A Conversation With Alpinist Ines Papert

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By Michael Restivo

For over 20 years, alpinist and ice climber Ines Papert has led visionary ascents around the world. From stunning solo ascents in the Himalayas, to becoming the first woman to climb a M11 mixed climbing grade, Ines is establishing bold routes, and continues to climb at a world-class level. We’re thrilled to have Ines presenting her story at the Colorado Mountain Club on Tuesday December 10th, and before her night, we got to talk with her about her inspirations and mentors, the emergence of women in ice climbing and alpinism, and how she discovers new routes and unclimbed peaks.

Colorado Mountain Club: How did you get into ice and mixed climbing? Who were some of your mentors?

Ines Papert: After the wall came down in 1989, when I was 16 years old – all I wanted was to travel and explore the German Alps. So when I was 18, I moved into the Alps, and never left. It became my home for many reasons. But the most significant was the fact that I had tons of fun climbing the mountains. I met the right people back in the days, found friends in the climbing community and got to learn that there is climbing all over the globe.

Back in the days, when I met international climbers on my trips they convinced me to take part in an ice climbing competition, called the first Ice Climbing World Club.

CMC: What was your first World Cup like?

IP: I joined without any expectations, training, or special knowledge and got 2nd. That fact was quite motivating and the year later I won. Just after I have realized I could probably gain some funding from outdoor brands, I became pregnant. This fact didn’t stop me thinking about climbing but I never thought about a professional climbing career. That happened after my son was born, kind of in a natural way. I kept competing, won pretty much everything you can win in ice climbing and managed more and more to make my and my sons living out of that. Plus I was able to travel more than ever before. Mixed climbing was quite new by that time and characters like Will Gadd and Bubu Mauro Bole were participating on the IWC. Those guys inspired truly inspired me by what they were doing at a time, it still seemed crazy to climb a free hanging icicle

CMC: What was your first time climbing in America like?

IP: (laughs) I wanted nothing smaller than climbing the Nose on El Cap – back in 1998 this was quite a difficult climb for me and is still one of my very few big walls that I have managed to climb in my life thus far. Somehow I got more into light and fast alpine style climbing over the past years, although I don’t want to miss the experiences I had on big walls like Riders on the Storm (Central Tower, Torres del Paine – VI 5.12d A3).

CMC: Have you climbed in Colorado before? Are there any routes or mountains here that interest you?

IP: Well I did climb in Colorado several times however besides competing at the Ouray Ice Festival I never got the chance for bigger routes. Bird Brain Boulevard (WI5, M5) and many other routes near Ouray were always part of my trips. Once I walk into the small mountain town, people are still recognizing me as the champion back in the days. They are pushing me in a good way, to repeat that success again and again but  this was never really my idea.  Today the male and female competition routes are different and for a good reason. Those guys got crazy strong over the past years. The Festival is a huge meeting of the community and Jeff Lowe was a huge part of it. I am glad I got the chance to meet him, he was a character and such a talent.

It‘s been always worth to come back to Colorado, even though I am not as much into competing as in the past.

CMC: What kind of climbing is most popular in Germany? Sport? Trad? Ice and Mixed? Mountaineering?

IP: Depending on the region. Trad in Saxonia by using nut slings a lot. Sport in Frankenjura. People do Mountaineering in the Alps but the most popular activities are still climbing Via Ferratas, plaisire routes (like over-bolted multi-pitch) ski touring, biking, and hiking.

CMC: How do you train for competition climbing versus a specific summit or objective? Are you still competing today?

IP: I only compete in Ouray occasionally, but for fun only. The training became so specific that it did not match the training for climbing mountains. Plastic became increasingly boring for me.

Each objective has its own needs for training and depending on that, I do a focused amount of homework. Honestly, living and training with a super psyched and talented person like my partner Luka Lindič is so much easier to get it done.

CMC: Have you seen more women getting into ice and mixed climbing?

IP: We are still a very small female community but compared to 2000, when I started doing this, there are more coming. Less in Europe than in North America. However, there are more female climbers in Europe, when it comes to high end rock climbing. When we talk about alpinism, the amount of girls is still so little.

CMC: What drives you to search out hard winter routes, such as climbing ice in the winter in Scotland, which is notorious for brutal cold and weather?

IP: There is a special type of loveliness simply watching the smear of ice, created by the weather and the wind. Wind does not make the climbing more pleasant but more adventurous. It‘s simply part of it. Finding a line, that matches your level and skills is always made more tempting by pushing your mental boundaries here and there.

CMC: How do you research unclimbed peaks and new routes?

IP: The climbing community is a huge network and luckily very supportive. When we talk about Kyzyl Asker and the route, “Lost In China” (Kyrgyzstan, WI5+ M6), which I still believe this is the most aesthetic and beautiful line that I have ever climbed on a higher peak, for example – I got attention by a team from Alaska, doing one of the first attempts of the Southeast Face. But they could not finish it as well as many other teams over the years. I also use Google and Google earth quite a bit, to get ideas and be inspired.

CMC: What do you feel you are still learning as a climber?

IP: I am still learning decision making. Every climb that I am doing teaches me something. Every person you share the rope with is different and learning about different characters is always part of it. But sharing my knowledge and experience with people and community by doing lectures and workshops is a very valuable gift to me. Otherwise I would call my work as a professional climber by doing all the projects and expeditions are quite selfish. We need to share and let other people being part of it. Looking so much forward talking to the crowd at the CMC in Golden soon. Thanks to my sponsor Lowa for flying me over and supporting my visions in the mountains.

Join us for the CMC Speaker Series: Ines Papert – Alpinism on the Edge of Dreams, on Tuesday December 10, at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden at 7:00 PM.

Tickets available here.

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