She almost missed the first test of the guide’s diploma because of the flash of a photographer ambushed in the mountain. In 1979, the idea of giving this precious sesame to a woman aroused the curiosity of the media. Martine Rolland is then climbing a route of the Aiguilles Rouges, above Chamonix (Haute-Savoie). Destabilized in full swing, she falls a few meters before recovering. The first female guide in Europe, today she recounts this episode and her astonishing journey in a book, First of the roped party, in bookstores this Wednesday, April 28 (1).
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At 72 years old, Martine Rolland has not forgotten anything about her media debut. Nor the wrath of some old mountain people, including the commentary of an old teacher from Ensa, the National School of Skiing and Mountaineering. “Even if technically she has her chances, during my lifetime, I will not let any woman pass the exam”, he had thrown at her in the face, before attempting to trap her illegally – and without success – a few years later in the final series of tests that would make her a pioneer.
“Paris-Match” multiplies the coverage on these feats
Thus graduated, she aroused all the more attention as the time was passionate about the exploits of French mountaineers. In the press, Paris Match multiplies the covers on these feats. But Martine Rolland, already mother of a little Yann – who would later become a famous climber – does not want this notoriety, which she considers superficial and time-consuming.
She chose to register with the Briançon guides office, for convenience since she already lived in the region, but also to escape the pressure of Chamonix. “There, they would not have left me alone, not sure that I was given shopping. The southern guides were more open, and then the Alps are wilder there. Chamonix remains an incomparable place for climbers, but my husband and I preferred to come there and then leave. “
The young woman then thwarts the predictions of the elders. They promised him tomorrow without a client – who would be foolish enough to entrust his life to a woman ?, they squeaked. Martine Rolland, on the contrary, sees her ballot book filling up. First with clients, who made it a point of honor to hire a female guide, but not only. Because men also sought the indulgence and empathy that she put into her practice.
“Women Guides are arguably more able to give up when the conditions are bad, and it’s easier to admit your weaknesses to them when you can’t. And then, they told me that I had to be really competent to have imposed myself in this world of men! “, she smiles.
“Feminism was not an approach”
At present, high mountain guides only have about thirty women in France, practicing in its wake. Few of them risk long and dangerous races. “It remains a difficult job when you want to reconcile it with a family life”, explains Martine Rolland, specifying the heart of her motivation. “Of course, the time was when women were liberated, but it was not my approach, I wanted to be a guide because I wanted to and I had ten years of experience behind me”, today tells a Martine that her parents intended for the profession of… secretary. Profession which she exercised some time before taking the height.
The Rolland couple have for years skimmed the summits. “For a long time, we managed to reconcile the life of adventure with our role as parents, we would go away in the summer for a few weeks leaving Yann and we would come back home to lead a quiet life”, she says. Until that bad experience on K2, the second highest peak in the world, which almost ended badly. “I was almost 40 years old, I wanted a second child, we had to choose, and we chose the family. “
Jonathan, their second son, was born, and Martine and her husband embarked on more reasonable activities: day trips in ski mountaineering, climbing lessons, practices which she accompanied the outbreak. “I think I was born at the right time, she confides. Beyond having become the first woman guide in Europe, I was able to attend and accompany the great evolutions of the mountain, the arrival of paragliding, canyoning, climbing competitions. “ The guide was thus able to reconcile, for fifty years, her love and parental life with a devouring passion for the mountains. “I had and still have a good life, I think. “
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The bicentenary of the company of guides
From the end of May 2021, the city of Chamonix is launching a series of events to celebrate the founding, in 1821, of the famous Compagnie des Guides. On the program, in particular: a major exhibition, the issue of a postage stamp and the release of an anniversary album, Company of Chamonix guides. 200 years of history, by Joëlle Dartigue-Paccalet and David Ravanel, at Glénat. In June, a thematic booklet devoted to the profession and its adaptation to the challenges of climate change will also be published, written both by the Company and the National Union of Mountain Guides.