INTERVIEW/PHOTOS: Alex Huberby Jack Geldard / Wide World Magazine Jun/2009
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Since passing his mountain guide certificate in 1992, Huber has climbed at the very forefront of the sport, both at home in Europe and further afield. His local bolted routes from the early nineties have represented the utmost in physical difficulty and have waited a decade to be repeated (and only then by boy-wonder Adam Ondra - see UKC News items).
Over in the US, Huber's impact on the style of ascents on El Capitan shouldn't be under-estimated. Huber has made countless first free ascents on what is perhaps the most famous wall of rock on earth. He also held the speed record for The Nose back in 2007, climbing the route in a mind-bending 2:45:45.
Recently Huber has shunned the protection of a rope and chosen to pursue the dangerous game of free-soloing. This has led to solo ascents of hard routes in many disciplines including; F8b+ sport on limestone, the Brandler-Hasse route (F7a+) (a 500m overhanging Dolomite north face), plus a committing solo of the Grand Capucin, Chamonix.
He has also made audacious ascents on some of the highest and coldest faces on earth.
In this short interview, Alex Huber talks to Wide World Magazine, and, although they are a less specialised media than UKClimbing.com, the mainstream questions still give rise to some interesting answers; providing an illuminating insight in to the mind of someone who is striving to make the impossible possible.
There are mountaineers who try to do everything, but there's only a couple around the world that are really successful in both sports. But there's a lot of variety in mountaineering itself; you've got rock climbing, ice climbing, alpine rock climbing, sports climbing and high-altitude mountaineering. I came second place in the World Ice Climbing Championship in Austria. I'm just very good at each form of alpinism.
How do you train to get so good at all types of climbing?
I have to train quite differently to people who specialise in one kind of climbing, but the basis is my grounding in sport climbing. That means I'm really strong as a sport climber but I'm able to transfer those skills into high-altitude mountaineering. The difference between training for sport and high-altitude climbing is that sport climbing is about working with your body, trying to build up your strength. High-altitude is all about building up experience all your life if you want to be successful. It takes more discipline and patience than other styles.
What's the highest you've climbed?
Cho Oyu, on the border between Nepal and Tibet. It's the sixth highest mountain in the world. Even though it was extremely high, compared to some of my other achievements it's really not that breathtaking. I climbed on the trade route, which is just a normal way up, just to see how I ran on high altitude - my future goals are to climb the highest walls on the highest peaks, not the normal routes which don't challenge me much.
So what are you really aiming at then?
Well, there are a lot of walls at a very high altitude that I'd like to try. There's several which are the aim of all mountaineers to climb. They're on the border between impossible and barely possible - it's that cutting edge which interests me. I try to do what no one else will do, because you can only feel the true exposure of a mountain doing something that no one else has done before.
What is your favourite style of climbing?
That's very hard to answer, because I like to mix a lot of different styles. For instance, when I'm climbing at high altitudes I use a lot of free climbing, because that style is more effective at heights. One part of the sport which attracts me is going in light.
Is there a difference between European and American styles?
It's said that the British have the boldest style, and the boldest opinions of climbing in general. Britons want to go alpine style, self-sufficient, as lightweight as possible. Mount Everest, for instance, has been done without bottled oxygen from base camp to summit in sixteen hours. They don't want to use any kind of aid, that's the purest form of alpinism. It's a British tradition to go climbing in places where nobody has gone before, which means they take on the real challenge.
What has been your longest climb?
It was the west face of Latok II. We were climbing for fourteen days up a 7180-metre high wall. It's that sort of wall I like to tackle; one of the hardest walls in the world.
Have you fallen off?
Oh, I've fallen, but roped up. There was this one overhanging wall, and when I fell I dropped about 150 feet. But I had it under control, If you can't keep the fall under control then you'll hit something and die. It gives you a very strange feeling in the stomach. I like that though; it's being confronted with that 150-foot drop which drives you on. I don't use any kind of drugs apart from those my body produces. I guess I'm an adrenaline junkie!