INTERVIEW: Dougal Tavenerby Jack Geldard & Duncan Campbell - UKC Jan/2014
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Dougal Tavener is a British Guide living in Chamonix, France, and is a talented and very well-rounded climber, having onsighted up to E7 in North Wales, redpointed up to 8b+/c, climbed hard mixed first ascents, big mountain routes and ski descents.
Dougal grew up in North Wales, before moving to Nottingham as a professional kayaker. Aged 17, Dougal moved back to North Wales where he threw himself into climbing, soon operating at the highest standards. Dougal then moved to Innsbruck, Austria where, as well as sport climbing to a high standard, he passed the Austrian Guides' Scheme, and subsequently moved to Chamonix.
UKC Chief Editor Jack Geldard found out a little more about Dougal's history and motivations:
Jack: You started climbing at what age? And where? What motivated you to start? How did it all begin?
Dougal: I was 6 years old when I had my first experience in the mountains, when my Dad took me up Tryfan. I remember him recounting to friends some years later that he was pretty freaked out when I took off up steep slopes on the west face. After him previously telling me about my uncle George jumping across Adam and Eve I insisted on doing it myself.
It was my uncle George, a very keen Alpinist, who took me rock climbing for the first time, around the same time as a birthday treat. It wasn't until I gave up my career as a professional kayaker at the age of 17 that I really got into it. Since the first experience I have always been overly motivated.
Jack: After your first forays in to climbing, you moved to North Wales. What were your motivations for this? And how did the Welsh climbing and scene mould your climbing path?
Dougal: I actually grew up in North Wales, but moved to the Wirral with my family at age nine, then Nottingham, due to a request from my sponsors to be based at the National Water Sports Centre. After I gave up the kayaking, and got seriously into climbing, I wanted to be in North Wales and fortunately got a place on the Instructor scheme at Plas y Brenin. North Wales was amazing, so much history to motivate and aspire to and so many good/bad role models, depending on perspective. It wasn't until I moved to Innsbruck that I realised just how special the climbing in North Wales is, in fact more climbing in a close vicinity than anywhere else I have been in the world.
Jack: What were the most classic days or routes in North Wales for you? And some of your hardest?
Dougal: My biggest milestone was definitely climbing Lord of the Flies, E6 6a. I had aspired to climb this for a long time, but definitely some of the best days I had were during one summer, ticking most of North Stack Wall with Nick Bullock and onsighting my first E7 - A Wreath of Deadly Nightshade.
Jack: You moved to Austria in 2005 - to Innsbruck. What were the differences in the climbing, the scene, the philosophy, the whole package? Can you describe the whole climbing vibe of Innsbruck?
Dougal: The first evening in Innsbruck I went to a Thanksgiving party at Killian Fischuber's flat, pretty much everyone there climbed 8c/9a and were very modest about it. This kind of put the amazing international level of the Innsbruck climbing scene into perspective.
I spent the next months/years learning to sport climb with an amazing group of fun, and extremely welcoming Innsbruck climbers like Gerhard Hoerharger, Cody Roth, Hans Millewski and Guido Unterwurzacher. I really missed the adventure of British trad climbing at first, but after a while really got into just hanging out in the sun and trying to climb hard. Once I got a bit better at this I put some of it into action on more trad style routes in the Dolomites.
Jack: Whilst you were there you did some pretty hard ice and mixed climbing, as well as some tough rock routes. Can you give us a run down of some highlights, and some of your favourite adventures?
Dougal: Illuminati, first ascent, M11+, WI6+, with Albert Leichtfried. The funniest part of this was the day that we started I had 'accidentally' been out until 5 in the morning partying with two lovely young ladies, overslept, had a 2hr walk-in, an angry climbing partner, and a whole day of hanging off one ice axe in an overhang, whilst drilling bolts with the other! All this with no food or water. Pretty horrible!
Via Italia, a 9 pitch 8a I redpointed in a single day in the Domomites. This was a plan B after walking for 4 hours up to the Marmalade South Face, finding it to be gopping wet, walking back down, driving to Sella and then sending.
Tension, M12. Dryland. Innsbruck. Austria.
Silver Surfer, (3rd ascent). 8b+/8c Achleiten. Austria.
Infinity, (first ascent) 8c. Innsbruck. Austria.
Jack: And you have been through the Austrian Mountain Guide scheme and are now an IFMGA guide - was that your goal from the beginning? Why choose the Austrian scheme?
Dougal: I always wanted to be a guide, but never planned on staying in Austria. When I did, I thought it would be fairly easy transferring to the Austran scheme, but I didn't really appreciate the difference in the level of skiing or how hard learning Austrian would be.
Jack: What direction do you see yourself taking your career as a mountain guide?
Dougal: For a while now I have been specialising in training people to achieve specific projects. Such as non-climbers having the goal to climb the North Face of the Eiger, etc. I design programs to help them realise these goals, from start to finish. For example, for the last 3 years I have been working with Martin J. Scott on a number of projects. Since he first put crampons on 2 years ago we have climbed Mt Blanc, the Eiger, North Face of Mt Blanc du Tacul, skied the Vallee Blanche and have nearly completed training to climb the Nose and the Matterhorn North Face in 2014.
Jack: You are now in your 30s and have climbed since your teenage years. Also you are a mountain professional, and a sponsored climber, so it is fair to say that most of your adult life has been involved heavily with climbing. How has climbing changed for you over the years? How do you keep motivated and how have your motivations changed?
Dougal: I guess my ego has chilled out a lot, which is nice as this seems to make climbing and life even more enjoyable. It feels like a hobby. I enjoy it so much I don't need to motivate myself. I hope hanging out with friends in amazing places will always be so much fun.
Jack: If you had to give an 18 year old Dougal Tavener some climbing lessons, what would you try and teach him?
When I was maybe 14/15 I really devoted my life to training and all I wanted was to be the best in the world, I did absolutely everything to achieve this (at this time my sport was kayaking). I never forget my Grandad (who was my biggest idol) saying to me 'don't lose sight of why you are doing this' - the reason why was simply because I enjoyed it. He was right. I gave up kayaking when I stopped enjoying it and turned my energy and focus into climbing, but I have often lost sight along the way. My advice would be remember this, but most importantly don't loose sight of what you really want by seemingly apparent momentary desirable distractions. To cut it short: 'Keep it real' to yourself.
Jack: You have recently relocated from Innsbruck to Chamonix in France. What prompted the move, and what drew you to Chamonix?
Dougal: I have always loved the Chamonix mountains, but actually would prefer to stay in Innsbruck. Working as a guide in Chamonix is more interesting and everything is on the doorstep, giving the option for a home life as a guide.
Jack: What does the future hold for Dougal Tavener? Both in climbing, and in other areas of your life?
Dougal: Hopefully happy safe work days in the mountains, good times with my loved ones and enough time to go crush with friends.
You can find out more about Dougal Tavener and his guiding services at: Dougaltavener.com