To have an experience early in the morning before going to work already – this is something that my friend Michael has taught me (Uli). On one of the Dawn Patrol Hikes we were stuck in the pines, another time we had a wonderful tea on the Wank summit. We met regularly at seven in the morning in the climbing hall. We did bivouacs in front of the municipal museum, so we could start early. No matter what I did with Michael – it was always demanding, easy, funny, serious sometimes everything at the same time, but never ordinary.
The love for the mountains has brought Michael to Germany, to the Alps. In our interview, he gives exciting insights into the differences in mountaineering in the Alps to mountaineering in his homeland. He also opens the gate to his inner worlds, where the mountains sprout from the valleys. Let yourself be inspired by a man with an open heart who is really at home in the mountains.
NOTE: We do not have an English version of our blog yet, this page is an exception. That´s why it looks a bit strange. If you want to explore the whole site in German, please klick HERE.
Where exactly do you come from? How long have you been living here in Germany?
I grew up in East Texas, a pretty swampy and flat place. My mother was an art teacher in prisons. She worked with the people thrown away by civilization, and got them to believe in themselves again. Because of that I’ve always had one foot out the door. I am closer to leaving it all now than ever.
I’ve lived here in Munich 12 years. I’ve often wished we are closer to the mountains, like Innsbruck – there you can hike out the door and up 2000 meters!
How come you decided to move close to the Alps?
A feeling that life is short and you’d better get busy doing what you want. Kris and I had just had our twin boys. This created a stopping point where we could look around and possibly make a change. We saw that it was the only chance — it’s very hard to uproot when you’ve got kids in school.
What did you do before in the USA? To what extent are the tours in the Alps different from your mountain adventures in the USA?
I was lucky to learn the alpine world in the Washington Cascade Mountains. Not high, but heavily glaciated, with deep wilderness valleys. Nasty, hypothermic weather. Often, our rock climbs were short, but we’d walk 2 days to reach them. All protection is self-placed, and each route has a rich history. The community is small and has a strong shared love for wilderness journeys. The bad weather means that when it’s good you really make sure you are out there!
The Alps were like a playground. What – no need to hike up 1000 meters just to get out of the forest? What – there is protection in place for the routes? What – every single valley has multiple trails in it, and they aren’t covered in brush after 5 years without maintenance?
Heaven. The Alps are truly heaven. I would spend several lifetimes here.
Oh, my greatest adventure in the USA was a wilderness traverse of the Picket Range, from north to south that included a climb of Challenger Peak, the North Buttress of Mount Fury, and then the North Face of Mount Terror. It hasn’t really been repeated though others have tried.
What is the best about the Alps?
The view of the valley from the summit. The way the towns are integrated into the landscape. They are not at war with the land — they try to honor it. This is very nice.
Next is the way every cliff is furrowed into a dozen vertical climbs, in strange chimneys and dark corners. I experience the Kalkalpen and Dolomiten as almost fractal in nature — a deep look causes you to look ever deeper. It makes me happy to imagine that I need never stop!
What makes an ideal mountain tour for you? What criteria are you looking for?
Either alone or with friends. If alone, I will try and structure the day for an emotional climax with the right music and effort. If with friends, I like to make a single conversation that lasts 8 hours.
Always, we are reminded that we are both small and large. That we transcend every barrier, but we must pass through each one naked and vulnerable. Here is comedy. Always laughter.
For terrain, I love the vast space above timberline. For rock, I love when the route traverses, and you see your partner off to the side, finding the way. I don’t want it to be that hard…if it is hard, it should be in the service of the line. For example, I truly love the standard route on the Matterhorn because it is the most romantic line on that mountain. You must honor it despite the crowds.
If we are hiking we need lots of elevation. I like a 2000 meter day.
What is or was your biggest challenge here in the Alps?
I think it was the Innominata on Mont Blanc. We didn’t acclimatize at all, so foolish! So we were very slow…and the objective hazard was very high. 2 people had died the day before crossing the great couloir. The upper pitches had purely psychological protection — a single ax planted in rotten, sugary snow…exhaustion.
The Domgrat was another one…first up and over the Täschhorn then up the Dom. We were stronger for that one, but so many hours on the front points of our crampons climbing down. Stressful…I remember a huge cornice dropping silently away at the ginger touch of my boot.
What did you learn about yourself in the Alps?
Almost everything I know about myself came from the mountains. I have to feel truth in my weary muscles and bones to own it. My mind moves too fast. It appears to “win” a race, but it holds nothing real. My challenge is to be content with how little I know, and to take my joy there.
I have overreached…I’ve gone beyond myself — and made a friend pay for it. I fell on the Musterstein, and the fall scarred his neck and tore his ACL.
That was one fall, I’ve had one more, on the Langkofel. In this one, I was hurt superficially, but when my friend saved my life it created a bond that we will honor forever. Curiously, I told him about a special knot to use to free his hands in case of an accident just 5 minutes before. We had climbed for two years before that. I don’t think it was chance (though of course I never intended to fall!!!).
I have soloed enough to know I don’t want to solo hard things. The South Face of Tofana alone, the Ortler Hintergrat, a few others. My mind buzzes…I am gambling. No…it is an honor to be alone in the mountains. I must bring them the peace they bring me. No more “testing.”
Love is when you become the valley…the space that allows. I think now that I have climbed to see this vast space. All I *really* want now, is to be what I have seen. The great allowing space in which the peaks rise to thrill us all.
What makes you particularly interested in a Dawn-Patrol-Hike?
I started doing this in the USA, and did it more there than here — children in the house over time really cuts down on the Dawn Patrols! I did it because I hated losing touch with the mountains during the week. I knew that knowing the snow was an art form…a conversation that takes place during the whole winter. I wanted to keep that kind of touch with the high country. It works very well. You are then always at home in the hills, even with a desk job in the city. Mostly these were hikes, but sometimes included skiing or ice climbing!
What was your best Dawn-Patrol-Hike?
Hmm…maybe not the very best, but one of the earliest. In 1999, I described it as my “annual before-work hike,” not realizing how much further I’d take the concept. I tried to climb an insignificant peak in the Cascades called Mt. Stickney, but an avalanche across the road meant I had to start walking miles before I expected. I made it to a viewpoint and saw the dawn filtering through clouds wreathed around Glacier Peak. “It was enough,” I wrote, 18 years ago. I know now it will never be enough.
You would like to find out more about Michael? Here we go:
Michael, I am already looking forward to our next mountain adventure – be it in the morning, at noon, in the evening or at night…
Could you imagine going to another country to get closer to the mountains? Is your hiking buddy also from another country? How does he perceive the Alps? Please let us know, either in the comments or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org!