David Lama

  • Bio
  • Interview

Since his extraordinary climbing skills were discovered at the young age of five by Everest legend Peter Habeler, David Lama, who was born in 1990, is considered one of the greatest climbing talents in the world. The son of a nurse from Innsbruck and sherpa from Nepal stands out wherever he goes – through his talent, his looks and his irreverent attitude towards the generally accepted climbing and mountain myths.

When, in an act of adolescent frivolousness, he boastfully announces his free climbing plans on Cerro Torre, he doesn't yet anticipate that on the stormy Patagonian granite spire he will “have no chance whatsoever”, as he openly admits later. A year on, he tackles several very difficult ice-, mixed- and free climbs in the Alps and gains, what he feels to be, the necessary experience to take on the legendary mountain.

What gave you the idea for this project?

I previously knew about Cerro Torre and the history of the Compressor Route. At some point I saw a photo of the Headwall and could see a feature to the right of the original route that looked like it could be freed. I sought a project which didn’t have a guaranteed outcome as I’m not that motivated for smaller routes that are likely to be climbable. The thing I tend to prefer is when the factor of the impossible plays a large role.

Do your ambitions have something to do with your appearance standing out in Tyrol as a child? Is that why you wanted to prove yourself?

I just found climbing very early on - whether or not that has something to do with my looks, I don't know. Essentially, I believe every human has a desire to have an impact or prove himself in some way. It gives the impression that he gets to leave something of himself behind. Maybe the pursuit of immortality or something like that. For me in the last few years, this has been doing intriguing first ascents. Being the first to do something, even if it’s only in thought, is much more important than strictly athletic performance to leave as a legacy, so to speak.

There was a lot of criticism due to the bolts and fixed ropes used by the camera crew, which were later removed. Wouldn't it have been much less complicated to just climb the route, without a film crew and those logistics?

Yes, that would certainly have been significantly easier. It’s always easier when you only need to worry about yourself, but I saw a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in the film project and it was clear to me that something extraordinary could happen from it. The free climbing has always been my priority, so if the film project had stopped, that would not have altered my plans. In regards to the movie, the authenticity of documenting what we were doing up there was the priority. While climbing, the additional weight (cameras, sound devices, batteries…) was annoying, but now watching the movie certainly made it worth the effort.

What was the best moment of the project?

The best moment was definitely reaching the summit for the first time with Peter in 2011. That really shaped me a lot. We were about to leave for home and it seemed like we would not reach the summit for the second year in a row, not to even speak of free climbing there. I felt like I had my back up against a wall. That's partly why we tried so hard, even though everything seemed to be working against us. When we reached the summit, it didn't matter to me whether or not I had climbed free or not, I just found it amazing to be up there. There was a shift in that moment when I began to think less like a climber and more like an alpinist.

What was the most difficult moment of the project?

The most difficult moment, for me personally, was dealing with the bolting controversy after the first year. I didn't drill those bolts, nor did I need them for my free climbing. Nevertheless, the entire climbing world seemed to be angry at me. It was a hard situation to deal with. Perhaps, not so much the fact that somebody was angry at me, but rather that I didn’t really understand entirely why. It took some time until I admitted to myself that this was my responsibility as well. If it wasn't for me and my objective, there would be no film project. Thus, it's my responsibility that everything that can be done right is done right.

David Lama