Until this summer, and perhaps still, Hansjörg Auer was probably mostly known for his unbelievable 2007 free solo ascent of The Fish ("Il Pesce", "Weg durch den Fisch"), a stunning 37 pitch slab on the south face of the Marmolada in the Italian Dolomites.
This year, he, together with Much Mayr, has made the FA of "Waiting for Godot", on the Torres del Paine, Patagonia, repeated Alexander Huber's "Pan Aroma" on the Cima Ovest di Lavaredo, Dolomites and the FA of "Tingeling on the Blåmann tower, Norway, just to name a few things. For a list of what he did 2005-2009 go here
I figured it was about time I made an interview with the man
How do you think your friends would describe Hansjörg Auer?
It depends from the fact, how close they are in friendship with me. If someone knows me just from the magazines, he would say, that Hansjörg Auer is just focused on climbing and nothing else. But someone who knows me better, would say that Hansjörg Auer is for sure focused on climbing but never see it just as the only thing in life. This person would also say, that Hansjörg Auer has a calm personality, is humble, friendly, social, and likes more to stay behind the stage and leave the public place to others. One of my best friends, Much Mayr, described me lately in an interview: „Hansjörg is extremely motivated and a rest day is for him like a punishment, but his overwhelming enthusiasm is good for my comparatively convenience.“
Judging by the kind and variety of the ascents you have made, multi-pitch, alpine, free solo... you are looking for something else than pure physical difficulty. What is it you are looking for in a climb? What do you value?
In general for me it is important to search for the personal limit and not to search for being the best climber. I like to explore not only my physical limit. It is such a great feeling to get close to the psychological limit. My Fish solo was an authentic and personal result of this search.
But in general I like the variety of our sport. Earlier I was doing lots of alpinism and also ice climbing. But in the last years, my main playing field is sport climbing and alpine multi pitch climbing. For me the best challenge is, to transfer the limit of my sportclimbing level up to the big walls of the mountains. If I can do this with a minimum of protection or in a good style like onsight or just a few days of practise, I am happy. Another focus is also doing first ascents. I like the uncertainty of exploring a wall.
So far, what has been the best climbing related experience for you?
There are so many experiences and each adventure has is own status in my memory. The moment of clipping the belay of my first 8c+ sportclimbing route is still in my head, like the moment of getting to the last belay during my free solo of "The Fish" on the Marmolada south face. But I want to say, that for me it makes a difference, how long I am waiting for this moment. If I am climbing many days in the wall, than I can benefit much longer from the moment of success than if I do a flash attempt of a hard boulder. So it is not easy to say, what has been the best climbing related experience for me. But with no doubt, the free solo of "The Fish" is one of them. But also the top out on the summit of Shipton Spire in Pakistan after the first repeat of “Woman and Chalk” in 2006. Than the first free ascent of “Vogelfrei” on the south face of Schüsselkarspitze and all the adventures with my friend Much Mayr. And for sure "Pan Aroma" with Babsi.
What do you think has made you the kind of person you are? People, key moments, experiences?
I think, that the family in which you get born and the circle of your friends form the respective personality. For me the most key moment was in 1996, when I started climbing.
The next one in 2005, when I joined to the group of the competition climbers in my home valley. I started to train more consciously and my level increased.
And then, since the day of the free solo ascent of "The Fish", many things changed for sure.
But I want to say, that I am the same person as before this day. I do not want to forget my big fall in Yosemite Valley in June 2008. I realized, that climing can not be all in my life. The doctors predicted one year without climbing.
Some would say you take very big risks, for example when you are free soloing. Do you ever feel the positions you put yourself in are dangerous and if so, what are your thoughts about risk?
Taking risk is absolutely a part of our sport and it is interesting to play with this parameter although it can be dangerous. The thing is how you handle it. When I have to take a risk to fulfil a dream or to get out of a situation, I come up with 100% honesty to myself. If you can not to this, you'd better stay at home. So I think, that it is easier to take the risk, if you accept it with all the consequences. It does not make sense to take risks and to say it is absolutely safe. That is for me risk awareness. But now I take for sure less risks, than I did in my years as a young climber. And I want to say, that the high climbing level of a person does not mean that this one is taking lots of risk. Often it is also the other way round. But there are for sure many climbers, who take more risk than me.
You seem to be very comfortable even far above protection when you climb. Are you never scared, or are you simply hiding it well?
I know, Babsi told you. But on my first time in "Pan Aroma" I was not used to this big roof, so I was a bit scared. But for sure I think that I have the ability, to turn something in my head to scale down the feeling of fear. But I could tell you lots of situtations, where I was really scared. But the more you manage such situations, the more you get stronger and your self confidence grows. So it is all about the attitude toward a project.
Have you ever felt you've been ”in over your head”, in a position you don't really master? If so, what happened?
If I am in that position, I am taking a step back. There have been days, where I wanted to do hard things, but then I didn't have the right feeling, so I went back to the car. It is important to have the comprehension to turn back. It is also a fact, that you should avoid situations, which you have underestimated. But if it is so, try to find a way out. Normally you are learning fast and you will understand your personal limit in a short time.
What's the most important thing you've learnt from climbing?
To trust yourself, to work on projects and to deal with rebounds.
On your ascent of "Pan Aroma", you chose a multi-pitch rookie, Babsi Zangerl, to second you... any thoughts on that? ;)
It was so nice, to climb with her in "Pan Aroma". It was fantastic to see, how she was dealing with the alpine terrain. She gave me the whole support and I showed her lots of new things. Earlier, when she was bouldering and I met her just a few times. I studied with her sister, so we had little contact. Then after her trip to South Africa, where she returned with pain in her back, she had to start sport climbing. We met often on rock, but it remained one more year to start things together.
I said to her, that she has to start alpine climbing, and that she would have fun doing this discipline. Since the beginning of this year, we spend lots of time together. She climbs so strong and is always motivated. In one month, we will go to Yosemite Valley ;-) ...
Can you make a living from climbing only? If not, would you like to?/p>
I am happy that you raise this question. After my solo of "The Fish" it was really hard for me not to lose my personality. I wanted to be the same person, despite the media attention.
Now after 3 years I am the same Hansjörg Auer but some things changed. I would say that I am on the way to becoming a professional climber. But these things set things in motion by themselves and at the time it wasn't my objection to become professional.
Next year I will get a new sponsorship, which will open the doors. I think that I am on the right way. This process needs time and should grow by itself and slowly. Otherwise it can be dangerous to get not authentic and to get to fixed to all this media stuff.
The cooperation with my sponsors is quite relaxed and there is absolutely no pressure.
Other than climbing, what else makes you tick in life? What do you do when/if you don't feel motivated to climb? Does this happen?
It happens sometimes, but not often. For example today, I built a small climbing wall for a friend, who is recovering from an avalanche accident, happened three years ago. He hopefully can need it for his therapy. In winter I am doing lots of skiing and ski mountaineering and over the whole year I like to do endurance sport. But if I am really lazy, I go to a cinema, read some books or meet with my friens, or if I get the motivation I do something for university.
Is there any kind of climbing you haven't tried or would like to get more into?
I would like to go again on an expedition. My last real expedition was 4 years ago. But I am still motivated in sport climbing, because in earlier years I did it less. Let's see what happens.
What are your plans for the future? Do you have any specific projects in mind?
Stay healthy to have many days on rock.
Sounds good Hansjörg! Thanks a lot and good luck with everything!