I first heard of the Belgium alpinist Vanessa François in 2008 when she made a rare winter ascent of mantitua with Pascal Ducroz and Benoit Drouillat, a route that remains one of the hardest in the range. Perhaps I'm a sexist pig deep down, but seeing a pic of Vanessa smiling on the top I thought ‘cool, – a woman climbing a hardcore winter route!' I expected to see much more from this superwoman in the coming years.
Unfortunately, it's a very sad indictment of the game of hard alpine climbing that within a year both Pascal and Benoit died in different climbing accidents, and Vanessa also seemed to vanish without a trace.
Then one day I saw a pic on facebook posted by the Alpine Princess Zoe Hart of a strong looking woman sat on what looked like a seat screwed to a skateboard, poling along a track. I'd been out with Karen as she poled along in her wheelchair (using two ski poles – and used to train for cross country skiing in the summer) so could tell that this woman was another hard paraplegic athlete. Then I saw her face in the next pic and recognised it as Vanessa. She had fallen while abseiling on the midi in 2010 and was now in a wheelchair.
Along with Timmy Oneal I seemed to have become the ‘go to man' for wheelchair climbers who want to scale El Cap, and so I emailed and just said if she ever wanted to climb it I was happy to help.
Since meeting Karen I've met hundreds of disabled bikers, fliers, miners, soldiers and quite a lot of climbers. Ending up in a wheelchair is shit, but when you're an active person it's even worse. Meeting lots of wheelchair athletes you can see that having a goal and a focus takes some of the horror out of it. I guess when you're shooting down a mountain on a sit-ski, or zipping along an alpine pass in your hand-bike, you realise that disability really is a state of mind' (Karen's quote not mine).
Emails zipped back and forwards since then, and Vanessa found a good team, and I posted over the harness and tackle that Karen and Phil Packer used. I also said I'd try and raise some cash to make it happen.
And so having raised £500 for my daughters Cheerleading team with my Hands book, I thought I'd try and do the same for Vanessa, only this time with a book about training your legs for mountaineering. So every penny goes to Vanessa's trip – with the aim to raise £500. I you want to support her directly you can also just zap her the price of a block of chalk via paypal (her email is ).
As for the book it's really a very long article (6,000 words) and covers running, plyometric, weight training, load carrying, tire pulling, and other way to get strong for the hills. The price is £3 (ish) for download version (you can read Kindle files on phones and computers easily via kindle apps) or a paper version at £5. You can buy copies here.
I'm sure Vanessa will find climbing El Cap easy (actually it's getting down that's the hard part), and will no doupt prove to be even more of a hardcore superwoman than one sexist pig thought!