Beat Kammerlander is a mythical figure in the climbing world. The Austrian is perhaps best known for establishing psychological testpieces on the massive limestone walls of the Rätikon in Switzerland. His routes, such as Silbergeier (5.14a), were established ground-up on lead in the 1990s, and boast run-outs up to 60 feet. Any modern repeat of Silbergeier still makes the news, no matter how many 5.14s the climber has previously done.
Kammerlander's name continues to resurface in the climbing media, usually due to another world-class climber repeating one of his routes. But recently, he made headlines for establishing a new heady testpiece … at the age of 55. The route, Drei Siebe
, was given 5.13d, however, Kammerlander insists the grade is meaningless.
"There are some routes that are just really hard to climb, regardless of the grade," said Kammerlander in an interview with Planet Mountain.
Rock and Ice contacted Kammerlander to learn about his climbing career, his Rätikon days and more.
How did you begin climbing?
This was by chance. When I was 17, a friend persuaded me to come climbing with him. This was big, because I had a fear of heights. But through climbing I lost the fear. Since then, I am addicted to climbing.
In your early life, was climbing the most important thing to you?
Yes, it was and still is very important to me. There are many reasons why it seems to be the most important thing; when you climb you are completely in the moment. With new visions and projects you can grow personally and reach goals you never could imagine. A big reason is to be outside in the beautiful nature.
What interested you about the sport and were you talented in the beginning?
The mental game was very interesting to me. I think that my self-confidence was big. I was never afraid of big routes and big names.
In my first years, sport climbing had not arrived. We focused on extreme alpine routes, searching for the hardest. The more dangerous the better it was.
When did you start having the vision for first ascents and why were you drawn to them?
I always had the motivation of opening new routes. But we believed in Reinhold Messner's opinion that the bolt kills the impossible. So the best route we opened was Vergissmeinnicht
(500 meters, 5.11-, A4) in the year 1981 in the Rätikon. At that time sport climbing was swapping over from Yosemite. My hero was John Bachar. Then everything changed. Motivated by Martin Scheel, I began thinking that using bolts was OK, when you use it only for protection and not for aid. I started the new game 1987 in the Rätikon. The routes were Maximum
(5.12d), Morbus Scheuermann
How did you develop your strength for the hard ascents you would eventually accomplish?
In the years 1982 through 1986, I concentrated on sport climbing and training. I was able to repeat many of the hardest routes and also opened the hardest routes in our region: Delirium Tremens (5.13c), Take it easy (5.13d) and Zukunftsmusik (5.14a). After all those years only sport climbing, it started to be boring. So I need something new—I realized a new game: opening alpine-sport climbing routes on lead. This was such a mental game and was fascinating. The first route in that style was New Age (5.13c) in the Rätikon, at the Schweizereck.
Tell me about climbing in the Ratikon in the 1990s. You put up some of your most famous routes there such as Silbergeier. How were you going about establishing those intimidating routes?
In the 1990s I was motivated for sport and alpine climbing, and in the summer I concentrated on alpine-sport routes. Establishing Unendliche Geschichte
(Never Ending Story) in 1991 was a big step for me. Never before could I climb those hard moves. Maybe, if I look back, this was my biggest step. However, opening the route was always more important than the red-point, because of my bolting style. The red point is the sportive part—and especially with that project the redpoint seemed nearly impossible. I thought a redpoint in a day would never happen; it seemed to be too hard for that time with a pitch of 5.14a, 5.13d, and 5.13c. I trained like a maniac and in 1991 after eight days on the route the success came and was surprising. My life was setup; I could live a life as a sponsored climber and concentrate 100 percent on my climbing.
What is your proudest route in your opinion?
That’s hard to say, every decade I've climbed has something. In sport climbing, Missing Link 9a (5.14d) is my hardest and still never repeated. With bolting on lead, it’s opening WoGü [ed. note-Adam Ondra redpointed WoGü for the first free ascent in 2008]. My hardest alpine-sport climb is Unendliche Geschichte.
You also traveled worldwide to climb. What were some of your favorite places you visited?
Traveling was always very important for me. Mostly I travel with my wife Christine. In the last 10 years we visited the States nearly every year. The best is Utah around Moab. Our last trip there was two years ago. We got there and spent most of our time in the desert climbing towers.
I also love to climb the classics of the time like, Smith Rock's To Bolt or Not to Be (5.14a), Tuolumne Meadows' Peace (5.13c) and Indian Creek's Air Sweden (5.13 R).
You are also well known for your photography. When did you start taking photos?
Photography always interested me. The cause to start studying was that I do and did slideshows and for my presentations, I need good pictures. Now it is like that: my climbing has priority, and working as a photographer is second. What motivates me most is working on photo projects that involves shooting friends on their amazing projects. My knowledge as a climber helps me a lot, to be efficient and to see with my climber's view.
What's more important to you, climbing or photography?
Finally, what other interests do you have?
Climbing is still my favorite. It is more than sport to me—it’s passion. But I also work sometimes as a mountain guide. Other sports I do are mountain biking, ski-randoneering, freeriding, and now the biggest challenge … my five-month-old son Samuel.
Check out this wild video of Kammerlander soloing Mordillo (5.13c/d).