Save the Date: Interview with Dani Arnold
Dani Arnold lives on the edge. The mountain guide and extreme climber treads a fine line between life and death by redefining what is possible in the alpine heights. In April 2013, Arnold and the Austrian David Lama achieved the first ascent of the 1,500 metre high north-east face of the ‘Moose’s Tooth’ in Alaska. Prior to that, he also teamed up with Stefan Siegrist to complete the first winter ascent of Torre Egger in Patagonia, he was also one of the first to climb the Chinese ‘Wild Woman Peaks’. In Switzerland, the native of the tiny mountain village of Biel in Canton Uri, is best known for his legendary speed-climb of the Eiger north face in 2011 when he beat Ueli Steck’s record by over 20 minutes. We spoke to Dani before his Swiss ‘Der Grenzgänger’ tour (meaning someone who pushes the limits) and gained some insights into his adventurous world:
What prompted you to start these extreme expeditions?
My background in the mountains of Uri was a very strong influence and is still a big part of my life. I love going back there. Even as a child I used to try and explore my limits. I always tried to give my best and go as far as I possibly could. I’m still the same today – although I have much more experience now.
What is it that drives you to your limits?
The feeling of having achieved something that I really had to fight for and the beauty of that is anyone can do it. It’s all about testing your own limits.
Your limits go further than most people’s. How do you set them?
I’ve always set myself ambitious targets. You could say that I want to be as good as, if not better, than other people.
You said once that people now have to advocate the ‘right to risk’. What did you mean by that?
When people talk about risk these days, they always mean it in a negative way. However, when you prepare seriously for something and you’re not sure how it’s going to turn out, I think it’s a “good” risk. People need challenges.
Your speciality is ice climbing – how did you get into that?
I love the ice. Ice climbing started out as something unknown for me, which was in itself enough to make it interesting. Now the experience of climbing an icefall, which won’t be there in a few months, is something that stays with you.
How did you end up making these record attempts?
I wanted to see how quickly I could climb. It wasn’t so much about competing with others, it was more of a competition against myself.
The highest mountains have been climbed. What alpine challenges remain?
There are always new opportunities through improved technique (e.g. ice axes in the rocks), better material or better training conditions, to expand the boundaries of possibility. Many people think that it’s no longer possible to climb quicker or under harder conditions, however that is not true.
Climbing the north face of the Eiger in 2 hours 28 minutes made you the quickest of all professional mountaineers and catapulted you into the limelight. How was that?
With the benefit of hindsight, I’d have to say that I underestimated the reaction it would trigger. Dealing with the whole media circus was a new experience for me and I had to learn how to handle being thrust into the public eye.
In April 2013, you achieved another first by climbing the 1,500 metre high north-east face of the ‘Moose’s Tooth’ in Alaska with David Lama. How did you manage such an impressive feat?
It was an extremely ambitious goal and neither of us had ever been to Alaska before. However, David was a great partner and the conditions were ideal: as soon as we arrived, a stable high pressure area set in, which allowed us to choose that route. However, it was still a difficult climb as it was so crazily cold. David and I had an odd sensation in our fingers for weeks afterwards – doubtless the legacy of a slight frostbite. Nevertheless, Alaska was one of those expeditions where everything comes together – which rarely happens…
How do you prepare for your trips?
I’m a mountain guide so I stay reasonably fit throughout the year. It all depends which project is coming up next. If, for example, I’m planning an expedition in the high mountains I aim to work on conditioning more than strength.
What is your next goal?
I’m going to spend the winter in the Alps here where there’s still a lot to do, especially in winter.
You roam the globe looking for new challenges. What does home mean to you?
For me home is one of the most important things in life. I love travelling; I love getting to know other regions and cultures. However, after I’ve been away awhile I look forward to going back to Uri. Of course, it’s not just the place itself, it’s also the environment with my family and friends etc. that makes it so special for me.
From February to the end of March you will take people on a journey into your world through “Grenzgänger”. Why is it important to you to share your adventures with other people?
Not many people get the chance to experience the mountains the way I do. The photographs I am able to share are unique and are sure to awaken some dreams in many members of the audience. It’s also very important to me to show how we prepare for expeditions – extreme mountaineering is a serious business. Finally, I also want to show that people shouldn’t take themselves too seriously. I’m just the same as anyone else despite my records.