24 Oct INES PAPERT
Long, dark straight hair. Brilliantly white teeth. Round strong shoulders. Long fingers, from a childhood of playing the piano and saxophone, hardened now by years of rock and ice. Thirty-two years old, German, Ines Papert is a clean-living girl. Just look on her website to see. Elegant, minimalist, the page opens up with a grey background and states: ice cold passion. No frills or super woman declarations. Four times world ice champion, Ines is not made of ice alone. The Camillotto-Pellesier on the north of the Cima Grande of Lavaredo was free climbed by her on 20 July 2006. The first woman to do it after Mauro "Bubu" Bole had freed it in 2003. "A dream come true, even if it may sound absolutely rhetorical", she explains. "It was my most difficult project, already under preparation before my accident on the Marmolada, which I had to put aside for more than a year. Nevertheless it was my guiding light. With that aim in mind I tried to concentrate as much as possible to get myself back on my feet like before. No world title gave me so much satisfaction as my red point ascent of this route. I know of no other alpine lines which have this exposure".
Shall I supply a few numbers?
7b+, 7c+, 8b, 8a, 7a, 8a+, 6c+, 5, 5 thereafter proceeding along the Dibona arête up to the summit. This is the Camillotto-Pellesier.
The hardest pitch?
The sixth pitch, 8a+. I was so pumped after the first five pitches that I could overcome the roof in only two attempts. And with my short arms I would have had to do a double somersault!"
Mixed, rock, ice: Ines has never said "enough" and above all has never stopped cultivating her first love: the mountains, the north faces, the alpine challenges. From the mountains she left and to the mountains she returns also following the lines of destiny
"I have made so many friends taking part in competitions on ice: Russians, Canadians, Koreans, Europeans. I have been able to travel a great deal, get to know many different ways of thinking, and for these reasons I have never wanted to miss any appointment. Competitions have given me the possibility of strengthening my character, with the knowledge of what I was worth, strengthening my technique, and also helping me to find sponsors who have given me the possibility of leading the life I have now. However, despite all this, I have decided to stop. Because now I would only be repeating myself, I could win again what I have already won, but I do not see any possibility of further growth. So, I am returning definitively to the mountains. Moreover, with the new UIAA regulations, the competitions have changed their structure, positively but also negatively. The advantages are certainly in the unification of the regulations and a greater recognition at a public level. The disadvantages are having anti-doping controls which are much more expensive but are of little use. Unfortunately money is scarce, always and above all despite the UIAA. Then, finally, not all competitions are well organised. If they were all like those held in Val Daone or Saas Fe, then I think the ice climbers would be more than happy. They would see that their sacrifices, training and time invested in the competitions were all worthwhile.
What fascinates you most about long routes?
Climbing on crags is good training and great fun with friends. Mountain routes for me are a real challenge, serious and very demanding. It is a terrain where I manage to make the most of my qualities. The exposed walls of rock, ice or mixed, do not frighten me at all, providing they can have decent protection. In fact, I seek perfection and exposure in the lines. And I am fascinated by north-facing lines. They have an even more severe aspect due to the fact that the sun never shines on them and during the summer I love to disappear into their shadows. I also enjoy the sensation of reaching the top of something. The long mountain routes, like Camillotto-Pellesier or Symphonie de Liberte on the North of the Eiger, motivate me more, requiring a huge physical and mental commitment and the combination of these two aspects protracted through time is another reason why I search for this type of performance. If I want to reach a summit without falling, I know that I can do it. If I start to have doubts, to hesitate, then it is finished. A mental state of insecurity dries out the strength in your fingers. Fear can really cause serious limitations.
Have you ever lived moments when you feared for your life?
In Canada, that time when my climbing partner and I were involved in an avalanche. We were abseiling and at a certain point we noticed that the rope was not long enough for our next abseil. So we descended by climbing down for a bit, while the avalanche was approaching. We could neither hear nor see each other. And then I feared the worst. I really respect avalanches, they represent a huge risk when you are climbing on ice. Then on the South-face of the Marmolada, on the Pesce route. There I can tell you I very nearly died.
Can you tell us what happened on the Pesce route?
I was roped to Stefan Siegriest, my present life partner. And we were also the first roped party of the year on that route. At two hundred metres from the start our attempt was already finished. While trying to reach a large blade of rock a whole piece of the rock-face came away. I fell twenty metres together with the protections which did not hold my weight. The rope gave way in several places and it was a miracle that it did not break. I found myself with a badly broken leg. But there’s more.
I know why I had that accident. It was not only bad luck. Certainly, that also contributed greatly; the fact that we wanted to do the route in a day contributed and so you expose yourself more protecting yourself less. But the fact is that I was not ready for that route. I was not well-informed, I had not taken with me the correct protection. My son Emanuel, who was four and a half at the time, said to me: "Don’t go Mummy." And I didn’t listen to him. I was convinced I had seven lives and I did not pay sufficient attention to the areas where the rock was bad.
How much has changed in you since that accident?
I was forced to take a long pause: spring, summer, autumn, winter. A whole year practically without moving, after five of continuous activity. And I asked myself lots of questions. I tried to analyse all the ‘why’s. After recovering from the accident, I started to climb again. But it was a long job of rebuilding trust. I had to learn again to trust myself and my climbing partner. On ice and on rock. I even had to reacquire a sense of security with the rope. At the beginning, I was afraid that even the artificial holds on the climbing wall in the gym could come down! What has changed in me is that I can listen to myself more. Pay attention to my intuition. Certainly, now safety comes first, with no compromises. And if the situation is not of the best then I prefer to stay at home. I don’t have to climb all the routes in the world in one or two years: this was my attitude before, the thoughts of a young, motivated girl who had never had an accident before 15 July 2005. Since then things have changed a little.
Have you ever felt discriminated against because you are a women who practises a sport considered by many outsiders as extreme, even more so as you are a mother?
Even now I find I have to justify myself because I am a woman. Certainly, not amongst climbers, who know what we are talking about. But in front of people who don’t know, it happens often. If you then add the fact that I am also a mother, I am even more under the magnifying glass. When I hear people say that climbing is dangerous I then reply that driving a car carries a higher risk. As I said before, I think that the danger in climbing depends on preparation, experience, the fact of informing oneself accurately beforehand on the ascents to be undertaken. One needs to be prepared to turn back if conditions are not ideal, or if the conditions are not good. Perhaps this is the most difficult point. I, in any case, have to decide for two human lives.
Did you ever think of giving up climbing after you had Emanuel?
Soon after Emanuel’s birth I was very afraid. And as I said before, when one climbs with fear one risks a lot more. Now I try to understand if the conditions are right. And if there are these conditions, if I decide that it can work, then I put aside my doubts and climb. But I have never thought of giving up climbing. Let’s say that Emanuel has changed my plans in a positive direction. For a certain time, not being able to concentrate any more on long mountain routes and other summits, for which I would have had to be away for too long, I devoted myself almost entirely to competitions. I started off almost as a joke and then became passionate about them. Not so much for the competitive aspect, which I don’t like. But, as I said before, for the human experience and obviously because in this way I managed to train without leaving Emanuel.
Hill, Destivelle, Maudite, Hargreaves – is there a woman climber who inspired you?
All of them, to tell the truth. Female achievements inspire me most. This is because there are still very few women in the vertical world who manage to achieve something really special. For male climbers it is already much easier, also because they have been climbing for longer. However, the number of women ready to commit themselves on hard routes has increased. Even red point achievements are becoming more ‘fashionable’ in the female spectrum. If I look back, only a few years ago, girls top roped the hardest routes, now this situation has changed a lot. I think there is also a return to the real mountains by climbers in general, in order to have a real taste of adventure again, something which has been missing after so many years of sports climbing.
Talking of sports climbing, what do you think of Josune Bereciartu’s achievements?
Unbelievable, I wish I had some of her strength. She has raised the level of female climbing without a doubt. But I also think that she is an exception, absolutely. I doubt that we shall have others like her very soon. I really feel very proud when I see what she has achieved. I think it is the proof that women can climb as well as men, if not better!
If you were asked to choose to be roped to a man or a woman, which would you choose?
I should say, both. Usually I enjoy myself with female climbing partners, but the problem is that often girls prefer to climb on crags and not in the mountains. To find girls who have the same level of preparation in the mountains and who are at the same time good friends is practically impossible. Also on ice, the majority of my partners are men. But generally, I must like my climbing partners, male or female, be able to trust them and enjoy being with them. For a long time I climbed with Hansi Lochner, the father of my son. He was the one who started me off in alpinism and climbing. Even if before, I often went to the mountains to hike, ski-mountaineer or mountain bike with friends, they were all physiotherapists like me! With Hansi I started to climb in South America, and with him did Symphonie de Liberté 8a, the first red point in a day, in fourteen hours. Then unfortunately we left each other. And then there have been other friends with whom I have continued to climb and who have been fundamental in my education and passion for the mountains. I think of Hari Berger and his girlfriend Kirsten Buchmann. Stefan Siegrist is my current life, climbing and travel partner. From him I have learnt a lot about climbing long routes.
Were you with him on the Camillotto-Pellesier?
No. I was belayed by my friend Wasti who was supporting me from below and from the top by another friend, Rainer Eder, the photographer. I almost felt as if I was in a competition, but only with two very good friends. I was really very motivated on that occasion and I was also very lucky because the weather was excellent.
Do you think that women will open new, long extreme rock routes soon? Part of your future plans?
Yes, they are part of my plans. But it is not easy to find the right place, where nobody has ever climbed before. For the time being however I have nothing concrete to offer. I should like to go to China to discover new possibilities on ice and mixed, maybe open a new route. And then I should like to try to repeat some hard routes in the Alps or in Europe. I should also like to dedicate a little time to crack routes in the U.S.A. As a mother however I have learned not to make long-term plans. What I do know is that I could never live without mountains. After the accident on the Marmolada, during the long periods of inactivity, or trying to recuperate by climbing indoors, I understood that being able to touch the rock, breath in the freedom which you feel by climbing on ice choosing your personal line without having to follow one imposed by protection, breath in the perfume of the mountains, live inside them, side by side, hour after hour, is something that for the person I am, I could never give up. Just to have the outline of the mountains in front of me makes me feel calmer. When I go back to Wittenberg where I was born and spent my childhood, I cannot stay for more than a few days. The city tires me out, it makes me agitated. It is the mountains which have changed my life. I have followed their line, and this line has taken me far away, has made me grow up, become a mother, think of life with a completely different outlook. And I hope to continue to do this for a very long time.