who is Maxime Sorel, the very first navigator about to reach the summit of Everest?
The news every evening turns the spotlight on a character who could have passed under the radar of the news
The 10th of the last Vendée Globe is punctual this Wednesday evening at an altitude of 7,900 metres. He has to leave around one in the morning, French time, from this last camp, camp number 4, to climb the last 900 meters of altitude difference and arrive at 8,848 meters above sea level. Hopefully, Maxime Sorel will be the first navigator to summit Everest on Friday at 6am French time.
He set himself this challenge when he returned from his first solo round-the-world trip two years ago, well aware that the next “Vendée” would only return four years later. Meanwhile he needed challenges. However, the mountain is not his element at the beginning. It’s more “around the world” than “roof of the world”.
The engineer became the commander
Maxime Sorel was born in Saint-Malo, the second of three brothers. He is 36 years old, he attended a preparatory course in Vannes then an engineering school in Lorient. Free time often occupied by the boat of course. But for five years he really was a civil engineer. At that time, Maxime Sorel was building bridges and ports.
This crazy Everest idea brought back memories of his brother, Jérémy, who was a sports educator at the time. “He’s such a pickaxe that you can’t tell him no. I remember very well the day he told us he was going to do the rum course. He wasn’t meant for the wide race at all. He was a civil engineer”, recalls, stressing however that many in Maxime Sorel’s entourage had said yes to him “something with the sail” and that he had to “perforated”.
“But there…”, Jeremy adds. “We all know the rum route because we’re from Saint-Malo. We’ve seen the sailors, we’ve touched their jackets when they passed on the pontoon saying to themselves that ‘they’re crazy, they’re going to fight’. ‘ she said, we thought he was completely crazy. And finally his brother Maxime Sorel “He did really well, he wins in his category, it’s crazy.”
So crazy that the partners flocked. He then won the Transat Jacques Vabre, then the Vendée Globe. The engineer creates his own company in which he hires this very complementary brother. Jérémy pilots what they still call the “sailing project”, still today on Everest.
Why suddenly Everest?
Jeremy’s response is unstoppable: “Because there is no higher!” Maxime Sorel is the sponsor of the Vaincre la mucoviscidose association. There is a whole talk about oxygen at high altitudes, even about the wind, which we need to advance at sea, but which we fear in the mountains. And he thinks that high-altitude experience will also help him on a sailing boat.
The Himalayas cannot be improvised. In December 2022, a commando operation begins. Just back from the Route du Rhum where he finished 5th, he started three months of preparation with Guillaume Vallot, the mountaineer journalist was up there with him for the last ascent and a videographer Julien Ferrandes. On the programme: ice falls, bivouacs at high altitude, rappelling with 500 meters of void. They even climbed Kilimanjaro (5,149 meters) with a cystic fibrosis patient. As a good engineer, Maxime Sorel works, near Annecy, in a center that motorists use for “cognitive” reflexes, precisely to save as much as possible the brain, which pumps oxygen up there. . A surprising number: he has opened his field of vision about 15 degrees to each side, which will also serve him on a boat.
Close to scoring, but the last meters are the most difficult
The team left for Nepal on April 4th. Eight days to base camp at 5,364m, then round trip between camps 1, 2 and 3. It is from this camp 3 that we will hear him on his last radio link at 7,400m on Tuesday evening. “We arrived very tired all the same. We did the oxygen test and it’s not bad”, says Maxime with a smile in his voice. His interlocutor asks him about Wednesday’s programme. “I think we will leave around 6 or 7 in the morning to reach camp 4 and then rest and then… attempt the summit”. The interlocutor advises him to do this “eat well, sleep well”. To which he replies: “We’ll do it, garlic soup. I’ll contact you tomorrow.”
There, everything seems to be fine. It’s a bit of a dream seen from here, but even for those used to climbing a 27-metre mast in rough seas, and despite being very prepared, the pleasure isn’t necessarily immediate, as his brother Jérémy explains very simply. “I think the huge high will come later. For now, I think they are not in the huge high because they lack oxygen. “It’s always this fear: On a chunk of ice, the crampon comes off and boom. You don’t know what state you’ll be in at a certain altitude. It turns out they’ll have to go back down because they’ve reached their critical level. On the other hand, there are small moments where things go right. It’s like at sea.”
On Wednesday 17 May at 7.00 pm Maxime Sorel arrived at camp 4, at an altitude of 7,900 m. It is therefore a quartet that must climb to the top the following night: Maxime, Guillaume and their two Sherpas. The weather is beautiful. And the summit should be reached around 5 or 6 in the morning French time. The descent feels much faster. Return to France scheduled for next Wednesday.