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"I really, really wanted it"

Interview with Angy Eiter

"I really, really wanted it"

What motivates Tirol’s climbing legend Angy Eiter

Text: Eva Schwienbacher, Picture: Angy Eiter, La Planta de Shiva © Javipec

Last year Angy Eiter wrote history by climbing La Planta de Shiva in Spain, becoming the first ever woman to successfully climb a route rated 9b. We sat down with one of Tirol’s all-time climbing legends for a long chat about this special project, her motivation to climb and the up-coming IFSC Climbing World Championships in Innsbruck.

You are one of the best climbers in the world. How does it feel to hear that?  Angy Eiter: I can’t really get my head around it. To my friends and family I am just Angy – and for me too I am just Angy. I only really notice it when I’m out and about and people look up to me as a role model, especially children, and ask me to sign autographs or want to have their photo taken with me.

Does that mean you make a conscious effort to be a role model in those situations? Yes. Especially when I am climbing I make sure that I always respect nature and stick to all the safety rules required in rock climbing. For me it’s very important that climbing, which is becoming more and more popular, manages to maintain these core values as it grows.

In October 2017 you completed a special project by becoming the first woman to climb a route rated 9b, La Planta de Shiva in Andalusia. What makes this route so difficult? It is very steep, has an overhang of around 45° and at 45 metres it is very long. There are lots of tricky movements on small handholds and footholds. The toughest aspect of the climb is that there is no place to rest – you have to complete around 100 moves without any recovery in between. That is what makes this particular climb so hard.

In October 2017 the 32-year-old Tirolean rock climber Angy Eiter became the first women to climb a route rated 9b by completing the route La Planta de Shiva in the Villanueva del Rosario climb area in Andalusia, Spain. © Javipec

The route you climbed has only ever been climbed by two other people: Adam Ondra and Jakob Schubert. Why did you choose this route in particular? It was a spontaneous decision. I travelled to Andalusia because I wanted to take my climbing to the next level. I had already climbed a 9a and wanted to complete a 9a+. I found a few routes marked 9a on my topo (map used by climbers showing the different routes in a climbing area), but it was out of date and these routes had all been downgraded by the climbers who had completed the first ascent. That meant that there were actually no climbing routes in this area graded 9a+. I tried a route graded 9a+/9b but soon had to give up as there was one long move which I was not able to do. Then I came across La Planta de Shiva by chance. It was my partner Bernhard (Ruech, aka Bernie) who encouraged me to try it. Without his support I might not even have tried it – after all, no woman in the world had even climbed a 9a+, let alone a 9b. But I liked the look of the climb as soon as I saw it and could see that all the moves were possible. Once I had set my eyes on it I couldn’t think of anything else.

What is that feeling like when you see a route for the first time and can’t get it out of your mind? It’s a bit like love at first sight. You know straight away if it is a route which suits you – you just feel at home. The movements feel right and everything else falls into place – the landscape, the people you are with, everything. That was exactly what happened with this route. It was exactly what I had been looking for: difficult and exposed – a real challenge where I could push my limits. I had had a lot of injuries in the run-up to this project like damaging the annular ligaments in my fingers and tearing a tendon. That meant I was forced to cut down on the amount of climbing I was doing. I found myself asking myself whether or not it is all worth it. After all, being healthy is the most important thing for me. The ASP Red Bull Team was great and provided support for me in the form of physiotherapy. At the end of the day, climbing is what I love. I really, really wanted it.

"It’s like love at first sight."

Can you tell us a little bit about how you prepared for La Planta de Shiva? I know that you recreated this route on your local indoor climbing wall in Imst. All in all I flew to Andalusia seven times, normally for a week at a time. When I was not able to spend time there I tried to compensate by climbing here in Tirol. I recreated the route on the climbing wall in Imst in order to get used to the movements and intensity. There were three moves which placed a huge strain on my shoulder, which I injured many years ago. I wanted to strengthen my muscles and in particular the areas of my body where I had suffered injuries in the past. Of course it is impossible to recreate every aspect of the route – the structure of natural rock is completely different to that of an indoor climbing wall. But by having an exact copy of the route in my local climbing centre I could at least work on the intensity and fitness I would need. 

How did you go about recreating the route? Did you use the information from the topo? It was a complicated process. The route has 100 moves, so I had to be selective – there would not even have been enough space in the climbing centre to build a full route with 100 handholds and footholds. In the end I decided to reconstruct the last 50 moves. I needed two trips to the climbing area in Andalusia to memorise the route and all its details.

Does that mean you learned the route by heart? Yes. I memorised every handhold and foothold, though sometimes I performed a move differently when climbing it for the first time than when I climbed it for the third or fourth time. That meant I had to keep adapting the route. I had an image in my mind which I then recreated on the climbing wall in Imst.

You mentioned your injuries. What it is that keeps you going in those moments? It’s my passion for rock climbing, my way of experiencing the sport with all of my senses – and my motivation. If you love doing something then you will keep doing it even when there are setbacks. I have great admiration for para-climbers and para-athletes in general. It is incredible what they are able to achieve. Willpower and motivation enable people to do things you wouldn’t have believed possible.

"If you love doing something then you will keep doing it even when there are setbacks."

Do you have role models, people you turn to in difficult times?  There are lots of role models in my field. There are good climbers who inspired me when I competed in climbing competitions, but also just people who manage to stay very fit and active even in old age. I also have idols when it comes to defending a particular position, such as the mountaineer Reinhold Messner.

What were you emotions once you had finally climbed La Planta de Shiva? To be honest, I didn’t think I would be able to climb it. Jakob Schubert had said that climbing this route was the fight of his life, so at that point I said to myself: “Angy, find yourself another route.” That’s why I initially decided to only climb the second part of the route. That was my intention when I flew to Spain in October 2017. But when I was there I was feeling so good that I also decided to climb the first 25 metres as well. In the end it all worked out and I managed to send the whole route from start to finish. I was really surprised – and really happy, of course.

“I said to myself: ‘Angy, find yourself another route.’”

There was huge media reaction to you becoming the first woman to climb a 9b. What was that like for you?I was surprised that there was so much interest from the media. I didn’t realise that I had achieved such a milestone. It was interesting to have all these people congratulating me on my achievement. The huge media attention was great, but it also meant a lot of work.

Did you feel empty inside after finally completing this project? ? Yes. I was happy and at the same time sad that the project was over. I had managed to do what I set out to achieve, but at the same time it was somehow a shame. The good thing about climbing is that there is so much still to discover, so I’m sure I won’t run out of new projects anytime soon.

You have set the bar very high in women’s climbing. How big do you think the difference is between men’s and women’s climbing? I think that there are the same number of men and women who are unable to climb a certain route. I personally like long routes with small handholds and footholds. There are also climbers who prefer short, dynamic routes with longer moves requiring a lot of strength and power. There are natural differences between men and women – women are often more flexible, more patient and climb in a safer and more conscious way, while men often climb with greater speed and power.

Angy Eiter

“When it comes to climbing, your mind has to be in the right place. If it’s not then you will not be able to succeed no matter how much strength and power you have.”

Angy Eiter in der 8c-Route "Janus" in Nassereith im Jahr 2015 © Bernie Ruech

What do you think is the key to success in climbing? Technique, strength, stamina or mindset? And do you think there are differences here between men and women? Mentality and mindset is an area where men and women are absolutely equal. Women climbers are just as determined as men. When it comes to climbing, your mind has to be in the right place. If it’s not then you will not be able to succeed no matter how much strength and power you have.


Is there a project you are currently working on? I want to climb different routes in different countries to experience as many movement patterns as possible. For me it’s more about the diversity of the climbing and not so much about the difficulty level. There are also lots of different types of rock, long and short routes, different gradients that I want to try. My aim is to expand my climbing repertoire.

It is hard to imagine that there is anything in the world of rock climbing that you are not able to do. We humans are always searching to improve ourselves, no matter what the area. Once a project is finished we move on to the next one. Even Adam Ondra says that he has weaknesses.

What are yours? I don’t like powerful, dynamic moves. I am not very muscular, so I prefer long and technical routes. If you are climbing a short route with lots of dynamic moves requiring a lot of strength then you should take time to rest between attempts in order to give your muscles the chance to recover. I don’t have the patience for that.

How many times do you train per week? Definitely less than ten years ago when I was competing. I am still not that old, but these days I notice that I need longer to recover. I have been climbing at the highest level for 20 years and I can feel what I have put my body through over that time. On average I climb four times a week. I also enjoy hiking and mountain biking and I do my physiotherapy every day for my injuries. A year ago I couldn’t even sit down without being in pain. I have to work hard and look after my body in order to lead a normal life.

I keep on going even if I know what the costs are. I have decided to do this sport – and I assume the responsibility and consequences that come with it. 

Don’t you ever ask yourself why you keep on going?Of course I do! A lot, in fact. Especially during the La Planta de Shiva project – when I fell, was injured or it was really hot. But then you get home and think, “Actually, that was pretty cool.” The tougher the project is and the more you have to suffer, the more satisfying it is when you finally make it.

Kletter-WM Paris 2012 © S. Gruden / ASP Red Bull

Kletter-WM Arco 2011 © Florian Klingler / ASP Red Bull

In 2012 Angy Eiter was voted Sportswoman of the Year (below) © GEPA

Do you think that being born and raised in Tirol has contributed to your success? Yes, without a doubt. I get really homesick when I am away and love coming back to Imst, where I grew up and learned to climb. I feel happy and safe in Tirol. We have a very high standard of living here – that I something I notice again and again when I am travelling. 

A lot has changed in Tirol since you started climbing. What is your opinion on how climbing has developed over the years? The history of climbing in Imst started when it built one of the largest and most modern indoor climbing centres. From then on it was step by step. In Tirol there are people who work very hard and give up a lot of their time and energy so promote rock climbing. It takes a lot to create a state-of-the-art climbing centre like the one which has recently opened in Innsbruck – that kind of thing does not happen by chance. Tirol is at the forefront of rock climbing, not only when it comes to infrastructure but also when it comes to coaching and looking after athletes. That is something I am really pleased about.

Tirol will be hosting the IFSC Climbing World Championships this autumn. Do you sometimes find yourself tempted to return to competitive climbing? There are moments when the idea of taking part in competitions appeals to me. I very much enjoyed my time competing and was fortunate enough to experience a lot of things. But in the end I decided to take a different path. As long as I am fit and healthy I want to continue my rock climbing projects. It is hard to split your time and attention between the two.

Will you be following the action at the World Championships? Yes, of course. As a climbing coach and former athlete I am still very interested in competitive climbing.

Can you imagine sharing your experiences as an exceptional rock climber with others by writing a book? Yes, I can imagine doing that – when the time comes. I think there might be a few people interested in my life. (laughs)  

Any idea what the title of such a book might be?  No, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it! 

Thank you for your time.


BIOGRAPHY:

  • Angela (Angy) Eiter (born 27 January 1986 in Zams) is one of the best female rock climbers in the world in the disciplines Lead and Boulder. Aged 11 she took part in her first climbing competition, the West Tirolean Championships in Landeck.

    Successes in competition climbing

    · Four-time world champion in Lead (2005, 2007, 2011, 2012)
    · Three-time overall World Cup winner in Lead (2004, 2005, 2006)
    · Total of 25 World Cup wins
    · Overall World Cup title: Combination, Lead and Boulder (2006)
    · European Champion 2010
    · Winner of the World Games in 2005
    · Record for the most wins at the Rock Master Arco (2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2012)


    Successes in rock climbing

    · First female climber to complete a route rated 9b (La Planta de Shiva, Andalusia), October 2017
    · First Austrian female climber to complete a route rated 9a
    · Boulder Fragile Steps (8b) in Rocklands
    · Multi-pitch route Boulevard of Broken Dreams (8a) in Nösslach/Ötztal
    · Multi-pitch route Halteverbot (8b) in Tannheim (flash) 

    Awards 

    · Tirol’s Sportswoman of the Year 2006, 2007, 2012
    · Golden and Silver Badge of Honour for Services to the Republic of Austria
    · Panathlon Award
    · Honorary citizen of the municipality Arzl im Pitztal

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