Editor’s Note: This profile of Jean-Pierre Ouellet was published in the November/December issue of Climberism. Subscriptions are free, subscribe here.
You don’t have to be tall to be one of the best climbers in the world. Jean-Pierre Ouellet is the perfect example and living proof that a climber standing only 5’ 8” tall can repeat and establish hard sport and crack climbs. Ouellet has been spending a lot of time in the desert of Utah as of late and with much success to brag home about. His recent accomplishments include, Necronomicon (5.14a or 13d), The Vadge (5.13-) and he made the first ascent of the roof crack, Fisting the Crack (5.13-) onsight. Back home in Quebec, Ouellet made the true free ascent of Le Zebra (5.14a) and has repeated Le Toit de Ben (5.13a) many time. We caught up with him to talk about life and climbing.
Tell me a little bit about why You’ve been out in Utah lately. Are there just endless projects for you up there? Or is it just your style?
I think it’s both you know, its so vast there, so much rock, and all the cracks you want—that’s what I climb. It’s also the best time of year. In November, you could go out to the Red River Gorge or that kind of thing but I prefer crack climbing, and this time of the year is probably one of the best. Since I’ve been there so much, on my rest days I usually walk, I’ll go out with my dog and explore for new projects. I have a little notebook with a bunch of potential lines, it kind of always draws me back there every year.
So how’d you get involved with the community out there?
I tend to collect really old guidebooks, just for fun, and sometime they have old aid climbs in them, so when you browse through them, sometimes you go find a climb in the book and sometimes there’s something, sometimes there’s nothing. Sometimes you walk to something, and on the way to it you find projects. I went and looked at some aid line a friend of mine had told me about and then I ended up finding that other one that was even more interesting, Mexican Snow Fairy was the latest find.
Do you just climb professionally now? ORwhat else are you doing for work?
I’m a tech rep. I work for Black Diamond as an employee as well, I do a little bit of selling actually, I’ve been repping for many years, but I just joined Black Diamond about three years ago. It’s basically, now half and half—I have to work about five-six months and then I climb for five or six months, but when I work I still climb, you know? I’ll still climb four days a weeks even when I’m working, it’s a little harder in the winter because I have to climb indoors which is not my preferred style. I’m pretty lucky. I’m saving up money to buy a house, but I still climb most of the year.
Do you spend most of your time in Quebec? Or are you on the road?
I’m on the road quite a bit actually. I cover Ontario, and I travel all over, mostly in Quebec though. Mostly around Montreal. I’ll do the climbing clinics mostly, it’s not too bad, it’s not too hard of a job I would say.
What was your childhood like growing up in Quebec?
I was a pretty normal kid, I’m from a really really small town, way east, about half an hour from Maine, so way east of Quebec. I liked sports, but I was not necessarily good at them and then I discovered track and field, when I was maybe 13 or 12. I started climbing when I was about 15 or 16, and I’ve been climbing since then so, I was a pretty normal kid, and was pretty good in school. I liked to play in the woods, I played a lot of army stuff you know, green and camo paint on my face, you know, trying to hide in the bush.
So how’d you get involved with climbing, did your dad climb, did any of your family climb? How do they feel about it?
Nobody from my family climbed or had any interest in climbing, they were not that type when I started. When they realized what I was doing they helped me and encouraged me. I started, physically, when a guide came to my school and gave a slide show, and immediately I was pretty interested and serious about it. I was trying to get information about it, but there’s not a lot of information in French and I’d just started speaking English at that time, so it was hard for me to find information. At some point I saw an ad on TV for climbing in Kamouraska, a little sport climbing cliff, and I asked my mom to drive me there. She drove right up to the cliffs and there were some old dudes climbing there, so I asked them if I could try and they put me in a harness and belayed me on TR. I don’t even remember what I climbed, and I went there every weekend after that. I did a lot of soloing when I was a kid because I would go without partners. When I was 16, I got my first car so I could drive there whenever possible. I was usually by myself because climbing was not as popular back then, so I would just solo a bunch of stuff, until people I knew would show up at the cliff and then I would team up with them.
So how is the climbing in Quebec, I know you sort of evolved as one of the better crack climbers.
I’m not trying to do anything special, I just have my own little plan that I’m doing for myself. The climbing in Quebec is very similar to the Adirondacks, its mostly granite, so there’s quite a bit of crack climbs here and compared to Indian Creek or Moab, I mean there’s granite that’s more varied and more textured, but there’s quite a bit of good cracks actually worth a visit no matter what grade you climb, there’s still hard stuff to put up. I pretty much started to trad climb right away. When I started climbing, there was no difference between sport climbing and trad climbing. If a route was protected by bolts you climbed it, and if the other one was protected by gear you climbed it, but I learned to trad climb pretty much right away. I was not very good at crack climbing, but I was always really inspired by it. Now I think I’m just specialized in crack climbing. I climb the same grade whether it’s sport or trad, although I don’t really work sport routes too much, unless it’s something that I bolted myself. I’ve put up quite a few lines around my house here. I basically do it for myself, I don’t have any expectations, and I don’t want people to have any expectations for me I do the climbing that I like, and I’m just lucky to be able to do it now, and get paid for it.
So how’d you get the name “Pee Wee”?
[laughs] I’m not the biggest guy around, so that definitely didn’t help, but I’m not that small. It started when I was 15 with a bunch of older guys that were in their 30’s and 40’s. I was the youngest guy out of all my first climbing buddies. I was always the young kid on the block they would be like “oh you’re such a Pee Wee” and my friends have been calling me that for fifteen years if not more. It’s my real name now.
If you could climb one route for the rest of your life what would it be?
I think it’d be Le Toit de Ben. It’s such a cool route for a crack, it’s cool to be climbing upside down, one pitch off the ground, really cool route.
And you were the belayer for Mason when he flashed it?
Yeah! Well I was traveling here with Andrew Burr and one of my friends, and there was a route I was trying to free and it started to rain, so we drove back out there and I was like “oh man, you should try that flash or onsight, if you want to flash it, I’ll spray you down with beta and we’ll just fuckin’ hike it.” I knew it really well, I’ve done that route like about a hundred times, so we went out, he warmed up, and then I just told him exactly move by move, , he climbed it like a robot, basically.
Do you have any kind of motto that you live by or favorite quote or something?
“One crack a day makes sport climbing go away.” [laughs]