Extreme Travel | Adventure Sports

Q&A: Alex Huber, alpine climber

WideWorld interviews Alex Huber, possibly the world’s most daring alpine climber.
© Alex Huber
Alex Huber is possibly the world’s most daring climber. Introduced to alpine climbing at an early age, he is expert in all disciplines. He’s a natural all-rounder with a preference for fast ascents and scant protection, such as his record-breaking attempts at Yosemite’s notorious El Capitan.

Are there many climbers who will do both sport climbing – using set anchors – and mountaineering?

There are mountaineers who try to do everything, but there’s only a couple around the world that are really successful in both sports. But there’s a lot of variety in mountaineering itself; you’ve got rock climbing, ice climbing, alpine rock climbing, sports climbing and high-altitude mountaineering. I came second place in the World Ice Climbing Championship in Austria. I’m just very good at each form of alpinism.

How do you train to get so good at all types of climbing?

I have to train quite differently to people who specialise in one kind of climbing, but the basis is my grounding in sport climbing. That means I’m really strong as a sport climber but I’m able to transfer those skills into high-altitude mountaineering. The difference between training for sport and high-altitude climbing is that sport climbing is about working with your body, trying to build up your strength. High-altitude is all about building up experience all your life if you want to be successful. It takes more discipline and patience than other styles.

What’s the highest you’ve had to climb?

Cho Oyu, on the border between Nepal and Tibet. It’s the sixth highest mountain in the world. Even though it was extremely high, compared to some of my other achievements it’s really not that breathtaking. I climbed on the trade route, which is just a normal way up, just to see how I ran on high altitude – my future goals are to climb the highest walls on the highest peaks, not the normal routes which don’t challenge me much.

So what are you really aiming at then?

Well, there are a lot of walls at a very high altitude that I’d like to try. There’s several which are the aim of all mountaineers to climb. They’re on the border between impossible and barely possible – it’s that cutting edge which interests me. I try to do what no one else will do, because you can only feel the true exposure of a mountain doing something that no one else has done before.

What is your favourite style of climbing?

That’s very hard to answer, because I like to mix a lot of different styles. For instance, when I’m climbing at high altitudes I use a lot of free climbing, because that style is more effective at heights. One part of the sport which attracts me is going in light.

Is there a difference between European and American styles?

It’s said that the British have the boldest style, and the boldest opinions of climbing in general. Britons want to go alpine style, self-sufficient, as lightweight as possible. Mount Everest, for instance, has been done without bottled oxygen from base camp to summit in sixteen hours. They don’t want to use any kind of aid, that’s the purest form of alpinism. It’s a British tradition to go climbing in places where nobody has gone before, which means they take on the real challenge.

What has been your longest climb?

It was the west face of Latok II. We were climbing for fourteen days up a 7180-metre high wall. It’s that sort of wall I like to tackle; one of the hardest walls in the world.

Have you fallen off?

Oh, I’ve fallen, but roped up. There was this one overhanging wall, and when I fell I dropped about 150 feet. But I had it under control, If you can’t keep the fall under control then you’ll hit something and die. It gives you a very strange feeling in the stomach. I like that though; it’s being confronted with that 150-foot drop which drives you on. I don’t use any kind of drugs apart from those my body produces. I guess I’m an adrenaline junkie!