A few thoughts on: Friendship

In Werner Herzog’s film ‘Gasherbrum – Der leuchtende Berg [The Shining Mountain]’ Reinhold Messner openly admits that he does not consider Hans Kammerlander a friend. For him, other criteria were more important when choosing partner

To a certain degree, I can relate to this point of view. Neither is friendship between climbing partners an essential part of mountaineering, nor does having a friend along make a route easier. For me, climbing skills, experience and motivation are the decisive arguments when choosing a partner. However, we should be connected by more than just a common goal in the mountains. The bigger the project, the more important friendship becomes.

I am thus very picky when choosing with whom I spend my time. In more extreme situations, the mountain will reveal our true character. You get to know your partner in different ways. You don’t need to face a complex challenge high up on a big face for this to happen. Weeks of waiting in basecamp, without much privacy, inevitably creates tension and you start to get a feeling for how solid the partnership is.

A good connection often shows on a different level: It is this good feeling of not having to say anything, and still being understood: On our first attempt at the 7,668m high Chogolisa in Pakistan, Peter Ortner and I struggled for hours in bottomless snow and at some point, we both knew: It is time to turn around. There was no need for words.

On our first go at the first ascent of ‘Spindrift’ on the northwest face of Laserz in the Lienzer Dolomites, Peter and I did not have enough gear. That only really dawned to me while leading the 4th pitch, but I did not think for a moment that Peter would begrudge a retreat. We had given it our all, and we have nothing to prove to each other.

Projects in the mountains depend on matching ideals on routes, tactics, and acceptable risk. Controversial discussions also have their place in friendships. I not only expect 100% from my partners, but also that they openly speak their mind. On an expedition to my dream mountain, Masherbrum in Pakistan, Peter, Hansjörg Auer and I emotionally discussed the best line of ascent. In the end, we did not reach total agreement. Perhaps this discussion will even be key to the completion of the project.

So does that mean friendship is the key to success? Definitely not. Often enough, I have failed with friends. I have also succeeded on challenging projects with partners I had never shared the rope with before. The mountains are not suddenly lower because I am with friends. The difference lies in the quality of the experience, be it success or failure. The shared experience is bigger, deeper, and richer.

Published in Magazin Bergwelten

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