I've always been fascinated by the quiet achievers. People operating under the radar, but still climbing at an incredible level. In a way, Pirmin Bertle is a good example. Unknown, I suspect, to most, this 25 year old psychology student from Kochel in the southern most part of Germany, has climbed 9a both in Siurana ('A Muerte') and at his home crag, Charmey. I caught up with Pirmin on Skype the other evening. He had just got back from the crag.
Good evening Pirmin, where did you climb today? I went to a quite unkown crag near the town. It's called Charmey. It's pretty new as development started only five years or so ago, and all the hard stuff is a lot younger than that.
It's a place where you've opened quite a few routes, isn't it? Really hard ones too. Are you the only one operating at the 8c+ or 9a level there? Do you know Daniel Winkler, the junior world champion from 2006? He's from Fribourg and has done the other of the two 9a's at Charmey. But he's not climbing that much these days.
I want to know more about your thoughts on making FA's, but maybe we should start from the beginning... like, who is Pirmin Bertle? Well, I'm from Munich or rather from south of Munich, Kochel to be exact. It's a nice spot for to start if you're a climber.
So climbing came naturally to you? How did you start? My father is a mountain guide, so I have been confronted with every type of mountain sports, but the year I decided to start climbing really was 1999. I mean to train seriously and all.
Did you always enjoy it, from the start? Yes I think so. Perhaps in the start it was as well about compensating my miserable performance in other sports.
Hahaha, that's classic Yeah, it seems to be.
I take it you live in Switzerland now though, how come? Yes, I live in Fribourg on the inner Swiss language border in between Bern and Lausanne. I'm finishing by BA in Psychology there this summer and went there in 2006. Actually I wasn't really planning to go there I even did not know this city before. But they offered the thing I wanted to study, they were pretty fast in accepting me and I knew that I could learn French there without speaking French before, as the university is bilingual and as you always meet some German speaking people too. So I choose the easy way to learn the language. Furthermore I wanted to stay in the alpine area, for the climbing, as well as for other mountain sports and the landscape. I did not really check the climbing opportunities there before and when I arrived there were one 8c+, two 8c and three 8b in the “Kanton” (the 50km around Fribourg). But there was space for new ones and today there are 13 8b, 9 8b+, 13 8c, 2 8c+ and two 9a.
Can you tell me about some key moments of your climbing career so far? The first key moment surely was that in 1999 I bought a finger board and started to try to make pull ups on it. It took me six months of daily training to succeed the first time. I kept on training this doubtable way and rose up to 70 pull ups. Another key moment was the first place in a competition to the Bavarian masters in 2001, my first competition at all and an overwhelming victory with 15 holds on advance to the second placed. In 2005 for the first time I besieged a project, my first 8c, for 20 days and nearly 80 tries. It was the first time I had not just progress in this process. I started to have a look on my weight, on my nutrition and on the exact preparation for my attempts. The day I gave a s*** about all this I sent it quite easily. But the key to the joy and the success in climbing wasn't a particular moment, but rather the insight nurtured by the experience, that the goal can just be to have fun in every single climbing or training day or you'll never hold up the motivation. Perhaps you will advance some faster in the beginning, but you probably will stop much earlier. When I started climbing I knew quite a lot of stronger climbers in my age. I don`t know if one of them has ever done an 8c, a thing that takes me 3 days by today.
So, was it always sport climbing? More or less. It was more multi-pitching in the beginning, with my father. And competitions. But after a few years I stopped competing. Too much travelling...
But bouldering is nothing you're into? No, no, I do bouldering as well! All my indoor training is just bouldering, but here in Switzerland in my region there are more sportclimbs.
What is your favourite spot if you can choose freely where to go? Here in Switzerland it's Charmey for sure, but it's our spot. Then Ceüse, Tarn, Siurana... I like pockets and nice landscapes around. And nice people of course so the big spots arent too bad.
Now we arrive at FA:S. You have done a lot of hard ones. What does it mean to you to make FA:s? It means to me to have something to do. There aren't so many hard routes around, so I have to to them first.
Ok, so if you can choose, you climb the routes that are already there, no philosphical ideas behind it? It depends. Of course I really like to find new lines, to bolt them, brush them, work them and send them. But if there are already nice ones...
You enjoy the process then? Yes of course!
Well, some people haven't got the head for it. You know, staying in there, fighting for it even though it's hard sometimes... Sure, but climbing just for goals does not motivate all the time, so let's regard it from day to day and then there is no difference concerning the difficulty.
Talking about goals, do you have any short- or long term goals? If it stays like this its really cool. For my life I try to find a job that is not in an office :) I'm doing quite a lot of photography and writing and this would be a nice job.
What do you write about and where?Actually I like all kind of texts... , besides BA theses... In some weeks the German magazine Klettern will publish an article about the crags around Fribourg.
You wrote the article?Sure! I also have a homepage going online these days or weeks, with plenty of texts and photos. Is this something you'd consider as a career of sorts later on, or even right now? If it works out yes. I won't get much money but never mind.
So, you mentioned pockets as your strength, and A Muerte confirms that, but what's your weakness?I think this really steep and powerful stuff... I have more forearm than biceps muscles
Burly climbing is nothing you like?
I like it, but I'm not that strong at it. The smaller the holds are the easier it becomes for me, it's the style of climbing around here
Are you very light then? No about 72 kg.
That's interesting. How are your fingers? No injuries? They are fine :) No not at all. I try to not climb too much
What's your secret?That's it. Going climbing every second day and to stop when I'm tired, and to stay optimistic mentally.
Do you train your weaknesses a lot? No, not at all, because I'm a lot outside, but it would be better to go more indoors...
And in the winter? I try to stay outside. We have got some fine winter spots, but yes I go to the gym as well, and there I train my weak points.
Right, but do you think you would benefit a lot from doing it more? Would it improve your over all performance? Perhaps, but you see in sites like 8a.nu, it's not the goal to improve your overall performance but to climb a lot outside and to "tick" routes ;). I find it hard to go to the gym on a day like today, so I do what makes the most fun and allows me ro stay psyched and that's rockclimbing.
Can you describe Force du rapport, your 9a FA. Force du rapport, which has quite a lot of meanings, by a native speaker would be understood as something like the "power of intercourse" is a finishing variant of Rapport de force, 8b+, that I bolted some 10 meters to the left of the latter. In all it's about 25 meters long and some 8 meters overhanging. All the way you climb on really solid grey limestone with crimps, open pockets and slopers. It starts with a 7c in the down part that finishes with a good rest. Up from there you have to do the 10 crux moves of Rapport de force to a really bad rest, rather some kind of chalk point. Then follows the crux, a Fb7C+/8A boulder on really slopy or tiny crimps, to one barely better crimp, where you can chalk again, if you have the endurance. The rest is an 8a+ with some tricky moves in the end.
All in all it took me 35 tries over six weeks to send it. As nobody else have ever tried it, I estimated the grade by the number of tries and the “suitability” to my preferences. As the French grading system theoretically is exponential and as for repetitions I need about 5 tries for 8b+, 10 tries for 8c and 20 for 8c+, I suggested 9a. Furthermore it's convenient to my style.
You climb 9a today, are you interested in pushing yourself to your absolute limit? Hmm, actually two years ago I thought I'd be quite at my limit and the last year showed me the opposite, so if I can go on like this something like Realization would be fine. Actually I like pushing it to the limit! But I can as well imagine to have all different goals far from climbing, but climbing is nevertheless something special. So perhaps I'll stay. Probably I'll stay :)
So, Pirmin, now we've arrived at the decisive question: What have you ever done on grit? My only experience with the Grit is a picture of a Grit climber that hung above my bed for nearly my whole youth. I neither remember the name of the climber nor of the route but it was something like a French 7c/7c+ and the guy hadn't clipped a single spit or stopper on the first 33 feet and was jamming his knee in a slopy hole mugging his way up. I always had a great respect for this man, even today I don't know if I would try a 7c with the first bolt at 10 meters. I think this respect caused the consequent insensitivity towards the Grit areas when planning my climbing trips.