In this interview Jack Geldard talks to Alexandra Schweikart, one of Germany's top female climbers.
Alex not only pulls hard in her local limestone area of the Frankenjura, she is also a keen big wall and alpine climber. Always psyched and always active, the last few days have seen Alex trying a nine pitch 8a+ granite trad route in Switzerland's Ticino, and last week she was having redpoint attempts on a short and bouldery 8c on German limestone, only falling on the very last move.
Her travels have taken her big wall climbing in Yosemite, up Alpine North Faces in winter, on hard routes in the Dolomites and even to the UK.
Although she has been trad climbing in North Wales, Alex is virtually unknown in Britain, and in this interview we find out a little bit more about her, how she started climbing, and how climbing fits in to her life.
Jack: You started climbing with your parents - when and where was this - how did it all start?
Alex: My parents took me climbing at the age of 3 in 1984 to the Dolomites and to crags in the Black Forest; Battert in Baden-Baden and in the Pfalz. I grew up following a rope in a chest harness on rather changeable rock.
Jack: Is that a normal way for German climbers to start?
Alex: Well it was back in those days. Trad climbing in the Pfalz with cowbell-sized hexentrics and VDiff grade alpine climbing was trendy. No climbing walls existed in the early 80s. This has changed dramatically in Germany; I guess we have about 500 climbing walls right now!
Jack: And then, how did you progress from there to where you are now?
Alex: After a few years I discovered sport climbing and we built our first climbing wall in Freudenstadt in 1989. I trained on a self made campus board and on the sandstone wall of my parents' house. Then I moved to the Frankenjura in 2002 to study Chemistry and above all to climb of course! After 3 years I climbed my first 8a (Witchcraft), two years later my first 8b (Primeure Deluxe) and my first alpine 8a+.
Jack: You are climbing up to 8c sport routes, but also like long alpine climbs both on rock and mixed ground, how do you fit in the time to train for all different types of climbing?
Alex: My main passion is endurance climbing which is the basic for all mountain adventures! When I mix this skill up with some power training from time to time I am able to succeed in different disciplines. And I believe in negative training: drink and eat as much as possible and then eat healthy and ban alcohol before hard sends!
Jack: What type of training do you do?
Alex: Mainly bouldering (indoor), campus boarding and body tension exercises. For the mountain season I train by running, cycling, swimming and cross country skiing. I try to annoy everyone by doing as many stretching exercises as I can in the first 20 minutes after waking up. They're usually called "Alexercises".
Jack: What was a real breakthrough for you in your climbing?
Alex: I think this was in 2008 when I climbed Via Camilotto-Pellesier in the Dolomites, a north -facing multi pitch with difficulties up to 8a+/8b with Dirk Uhlig. We worked the route during almost three weeks to figure out the moves; sometimes in desperate conditions with thunderstorms, blizzards...I cried, whimpered, struggled but finally won the battle against myself and the bloody North Face! I learned that your body can be forced or sandbagged into a great performance just by psychological persuasion.
Alex: You mean like: If I'd climb this and that I would stop climbing and sell my climbing gear? No way! There is always a new route to climb, new places to travel to and adventures to be had! Well...and climb 9a on trad gear!
Jack: And how do you see climbing in your life? Do you have any other interests?
Alex: What I want from life is to be free and to learn and see and share as much as I can. Climbing is the perfect image and representation of all that. Besides climbing my main passions are my boyfriend Chrissi, science, vegetarian cooking, environmental protection, Loriot films and MaxxF (which is like Yoga but better). And cake!
Jack: Your current lifestyle - where do you live? Day to day what do you do? Work/study? How does it all fit together?
Alex: For a year now I have lived in the back of my van; I love waking up in the morning and seeing mountains and enjoying a climber's dirtbag life! I check the weather forecast; make plans where to climb, meet new people and just climb as much as I can. Back from the mountains I teach climbing courses for a mountain school in the Frankenjura. Then I share a tiny room in Bayreuth with my boyfriend Chrissi, 400m of rope plus 90m of static line, 20kg of gear, crampons, ice axes, 8 skis, boots, guitar, ukulele and a nose whistle - always ready to fly the nest! I worked as a scientist in physical chemistry at the university and graduated as Dr.rer.nat. At the moment it is fairly hard to combine these two passions: climbing and science as they are both incredibly time consuming.
Jack: Who have you met in your life that has inspired you and in what way? Both climbing and non-climbing?
Alex: Santa Claus: He is really good at chimneys and hauling big bags. (Excellent quote from Nico Favresse)
Jack: What is the hardest challenge you have met in your life so far?
Alex: Climbing my first 8b+ and having my final PhD exam within one week of each other in 2011 was really challenging! I can't remember which was more difficult...
Jack: If you had advice for climbers out there who want to push themselves - what would you say to them?
Alex: If you want to climb hard routes you have to push yourself into the right mental state. Be calm but excited, think positive and confident. Think "I can do it, I want it!" instead of "I am not good enough, what if...?" Geklettert werden muss, was geklettert warden kann!
Jack: Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what is your favorite type of cake?
Alex: Streuselkuchen from my mum and Apfel-Weißwein Kuchen!
Jack: Thanks Alex - good luck for the summer!
Former student Oli Grounsell shares his experience of university life and climbing in Bangor. DISCLAIMER: To future students - do... Read more
Despite the setbacks that chronic illness entails, top UK trad climber Charlie Woodburn has approached his goals with great... Read more
In this new series of interviews, we whisk off some of Britain's best climbers to a lonely desert island (we might give them a... Read more