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Athletes & Explorers

Jun 13, 2018

Hansjörg Auer: No Turning Back

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WRITTEN BY

livellozero.net

This interview initially featured on Livellozero.net in Italian.

“There is only one person you will have to bear for the rest of your life: yourself. That’s why being alone is so difficult. Even in the mountains, and not just because of safety. Being alone strips you naked, it makes you understand who you are, what is your value, the things that matter in life”.

HANSJÖRG AUER

H I G H L I G H T S :

Free Solo Ascents: Tempi Moderni (6c/ 800 m), Fish (7b+/ 850 m), Locker vom Hocker (7a/ 350 m), Bayrischer Traum (7a/ 400 m) and Mephisto (6c+/400m), Dolomites Crossover (3 big walls | 2 flights | 1 day | no rope) in 2016

First Ascents: Bruderliebe (8b/800m) and First Free Ascent of L’ultimo dei Paracadutisti (8b+/ 650 m) on Marmolada Southwestface

First Ascent of Kunyang Chhish East (7400 m) via the 2700 m high Southwestface.

First Ascent of Gimmigela East (7005m) Northface.

 


Hansjörg Auer has been climbing since he was twelve years old. In 2007, the young and virtually unknown math and sports teacher free soloed the 37-pitch route Via Attraverso il Pesce on the Marmolada South Wall, and overnight became the shooting star of the climbing scene. In the last ten years Hansjörg has put together an impressive number of first and free solo ascents around the globe, from Dolomiti home walls to Karakorum and Siberia. We reached him in Umhausen, in his native Austria to talk about the past, present and future of his activity on the proudest walls of the globe.

Hansjörg Auer portrait by Mati

L0: You have previously said that since your childhood you have always been good at being alone. We all know how a childhood can deeply influence our later behaviour as adults. Do you think that your quests for solo ascents is an attempt to recreate the feelings you had as a child?

Definitely. I kind of had a hard time as a child. Not at home, on our farm, more in school. I never got the feedback I would have needed. I guess that’s why I flew into the sport/mountains and started doing things, which I knew I was good at. And, somehow, I always felt happy when I was alone. Waiting for friends to come with me, waiting for their schedule to fit in, was never what I did. If nobody had the time or the psyche to come along, then I preferred to go by myself. And my parents were happy to see that. They never pushed me or my brother, but also they never stopped us from doing things and being out in the wild.

 

L0: You decided to go for the free solo of Weg durch den Fish when you felt that you were ready. How can one possibly be “ready” for something like that? Is there some kind of a mental process or set of stages that you need to go through, or do you simply just wake up one fine morning, and you are suddenly sure that in that exact moment you will be able to complete your project?
Free Solo climbing is all about finding the right moment. It’s not about a special training or preparation. Of course you need to be physically fit, but you can’t train to become a free solo climber. Being patient and waiting for the right moment to come is the crux. And, in my case, that moment always arrives all of a sudden. Before that happens, I keep thinking and focusing on the project for many weeks, but then the now it’s time moment comes pretty suddenly, without warning and in a somewhat unexpected way.

Free soloing “Via Attraverso il Pesce“, Marmolada – ph.credits Heiko Wilhelm

L0: From bold free solos, on big rock walls, like Marmolada you seem now to be shifting your interest towards mixed climbing ascents, in winter or the Himalayas…
I think the life of a climber is always about shifting motivations. When you’re younger it’s more about what, where and how hard you climb. But, in my case, this is now changing a little bit. For me nowadays the most important thing is with whom I climb. A few years ago it happened that I had been more focused on free solo climbs on big rock walls like Marmolada. And also the interest of the journalists and of the climbing world regarding my activity was pretty much the same. But, even then, first of all I have always been a mountaineer and therefore mountaineering is nothing new for me. Nowadays I feel more free and able to consider the many different possibilities that the mountain have to offer and to pick up only the projects, which motivate me the most, be it rock climbing, mixed climbing or whatever other style in between.

 

L0: Annapurna III south ridge: After these past few months, can you tell us more about the November 2017 failed attempt? Do you plan to go there and try again?
This project is no longer relevant to me. We had some internal problems and controversies within the team last year, but I don’t want to comment on this in a more specific way. That was basically the reason why we didn’t even go to Annapurna base camp, having climbed Ama Dablam to acclimatise. I’m still planning to go to Karakorum in the Summer of 2018 with Alex Blümel. We will try for another great project, a 7000m peak. Wild, long and in alpine style.

Gimmigela East – ph.credits Elias Holzknecht

L0: Motivation vs Expectation: the desire to push the limit is probably difficult to manage. Do you ever feel that you are caught between your personal ambitions, and the expectations of what people / media / journalists might expect from you?
That’s a very good question. I would say that some years ago I was probably caught in the mechanism you are referring to, but not anymore. As you get older, you generally get much more relaxed about what other people are thinking, saying and expecting from you.
Sure, social media and “the business side“ of my climbing is part of my life too. I like to take care of that aspect of my activity as well, but for me it is absolutely not the main priority. That’s also why I enjoy so many low budget trips and expeditions, without too many other people or cameras involved. My focus is currently much more on the mountain and on the project, and that’s what it’s all about. Business-wise I prefer to drive on a normal road in my authentic style, rather than on the highway, in a car steered and driven by somebody else.

 

L0: What have you learned from your climbing activity after all these years?
The most important thing is to feel satisfied, and to be able to achieve this feeling not only when you are climbing, when you have just realised your greatest project or when times are good. To succeed in this, I think you should consider climbing and mountaineering not as the most important thing in your life. For me being in the mountains, being creative, pushing hard is my life. But I always try (at least try) to remember that there are many other different things in life too.
L0: Alpinism is sometimes either considered a super specialised activity, for a select few. In Austria it seems totally quite the opposite: many young strong climbers are extremely active on a number of projects. What is the key for this? Is it simply due to a different cultural environment? How is it possible to encourage the next generation of alpinists?
This is one of the better questions that I get asked by journalists. It’s true, that it’s much easier to make a living from mountaineering, than from sport climbing. This is because if you go mountaineering you will always have a story to tell. In sport climbing not so much. Being a strong alpinist means that you need to be strong in many different disciplines, and that you need to be able to combine them all and capitalise on everything exactly when it’s needed on the expedition D-Day. You also need to have a special mindset about taking risks and being super exposed out there in the wild. Like I can’t tell you how it feels to climb 9b, then nobody else, except those who experienced it already, can tell you how hard it is to be in a bivy at 7000m after many days of hard alpinism.
On the other hand it is very easy to tell if somebody is a really strong rock-climber. You just watch him climbing at the local crag and you immediately have the answer. But to determine how strong an alpinist is, it’s a much harder thing to do, because he would normally climb in the high mountains or in some remote area without any people watching him.
And yes, there are big differences between the alpinists out there. Some are doing good stuff but never pushing too much. And some tole to talk more of it rather than actually being in the mountains. But there are a few, who are really strong. Look to Slovenia, Italy, France, Poland, Spain and Switzerland. It’s not only in Austria. And those who are really strong have also a certain level in sport climbing, in bouldering, ice climbing or whatever. So, at the end of the day, understanding how strong an alpinist is, is not that hard after all. 😉

Marmolada Freesolo – ph.credits Matteo Mocellin

L0: How do you relate to fear? How do you handle it before, and during your most dangerous ascents. Are you in total control over  irrational thoughts?
Fear is something that is really important. There are days when fear is a major topic, but there are other days when you are simply fearless. In general, I can easy handle fear. Or I would say, if I feel fear, that means that it’s not the right moment to do something on the edge. It is pretty much the same thing during free solo climbing. If I think of a project with fear then it simply means that the right time for me has not yet come. This game is all about waiting for the right moment. Only in that moment you will be able to achieve something great and unique.

 

L0: what is your relationship with sponsors?
The North Face is the ideal partner for me. The collaboration is casual, no pressure, a really nice cooperation. We also implement one or two projects together per year. If I have something big planned, I pay the costs out of my pocket, if need be. Then I relinquish any rights and can do what I want with the photos and videos so that I stay free and flexible. If you let everything you do to be financed by a company, then, technically speaking, you’re just taking on a job. If you bear the expedition costs yourself, then there’s no one to meddle with you.

 

L0: ok! Do we have time for a couple more questions?
Actually not! It is midnight and I have a plane to catch tomorrow morning at 06.30 AM for a climbing trip to Ethiopia. So I’d better start packing my bags and gear!!

 

For more news and updates you can follow Hansjörg Auer on his InstagramFacebook or Twitter accounts. Do not forget also to check his website, packed with a lot of interesting stuff and with a preview of Hansjörg’s latest book Südwand.

Nilgiri South Face – ph.credit Auer Archive

 

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Travel

Jan 15, 2019

Not Your Father’s Ski Trip: Jackson Hole, WY

Inspired by images of her dad’s Jackson Hole college ski trip, the author heads north to tour the Tetons and tack a few pictures to the family scrapbook.

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WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

The author’s father launching a cliff at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort cerca 1987

This film shot of my father going big on a set of ridiculously thin, twin-tipped K2s cerca 1987 instilled in me a deep gratitude for today’s fat freeride sticks and a sense of duty to keep the family’s cliff-hucking legacy alive. Scrapbook open on his lap, my dad extolled the terrain of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, which he visited “back in the good ol’ days” at Colorado State University. He described a steep wonderland besotted with cliffs that beg for reckoning. After the past several seasons of wimpy Colorado snow totals whilst Jackson churned out foot-deep day after foot-deep day, I was enthused by the resort’s inclusion on my 2018-2019 Ikon Pass. With my own graduation looming in May, I figured the time was right for some Teton escapades. Like father, like daughter.

Car outfitted with a socioeconomically oxymoronic stash of ramen and expensive ski gear, I punched seven hours northward and arrived the night after a vicious storm cycle spat 20 inches of fresh flakes onto the mountains. The next day popped bluebird and my posse navigated the foreign slopes via trial, error, and the inexhaustible freneticism of college kids on vacation. We nabbed fresh tracks on Headwall and Casper Bowl, giggled down pillows on the Crags, and pinballed around the Hobacks. A ride up in the iconic Jackson Hole tram revealed a closed Corbet’s Couloir, ostensibly requiring another wave of coverage before its seasonal unveiling. I was forced to settle for a waffle at Corbet’s Cabin instead of matching my dad’s drop into the legendary chute. With the blood of my father and powder-fueled adrenaline surging through my veins, I willed myself over the most tantalizing cliffs on offer in Rendezvous Bowl.

The iconic Jackson Hole Mountain Resort tram, cerca 1987
Corbet’s Couloir: a timeless classic
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, cerca 1987

In the words of the great Cyndi Lauper: Oh daddy dear, you know you’re still number one, but girls, they wanna have fun.

It’s part and parcel of parenthood to agitate over the safety and well-being of one’s children. I’ve subsumed backcountry skiing into my hobbiesnew territory for this family’s lineage. On my nascent out-of-bounds outings, my father, a textbook concerned parent, grumbled about avalanches, terrain traps, and my insurmountable naïvity. Several seasons of diligent education, one avy bag, and countless snow pits later, I’ve earned his reluctant acceptance, if not enthusiasm, for my backcountry pursuits.  In the words of the great Cyndi Lauper: Oh daddy dear, you know you’re still number one, but girls, they wanna have fun.

Finding deep snow on Headwall
Pillows aplenty on the Crags

After two days of charging in-bounds, my psyche longed for the solitude of the skintrack. Teton Pass, Grand Teton National Park, and the resort sidecountry make the area a veritable playground for backcountry enthusiasts. It’s a family affair in Jackson; a fraternal ethos is evident in the fact that 97% of the nearly 4 million acres of Teton County are federally owned or state managed. Locals are quick to mark their territory on Teton Pass with the exclamatory hieroglyphs of first tracks, but the terrain is ample enough to find virgin snow. After giving the snowpack several days to stabilize post-squall, we found wiggle room on north-facing aspects along the Mail Cabin Creek drainage. Our final line of Day 1 was the Do-Its, a bifurcated powder track that converges and meanders twelve hundred feet back down to the road. At the hill’s zenith, minute snowflakes collapsed into liquid and rolled from our hardshells. We stood atop a wind-plumped knoll and observed the gnarl of peaks, foregrounded by Mount Taylor and Mount Glory, tumbling into a horizon of exposed rock and liquescent white. The unperturbed flank below screamed for human contact. I was all too happy to oblige the siren’s call with a quick tuck into the void. My skis made that sanctified first contact with the snow below. A crescendo of polestrokes invoked a maelstrom of flakes to drown the world in white. Hips squiggling, mind locked to the minutia, dopamine and adrenaline flooding the nervous system, and a raven on high with a vantage point a ski cinematographer would kill for. Then I burned through the mountain’s vertical; the dance with gravity ended in an expository wave of white smoke. I looked back and the sublime evidence was a single, undulating track across the otherwise unblemished face.

Cloud inversion over the Teton Valley from the top of Mt. Glory
Top of Mt. Glory

My final day in Jackson came courtesy of Exum Mountain Guides, an 80-year-old Teton-based guiding service that offers instruction and adventure on rope and skis in North America, the Alps, Andes, and Himalayas. The service traces their lineage to local legends of the 1930s like Glenn Exum, Paul Petzoldt, and Barry Corbet. They’re the granddaddy of Jackson guiding services and the resident experts on Grand Teton National Park. Despite the government shut-down and limited National Park operations, dedicated employees were plowing the entrance road and ensuring access to some of the Tetons best snow staches. My guide for the day was Brendan O’neill, who informed me of the birth of his daughter Jessie three weeks prior as we puttered to the Taggart Lake Trailhead.

If newborn Jessie was taxing this new dad’s sleep and energy reserves, his athletic, assiduous pace on the skintrack suggested otherwise. I asked Brendan about fatherhood, hoping to glean some insight into my own dad’s relationship with raising a daughter. He hopes to have Jessie on skis the second she can walk; he would be thrilled if she took to alpine or nordic racing, but amenable if she chose not to compete; he is excited to show her the world beyond the boundaries of a ski resort. As we muscled up towards Amphitheater Lake, I mused that twenty years from now, Jessie might look at pictures of her dad guiding in far-flung locales and make plans to fill and transcend those footsteps. I wonder if Brendan knows how much she will look up to him and his accomplishments.

Exum Guide and new father Brendan O’neill

  Even the evergreens projected patriarchy: the tallest trees nucleated their sapling broods with paternal solemnity, each molecule of powder glistening in the shaggy green branches. We broke through the forest onto snow-covered Amphitheater Lake, a cirque bounded by the bald, mangled granite of Teewinot to the north and Disappointment Peak to the west. On a snack pitstop, we watched another party of skiers lay down tracks in Spoon Couloir, a steep, enticing chute on Disappointment Peak’s lower haunch. Brendan seemed to sense my desire to get after a big alpine line and suggested we bootpack the Spoon must have been his newly acquired parental mind-reading superpower. After crossing the lake, we cut a haphazard zig-zag to the top of the Spoon’s apron and transitioned to the bootpack. 500 feet of vertical boot-punching propelled us up the gut and bookended the nearly 5,000 feet of vertical notched from trailhead to objective. From our humble perch on Disappointment’s flank, an electric blue sky slumbered atop a soupy mass of clouds, hallmark of a Teton Valley temperature inversion. Backgrounded by this topsy-turvy atmosphere, I skied down the hard-packed snow of the spoon’s handle into its apron of softer powder.

The Spoon Couloir visible on looker’s left of lower Disappointment Peak (center)
Bootpacking up the Spoon

Grand Teton, senior pinnacle of its range, poised with patriarchal authority over Middle Teton, Mt. Owen, and all the rest

To redeem the remainder of our hard-earned vertical, Brendan led us through a mellow glade percolated with unrumpled pillows aplenty. Matching his cuts through the pines was reminiscent of a childhood spent following my dad around the resort as I learned to trust my edges and my body. As I ripped skins back in the parking lot, giddy with alpine energy, I turned to gaze up at the Grand Teton, senior pinnacle of its range, poised with patriarchal authority over Middle Teton, Mt. Owen, and all the rest. I owe this unforgettable trip to Jackson Hole to my father for choosing to raise and inspire (and generously fund) a skier.

Thanks to Exum Mountain Guides for making this trip possible.

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