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Patrick Edlinger, 52; excelled at competitive climbing

PATRICK EDLINGER

Joel Robine/AFP/Getty Images/1984

PATRICK EDLINGER

NEW YORK — Patrick Edlinger — a versatile and charismatic French rock climber who helped popularize competitive sport climbing in the 1980s, ‘‘a form of yoga,’’ he called it — died Nov. 16 at his home in La Palud-sur-Verdon, France. He was 52.

Daniel Gorgeon, a close friend and fellow climber, confirmed his death. He did not specify the cause.

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Sport climbing involves using anchors or bolts that are permanently installed into rock faces or artificial climbing walls to secure ropes and harnesses. The system prevents climbers from falling and ­allows them to practice routes by essentially falling repeatedly until they master a section.

The technique was anathema to some devotees of what is known as traditional climbing, a far riskier endeavor that requires climbers to improvise their own network of anchors and safety ropes as they make an ascent.

In climbing culture — a blend of sport, spiritualism, philosophy, and bravado — the differences stirred fierce debate. But things began to change in 1988 when Mr. Edlinger appeared at a sport climbing competition in Snowbird, Utah, the first such competition in the United States. As the event neared its completion, more than a dozen climbers had failed to complete the competition route, which had been installed on an exterior wall of the Cliff Lodge hotel that was more than 100 feet tall.

Mr. Edlinger, who had made a point of not watching other climbers attempt the route, was the last to go. The day was gray and damp as he began his climb. He made his way fluidly toward a critical overhang that had vexed each climber before him and swept past it with relative ease. Just as he did, a streak of sunlight broke through and illuminated him against the wall. People cheered.

‘‘Everyone just gasped and ran away from the wall; we all ran back to watch him pull over with the sunbeam hitting him as he pulled over the top,’’ John Harlin, a former editor of American Alpine Journal, recalled in an interview last week. ‘‘It was literally a beam, like a spotlight illuminating him and nothing else.’’

For many climbers the moment has become nearly mythological, signifying a broader ascension for Mr. Edlinger himself and for sport climbing in general.

A quarter-century later, sport climbing drives the growth of rock climbing and inspires the aesthetics of outdoor clothing and culture. It had also increased the focus on fitness, stamina, and athleticism in traditional mountain climbing.

Mr. Edlinger was born in 1960, in Dax, France. He began climbing as a teenager, and by the late 1970s, he and Gorgeon were climbing the seaside cliffs known as Les Calanques de Cassis.

His fame grew when he was featured in documentary films about climbing, including ‘‘Life at Your Fingertips’’ and ‘‘Opera Vertical.’’ He later toured climbing sites around the world, making remarkably easy climbs of routes over which others had long labored.

‘‘When he climbed, it was like watching a ballet,’’ Gorgeon said. ‘‘It looked like a professional dancer on the rocks. The moves weren’t rough. They were always very purposeful and beautiful.’’

Mr. Edlinger had a serious fall while free soloing in the 1990s and had a heart attack related to the accident. He largely stopped free soloing after the accident. He was separated from his wife, Mata, Gorgeon said. He also leaves a daughter, Nastia.

‘‘When I climb, I feel an interior peace,’’ he said in a 2009 interview. ‘‘You’re obliged to concentrate on here and now, to concentrate totally. All of a sudden, you forget your problems, all the things that don’t interest you.’’

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