"I like climbing barefoot, but I don't do it all the time..."
Andreas Proft is from Saxony in the east of Germany and spends his summers climbing in the famous and feared Elbsandstein; the stunning sandstone towers that are renowned for their huge run-outs and strict ethics.
Taking his Saxon skills to Spain last November, he managed to solo a F8b sport route - barefoot. The route was The First and Last at Bernia in the Costa Blanca.
Here Sarah Burmester asks him some questions about this hair-raising undertaking.
How did you prepare yourself for the ascent?
I had already climbed The First and Last two years ago, back then it took me two weeks. During that time I had to rest quite a bit, because some of the finger locks are fairly mean and wearing on the skin.
This time I spent four weeks on the route, getting sequences wired, and climbing it with just two bolts clipped in order to train my psyche. Since September I was on a diet and - for the first time - did some fitness training: For the route is pumpy and you must not be tired on the last few metres...
Why did you do it then, even though you were stressed and scared?
I had already invested so much in the preparation that I couldn't stop - also we had driven to Spain just for this route. But right up until the end I didn't know whether I would really do it.
After the crack I couldn't down climb any more, I did try that with a rope once. Now, with hindsight, I really can't say why I was so obsessed. But I can tell that my time for hard stuff like this is running out. Two years ago I could climb F8a onsight, but not this year. This has probably been the peak of my climbing time...
Why do you climb bare foot, and do you always do it or just sometimes?
It started out in 2005 as play. It made the easy routes that my wife liked more interesting. Then it started to be fun - and I liked the attention (smiles). I like climbing barefoot, but I don't do it all the time.
Under what circumstances would you not climb barefoot?
If it is too cold or the route is too hard. If there is a danger of falling or the landing zone is dangerous. Also when chalk is not allowed.
What do you think about chalk?
I'm not good without it, I also use chalk on my feet.
Where do you spend most of your time?
In summer in the Elbsandstein, apart from that we are on the road.
In how far are you influenced by Saxon ethics and traditions?
Not at all!
[NB: Saxon ethics in areas like the Elbsandstein are very strict, no metal protection is allowed except very spaced ring bolts and climbing bare foot and without chalk are trademarks of the Saxon free climbing tradition]
What motivates you?
At the moment, nothing. In December, we didn't climb a single metre. Also I felt this emptiness after months of "living for the project". I trained hard, dieted and I know that I cannot do anything harder. Time is against me there...
Usually I'm motivated by the feeling of being good at something, combined with living and travelling in the van. What motivated me with this project? I think this is the hardest barefoot free solo ascent that has ever been carried out, and that did motivate me.
But of course it could just have been my way of dealing with a midlife crisis (smiles)...
Andreas Proft (38) comes from Saxony in Germany and spends much of his time travelling Europe in his van, sailing through life. He started climbing in 1995. He is married.
He took a short break from climbing after soloing the F8b, but now he's back and climbing again.
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