A French Touch

Joe Grant writes about adventuring in Colorado’s Front Range with Sébastien Chaigneau.

By on June 24, 2014 | Comments

A light clicking sound coming from the kitchen stirs me from my sleep. Deanne lays her arm over my chest and whispers, “Is someone robbing the house?” “No,” I reply, in a groggy low voice; it is Seb Chaigneau lighting the stove to make coffee. It’s just after 5 a.m. and as I lay there in a daze I can just about feel his energy oozing through the walls. When I finally get up an hour later, he is seated at the kitchen table reading a novel about Einstein on what is probably his third cup of espresso. He is wearing Five Fingers with loose-fitting The North Face running shorts and a t-shirt with his trademark pirate hoop dangling from his left ear. He is closely shaven with a tightly kempt salt-and-pepper goatee, the white speckles being his only visible sign of age. He springs up to greet me, his face beaming with excitement in anticipation for the day ahead. We launch into a near-continuous conversation, without pauses, about every topic under the sun, a combined overwhelming abundance of zeal that Deanne is happy to escape on her way to work.

After more copious amounts of coffee and talk we manage to get out the door and head into Boulder for an introduction to the Flatirons. The weather forecast is looking questionable for the next few days with a mix of rain and storms. I wanted to get Seb on the rock before the precipitation hits to experience the classic feel of Boulder scrambling. I also figured that starting on the ‘beach’ at a low-key effort on ‘the boards’ would be a more gentle preamble than a straight shot into the high country.

It is hot and humid on the rock. We are both sweating profusely as we zigzag our way up the face, passing several other climbing parties. Seb used to be a climbing instructor years ago, but it has been eight years since he has put on a pair of slippers and tied in to a rope. He moves with ease, though, and with each length of rope I can see his movements become more fluid as he remembers how to proceed efficiently on the rock. We scamper down the Saddle Rock Amphitheatre trail, back to the car, drop off the gear, strip to our running shorts, and head back up the hill. This time we scramble the Second, which Seb compares to Italian skyracing and finish up on Green Mountain (‘The Anton’s Peak,’ as Seb calls it) before any serious weather.

If the day of a French man starts with coffee, it can only finish with wine. Seb is a connaisseur, having worked at a winery for several years. None of the French wines at the liquor store are very attractive to him, at least from a price-to-quality ratio, so we drink Malbec instead. He explains that France has restrictions on adding anything to the wine, but other countries like the U.S. or Argentina do not have such limitations, so the wine makers can really play with flavors adding woods, sugar, or the like. It is always amusing to see a foreigner’s reaction to a U.S. supermarket, particularly someone with Seb’s voracious curiosity. He takes photos of the seemingly endless aisles of energy bars, drinks, and candy.

After the flatirons, the next mandatory stop for a mountain runner visiting the Front Range is the iconic Longs Peak. The weather early Sunday morning looks promising for an ascent. However, as we pull in to the East Longs Peak Trailhead parking lot, the sky is covered in dark threatening clouds. We start up the trail in hopes that we will somehow skirt the storm. Once above treeline, it starts snowing, but we push out of the system into a brilliant blue sky when reaching the Chasm Lake Trail. We ascend the Loft route, which is mainly devoid of snow, stopping regularly for photos and filming. The majesty of Longs Peak and The Diamond, the mountain’s dramatic east face, is overwhelming to the senses to the frequent visitor and first timer alike. The conditions are perfect, making the snow covered descent off the North Face (Cables route) stable and comfortable. We strap on crampons for a few hundred feet before reaching the short rappel that leads us to the Boulder field and back to the car. It starts snowing again just before treeline and we run into a large band of elk. We count a least 40. Seb loves wildlife and is giddy at the sight of every marmot or pika that crosses our path.

Once at home, I see the first signs of fatigue in our seemingly indefatigable friend, as he closes his eyes briefly on the couch before the World Cup game opposing USA and Portugal. As we start chatting football, he livens up again, back to his power-packed self with unstoppable commentary over the game, this and that player, and how France will do in the tournament.

Over the next couple of weeks we will gradually make our way down to the San Juans both for another go at the Hardrock Hundred. Seb will continue to color the trip with his inimitable French touch, imbibed with black coffee and wine.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

Joe’s roasting Seb a bit with this piece, revealing his über-energetic personality. Do you have a good Seb Chaigneau story, from watching him race or hanging out before or after an ultra? An example of his personality in motion?

Sébastien Chaigneau - Flatirons (1)

Sébastien Chaigneau in front of the Flatirons. All photos: Joe Grant

Sébastien Chaigneau - Second Flatiron (2)

Seb Chaigneau on the Second Flatiron.

Sébastien Chaigneau - Top of First Flatiron (3)

Seb Chaigneau atop the First Flatiron.

Sébastien Chaigneau - Chasm Lake Trail on Longs Peak (4)

Seb Chaigneau on the Chasm Lake Trail on Longs Peak.

Sébastien Chaigneau - Top of the Loft on Longs Peak(5)

The top of the Loft on Longs Peak.


Sébastien Chaigneau - below the Homestretch on Longs Peak (6)

Seb Chaigneau below the Homestretch on Longs Peak.

Sébastien Chaigneau - Homestretch to the summit of Longs Peak (7)

Seb Chaigneau on Homestretch to the summit of Longs Peak.

Sébastien Chaigneau - Mount Meeker (8)

Mount Meeker.

Sébastien Chaigneau - Longs Peak summit (9)

Seb Chaigneau on the summit of Longs Peak.

Sébastien Chaigneau - North Face of Longs Peak rappelling (10)

Seb Chaigneau rappelling on the North Face of Longs Peak.

Joe Grant
Joe Grant frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.