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 By: Jens Larssen  | Date: 2010-03-25  | Category: Interviews    | Comment  

Interview: Gerhard Schaar

Climb the world – then talk about it  

When someone makes a journey, he will have tales to tell! According to this German saying, climbing globetrotter Gerhard Schaar embarked on a climbing trip around the world. Between September ’07 and November ’08, the Austrian climber travelled around the world with his climbing gear. He discovered new climbing spots that had not been heard of so far as well as creating new ones: for example, Gerhard is responsible for bolting 50 new routes with Indian climbers in the State of Karnataka.

Here are some questions to someone who left home to conquer the climbing world:

Gerhard, what are your favorite climbing spots and why?

Australia’s Blue Mountains are a unique place. The sandstone there is amazing, it stretches for miles along the ridges, it is incredibly divers, you find all kinds of structures. You need to be quite complete a climber, and even then you will encounter lines which require some crazy moves. What makes the “Blueies” finally so unique is the surrounding: the plants, the smell, the light, and not to forget the friendly and hospital climbing scene in Katoomba and Blackheath. I felt very welcomed there by the locals.

I also loved the Darrans in New Zealand: there are a few crags close to the world famous “Milford Sound”. The climbing spots in contrast are all but that famous, probably because it is small and very remote. You are surrounded by steep mountains, covered with impenetrable rain forests at the bottom, waterfalls crashing down the rocks and glaciers at the top. There are no signs of civilization. The world is like it has always been – I found myself again at this place and gathered new strength for the continuation of my long journey!

And then I loved the Bugaboos in Canada: Firstly they are located in a beautiful region of British Columbia, and although it seems to be in the middle of nowhere, the “Bugs” are relatively easy accessible. Here you find granite pillars from five hundred up to a thousand meters, like Bugaboo Spire, Snowpatch and the Howser Towers, sitting on top of a glacier. You can find exceptional routes there and combine climbing with mountaineering. Staying on Applebee Camp feels like being in a remote base camp of an expedition, big granite walls, glaciers, bad weather, too little beer but vast skies.

Do people in other countries have different views on climbing?

Of course they do. Let’s just take Karnataka, the State where Hampi lies in. This is quite a harsh example.  I have been there twice, have spent five months in the most popular areas and hung out and lived with the Indian climbers. But I haven’t gathered at all what climbing means for these people. The cultural restrictions are so intense, caste rules are still omnipresent, therefore people seem to carry this haze around their personal attitudes, motivation and goals if there are such. There seems to be no real ambition, but then you can see there is some, there is no systematic development of climbing spots, but everyone talks about it, there is no guide book, not even a sketch, but the local climbers say it has been planned for years. You just don’t get it, or lets better say I did not get it.

When people face the problems of a third world country, maybe climbing is dispensable. It will still take a long time from my point of view, before India has a real “climbing scene”: I learned that during my “bolts for Bangalore” project.

When I compare ourselves, European climbers I mean, to the U.S. or Canada, I think that much more people over there are “real” climbers, in the sense that they understand this sport as a way of living. In Europe most climbers have a “regular life” and then a “climbing life”. The sport is something that is restricted to the spare time.

In North America, it is much more of a wholistic approach that is reflected in people’s values and attitudes. There are real communities – just think of Squamish, Boulder or the Bay Area. Climbing is considered much more important by the “ordinary climber”, people are more open and mobile. If we travelled the same distances, we would have to climb in the South of Spain in spring, then in Austria, later in Norway and then drive over to the black sea.

And one of the most amazing experiences, as far as the view of climbing is concerned, I made in Cuba. The local climbers I have met in Vinales seemed to have embraced climbing, because it is such a positive contrast to the bad social and economical situation. I had the feeling that it was climbing, which made them forget about the desperate prospects, poverty, and all the corruption. Climbing for them means the chance of succeeding in something, get a feeling of achieving something, building up some self esteem. Whereas daily life means taking care of the most basic things, climbing for them must be breaking free from the barriers of the communist system, means freedom in a quality we western climbers hardly ever get to experience.

What achievement of those fourteen months are you most proud of?

The moment I made myself do this. Bringing myself in a position where I could leave. Everything that followed was a consequence of this decision. Reinhard Karl once said: “"Nach jedem Oben bin ich ein anderer geworden. Herunten!" (after each moment at the top I changed! At the ground!) Therefore I am also a little proud of that I keep moving, that I developed as a person. Grades do not mean so much to me, it is all about going to bed and realizing, that you live the life you always wanted to and that this is, what makes you happy.

Is there a secret climbing spot that you would kindly tell us about?

Around Moab, I have found some "secret spots" (and I’m not talking about "Mills Creek"). But I would be stupid if I told you about them, because that would mean I’d better never get back there. If you ever come to Moab, try to hang out at “The Mondo Café” at Eddie McStiffs Plaza, invite the locals for a drink and be friendly, then you will find out. Alternatively pack a bunch of six packs in your car, when you go to climb in Indian Creek, and hand them generously out at the campfire.

A spot that I consider a real insider’s tip (but that I am happy to tell you about), is the climbing spots in the Darrans, on New Zealand’s Southern island. They are called "Little Babylon", “Babylon” and „The Chasm",. They are not world class climbing spots by the number of climbs. But the region is just breath taking, as I have already mentioned in a paragraph above.

In Thailand, people are developing new areas in the Andaman Sea. Two of them, Ko Lao Liang and Ko Yao Noi are not so secret anymore, but still not overrun with climbers. Then there are new crags being developed near Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. I could visit one of them, a crag developed by a local Thai and some French climbers. 30 new routes about two hours away from Chiang Mai, near a village called Chiang Dao.

Well and in terms of the really secret spots at unknown islands in the Andaman Sea I can only say that much: They do exist, but not in this article!

Thank you, Gerhard, for your time.

Further info on Gerhard as well as fotos of his climbing trips:


AustriAlpin has been and will supporting Gerhard’s projects in the future, because we think that is a very good and natural way to bring our attitude towards climbing and mountaineering into the world. Climb now, work later.