A while back, Arthur Kubista spent his 45th birthday making the FA of Der lange Atem at Schattenreich, Austria. I and Pierre Délas decided to ask him a few questions. This interview will be published in French on Kairn, as soon as Pierre has translated it.
First of all: thank you for your interest! I would like to mention that I am not a friend of superlatives; statements like "best achievement ....in history of climbing" is exactly what I'm not so happy with: it feels a bit like sensation-mongering, provocative to many others and tended to offend other even "elder" than me climbers like Manolo, Jibe or others less known, who performed same or better. Beyond that this might set off discussions and criticism which I'm not at all interested in. The stunning density of hardest realizations by the youngest like Adam or the incredible moves by high end boulderers are what really sets records and deserves attention. That's why I was primarily sceptical to let publish anything whatsoever. But with a month distance now and the comments of lots different people I feel like allowing a teeny pride now...
When and where did you start climbing? Was it "love at first sight"? Speak about your climbing experience? My father took me to the Lower-Austrian mountains for easy climbs when I was a child; This was an early love indeed. Later as a teenager originally I was attracted by classical alpine multi pitch-climbing but just at the same time I started sport climbing around Vienna with Alpenverein Edelweiss. In the following 80ies and 90ies up to now I have visited most European topspots for sportsclimbing also to try a few real hard routes. The time of our visits was often too short for me to repeat more than up to 8c abroad. For years my wife Beate and I have developed a special sympathy for Italy, more exactly Sardinia where I could bolt and make some beautiful FAs. Concentrated on a few great moments I succeeded in some onsights abroad maximally up to 8a+, maybe some 8b. I succeeded in my first 8b abroad in 1992, and as a real milestone I could make the FA of "Guère d'Usure, 8c" in Claret in winter 1998/99, while the very strong French at that time certainly had not waited for a short Austrian to realize one of their hard projects. I have always been interested in the question why a certain move is technically solved best in a certain way, if there are alternatives to it and if there are systematic laws for generalization and how to impart these rules to other people. Consequently I tried to define these motoric laws analytically tearing down the cryptics of "climbing technique is all so complicated, no move compares to another" .To solve a problem I have got used to take this approach.
When did you start working on this route? A lot of tries? Have you bolted the project yourself? Tell us more about the route and the crag! I bolted the route in August 2006 immediately after freeing Aktion Talon, 8c, to seek a new reason and challange to come to this eternally shady estival sector. I worked it for several days during the last 3 years apart from two pauses due to a spinal desease . On the other hand the sector is closed and forbidden to climbing by the propriator from November to May, so the season there is not so long.The first section is a "bouldery" roof and mainly on underclings and flats. I freed it last year after ca.11/12 tries. Since this is a special sort of climbing also dependent on a low humidity the grade could appear hard. Look: the crag hasn't the quality of French or Sardinian rock. There are splintery [loose] areas where you have to use cement to protect even the belayer from falling footholds. The overall cleaning still left those tiny holds which are all totally natural and relatively sure not to change or break after every session. The alpine ambience of this crag is really gorgeous and quiet amidst one of the most beautiful valleys in the province of Lower Austria.
What was the main difficulty of freeing this route for you? Two very different types of climbing combined in one go, both requiring special weather and temperature conditions. And when it was finally cold enough, the question was how long to rest in the middle to recuperate sufficiently while at the same time not freezing too much in advance of the mini-holds above. Being like two pitches I found it a lot easier to climb through either the lower or the upper part instead of combining them in one go.
The first section of Der lange Atem is 8c/c+. Can you describe the diffculties of the second section of the route, and this small edges section? Probably it's not too wrong to parallel this second part a bit to a St.Loup 9a. There is a touch of "old school" although the upper part hangs over considerably. The hard section follows after 10 easier but pumpy moves without any rest. It's 7/8 moves of big reaches on tiny slopers and slippery pinches up to a poor rest, then you head out a short 8a+ for the top. Of course I cannot exclude that a much taller climber than me (after all 162cm) might find these moves somewhat more comfortable. But still this shouldn't be much less than 8A/B FB.
Do you know if other strong climbers have tried it? No, since it was my project until now. So of course we have to wait for repeaters to settle the proposed grade...I felt the overall requirement well above that of all 9as I ever tried. Moreover the crag offers the first 9a of eastern Austria Maitre Vauban und der Basilisk, which hasn't seen a repetition for more than 6 years now although it has seen strong aspirants. It is offering real good climbing with continuously mounting difficulties on more than 30 m.
We think that you are the oldest man to climb such a difficult route. What does it mean to you? I have dedicated a good part of my life to climbing, from the beginnings of this sports in the area of Vienna. I have watched and then actively participated in the development and refinement of high-end sportsclimbing technique for 3 decades starting from the 80ies, prior to pushing physical qualities. These efforts have been resulting in our well known and widely appreciated Technique- Courses in Vienna Alpenverein Halls. So after all it does naturally mean a lot to me, especially after serious spinal problems, which almost forced me to stop hard climbing and caused an ample training pause within these past two years. Beside that it's honourable for me being named together with Manolo or Jibe...
Have you tried (or ever been to) other hard projects in the 9th degree for comparing the difficulties of your route with other standards? Sure, several- although I have never repeated a 9th degree abroad due to a limited time-budget which doesn't afford me long trips. My latest comparison was Coup de grace, 9a+ in Tessin, where I could solve the initial boulder within half an hour, and recently I looked into some impressive Bock-routes in Frankenjura. Already in the mid-90 ies I tried the Action[directe], however years after Wolfgang had enthusiastically described me every single move and he had keenly tried to motivate me for a go wheras I thought this would be too presumptuous. Sadly I never managed the initial jump with my height, but however still the remaining 12 moves. Notice that ever since I started harder climbing 20 ys ago I have always had to do it parallel with a breadwinning job, without being "sponsored by family", without trainers and the attendance of sports medicine.
It seems making first ascents is your main passion. Is this true? Why? First there is the "time-budget". As you imagine, with my personal height there are not too many hard routes that I can repeat within a reasonable period of time and effort. There are very few routes in the 9th that were opened by people far below 170cm and alternative solutions in these routes are very difficult and sometimes impossible for me to find. But maybe this is only owed to my weakness...;-) But moreover I like virgin rock and it sometimes can demotivate me terribly when working on a hard (already ascended) route I must recognize even in easier sections, that the "normal and evident" solution to a move does not fit for me, or I do not fit into that solution, and thus have to struggle for a costy compensation. Hence these moves assume for me the character of another additional crux. Admittedly, making an FA might not really solve much of this aspect - when I look at it ex post, but yet solving a new and untouched problem keeps me mentally stronger and much more motivated. Truely: seeing a beautyful line in steep virgin rock, the adventure and creativity finding a hard but climbable way checking concise solutions, has a magic touch and finally leaves me recollecting what made me opt for this frugal kind of life. Not later than when you have seen an overall compelling, fantastic 70 mt.line on tufas, like I did in the Grotta di Millennium, Sardinia (Kubomaladia Zigantumania, 8c+), bolted by your own hands with a lot of trouble and pain, and then - after a week of trials above the Mediterranean floods and your beloved one with the GriGri who shrinks to a point at the grotto-base - you freed it, you will utterly understand where this FA-fascination derives from.
What do you think about the fact that several 45-50 year olds are climbing super hard (You, Manolo "Zanolla", Jibé...)? Is it possible to climb 9a at 60 you think? Are you the best you've ever been right now? Look, the pioneers of the early 90ies are gaining age now, without leaving off their masochistic veins. From time to time we love to give a sign of life and let your ears prick up, even if just for a second. Currently I cannot imagine how to feel with 60 but for others I wouldn't exclude that for the future with special character routes. However we must realize that the physical factors in the 9th grade might count too heavy otherwise it were not that hard. But with a generally rocketing level, their long years-experience and not least a better medical attendance high perfs of elder people get much more realistic in 1 or 2 decades.
What do you think about the incredible level of younger climbers like Ondra? As you say: really stunning! And don't forget our Tirolean girls, beware the future!
What do you think you could teach them? Absolutely nothing. Today we have to sadly put up with a strong trend to seek tremendous publicity for every perf and to discuss every star/starlet hick-up for weeks on the internet. No, drop it!..., today this was just me contributing too wordy to that trend...