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with Stefan Nestler

Thomas Huber: “Thanks for staying alive!”

Thomas Huber (in 2014)

Thomas Huber (in 2014)

Approximately 1.8 seconds. That was the time it took when Thomas Huber fell 16 meters deep from a rock face on the Brendlberg in the Berchtesgaden region in Bavaria – now two weeks ago. As previously reported, the 49-year-old German top climber, the older of the two Huber brothers, landed on soft forest floor. As it turned out later, Thomas suffered a skull fracture and had to undergo surgery immediately. The doctor’s reassuring prognosis afterwards: no permanent damage. Meanwhile, Thomas has left the hospital and is recovering at home. I have phoned him.

Thomas, first things first: How are you?

I’m doing very well. I am aware of the immense luck that I had. I received it gratefully. I don’t look back what could have happened, I’m just happy that it happened the way it happened. Of course, it would have been better if I had avoided it and the accident had not even happened. But that’s what’s happening in climbing. I felt totally safe in my routine, and that’s often where the devil is in.

The rock face on the Brendlberg

The rock face on the Brendlberg

Are all your injuries curable?

It’s like a miracle that nothing more happened to me. That’s what the surgeons have told me too. After all, I fell 16 meters deep, we have measured it. All my injuries are curable. And it seems I’ll be 100 percent fit in the near future.

16 meters, that’s as high as one and a half single-family houses. Have you still thought anything during your fall or was it just pure instinct?

All was instinct. You do no longer think but only act. At every second I was fully conscious and obviously I have instinctively done everything right. But I was no longer able to control it. It happened so quickly and it was so surprising. You are then no longer in reality, it is like being on a second level, where only your body reacts and makes you survive in the end. I had 1,000 guardian angels. I’m sure there was anything that has made me survive. Otherwise I would not have been able to get back on my feet afterwards and walk down the mountain without help. I’ve not a single bruise. I have suffered only the skull fracture, a dislocated finger and a few broken spinous processes of vertebrae that had scraped over the rock.

Thomas after the surgery

Thomas after the surgery

You have probably abseiled already ten thousands of times in your life. One wonders how this incident could happen to you at all? Was it just a short moment lack of concentration?

No, the routine was to blame. When you are climbing a wall for the first time, it is frightening, not only on El Capitan, but also on Brendlberg, even though this wall is only 70 meters high but very steep, very alpine. I have been constantly climbing there in the last two months and have opened several routes. The wall has become for me a kind of a living room, I felt totally comfortable there. It was my second home, my summer job before the expedition. We filmed in the route “Watzmannflimmern”, which is a (difficulty) 9+. I wanted to fix a rope for the cameramen. When I had trained in the route that I finally climbed during the preceding months, I had always used a 60-meter rope. It was long enough to get to the ledge, five meters were still left then. But the rope, I used now, belonged to a friend. I did not know that it was cut off.
I abseil and remove three quickdraws from the first pitch of a neighboring route. Everything is good, I abseil to the ledge. And – tamm! – I fall. I was really fully concentrated. It was another story that was responsible, just the full routine that everything had always gone well during the previous months. Just like a master carpenter who, after 10,000 cuts with a circular saw, cuts off his finger.

Going to climb on

Going to climb on

It was very close, you have cheated death. Do you ask yourself: Do I continue as before?

If you are not able to deal with a story, you really have to ask this question. But if you are aware of this immense luck you had and if you are grateful that you are staying alive, then you can continue to go the mountains. You simply always have to be aware of what you are doing. The most dangerous thing is when you think you have everything under control. I have learned from my accident: Actually you must not rely on anyone or anything except on yourself. Put on your harness and check that the buckle is closed! Even if it is routine, look always at it, as a backup! Even though I have abseiled there for the 20th time, a new rope means just a new situation. Michael Schumacher (the Formula 1 record world champion had a serious ski accident in 2013)  has not fallen so deep as I did, and alas he is not well. Others fall half a meter deep and may be dead. I just say: Thanks, thanks, for staying alive.

Initially you had planned to travel along with some friends to the seven-thousander Latok I in Pakistan to tackle the legendary North Ridge route. Of course, this plan is out-of-date now. What will you do now?

Actually, I don’t want to talk about it now. I’m under medical treatment. I just had a first EEG, which was very positive. Now let’s see that I recover and get perfectly healthy again. Too often, people make the big mistake to look too far into the future. I look at the present. And I am just happy now and grateful that I am still living.


19. July 2016 | 23:24