Thomas Huber: What I’ve Learned
Alpinist, Cancer Survivor, Heavy-Metal Singer, Elder Half of The Huberbaum, 44, Berchtesgaden, Bavaria.
This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 198 (December 2011).
There is one sentence in my life that is so important to me. “When you walk in the valleys, you know how big the mountains are.” It’s nice to be up on top of summits, but up there, there is no perspective. It’s good to walk in the valleys because there, you know where you’ve been and where you want to go. If you have the motivation, the will, you will get to the summit and you will feel freedom. This metaphor helps me to never give up.
I had a terribly hard year. My good friend Bean Bowers died of cancer. I saved an e-mail from him that began, “Hey cancer brother, how are you doing?” The doctors had found a small lump on my kidney, but I was lucky, and it was benign. Bean was on the other side. It was hard to see how fast it goes. He went so, so fast.
Nobody can say I “fought” against cancer. I was just lucky. And it made me realize how important mountains are because they represent health. The most important thing in life is your health.
It’s important not to think that our generation has to do everything. It’s important to leave projects for the younger generation. My brother and I are fighting the over-bolting that is going on here in the Alps.
I understand why [my brother] Alex is better known in America. The photographs of him when he free climbed the Salathé were the best climbing shots that had ever been taken.
I was always more injury-prone than Alex. When he went to climb the Salathé, I was at home having knee surgery. It was hard for me to see his big accomplishment—the great coverage and pictures—while I was doing therapy at home. I said, fuck, fuck, fuck. It pissed me off!
The next year I tried to climb the Salathé in a day, and I came so close, but I fell on one pitch. I freed them all, but didn’t redpoint. I wanted to be equal to Alex. It was a competition between us, but it was positive because Alex wanted me to share the success that he had had.
Alex is my best friend and climbing partner. We are brothers. We trust each other, we have the same blood, we know our strengths and we know our [pause] … what’s the opposite of that word?
No mountain, no climb, is worth it to lose your life. Of course, we risk life all the time because it’s what makes life meaningful. But you always have to know that what you are doing is dangerous, because when you know it’s dangerous, you are on a safer track. That’s my philosophy.
In 1997 we went to the Southwest Face of Latok II, and I am still proud of this expedition, even though we used fixed ropes. It is still one of the biggest, hardest walls ever climbed in the world.
Mountaineering has so much space for everyone. To say, “Only what I’m doing is good” is wrong.
We’ve received criticism of our tactics, especially in Yosemite. The problem is, we did those climbs. Everyone else just watched.
The most memorable climbing experience is the one where you suffer the most. For me it was probably making the second ascent of the Ogre, the hardest peak in the world.
Every age has its heroes. When I grew up, I drew inspiration from Wolfgang Gullich and Jerry Moffatt. Nowadays I look to the younger generation, and I say, “Dammit! I want to go bouldering!” Paul Robinson, Chris Sharma, Alex Honnold, Kevin Jorgeson. I have a big, big respect for these guys. I watch their videos, and I say, “I want to go climbing, dammit!”
The most beautiful mountain in the world? There are three: El Capitan, Cerro Torre and the Watzmann, which is the peak outside my home in Berchtesgaden. When I finally see the Watzmann again, after being away on a big expedition, I know that I am home. I know that I am alive.
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