In climbing I do things that I enjoy and want to do not the ones that are currently in fashion.
Muriel Sarkany
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Muriel Sarkany - Portrait
Mélissa Le Nevé on bouldering, competition, grades and the enjoyment of climbing
Adam Ondra on bouldering
David Lama on Maestri Route, climbing ethics
François Nicole on FA Amazonie 9a

Bernhard Schwaiger on hard bouldering
Interviewed by Tomasz Mazur for the Góry Magazine #187 (December 2009)

Firstly, I'd like to ask you about your beginning. You started climbing as a teenager, with your father and brother... But in that time you tried almost every kind of climbing. So what's happened that you changed your mind and decided to focus only on bouldering? What does mean bouldering for you?

For us it was always important having fun – no matter which kind of sport we did. Even now fun is the most important thing in all the sports I do, but especially when working on hard problems – having fun in doing hard moves or in making impossible looking moves possible. For me bouldering is the purest form of climbing: It’s only a battle between the rock and you – the most intense way of dealing with the challenge given to me by nature – especially when working on new and futuristic problems. Due to the fact, that bouldering is not my profession, it’s a very important thing for me – even if it sounds strange - concerning (resulting in) relaxation. When working on hard problems my focus has to be fully on the moves, no place for other thoughts – a very good way to get rid of the thoughts (and problems) appearing from “normal life” – resulting in mental balance.

In bouldering I’m still improving – even if the steps are getting smaller – and that’s exactly what fascinates me the most right now: Pushing further and further, not knowing where there is an end – besides knowing there must be an end some time. As long as I can improve myself for example in doing projects that where found years ago and thought being impossible, I will be addicted to bouldering! The next (long-term and logical) goal after recognizing that I’ve reached my natural, biological and genetic limit in bouldering, is to find some sport climbs including some really hard bouldering moves – trying to translate the moves made possible in my bouldering into longer sequences. The most difficult thing will be to find such natural lines – but we’ll see…

Right know I still have some bouldering projects where I need to improve at least a little more ;) …

You don't take part in the international competitions. What is the reason? Don't you have the motivation to compare yourself with other strong climbers?

We competed in the Austrian Bouldering Champs a long time ago. Although our result wasn’t bad we found it a bit too dogged, some sort of strange, too much rivalry. I always wanted to climb outdoors – nature is a very important part of climbing for me. Climbing on what nature created is much more fascinating than climbing on artificial holds and boulders or routes created by people! I think or hope that the mood at competitions nowadays is a little more relaxed Besides that I wouldn’t have the time to travel worldwide for competitions due to my profession as a teacher in a polytechnical school that prepares pupils for their skills. I love my job a lot and it also gives me some sort of security in financial ways - also for my future – I’m not addicted to any good efforts in climbing. For me climbing must be fun without creating any form of pressure. It’s also possible to compare with other strong climbers through repeating (at least some of) their test pieces on the rock, which is also interesting, because of the fact that preconditions between me and the “professionals” are very different…

You did the 2nd ascent of problems like Memento, Anam Cara and did lots of strong FA (including 4 problems around 8C), but your problems doesn’t have many (if never) repeats. Do you have any idea why? They are too difficult for others?

My repetitions of for example Memento and Anam Cara show, that I can also do hard problems of other climbers, even «rather fast» compared to the effort given to some of my first ascents.

Even if it might sound arrogant, it seems that some of my (our) FA are «not so easy». For instance some very strong climbers (also from other countries) tried Zunami and Flying Circus some years ago, but gave up rather fast for some reasons – but hopefully somebody in the future will also dare to give it a try ;) …

I don’t know exactly but it’s definitely not the access! A lot of people know, where problems like Zunami or Flying Circus are. Those who don’t know, might have a look at our website and/or contact me – I’ve already answered a lot of e-mails describing the locations and problems in the past.

A lot of also other strong climbers know where the problems are and often talked about trying/visiting them!? I would really like to see a repeat of one of our test pieces – getting a confirmation or correction (down or even up) of the grade!!!

One reason for «non-visiting» the Saalachtal might be the lack of a really huge amount of blocks. We’re definitely not comparable with Tessin or something like that. We don’t have the huge amount of boulder problems here, though it’s getting more and more and some of the problems are really nice …

If you look at your list of the strongest ascents, can you say which one was more or less difficult for you? How do you look at the grade of them at this moment?

Not an easy question, indeed! Considering the process behind some of the problems (including my first ascents) I would say « Dust Devil », « Hurricane » and « Zunami » might be my hardest up to now – definitely waying in somewhere around Fb 8C – compared to other problems I’ve done – that’s my subjective opinion. But also « Flying Circus » seems to be really hard. After the first ascent back in 2001 we suggested Fb 8B+ - considering different opinions (also from other strong climbers) it might be Fb 8C (the world’s first!?) – but let’s wait for a repeat and see what happens!

But as already mentioned grading is very subjective – time will show! Grades are not important for me – it’s all about one’s personal challenge and the process behind it!

Every year climbers are stronger, but we can't find new grade in the bouldering. What do you think about it? Is it an inflation of grade or they reach the highest possible level?

I think the «inflation of grades» already was worse some years ago. It’s a fact that climbers are getting stronger these days. A lot of more people are climbing today, than the years before – as a consequence of this, level must increase too.

But grading always is and will always be subjective, depending on personal preferences and so on. For example a climber (first ascender) sized 170 cm can’t know how the problem or move feels for a 190 cm tall person – he can only estimate. There will always be some differences in grades, which are part of the business and also an important matter of development. In the future the «average» statements of the repeaters will show how hard a problem or route definitely is.

A lot of boulders have been downgraded in the past – including public critics and discussions. I think this is positive but makes the first ascenders a little more cautious, only to avoid critics and saving time (by not discussing) and energy …

Concerning the highest possible level I can only talk about myself: I’m – thank god – still able to improve myself at least in some small aspects! I don’t know about the others! It might also be harder nowadays to find some new lines exactly lying at someone’s limit. A lot of things have already been explored. The new lines found these days are very often either easier or still too hard to be done. I know from my experiences that sometimes it needs some time (even years) of personal development until a futuristic line can be done.

But there are still a lot of «older» hard and up to now unrepeated lines out there, so really a lot to do for the young and strong generation of the future ;) …

Of course I have to ask you as many journalists about your training... But in the other way :) You are quite experienced climber and during your career took loads of different work-outs, so from this point can you say to young climbers about common mistakes and what is important to do if they want to be as strong as you?

I think working on a boulder-problem or a route itself is the best training anyway. Sometimes if climbing outdoors is absolutely impossible I do some “self composed” training exercises to keep or increase my maximum power.

We’ve been working hard and consequent for a lot of years in a row - often people don’t see the work or consequence behind success, which sometimes results in “not so nice” statements about your person or the things (how) you do. We had to make it on our own, without any help or tips, making our own experiences.

In the beginnings my brother and I trained like mad. We really wanted to become stronger and wanted to reach the top grades - never being sure if we could ever make it – it was a real passion. With maximum consequence and enthusiasm we made it on our own – nobody helped us in anything, which makes me some sort of proud ;) …

Through the last years I developed and found a natural and systematic way (including natural and healthy food) to keep or even improve my shape and power with maximum effect but minimum effort. If time and weather allows I always climb outdoors (even in winter), working on projects and so on – also taking into consideration those “criteria” for maximum effect …

But besides all that I think the most important thing is having fun in what you do, don’t take yourself or especially external circumstances to serious!

Listen to your body to avoid injuries! Be aware of the fact, that quality is more than quantity! And finally try to be a “good” human person!!!

In some interview with you I read that you cut holds... What do you think about it after 15 years? And from the other hand, some boulders were vandalized (e.g. Dreamtime, Kaiser Sauze) probably by people who want to tick easy numbers... What do you think about ethics? It's going down with increasing of popularity?

In this time ethics in climbing didn’t exist in the way as they do now and we didn’t know anything about this, as we were “beginners”. Manipulating routes and holds was a common sense, as many still existing “artificial” routes proof. We thought it was ok, somehow only did, what everybody did, wanted to try it out as well. It was the one and only “sin” we’ve ever made in climbing. We immediately realised the mistake we’ve made, as the inspiration and “right” feeling about the new line after bolting it, was completely missing. We felt very sorry and never did it again, never manipulated the rock in any artificial way any more! The inspiration and “right” enthusiastic feeling before trying to climb a line was back immediately. To climb on the structures which nature created for us, is the real inspiration and fascination in climbing.

I think it’s really a problem of the huge amount of people doing the sports – it’s not only a problem known in climbing. It can’t be avoided, that also people who don’t care about anything are doing the sport. It’s really a shame what happened and still happens to the rock and especially nature all over the world. Of course trying and working a problem or route causes some sort of “natural erosion” – making the rock a little more slippery for example, but we should be aware of the fact that it took thousands of years until the rocks and also nature looked like today. Therefore we don’t have the right to destroy those “natural presents” giving us the chance to do what we love. World and nature (hopefully) will exist also after our life has ended – we must not only think about our future! But nevertheless everybody has to make his own ethics – everybody is responsible for himself

I'd like to ask you about future plans. Which problems are on your tick list to do? Which classics problems you desire to do? Or you are just planning to open new boulders in your home area? 

Hmh!? Hard to say, will depend on the time I have in the future – not so easy with my profession, which I also take serious. First of all I want to stay healthy! But of course there are some problems and routes I would like to try or even repeat in the future – maybe I’ll get the possibility to do so some time!? To avoid any pressure and to keep the spirit, I won’t tell the problems and routes I’m talking about ;) … But as you might guess there are also some really futuristic projects in my home area, which I would like to first ascent, if everything works together and my health allows ;)…

You are a teacher, but did you think about yourself as a pro climber? Especially that you can be not only "pro", but "top-pro" climber... You know - lots of money, what are advantages and disadvantages of this situation for you?

Lots of money!? Tell me how ;)! Just kidding, but I think it’s not so easy to find a company that fully (also financially) supports a climbing life with travelling and so on! I don’t have any pressure with earning money for my living through climbing. I really live a « normal life » with work, family and so on – climbing is just some sort of serious hobby for me ;) ...

For me it seems to be very important to be mentally free. Through my rather safe profession making fun too, I already have some sort of security (financially) for my future. That’s the advantage from my point of view.

Time (the lack of) is the very big disadvantage. I don’t have the time to travel around in the world, which would for sure be great. Or I often don’t even have the time to go climbing when conditions and weather are good. Also short trips for instance to Switzerland when weather is bad in Austria are nearly impossible, besides the big holidays in summer – meaning warm weather … But enough with the wailing! Though it would be very interesting to see what could happen, if I would only concentrate on climbing!? But life is good the way it is right now – maybe it’s the best solution for me…

At the end, how you can recommend Saalachtal for other climbers to visit? I think, unfortunately, it is not too popular area...

We’re definitely not comparable with Tessin, Fontainebleau or something like that. We don’t have the huge amount of boulder problems, even if it’s getting more and more… 

From my (subjective) point of view Saalachtal is a very beautiful place to be. It offers a great variety of possibilities – not only for climbing. You can do boulders, sport climbs, alpine climbs (trad), you can do hiking, rafting, biking, skiing, cross-country skiing – simply everything you want …

For me it’s no big disadvantage that there are not so many people – mostly you can really enjoy nature and some sort of silence – which also is a very important point for me in climbing …

Nevertheless I hope some strong guys are visiting Saalachtal in the future, trying some of our problems ;) …
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