An interview by Aykut Turem, Istanbul - March 2010
1- What are the main external factors do effect a climber’s growth? Like the geography he was born, his parents, his friends, the books he has met.What about you? Did you have some external factors that really helped you to become Heinz Mariacher in terms of climbing?
I think at first it depends on someone's personality. In my case it was crucial that I was born in the middle of the mountains. I don’t think that I would get excited about climbing on Indoor walls approaching climbing as a sport from the beginning on. Since I was a child I was attracted by the unknown and the adventure, I liked to explore canyons and climb trees and everything. Even if today I mainly practice sport climbing, the mountain background is always present, I need nature and space and I don’t like to have many people around.
2 - Did you have a role model and what was your initial climbing dream when you first started climbing?
Since I discovered climbing on real mountain walls, there were three names I considered the most: Hias Rebitsch, Hans Vinatzer, Reinhold Messner. These men represented the style of climbing that attracted me: bold free climbing with a minimum of protection.
Rebitsch and Vinatzer climbed on a very high level before the “Direttissima-times” (the strange period of artificial climbing with many pitons and also bolts), Messner was not only an excellent climber, but also a good writer and communicator and his articles and books helped a lot to bring free climbing back to the Dolomites.
3 - According to you, what are the main differences between climbing in late 1970s-80s and 2000s?
I think it’s the approach. My generation approached climbing with a spirit of adventure. The challenge was to push the personal limit, facing the risk of dangerous or fatal falls. Today's generation discovers climbing with a sport oriented mentality on plastic walls and risk basically got eliminated.
4-You were one of the best free climbers during the late 70s and 80s before sport climbing evolved that much and battery powered drills and bolts were starting to become one of the main actors on the alpine faces. How do you feel frankly about bolted multi-pitch routes on alpine faces?
Until the late 70s and early 80s I was totally against bolts. After “Modern Times” in 1982 I realized that sport climbing would definitely change the game, even our game in the mountains. It was just obvious that really pushing ones limits without risk would make you a stronger and better climber. My vision was to raise my level through sport climbing and then go back to the mountains, but still sticking to the old ethics, like no bolts. Soon I found out that most climbers didn’t share my vision and went to the mountains putting up routes with bolts. The bolt, before the sport climbing times emotionally discussed and questioned, had regained popularity through sport climbing, but not only for protecting hard free climbing sections, once again it was used for conquest (look all those new routes in Patagonia).
How I feel today about this development? I think, creating sport climbing conditions on big walls using bolts is just a more complicated version of sport climbing, but has nothing to do with traditional free climbing in the mountains, where the main challenge was to deal with the risk. With that I don’t want to say that multi pitch sport climbing doesn’t have the right to exist or has no value, it’s just that we should be aware of the differences.
In 1986 I decided to give it try and bolted one of the first multi pitch sport routes in the Dolomites (from the ground up): “Tempi modernissimi”, 7c+, 300 meters. My idea was to introduce this style on walls with no history of traditional free climbing to not get in conflict with ethics and stiles from the past. I still believe that bolts shouldn’t have been used on walls with free climbing history, like the Marmolada south face. In general I see the sport climbing influence as an enrichment, but we should never forget these differences, otherwise we risk to lose the spirit that made alpine climbing so special.
5 - You, your wife Luisa Iovane, Maurizio “Manolo” Zanolla and Roberto Bassi were also known as “the terrible gang of Arco”. We can easily say that you are the pioneers of free climbing in Italy. What is your most precious memory coming from these days?
It was easy to be terrible in those times...the most precious memory? To enjoy climbing and exploring just for ourselves playing our own game, because nobody gave a shit about our ridiculously short climbs. It was like discovering a new continent or planet, rock everywhere and exclusively for us
6 - A climber at my age does not know this model, but La Sportiva “Mariacher” model climbing shoes is a milestone in modern climbing footwear. And it is your design (also with your name on it) . You were designing climbing shoes 20 years ago and you are still doing more or less the same in Scarpa as the Product Manager.
You have an ability to meet climbers needs with the manufacturers experience. How did you start this journey?
Strangely enough in the early eighties I got a little known among alpinists because I opened some new routes on the Marmolada. The climbing community was very small and a different mental approach created just as much attention like high grades today. My different approach was to open new routes in a new stile: free, fast and with a minimum of protection.
One day La Sportiva, at the time a very small and little known shoe manufacturer, approached me and proposed a job as a consultant and testimonial for climbing shoes. They had tried for years with very little success and I was so unhappy with the performance of climbing shoes (that were available on the market in those times) that I was excited about the opportunity to create something better (even if they offered very little money).
7 - You are 54 years old and still good in shape, you still can climb very hard both on traditional and sport routes. Also you have a full time professional life on the other side. How can you still keep yourself fit. Does it mainly come from talent?
Speaking about shape at the maximum you can say, not bad for your age. Generally speaking, I’m not fit at all and talent doesn’t help much when the rock gets overhanging. The main problem for older climbers are longer rest periods and injuries, in my case I have to deal with serious shoulder problems, but I still love climbing like in the first years and that helps a lot.
8 - Did being a good climber ever make you feel different than the society you live in?
My approach to climbing was very different compared to actual times, I was attracted by adventure and by the possibility to live a different life, at least for the weekend. Being different was the main purpose of my whole life and climbing helped me a lot to be good in it.
9-Is there a future for alpinism? Or for being more specific, is there a future for free climbing on alpine faces with traditional gear?
The question needs to be more specific, are we talking about individuals or about how climbing in general is considered by the establishment and the mass media?
As history shows, real and authentic breakthroughs or changes always come from strong individuals who think outside the pattern. The problem of these times is that alpinism got popular and economically interesting for outdoor brands, which means sponsorship. So, in the end it all comes down to what sells. In the case of free climbing on alpine walls, sponsored climbers need to produce impressive numbers (grades) and nobody cares about the real risk factor. In other words, a scary climb with traditional gear, but low grade, will never create as much public interest like a much higher grade that is protected with bolts and with no risk at all.
Certainly there will always be climbers who just do their own thing, driven by their genuine passion. They will look for ways to be different and free climbing alpine faces with traditional protection will remain a fascinating challenge. In my opinion these people are the real future for alpinism, all the other bullshit has no meaning at the long run.
10 - How does it feel to see fellow climbers dreaming to climb your routes one day? (Including me:)
I certainly feel honored if someone considers my routes as a dream, in the same time I hope that my routes deserve such high expectations (for sure not all of them, I did some shitty ones too...).
11-I think that Heinz Mariacher never says “Ok, I’ve already achieved all of my dreams in terms of climbing”
So what are your future plans and projects? As a matter of fact, I’m still not sure if I already climbed the best move of my life or not. That has nothing to do with the grade of difficulty, it’s about what you feel while doing it. For the future, I have projects, but no plans...I mean, for me climbing was always spontaneous, like waking up in the morning and deciding in that moment (that’s why I like sport climbing so much, on big walls it’s a little more complicated, because in most cases it’s better if you have at least a small plan, like considering the weather forecast and preparing your gear the day before, not mentioning getting up early, which I hate!).
12 - And Marmolada, I know that your favorite creation on South Face of Marmolada is Moderne Zeiten. What are the reasons for this choice? What makes it different than your lots of other new routes on Marmolada?
It’s the stile of the first ascent, I considered this route very close to the limit of what I could climb with no bolts and my modest athletic preparation. It’s also the line, I mean, to find such a cool route in the center of the south face, where everything seemed already been done decades ago.
13 - I want to ask a final question about your wife. (Actually she deserves another interview) However I first would like to learn that; Since lots of the climbs you’ve done with Luisa were ground breaking climbs in their era. We cannot blink the fact of risk level. How did you feel to climb with “the woman you love” in those climbs?
Being belayed by a person who really cares about you is always a good thing. Even in cases of emergency I have to say, Luisa was very reliable, maybe she complained a lot when we climbed unroped on lose rock (and maybe she was right), but in situations where it got really serious she didn’t complain at all and did everything right.
14 - A final question to that you want to ask yourself or a final statement you would like to say to Turkish Climbers.
I imagine that in Turkey is still lots of unclimbed rock to explore, maybe it’s a situation like we found many years ago in Arco, so I would say, enjoy the exploring and keep your climbing world clean from too much competitive bullshit. Climbing is great as long as you climb for yourself! Never forget: “climbing means freedom”!