Mountaineering and cycling: a fusion between necessity and attraction | The Mountaineer | Sports


In the period between the wars, you had to be crazy to be a mountaineer, and since crazy things never walk alone, some added the bicycle to their backpacks. In 1931, two German brothers living in Munich, Franz (21 years old) and Toni Schmid (26), decided that they would be the first to climb the much desired but elusive north face of the Matterhorn. Of course, they didn’t have a cent to pay for the trip, but they managed to get a couple of bicycles and so, on pedals, they reached the Swiss town of Zermatt, loaded with all their climbing equipment and food. The chronicles claim that they were ‘poor’. The ‘warm-up’ lasted about 500 kilometers and, surely, was much more severe than solving the enigma of the north of the Matterhorn, which they achieved on the first day of August… to return home by bicycle. Specialists assure that the key to their success lay in the innovative ice screws with which they secured themselves, without a doubt a great advance for the time and a horror for the times we live in where dynamic ropes, screws that almost place themselves , ergonomic ice axes and single-point crampons do not prevent us from ignoring that climbing the north of the Matterhorn is still a serious matter almost a century later. One of the Schmid brothers’ screws broke on Franz a year later on the Wiesbachhorn, causing his death. In exchange, he was awarded an Olympic mountaineering medal at the 1932 Los Angeles Games.

After the Second World War, the bike continues to be the mountaineer’s best friend, a way that is as cumbersome as it is effective to approach the mountains. The great guide Toni Gobbi wrote that all of his alpine adventures started riding his bicycle, in his backyard. Before crossing the gate, he could feel the anguished gaze of his mother, half hidden behind the curtains of his room. And Gobbi had to suppress the desire to turn around, lean the bike against the wall again, go meet his mother and assure her that everything was going to be fine. Gobbi belonged more or less to Walter Bonatti’s generation and they lived in Courmayeur (Aosta Valley) where bicycles ensured travel and where now only cars are seen passing the Monte Bianco tunnel.

Tita Piaz, also Italian and nicknamed the ‘Devil of the Dolomites’, avoided death on countless occasions, hanging from his beloved pitons stuck in dubious rock, he overcame the First World War and ended up fatally crashing with his bicycle, which he never left. separated because it allowed him to stay alive, from here to there, carrying a backpack with his dog’s head protruding from the top. Piaz (1879-1948) is one of the legendary mountaineers of the early 20th century, one of the first to pedal to find the freedom of it. At the end of 2023, three North American mountaineers signed an ascent so unique and improbable that it will be difficult to match: they climbed the north face of Jannu (7,710 m) in alpine style. One of them, Matt Cornell, lived like a beggar until just a few years ago and when he met to climb he would leave by bicycle several days early to arrive on time for the appointment. He didn’t have a car, nor could he afford one. On one of his trips, going down a pass, he went off the road: it is the most serious accident he has ever had, something curious considering that The North Face signed him after impressing his captain, Conrad Anker, after signing a very difficult rock and ice climb… without a rope. Cornell is heir to the influential estate of Mark Twight, famous for his bestseller ‘Kiss or Kill’. Twight, one of the best mountaineers of the 1990s, left mountaineering when he turned 50, had shoulder surgery and took up road cycling: he quickly became the face of a famous cycling clothing manufacturer. His followers rubbed their eyes seeing him dressed in a coulotte and jersey. His example refers directly to that of the great English mountaineer Paul Braithwaite, one who was about to climb the southwest face of Everest and its intimidating band of rock: a storm took away his partner Mick Burke. After climbing in the main stages of the planet, Braithwaite created a vertical work company and ended up competing in downhill cycling: in 2006 he was runner-up in the world veteran in the world championships in Sun Peaks, Canada.

From left to right, Nico Favresse, a companion and Seb Berthe, during their alpine cycling and climbing trip.

Just four years ago, specialized websites publicized the crazy trip of the great Belgian climbers Nico Favresse and Sébastian Berthe: they toured the Austrian Alps climbing the most difficult routes chosen on iconic walls with no other means of transportation than their legs. They added a luggage rack to their bikes, which accommodated their belongings… and their dogs Kroux and Bintje. The objective? Achieve a trip without carbon emissions, travel without rushing, sprinkle your high-level activities with humor. But not everyone is as nomadic as the Belgian couple. A small documentary titled ‘North 6’ has recently been released, which narrates the chaining by the Italian Simon Gietl and the Swiss Roger Schäli of the six great north faces of the Alps (Cima Grande, Piz Badile, Eiger, Cervino, Petit Dru and Grandes Jorasses) in just 13 days, traveling from one valley to another by paragliding and, above all, by bicycle: 1,110 kilometers and 30,000 positive meters. Unlike the aforementioned Belgian duo, the two mountaineers had a team of support vans that carried their material from one point to another so that they only had to worry about pedaling as fast as possible, without weight. Here, the protagonists highlight, what is important is the fusion of an aerobic sport such as cycling, with another such as technical mountaineering that observes long stays in meetings and slow, millimetric movements when progressing vertically.

Symon Welfringer, with his climbing equipment in tow, on one of his cycling and mountain climbing trips.
Symon Welfringer, with his climbing equipment in tow, on one of his cycling and mountain climbing trips.

The Frenchman Symon Welfringer won the Golden Piolet in 2021 and a year later, looking for new emotions that began at the door of his house, he decided to do something crazy: he left Grenoble on a Tuesday at 2:30 p.m., pedaling furiously with all the equipment. climbing necessary spread across your mount. After 150 kilometers, he arrived at Ailefroide, in the Écrins massif, at dawn, rested for two hours and walked to the base of a 400-meter wall where a friend was waiting for him: together, they climbed a severe route, rappelled, climbed another and They launched from the summit in an ultralight two-seater paraglider. Upon landing, he said goodbye to his friend and faced the return home… on pedals. On Thursday at 4:30 in the morning he returned to his home. Left behind were 38 non-stop hours of frenetic activity, 300 kilometers of cycling, 800 meters of climbing, 10 kilometers of walking trails and an unforgettable flight.

“My cycling and climbing trip touring the most iconic Swiss walls with Ines Papert, in 2020, is one of the most indelible memories I have,” says Caro North. Together with Papert, the undisputed star of female mountaineering, North evokes the peace that comes with pedaling, the perfect rhythm to move and soak up the surrounding beauty.

On the left, Ines Papert and Caro North pedal during their 2020 alpine climbing trip. Photo: Lowa.
On the left, Ines Papert and Caro North pedal during their 2020 alpine climbing trip. Photo: Lowa.

Another of the great defenders of the fusion between cycling and mountaineering or climbing is the star Alex Honnold. The North American, famous for his ropeless climbs, enjoys even more choking on accumulated ascents. He climbs endlessly, until he can’t take it anymore, running or pedaling furiously from one wall to another. In the summer of 2023 he made a huge trip with his adventure partner, the brilliant Tommy Caldwell, which led them to accumulate 3,000 kilometers of cycling (and some sailing) from Colorado to Alaska, with stops to complete excellent ascents of walls such as the crossing of the Devil’s Thumb. His two-month journey was also intended to draw attention to the dangers of global warming, to the need to protect an increasingly fragile and changing environment. Their trip will be captured in a documentary produced by National Geographic: “everything we could see by pedaling is amazing: from the ports of the Colorado Rockies to the deserts of southern Wyoming, passing through the Wind River mountains, the Tetons , Yellowstone, Montana and British Columbia before jumping to Alaska. Impressive forests increasingly threatened by fire: now I know that traveling by bike gives a much greater dimension to our adventures, as well as to the friendship that unites me with Honnold,” Caldwell would express at the end of his trip.

Cycling, its tools, have diversified so much that they are enormously attractive. Today there is a huge variety of bicycles to satisfy the tastes and needs of wide user profiles. Many climbers have even abandoned ropes to switch to gravel or enduro, another way of being in contact with nature. There are those who combine both passions. Jokin Díez, Orbea’s public relations, acknowledges that the firm is aware of the pull that the bike has among mountain athletes, “who find an easy transfer of their passion to two wheels because there is a lot to choose from.” It seems like a modern fusion, but in reality nothing new has been invented. Necessity allowed pedaling and climbing to travel hand in hand in the past. Yesterday obligation spoke, today desire does.

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