Hansjörg Auer after his solo success in Pakistan: “The devil never sleeps”
“It was very, very cool and intense,” Hansjörg Auer tells me. After his successful solo project in the Hunza region in northern Pakistan, the Austrian top climber is back in his native Ötztal. As reported before, the 34-year-old had first climbed the approximately 1,000-meter-high West Face of the rarely attempted 7157-meter-high Lupghar Sar West – solo. First Hansjörg climbed from the base camp to a bivouac site at the foot of the wall at about 6,200 meters. From there he left on 7 July at 5 am and climbed up to the summit in six and a half hours. At 8 pm, Auer was back at the base camp.
Hansjörg, you said in advance that you wanted to know what it’s like to be alone in the wall of a very high mountain. How did you experience it?
Since our first ascent of the 7400-meter-high Kunyang Chhish East in 2013, I had asked myself this question again and again. I only waited for the right moment. This year the time had come. It felt very, very good. Of course, it was very different from climbing with a team. You are much more focused, you also feel stronger, as if you are drilled for a goal. Overall, it’s less emotional than I’m used to. But when it does get emotional, it’s much more intense because you are alone and have the strong urge to somehow manage it.
What was the special challenge for you while solo climbing through this wall?
It wasn’t so much about climbing a difficult route, but really about being alone. In this altitude you are generally very exposed. This is multiplied if you are climbing alone and have no friend or rope partner as a kind of back-up. It’s also mentally more difficult. If you have a bad phase and begin to doubt, there is no one to support and motivate you. You have to do it yourself.
Did you have moments of doubt?
Yes, sure. When I was lying in the bivouac that night, I was wondering if I could make it. Then I said to myself that I had already completed so many solo projects. That helped. Besides, I’m now in my mid-30s and have a lot of experience. This also helps, of course.
Did you have the exact route in mind before entering the wall?
I had two lines in my mind, in the left part of the wall part. I waited for my inner voice. Finally I decided for an icy couloir and several ice fields up to the Northwest Ridge, which I reached at about 6,900 meters. Then I climbed over the ridge to the summit.
How close were you to your limit?
It was running relatively smoothly. I had actually planned a second bivouac on the way up. But I made relatively rapid progress. At 6,700 meters, I found that the summit was not so far away anymore and that I should climb directly up. I had already thought beforehand that it might actually be possible to climb the wall non-stop. But because the weather was not so consistent and I was afraid that a snowstorm might catch me on the ridge, I took the tent with me. But then I deposited my backpack at 6,900 meters and climbed the last 250 meters up to the summit without any equipment.
The route through the wall was, of course, technically not as difficult as routes that can be climbed by a team. The ridge was exposed, with very loose rock, so I had to be careful. On the descent, I took my time. At the bergschrund, a snow bridge broke and I slipped 50 meters deep. Nothing happened because the snow was soft. In the end, everything went well.
What are you taking from this solo project in Pakistan? Will you be back with a team in the future? Or have you now tasted blood and think: How far can I get in climbing solo in high altitude?
Of course, I always have many solo projects in mind. However, it’s important to me that the right moment comes and I don’t put pressure on myself. That’s why I cannot tell you anything about this at the moment. At this point, only so much: I will remain true to the technical lines at high altitude. Of course, it is also very challenging in a team to climb new routes on very high mountains, because in a rope team you can push the technical limits much further.
Generally speaking, it’s not easy for family and friends when I go for solo climbing. This time, nobody told me before the expedition that it was a bad idea. Shortly before my departure, Simon Anthamatten (Swiss climber with whom Hansjörg and his brother Matthias Auer scaled Kunyang Chhish East in 2013) called me and strengthened my vision. That felt good. It would be a lot harder if everyone says: “Hey, what the hell are you doing?”
Will you put your feet up now?
Last week, I felt very tired. It just takes time to recover – even mentally. But now I’m going to climb in the Alps again. For example, I plan to open a new route in the South Face of Marmolada. For me, one expedition at high altitude per year is enough. I think to myself, the devil never sleeps. Of course, you never want to stop doing what you like to do. But in order to minimize the risk, you should focus more on quality than quantity.
Date25. July 2018 | 13:42