DAVID LAMA INTERVIEW
by Piotr Dro¿d¿
David Lama (photo: Denis Burdet, Red Bull Content Poll)
Of course we have to start from your last Cerro Torre climb. Was it a little like an obsession for you when you were coming back for the 3rd time on Maestri Route?
I think I’m a little obsessed – in a good way – with climbing and mountaineering in general. The project I had in Patagonia was definitely my biggest so far. It was my big dream to freeclimb this line I saw on a photo in the Cochamó Valley in 2008 and the decision to come back to try it again was always a very easy one for me to make.
Especially this year, I was checking the weather maps already in November and December and I knew it would be a good season. When I arrived in Patagonia, I felt like “if you’re not gonna do it this year, you might end up never doing it at all”.
Please tell me something about the difficulty of the free route you did. We know that the crux pitch is the one which avoids the Bolt Traverse, and is probably something around 8a. What about other pitches?
That’s right, the hardest pitch is the one that goes up a few meters left of the Salvaterra crack and it’s probably a hard 8a. The pitches below are quite easy and the following pitches up to the iced towers aren’t too hard either. The climbing on the headwall is somewhere around 7b, but it’d be pretty much suicidal, if a 7b climber would give it a try. You have to be sure you won’t fall, because sometimes your last good piece of gear is 15-20m below you.
Which pitch was the most difficult to protect and how long were the run-outs or how bad was protection in general?
Probably the last pitch on the headwall. You first climb about 5m straight up. There you can place some good cams and then do a super cool traverse to the right. After 10m you can place another good cam and then you start climbing straight up again. From time to time I tried to place some gear, but I didn’t trust it at all. About 10m below the summit icefield I placed a piton (it’s still there) and two nuts, and a cam, which I connected with a sling. That construction maybe could have held a fall. From there I climbed onto some really big and loose blocks, to get to some crimps, that led me to the icefield.
Did you know about the erasing of the bolts by Kruk-Kennedy before setting off to climb? What was your first reaction when you heard about it? What effect did it have on the set of gear you took to the climb?
Peter and I heard about it, when we were still in El Chalten and I remember, that my first reaction was: “I don’t care.”
After thinking about it a little more we decided to bring a few more nuts and a few more pitons. It didn’t affect our rack of gear a lot, but we changed our strategy quite a bit. Our original plan was to climb from Nipo Nino, the first camp, to the Col de la Paciencia and then bivy there, and climb the route the next day in a single push. To be safe though, we decided to climb on our first day to the Col, rest there for a few hours, and then continue climbing to the start of the iced towers, bivy there, and climb to the summit the next morning.
And what is your final opinion about the erasing of these bolts?
You know, up to a certain point I can understand Jason and Hayden, but if I think it through, I believe that all that the two did was adding another chapter to the history of Cerro Torre. Chopping the bolts was quite a bold action: They did a great job, in getting up with only very few bolts, but by chopping the Maestri bolts on the way down, they did more than just show people their personal idea of a good style – they forced others to do it the same way.
David Lama on Cerro Torre, photo: Red Bull Content Poll
How do pitches with the erased bolts look like now? I mean if you think about the aesthetics, does it look better or worse with the holes and probably some rust on the rock? :-)
There is no rust and no holes but many broken bolts. I think it looks better now, but to me this is not the point of the discussion.
I think for the first time you cooperated with Corey Rich who was your photographer in Patagonia. How do you remember this cooperation? For many years we were used to your pictures taken by Rainer Eder who is your (and also ours :-)) good friend? How do you compare Rainer and Corey as personalities and photographers?
I worked together with Corey in Patagonia in 2010 and in 2012. He’s a good guy, a great photographer and has become also a close friend of mine. Of course Rainer is also a good friend and we’re still going on trips together and shoot from time to time but he’s just not that familiar with terrain like the one on Cerro Torre. He knows this as well and I really appreciate his honesty when it comes to questions like: “You think you can do this, Rainer?”
How much time did you spend working on pictures and videos during that expedition?
We didn’t fake a single shot. All the photos and all the video footage that exist were taken right in the very same moment, and I never climbed any pitch again just for the camera. If you remember my answer to your 3rd question for example, it should become clear, why.
Is it hard for you to spend lots of time at the campsite waiting for the weather to improve since the conditions both in Patagonia and during the Greater Ranges expeditions are typically rather unfavourable?How did you spend that time in Patagonia?
I’m a huge fan of fishing and the rivers and lakes around El Chalten are good spots to catch something. Also, there is a good bouldering area just five minutes from where we stayed so there is some stuff to do when the weather in the mountains is bad. But it can also get pretty desperate – I mean no alpinist comes to El Chalten for fishing and bouldering only, right?
After your last ascent of Loška Stena we wrote on our Facebook profile that once again you has provento be already one of the best alpinist in the world. Shortlu afterwards it was commented by one of our readers: “I don’t think that he’s one of the best but for sure one of the most controversial”. How do you feel with this “label of controversy”?
Well you know, I’ve made my mistakes, just as we all make our mistakes. What is important, is that you learn from them and I think that’s what I did. After all the alpine climbs I did in 2011 and now especially after the success on Cerro Torre, I’ve noticed that even those who confronted me with critique earlier have now changed their mind.
On the other hand, I have realized that there are some people who will continue linking every climb I make to what happened in the past but such comments don’t really affect me.
You’ve admitted that allowing your team to put additional bolts on Cerro Torre was a wrong decision. Looking back at your career – are there any other comparatively wrong decisions to that one, or was it the only one big mistake you remember?
It was definitely my biggest mistake and I got to feel that very intensively. If I look back now, of course I’d do it differently but there’s nothing I regret. Sometimes a clap on your ass just helps the most ;-)
“I really can’t imagine better life than the one I have” – said Wolfgang Güllich long time ago. Would you say the same thing?
Yes, I think it’s a privilege to make your living out of whatever you love the most and be able to live your dreams.
Coming back to the topic of Loška Stena. How did you discover that face? What or who was the inspiration?
My partner, Peter Ortner, had shown me a photo of the wall, just a few days before we left for Patagonia this year. We had no time to try it back then, but decided that, as soon as we would come back, we would like to put up a new route through the steep section of the wall. Somehow it just seemed to be very challenging and looked like a great adventure.
David Lama on Loška Stena (photo arch. David Lama)
How serious was the climb comparing to your other alpine experiences?
The climbing was pretty hard and the protection was quite poor, not only in terms of quality, but also in terms of quantity. I think there was hardly any pitch on the whole face where you can fall without hurting yourself badly. Sometimes also our belays were not really trustworthy and this is the first route that took Peter and me more than two days. It’s definitely something you don’t want to do every day.
Focusing on expeditions and winter climbs must somehow affect your sport climbing abilities. I wonder if they are much lower comparing to the times you were at your top competition shape. I remember that Iker Pou told us that after coming back from a long expedition he’s able to send maximum 8a onsight and 8b redpoint, and he needs about one month to be able to send 8c-8c+ RP, and 2-3 months to redpoint 9a. How about you?
Of course it takes some time to get myself back at my usual climbing level. I remember coming back from my expedition to Cerro Kishtwar in India last year and getting really pumped on a 7b in the climbing gym. Two days later I could onsight 8a+ again so my fitness comes back very fast.
Do you have now any ambitions to make hard sport climbs, maybe switching your attentions, like for exampleaforementioned Iker Pou or Wolfgang Güllich in the past? Or are you now fully concentrated only on climbing in the mountains?
Sportclimbing is fun and there is a bunch of cool routes I bolted in vicinity but I don’t want to focus on them at the moment. I think I can still improve my skills in alpine climbing and want to go to my very limit there at first.
I know you’re going for the next trip soone as we’ve been under the pressure of time doing this interview :-). Can you tell what are your plans?
For the first time in ages I’m not going on a climbing trip. I’m going on a deep sea fishing trip to the Maldives. This has been a long time dream of mine ;-)
So, have a good… fishing! :-)