Last summer the professional mountain climbers Michi Wohlleben, Arne Bergau and Hannes Jähn made an attempt to ascend the 6,094 metre Jirishanca in Peru via the Southwest Face. Cameraman and photographer Hans Hornberger documented the expedition.
Johanna Stöckl talked with Michi Wohlleben shortly before the film was released. It was a conversation about pressure, failure, disappointment, and the drive to try again.
Michi, you didn’t reach the summit of Jirishanca. Does that still rankle you to this day?
Not any more. But if I’m completely honest, I thought about that failure for a few weeks and it bothered me. With all the effort and expense the goes into it, it’s tough to handle when the final success eludes you. It’s natural to be a bit frustrated.
You used the word “failure” there. That seems a bit negative.
Well of course when you’re planning an enterprise like that, you have to also plan for the contingency that it won’t work out. But as a mountain climber, you have set yourself a goal and want to achieve it. Although we managed to reach a height of 6,000 metres, had the wall behind us, and only had a firn ridge between us and the summit, we were still forced to turn back. Of course I would have preferred to be standing right at the top.
But safety takes priority?
Absolutely. Basically an expedition only fails when a team member is seriously injured or in the worst case scenario, doesn’t make it back alive. Which happened recently on Broad Peak where, after the first successful winter ascent to the summit, two Polish climbers went missing on the descent. Getting to the summit is no use if you never make it home.
How does it feel today to look at the film account of the expedition?
It feels good. Very good. After all we had a great time there. The team worked together really well. But it was also a tough time. I was very happy to get down in one piece. But when I see the fantastic photos, it’s suddenly clear to me how much this mountain and the route still fascinate me. I can easily imagine making another attempt on Jirishanca some day. We’ve got a bit more experience now. That would be a distinct advantage on a second attempt. To be honest, I’m already fully motivated to go for it again.
I read on your Facebook page that you’ve been very active recently as regards the expedition. Seoul, Sicily, Patagonia …
In Seoul I was at the Salewa Rock Show, in Sicily I free-climbed a fantastic route (Hysterix 8a+/250m) free. That was good. Things didn’t go so smoothly in Patagonia afterwards. We learned the hard way there. So I haven’t exactly had many great successes recently. I can’t be fully satisfied with that.
At 22 years of age, are you already feeling pressure from the sponsors? Or do you put yourself under pressure? Do you expect a lot from yourself?
I don’t feel under any pressure at all from the sponsors – I define my projects myself. Actually, I don’t put myself under any pressure. It’s more that I really want to do these projects. And when I get to Patagonia and my goal is the summit of Cerro Torre, then I will really want to get there. That’s perfectly clear.
It seems obvious that this failure is a good topic to look at through the media. The beautiful film on the Jirishanca Expedition shows that.
People are very much interested in failures, not just in success stories. You just have to present failure the right way. But one thing should be clear: I don’t go up mountains to get media attention. First and foremost I’m indulging my passion.
For more information visit michiwohlleben.de