150 years after the first Matterhorn ascent, Swiss speed climber Dani Arnold accomplished an amazing feat: climbing solo up the legendary north face without any protection in an incredible 1 hour and 46 minutes.
The film '1h 46 mins' features in this year’s European Outdoor Film Tour alongside Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell in 'A Line Across the Sky' and Tamara Lunger's K2 ascent 'Tamara', part of a two hour special edit of this year's best adventure sports films.
The E.O.F.T. screens in the UK from 31st October to 12th November with shows in London, Bristol, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, Sheffield and Birmingham.
We talk to Dani about his attitude to risk, coping with illness and beating Ueli Steck. But first, what got him interested in speed climbing?
Early on I went out with a friend and realized that I really loved climbing fast. Then I started thinking, if I wasn’t climbing with a partner, losing time to secure the rope, I could climb a lot faster.
What fascinates you about climbing a mountain as fast as you can?
When you speed climb you get into a really cool rhythm. Suddenly everything just works. And usually you aren’t carrying much gear. It’s not the same as flying but it just feels incredibly good.
There are certain basic requirements. You have to master the technical difficulties of climbing and you have to be in shape to even be able to climb mountains that fast. But the key to it all is in your mind. You need to have the self-confidence and the ability to make clear decisions in tricky situations.
What equipment do you usually take with you?
At the Eiger North Face I had a harness and a rope. For a project like that you can never plan for everything. There’s always the chance that something unexpected will happen and I just wanted to be sure that I could get back down on my own and rappel. But when I climbed Crack Baby—one of the ice routes on Kandersteg—I didn’t take anything. I didn’t have a rope, a harness or ice screws, because I knew I wouldn’t need them on that route.
What made you pick the Matterhorn for your most recent speed record? Did it have anything to do with the 150-year anniversary of the first ascent?
(Laughs) You might think that, looking at the date, but that wasn’t the most important thing to me. I had a lot of work going on during the winter and spring, so I figured I wouldn’t be in good enough shape from so much sitting around in the office. Then I realized that I was almost in better shape than I would have been if I’d been climbing all winter...
You weren’t feeling very well at the start of your Matterhorn climb. But you kept on climbing...
The reason I hit a low at the start was because I had already been up at the top two days before to check everything out. It was a really hard day. There was a lot of snow, we had to do a lot of tracking and I hadn’t fully recovered. I wasn’t really feeling it at the beginning. Then I set a small goal for myself.
I told myself I would only go to the first challenging spot on the face and if it didn’t get better, I’d turn around. All of a sudden the route changed from pretty strenuous snow to glare ice and I realized, hey, this is actually working quite well. Let’s go full speed ahead!
Looking back you said that you would have been faster if the start on the Matterhorn hadn’t been so rough. Want to try it again?
(Laughs) No, I think things are good right now. But it does boost my self-confidence because I know that, hey, the beginning was really bad and I really felt sick. Next time, if I have a great day, I’ll do even better.
How are things between you and Ueli Steck? You’ve beaten his record on the Eiger North Face and on the Matterhorn...
That’s something that’s often misunderstood. Sure, I’m familiar with other climbers’ times—especially Ueli Steck’s—and I know how I need to climb to beat those times. But for me personally, it’s really about challenging myself. It’s like a game in the sense of can I do it or not? As soon as there is any pressure from outside, that’s when it gets really dangerous.
How risky is speed climbing up challenging routes? A lot of the time you don’t have any protection.
One way to justify it is to say that you don’t spend as much time in the dangerous spots, but I’m very aware that it’s incredibly dangerous. You can’t have anything go wrong when you don’t have a rope.
Are you someone who can turn around or do you sometimes push past your limits?
I kept going on the Matterhorn because the lower part is really flat—which means it wouldn’t have been a big deal to go back down. But if something isn’t working out—and that usually doesn’t mean objective dangers like rock fall or avalanches, but more like a gut feeling that tells me something’s wrong—I might turn around sooner than other people would.
Are you constantly “on speed” in your private life as well?
Not at all. I still work as a mountain guide and on the job it’s extremely important to me that everyone has enough time to truly enjoy the surroundings. But when it comes to my private life, I have to admit, that I’m pretty patient, but my patience runs out eventually, if something doesn’t happen fast enough (laughs).
Can you even imagine your life without the mountains?
Based on the type of person I am, I’d have to find other goals. But to be honest, right now I couldn’t imagine it at all.
- Sat, 31/10/15 - Royal Geographical Society, London. Programme starts 14:00 (doors open 13.30)
- Sat, 31/10/15 - Royal Geographical Society, London. Programme starts 18:00 (doors open 17.30)
- Sun, 01/11/15 - St. George's Bristol. Programme starts 20:00 (doors open 19.30)
- Tue, 03/11/15 - The Mitchell Theatre, Glasgow. Programme starts 20:00 (doors open 19.30)
- Wed, 04/11/15 - Portobello Town Hall, Edinburgh. Programme starts 19:30 (doors open 19.00)
- Fri, 06/11/15 - The Rocket Complex, London. Programme starts 20:00 (doors open 19.30)
- Mon, 09/11/15 - Sheffield Student's Union. Programme starts 20:00 (doors open 19.30)
- Tue, 10/11/15 - The Comedy Store, Manchester. Programme starts 20:00 (doors open 19.30)
- Wed, 11/11/15 - St. George's Bristol. Programme starts 20:00 (doors open 19.30)
- Thu, 12/11/15, The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham. Programme starts 20:00 (doors open 19.30)
Find out more: eoft.eu