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Professional alpinist Roger Schäli: the interview

How many days a year are you  travelling outside of Switzerland for climbing outdoors?

Half of the year, the rest of the time I climb indoors.


Have you done any 8000 peaks?

No, I concentrate on difficult walls and you don’t find any at high altitude.


Do you do other sports?

Yes, for my training, jogging, bicycle ridding, cross country skiing.


What are the special qualities a professional alpinist needs to have?

The passion must be really big and then the passion must be not so big that you can get organized for a couple of months or a year in this kind of business. The first time you want to do a live show for instance, it is complicated and you need lots of communication skills. Then, you need endurance and also a bit of luck that you can do a live show somewhere.

But really to be a professional alpinist you need to be able to handle stress. Normally as a climber you are able to handle stress in the mountain. Then there is a point where you sit in the office and you stress with your emails and you are not living your climbing dream anymore, it is team work. If you just like to climb as fun as possible, then it is not the right way to do climbing as a professional. So it would be better to have a good job with a basic salary for 50% and climb for your own as much as you can. I think then you have no stress, no pressure. It is easier to climb in this situation than as a beginner as a professional alpinist.


Salewa / Schweiz / Gimmlwald / Sektor A / Roger Schali / (C) Claudia Ziegler

Salewa / Schweiz / Gimmlwald / Sektor A / Roger Schali / (C) Claudia Ziegler

Do you have a special diet?

No I have someone who checks my foods. He said I need different kind of foods. The first half a year with less calories, more proteins, fruits and vegetables.

But it is never too extreme. That person told me “don’t think too much, be realistic”.

If I would do this (a diet) my body would go crazy. He give me ideas of menus, what I can eat on expeditions like cereals, chocolate powder… In high altitude what’s important is to get lots of liquids like water.


How do you prepare yourself for a big expedition?

I have a coach who helps me to get in shape for specific projects and it is normally climbing and endurance trainings. Normally I chose a way I can be focused for 1/ 2  a year on more climbing.

The other half of the year is more focused on expeditions like for Patagonia and Himalaya. There you need more endurance. It is really two different training systems.

You also need some self-discipline and important is that training stays the main priority of the day and you don’t start some computer work or other stuff. The main power of the day is training in the morning.


Are you generally nervous the night before?

Yes, definitely, he answers right away peacefully.

Yes, I am nervous, he adds again after a short pause, but I train a lot and I know I like it.

But it is part of the game

Important is that I can be focused and calm. I have the help of a sport psychologist. I have some exercises I do when I get too nervous  and some tools how to breathe. So really I know how I help myself in a difficult situation.


Roger Schaeli with Simon Gietl and Daniel Kopp in Greenland credit Thomas Ulrich

Roger Schaeli with Simon Gietl and Daniel Kopp in Greenland credit Thomas Ulrich


What are you scared of the most of weather conditions which can change quickly, avalanches,  your rope mates,  rock fall or an equipment failure ?

Normally it is not one, but an accumulation of small problems. But the real problem is the shape and condition of the climbing partner, he stresses.


Do you only choose rope team mate you can trust and know?

For far away projects really far away, from every civilization that take a long time, it is someone I know really well, whom I can trust 100% in every situation.

In climbs less serious like El Capitan or the Eiger South Face you can get also a younger less experienced partner. If it fails, you only lost ½ week or 2 days and not the entire expedition.


When going back to the same mountains do you sometimes use the same routes or you only like taking new routes?

No, I climbed for 7 years the same route on the Eiger the Japanese route and I spent 2 years trying the Magic Mushroom. So, it’s not a target to do as many routes I can.

I try routes ,which are inspiring very much then and I try to finish it. That is all I am looking for.


What is the most challenging for you rock, ice or snow climbing and why?

Normally ice is more risky because it is difficult to say if the ice is stable or not.

I try to climb long routes in long walls and you have all of this climbing in one route.  It is difficult to do mixed routes you have to change boots, put climbing boots, take off your gloves….

To do this is really not easy.


How do you protect your hands from blisters and frost bites?

Normally, there is not really a reason to protect your hands. There is one glove system where the finger tips are free and you can put an easy finger cap over them.

In rocks the holes are too small to use gloves. When it is too cold you cannot do free climbing.

For short pitches or only for half an hour you can get very motivated and just climb. After a while you don’t feel your fingers. You have to be careful that the blood come in your finger tips. It is definitely not healthy for your fingers and you can’t do it often.

The motivation is so big that you don’t try to think about it – all of this is in your head and motivation.

You have trained so long for this project. There are only a couple of pitches so you try to do it. You give your best.


What is the most challenging for you, the ascent or the descent or it depends and why?

“Definitly the ascent”, he says without thinking. More risky is the decent because you are more tired , you have to keep your concentration and it is getting dark. All combines to make the descent more risky that the ascent.


Roger Schaeli and partner Simon Gietl on top of the Arwa Spire in Himalaya

Roger Schaeli and partner Simon Gietl on top of the Arwa Spire in Himalaya


When you reach the top of a mountain, how do you feel? Does it depend on how difficult the ascent was or you forget everything when you reach the top ?

No, it is not always the same feeling but the same kind of feeling. It is very different with the climbs. For the Eiger for instance I know the way really well so I can be quite relaxed; the feeling of happiness has much more space.

On the Eiger it is not the summit, which is the most exciting moment but after the last hard pitch when you know you are getting to the summit. To get to the top of the Eiger is not the most difficult moment. That normally makes the summit not the best woah, because you are so focused on the climbing, so after the last difficult pitch, it‘s a woah.

One more example “The Magic Mushroom”, it is not the summit but the mushroom. There the last pitch is very difficult. Then when you get to the top it is so intense, it is definitely an amazing feeling.

On “Torre Egger” in Patagonia, I was not sure I could get to the top, so on this mountain it was really exciting, but I was not relaxed on the summit. I was always thinking of the descent in the back of my mind. How do I get down? The descent was really difficult.

On the “Fitz Roy” in Patagonia it was “a very special scene” because there is so much history around it.

The summit was amazing after 5 years trying to get to the top. We could really enjoy the summit because we were not physically and mentally at our end.

So there are really different summit feelings. The most happiness is 2 to 3 days later when you realize what you have done.


What is the most exciting thing about your profession?

The difficult climbs, more exposed walls, nature, partnership and of course traveling and seeing other cultures.


Is there a time when you really were scared and thought no more, I stop?

Yes, definitely at 1 or 2 points I was thinking a lot about it and at that time a friend of mine had an accident and was dying.Then I took time to think what I really wanted to do.

If the feeling to go on is stronger than anything else, then I go on.

But I would never go on because I have the feeling I have to do it, because we take so much risk on the mountain. For no money, no live show, no sponsor I would climb tomorrow again.


What is your most special moment of the last ten years?

Last autumn when we reached the summit of Arwa Spire (Himalaya 2012).


What and where are your upcoming projects?

This spring I would like to train enough to do the North Face of the Eiger this summer. In the fall I will head to Nepal to do a technically difficult route.


What advice would you give to someone interested in climbing?

Go with people in the outdoors and realize what climbing can be. Ask yourself the question: “is it a sport for me or not?”


Thank you


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