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Adventure Sports

with Stefan Nestler

UIAA chief Frits Vrijlandt: Five questions, five answers

Frits Vrijlandt

Frits Vrijlandt

The Netherlands are called so for good reason. The highest “summit”, the Vaalserberg near the town of Aachen, is only 323 meters high. Nevertheless you find “Oranje boven” also on the highest mountains on earth. Frits Vrijlandt is not a blank slate in the climbing scene. In 2000, he was the first Dutchman to climb Mount Everest from the Tibetan north side, later he became the second mountaineer from the Netherlands who scaled the Seven Summits, the highest mountains of all continents. At the International Mountain Summit (IMS) in Bressanone in South Tyrol, the General Assembly of the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) was held – and Vrijlandt was reelected as President for another four years.

Frits, a man from such a flat country is the head of all climbers worldwide. That sounds a bit strange.

(He laughs) Why? I have to be a friend of all countries who have mountains. This is important for my role to bring all countries together.

How is it for someone who has climbed the highest mountains of all continents to be an official for mountaineering?

I’ve been already doing this for four years. There are parallels to mountaineering. You want to achieve goals, and also the way to reach them can be beautiful.

Climbers often talk about freedom and independence, and to be honest, many are also egoists. How does this fit with a world federation that has to set up rules?

This is not our main task. We want to help the Alpine Clubs to make progress. We take care of safety, sports and environmental protection. This doesn’t always go together. Particularly environmental protection and mountain experience often create a tension field – all over the world.

Much traffic on Everest (in 2012)

Much traffic on Everest (in 2012)

The UIAA’s new strategy paper for the coming years does no longer provide a commission for expeditions. Isn’t there any problem in this field from the UIAA point of view?

The big “conquest” of the mountains, how it was said in former times, is over. But of course expeditions remain our task, even if we do not need to have a commission for this issue. We deal e.g. particularly with Nepal, because there is the highest mountain in the world. Today, with the commercial expeditions and with Sherpa support, it is almost possible for any well-trained, little experienced person to approach the summit of Mount Everest. But this is also an ethical question. We think Everest should remain a mountain for people who are experienced. They should be able to ascend on their own or with a partner – and not depend on ten or more Sherpas who decide everything for them.

Sport climbing will be part of the Olympics 2020 in Tokyo. What does this mean for mountain sports?

I think it’s great. This is a big task for our members who deal with sport climbing. I believe it will have only positive effects. For top sport climbers, the incentive to compete at the Olympic Games is perhaps the same as for alpine climbers to tackle the steepest wall or reach the highest summit.


16. October 2016 | 7:43