BEAT KAMMERLANDER DEDICATED!
In an age dominated by the desperate search for image and identity, where the smallest glimmer of achievement is dragged screaming and kicking into dazzling limelight, Beat Kammerlander’s internet presence appears rather modest, almost a touch anachronistic. On the other hand, his laissez-faire
impression is more deliberate than it would appear at first glance. It reveals that Beat Kammerlander apparently does not place great value on being represented in a place where he does not feel at home. For more than three decades the stage for Beat as an extreme climber and mountain guide has been ice and rock. His routes ascend vertical faces. If you want to get to know them, then you have to climb. Although that is easier said than done, because his first ascents are among the most difficult to be found anywhere.
Beat’s climbing career started in 1977 in the Raetikon. That was where in 1981 he achieved the first ascent of Vergissmeinnicht (7-, A4). In the ‘80s climbing started to blossom as a modern sport. In the whirlwind Beat was drawn to Buoux, Cimai and Verdon, the climbing hotspots of the day in France, the Mecca for climbers. With Chouca (8a+), Crime Passionel (8b) and Les braves gens ne courent pas les rues (8b) he managed to repeat the most difficult routes at that time. Back home again, ascents of Affenfresser (10-) and Lohn der Angst (9+) on Schellenberg demonstrate that he also possesses mental capacities at the highest level.
Despite the soaring interest in sport climbing and the continuing inflation in degrees of difficulty, enthusiasm for bigger walls and alpine terrain took a downturn because of their wicked reputation for crumbling rock and poorly secured lines – a blend that no longer satisfied the modern craving for solid rock and hard moves. But that was exactly what attracted Beat: “I preferred to create something new on the rock and implement a good idea. If you look carefully and have the right eye, you’ll always find something. I liked to seek out projects that really drew me in.”
While more and more difficult routes were being climbed in the southern hotspots and everybody endeavored put their signature in the annals of climbing history, Beat started investigating the rock faces of the Raetikon. He focused his attention not just on the classic, logical lines, cracks, and chimneys, but also on the illogical, smooth faces that appeared impossible.
To bolt or not to be
Setting drilled anchors seemed essential on climbs this severe, but an initial ascent using anchors contradicted the strict ethics of alpine climbing where the mechanical application of securing points was looked down upon with scorn. On the other hand it seemed unavoidable because the time had come to open up climbing in the mountains in a previously unimaginable dimension, at the same time as adhering to traditional philosophy.
Beat: “What I wanted was for the way I opened up a route to leave something that was more than a number denoting difficulty. Climbing has to be more than just athletic – for me the question is: Can I handle the mental aspect of the climb? Of course you can abseil down from above to check everything out, but it’s a completely different game if you have to fight your way up with everything you have in you, and that was the thing that fascinated me with all of these ascents: climbing into the unknown. Subjecting myself to the stages where I could feel a mental block.”
So the style had been defined: starting the route without having inspected it first. Each section had to be climbed, bolts were for safety, not for upward progress, and should, if possible, only be applied in the climbing position. They were few and far between considering the immense difficulty, and falls were correspondingly far. “I’m afraid as any other, but I often manage to rise to the challenge as soon as I’m in the thick of the action. I’m a bit of a chameleon in that way. With the task presented by the rock I can quickly change, get out of my shell and do something crazy. It’s usually not anything dangerous, it’s mainly a mental thing, a balancing act between my own fear and deep-down concentration.”
Climbing New Age (8a+) in 1989, Beat managed to raise the bar towards grade 10 for the first time in the history of the Rätikon. The echo of this success ensured international fame because New Age was only the third route in the Alps with this kind of degree of difficulty after Scaramouche (8a) and Via Bonvecchia (8a).
In 1990 Beat discovered a new route that seemed even more impossible on the 7th Kirchlispitze and opened up the Unendliche Geschichte (Never Ending Story), which he climbed redpoint in 1991, rated 8b+, and regards as his most important first ascent. Beat: “I climbed this route on 9th September and I can only remember that I don’t remember much. The climb was such an abstract experience for me that it didn’t sink in for a long time. This wasn’t the only situation where the first ascent was more important to me than the redpoint climb.” This route was way ahead of its time when you think that back then there were only four 8c routes that had ever been climbed.
It was during this period that the partnership spanning many years between Beat and adidas started: “This partnership has had an extremely positive effect on my career. From the very beginning I had the opportunity to fully concentrate on my projects and at the same time to act independently… It was, and still is, a partnership based on absolute trust.”
In 1994 Beat climbed the route with which he is most often associated: Silbergeier (8b+) on the 5th Kirchlispitze in Rätikon. Steeper, more exposed, more impossible, supernatural “like a walk on the moon”. Not least because Silbergeier took on a certain timelessness; even today, 20 years after the initial ascent, it is only the best of the best who are able to enter their names in the summit book.
Wherever he lays his hands, that’s his home
Beat Kammerlander, who achieved visionary climbs in Rätikon and continuously raised the limits of the doable, possesses a bandwidth of talents that only a very few climbers have had before him, or since. The term “all-rounder” is the only generic term that sums up his wide range of abilities. Cliffs, base climbs, ice walls, rock faces: wherever he lays his hands, that’s his home. Especially when it gets psychological. The risk is on initial ascents like Body Count (WI7, 180m), Marylin Manson (WI6, 280m) or Try to Trust (M8/WI7, 140m) but they should never be pushed; you have to develop a respect for the conditions presented by the rock and ice. In contrast to the custom that is becoming more and more popular – simply subjecting yourself to the conditions – this fairness approach appears to be almost anachronistic. In the end though, it is just an extension of the principle idea that has always accompanied Beat Kammerlander.
A statement of art
In 1997, Marco Wasiner, a climber from Bludenz, managed to climb the lower section of Prinzip Hoffnung on the Bürser ledge in Vorarlberg. Soon after that, Beat succeeded in climbing the whole route: 8b/+ grade of difficulty. While the project seemed to have reached an end, instead of the contentment and relief felt after a difficult challenge, there was a feeling of unrest, the source of which was difficult to pin down. It wasn’t until Beat reflected on the rock face again and he toyed with the thought of a clean climb that the unrest was quelled. The decisive influences were several visits to the States and involvement in climbing cracks.
Finally Beat decided to attempt Prinzip Hoffnung (Principle of Hope) using only removable protection placed during the climb. Beat trained for a whole summer to prepare both mentally and physically to make Principle of Hope his own. There was nothing more important since with every meter that Beat moved away from the last, less and less promising “security” during his attempts, he focused on one principle hope: the hope that he can keep going, the hope that it goes well and the hope that it works out. “What I learned during this process was that it is quite feasible to do something dangerous as long as you know how to reduce the risk. This was the most fascinating thing about it.”
With attempts underway in earnest, the falls at the key point were not long in coming. Then the protection that had been fixed with sweat and clenched teeth had to be removed piece by piece, wiping the slate clean for the next attempt. Beat didn’t give up hope and in winter 2009 finally managed to climb the much yearned-for route Prinzip Hoffnung (E9/10, 8b/+) without falling, setting a new milestone in his climbing career on a par with Unendliche Geschichte and Silbergeier.
One thing is sure: Beat is always going to be climbing somewhere. Because with motivation, “that’s no problem, you just have to be able to compensate. After phases in which I have to do things that I don’t enjoy so much, or am unable to climb as often as I would like, follow others that are exactly the opposite. Then I immediately attain maximum motivation.” And Beat will continue to remain true to his philosophy: “There will be new lines, new projects, mostly in my homeland probably, because “nobody is out on his own or against the others here – everybody helps if necessary. That is the reason why I enjoy climbing here most.” Beat is a man of the mountains. He has left his mark there. And the mountains have left their mark in him. And that’s the way it should be.