had ideal days, it was sunny, low swell, low wind - I still didn't take for granted the reality of it all. It was a serious outing and I didn't treat it lightly.

Q: What are some of the more remote and exciting places you've climbed?Monique Forestier, Burnt Offerings (7a+), Melting Wall, Ton Sai, Thailand.

I've climbed a bit overseas but not as much as I would like. I've climbed in New Zealand, though I don't think you could call it productive because it rained for the whole time I was there. [laughs]. I’ve climbed in Borneo, Malaysia. Simon and I did a trip about three years ago to the US and Canada. Unfortunately I was more belay bunny than climber, I didn't really get to climb that much in the US but the ice climbing in Canada was awesome… just too cold for me. I've also been to Thailand which was fun, and then onto Spain which again I only sampled due to the rain. I haven't climbed in France or anywhere else in Europe, so basically I'd love to go to Ceuse and back to Spain and a few other areas.

Q: Do you have a project that you're still working on? A nemesis?

There are a few skeletons in the closet but none that I've really invested such time in that I would consider them a nemesis. I do need another project soon though.

Q: Do you have any problems being a woman in an unfortunately still male dominated sport? Do you have any problems finding female partners?Monique Forestier following pitch three of Louise Falls, Rocky Mountains, Canada.

I don’t really think about it. I actually prefer climbing with guys, and I climb with some awesome guys in the Bluey's, they’re really motivating, inspiring I guess.

Q: In terms training is there anything you think that could help us mortals lucky to tick 22 rather than 32?

I guess my main advice would be to build a pyramid. Like you've really got to get out on rock and do the miles. There are no short cuts. I didn't just climb 32 like that [snaps fingers]. I've done a lot of ground work over the years and built a pretty good base. Certainly you can get quite strong in the gym and that's a great way to train, but you just learn so much more being on rock. I just suggest you go out there and climb as much as possible and take the falls.

Q: Last question. What's in the future?

Basically next year I would love to go to Europe to climb. I'd love to go to Ceuse and Terradets and the Basque areas of Spain, and if time maybe some other crags in Italy. Just really have a play.

I'd also like to compete in some of World Cups while I was there. It's not ideal to mix competitions with climbing outdoors but I'd just be happy to compete in whatever comps I could attend, that would be really great.

Q: How is your current Grampians trip going?

Pretty good despite the rotten weather. I’ve done Serpentine (29), Steps Ahead (29), and Monkey Puzzle (28) second shot. Serpentine for me is one of those routes that I've always wanted to do. It's the first time I'd been on Taipan. I'd seen all the photos but until you're actually on Taipan; all this air and exposure, it's just really inspiring. That's pretty much a highlight of my trip so far.

Monique Forestier, Serpentine (pitch two, 29), Taipan Wall, The Grampians, Victoria, Australia.Monique Forestier, Serpentine (pitch two, 29), Taipan Wall, The Grampians, Victoria, Australia.

Monique Forestier, Serpentine (pitch two, 29), Taipan Wall, The Grampians, Victoria, Australia.

PS. Since the interview Monique climbed India (28).


Further Reading:
Onsight Photograhy News Item -
Monique climbs Intergalactic Lactic Spastic (32)
Onsight Photograhy News Item - Monique climbs Mission To Mars (31)
Onsight Photograhy News Item - Monqiue onsights the Totem Pole.


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