David Lama - Up and Down

At the end of January he succeeded in a climbing masterpiece, accomplishing the first free ascent of the Compressor route on Cerro Torre. Even so, since the beginning of his 3-year-project, David Lama had been at the centre of public criticism. For the realization of a documentary produced by Main sponsor Red Bull, in 2009 bolts and fixed ropes were put on the route, in order to secure the camera crew on the face. Only after complete removal of these the calm returned. In 2012 success made it’s way. Now the alpinist scene is doing their honours to the 21-year-old from Innsbruck. We did an interview with David Lama to get to know him better.

Your mother is Tirolese, your dad is from Nepal. How did your parents meet?

David My mother went to the mountains a lot, though she was not into serious climbing. She was particularly interested in foreign cultures. One day she took a trip to Nepal with her friends. My father happened to be their trekking guide. And after a few months he got on a plane to Innsbruck.

Which characteristics did you take from your mother, which from your father’s side?

David I don’t think that genes determine your character. So it doesn’t come easy to me to attribute certain qualities to one of them in particular. I guess it’s the sum of all your experiences, which form the character.

Are your parents proud of you?

David My parents are both rather calm people, but yes I notice that they are proud, or let’s say content. They have supported me, making some sacrifices of their own. Until I took my driver’s license, they were on the road a lot with my colleagues and me. My mother, who is a children’s nurse, at the beginning of my career did a half-time job, to help me make my dreams come true. And then in some cases chance had it’s share, too.


David Since my parents were not extreme mountaineers, climbers, it wasn’t obvious that I would get in touch at all with climbing. Peter Habeler at that time was organising outdoor camps for children. As my parents had a second hand acquaintance with Peter, I got to join, even if I was far too young. We went to the mountains, did long glacier tours. However once we went to a climbing garden. I think it was there that Peter spotted I had talent and at once talked to my parents. Some time later, again by chance, my parents got to know that Reini Scherer was organising a climbing group for children of 8 and above. Since I was only 6 years old, at the beginning Reini didn’t want to accept me in the group.


David In the end he said „Bringt’s n’ halt amoi an Buam.“ (“So bring along your boy, then.”)

Reini’s children group worked out as a real talent pool.

David That’s true. Our children’s climbing group simply didn’t want to dissolve. We grew older, grew better, had fun together, won the first championships and, eventually, began to train for the World cup.

You are still living with your parents?

David I like living with my parents, it works out well. Besides, I’m not staying at home very often.

How many days a year are you on the way?

David Counting days like today, when I’m out the whole day, it amounts to 300 a year.

Sounds exhausting.

David Well, diversified, I’d say. Climbing is not a stress. And when I’m home, appointments like this one with you are a part of it. Though today the sun is shining, which was not the case in the last two weeks. Just for a moment I thought of going climbing. That’s because I only relax when I’m moving. If I’m not moving, I start getting wound up in my thoughts. That is what can be exhausting.

Would you like to have siblings?

David No.

Do you like being a single child?

David It has its pros. And the cons I don’t know about.

How did you come by your nickname Fuzzy?

David In the said children’s climbing group I was the youngest and smallest. So I became Fuzzy.

How did you feel after the free ascent to the summit of Cerro Torre?

David At a loss is the best way to describe it. At a loss for what to do and what to feel actually. I felt a bit lost. You have to realign yourself. A period of three years is coming to an end, and you ask yourself: That’s it now? For me the Torre project was a really big thing. I wanted to conclude it at all costs. But when it happens, it’s overburdening.

Do you have a new goal yet or is it like being swallowed up after such an achievement?

David You see, we are still talking about Torre. With such a project one is not done over night. And yes, I do have a goal: I want to climb the Eternal Flame on Nameless Tower.

On Cerro Torre, just before the crux. Heart-throb? Anxiety? Space for thoughts?

David Switch off your head? Never! You have to consider each of your moves in advance. If you find yourself in an unexpected situation, it can go wrong. But this time I was really sure. I wasn’t nervous, but very focused. I rather felt a certain uneasiness in the days before the start. The weather forecast is good, you are packing your things and ask yourself: Did we take the right equipment, and enough of all? Are we to heavy, because we have taken too much? I try to have a very rational approach. This way you keep nervousness within a limit.

Your climbing partner Peter Ortner really danced naked on the summit?

David Yes, stark naked and barefoot.

Did you take any photos of him?

David (Laughs) One doesn’t really have to see Peter naked.

Was that a spontaneous act?

David We both have a friend in common with a spleen to take off his clothes in certain places to have taken a picture of himself. At a certain point this habit made sense to Peter and he decided to adopt it once in case we would succeed with Torre. As to myself, I can only say: When I’m happy, I show it else wise.

In 2008 you saw a picture of the summit-face of Cerro Torre in an old mountaineering magazine and spotted a possible free climbing route in the Headwall. Another coincidence, or intuition?

David I don’t think much of spiritual orientations, and the term intuition does sound too much like that. I’d rather say it in youth language: It made ‘click’. I looked at the picture, like I had looked at many pictures of Cerro Torre. It’s even possible I’d already seen this picture before. But this time I saw a possible line and thought “Why not?” Then this idea got hold of me.

What did you learn from doing the Cerro Torre?

David Cerro Torre was a master to me. After all the critics I’d had to deal with, I had to define some basic things for me. In the end I did learn a lot. At the beginning, this project was possibly out of my reach, but I didn’t give up, have grown with it, until I was finally up to it.

Let’s suppose you receive the Piolet d’Or for freeing the Compressor route? What do mean awards and recognition to you?

David Recognition is not unpleasing at all, but it has never been my motivation. Awards are a by-product.

In the winter of 2010 on Cerro Torre you run into persistent bad weather with your former partner Daniel Steuerer and did not get over the Bolt Traverse. Once a gust of wind knocked you down on the path. Any symbolic meaning here? Were you not fit for this daring enterprise yet?

David You could say so. I think in 2009/2010 even with ideal conditions I would not have stood a chance. I was not up to it yet.

Are you going to do competitions again?

David If I can find the right motivation, yes, but not in 2012 or 2013. Maybe in 2014.

Together with Stephan Siegrist and Denis Burdet in 2011 you were successful on Cerro Kishtwar, your first six-thousand. How do you deal with the height?

David Not badly. But mind, it was not really high in elevation yet. Mainly it was a valuable experience to be on the mountain with such skilled climbers.

I have read that fishing is a thrilling sport to you?

David Yes, absolutely. You’re standing at a creek, throw out your line with the flasher and you see a fish approaching. If it bites, I get a jolt. When I’m climbing I know what is coming. But when fishing, do I know if the fish are going to be hungry?

In 2020 sport climbing could make its entry to the Olympic games. Would that be something?

David No, the Olympics would take place without me. If I want to compete, I’d rather participate in the World championship.

Which picture comes up when you switch on your computer?

David The blue standard Microsoft background.

No cool mountain picture?

David There is so many: which one should I choose?

You’re a single. What would be your lonely-hearts ad?

David (Bursts out laughing) Fuzzy, 1,70 tall from Innsbruck is looking for her: blond, blue eyes, great tits, 90-60-90, 1,80 tall.