David Lama climbs up the Nameless Tower in Pakistan (Corey Rich/Mammut Archiv/Red Bull Content Pool)
Interview Words : Daisy Cropper | 20 December

David Lama on the world's toughest climbs

World-renowned climber David Lama shares his secret spots for a cracking view and decides whether the risks to get to the top are really worth it

What inspired you to start climbing?

I started climbing when I was about five years old. Peter Habeler, a friend of my parents and the partner of Reinhold Messner on Everest, discovered my talent and since then climbing has become my driving force.

What has been your favourite climb of all time?

Climbing has a huge variety of "disciplines". I started sportclimbing outdoors and then quickly got into competitions. After more than 12 years of winning titles, I discovered my passion for alpine climbing and the last four years a stunning mountain in Patagonia called Cerro Torre has captured my complete attention. It corresponds to all my ideals and freeclimbing this stunning needle, which had never been done before, combined all kinds of climbing, making it the best climb I did so far.

What has been your biggest climbing achievement?

As I said, I won many titles, like the Youth World Championship or the overall World Cup in the adults class, but my first free ascent of Cerro Torre is definitely my biggest  achievement so far. It's been a project that kept me going back to Patagonia for three years in a row and in order to realise my dream I had to learn many things and develop my climbing skills to a whole new level.

How do you make money from being a climber? How did you turned your passion into a full-time job?

Since I started climbing, I knew that this would be my purpose in life and I soon figured out that therefore I'd also have to make a living out of it, but I still don't look at climbing as my job. Climbing is my passion.

Where is the most beautiful terrain to climb in the world?

This year I visited the Karakoram for the very first time and I was blown away by its climbing potential. It's absolutely not comparable to the alps and it's hard to imagine its scale for people who haven't been there. There are unclimbed 3,000m walls around every corner and to us climbers it's like paradise.

Me and my partner Peter Ortner managed to climb Trango Tower and also Chogolisa, a 7,668m high peak that hasn't been climbed in 26 years. From the top of Chogolisa we were able to see the whole Karakoram range and this was for sure one of the most impressive views I had ever seen.

Some of the climbs you undertake are obviously very dangerous: what makes you run the risk? Is getting to the top or the end of a climb really worth it?

I think it's absolutely worth it. Of course there's no food, no money and nothing tangible waiting for you on the summit of a mountain, but this is not what I go up there for.

I climb mountains to live.

You've taken a few solo expeditions this year. What advice would you offer travellers setting off on their first trip? What gets you through times that are lonely, hard or  where you want to give up?

To be honest, I believe that the consequences of mistakes during solo climbs are too fatal to make it comparable to solo travels. But when I’m completely by myself living in a tent on a remote glacier over some days, my desire for civilization grows continuously. In such time I try to focus more on the positive anticipation of going back home rather than thinking about the fact that you are lonely all the time.

What's next? I hear you have an upcoming expedition in Patagonia? What does that involve?

In January I'll travel back to Patagonia for my fourth consecutive year to try some climbs on the Fitz Roy range. To me the climbing in Patagonia is some of the best around the world, because you have to be good in all kinds of terrain, you need to be fast and light because windows of good weather are rare and short and there's no place for mistakes.

Finally, where are the top five places in the world to learn to climb?

I think you can learn to climb pretty much everywhere. Nowadays there are climbing gyms in all big cities and if you know someone who can teach you the basics you can enjoy it at no risk.

From then on it's your decision if you'd like to go on mountaineering expeditions to the Karakoram or the Himalayas, climb big walls in Yosemite, sportclimb in Thailand, France or anywhere else or stay in the gym. 

The World According To... David Lama

Mountain, ocean, desert, jungle - which are you?

Mountains. I don't think I need to explain...

What was your first great travel experience?

Making a 72-hour non-stop train ride from Moscow to Bishkek, the capital of  Kyrgyzstan. Maybe it wasn't my first travel experience and also nothing I'd like to do again, but definitely an experience I wouldn't want to miss.

What has been your favourite journey?

My first trip to Argentina in 2009. I stayed in the small village of El Chalten for almost three months and even though the weather was the worst in more than ten years and we didn't get to climb a lot it's been a great time.

Which are your top five places worldwide?

Patagonia, Karakoram, Himalayas, Thailand, La Reunion.

Which passport stamp are you proudest of?

Maldives. I'm a passionate fisher and always wanted to catch a sail fish – unfortunately I didn't catch one yet.

Which passport stamp would you most like to have?

South Africa is a place I've never been to and seems to be an interesting country.

Where or what is your guilty travel pleasure?

I never travel without my iPod and my speakers. They make life at base camp so much better.

After an action-packed year of expeditions and climbs, David Lama has been shortlisted for National Geographic's Adventurer of the Year Award. Find out more here.

You can follow David Lama's adventures through his Facebook page and on his website: david-lama.com

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