Peter Habeler – The Way to the Top

Renowned mountaineer Peter Habeler talks about the duality of the mountain as a challenge as well as a place of tranquillity, his fascination with hiking, testing his own limits and his favourite Ziller Valley hikes.

Peter Habeler - he always loved hiking.

©Blickfang Photografie

Created by Gast Autor

TVB: Peter, you are one of the world’s best mountaineers of our time. You have travelled extensively, yet always return to the Ziller Valley. Why? 

Peter Habeler: I was born and grew up here – I am a Ziller Valley local through and through. I am always pleased to come home, but also love setting off on my travels again. I have travelled a lot in my life and have had some amazing experiences in the mountains of South America, in the Himalayas and in the Karakorum. In fact, I have spent so much time in Nepal that it feels like a home from home. But my real home will always be in Mayrhofen. I have such a connection to the mountains in the Ziller Valley. They were my original inspiration and are my motivation to keep coming back here.

©Blickfang Photografie

TVB: How did you get into mountaineering?

Peter Habeler: My father died when I was young and my mother had to work long hours. That meant that my brother and I were fairly self-sufficient. So, as a young lad, I just started walking. I hiked the Ahornspitze, the Kolm or the Grünberg – all of the mountains which can be reached from Mayrhofen by foot. I was hooked: I wanted to find out more and just loved hiking and climbing. I got to know many mountain guides on my hikes and learnt a lot from them. I was always lucky to meet the right people at the right time, who challenged me and encouraged me. I still remember Volgger Toni, who taught me not to take slow steps in the mountains because speed equals safety. That piece of advice stayed with me throughout my career as an alpinist. Since I was young I have always made sure not to dawdle, to reach my destination, get to the summit and then head straight back down to the safety of the valley. At the age of 16 I earnt my first schillings as an assistant mountain guide. I loved being a guide. I got to be in the mountains, which I loved, and also earn a little money. I knew straight away that I wanted to become a qualified mountain guide. 

TVB: What do you find so fascinating about hiking in the mountains?  

Peter Habeler: At first everything in the mountains was new to me. I liked the combination of physical activity and testing my limits. I wanted to push myself as far as possible and then further! I always saw steep climbs as a challenge, which I wanted to conquer. I just wanted to get to the top! I set myself a goal, aimed to get to the summit and made sure that I got there as fast and as safely as possible. When it came to making first ascents, I was motivated by the unknown, which was fascinating in itself. To do something new. To experience something that nobody else has ever experienced. To overcome difficulties. It’s so gratifying when everything goes to plan. Finally, mountaineering is a struggle with your inner demons, your weaker self, and I always enjoyed this element to the sport. Nowadays, I am less focussed on achievement and more on the experience – I am much less impetuous and wild and less keen to push the boundaries. However, I still have my goals; goals and challenges which reflect my ability and physical condition.  

©Blickfang Photografie

TVB: Do you see the mountain as a challenge?

Peter Habeler: Yes, but mountains are not all about the challenge, they are also a place of tranquillity for me. If I am hiking by myself, then I walk very fast. I am almost dancing and jumping. I love rhythmically putting one foot in front of the other, choosing my steps with precision. I am a real walking enthusiast. Walking is just the best. Long walks have a meditative effect and are good for both your body and soul. Even if I leave home in a bad mood or have something playing on my mind, as soon as I am hiking up a mountain I feel as though a weight has been lifted. I can get lost in my thoughts and regain my equilibrium. My mind becomes clearer. I hike to the summit and when I come back down, I am another person. 

TVB: You still work as a mountain guide. What experiences do you wish for your protégés? 

Peter Habeler: Yes, I still love being a mountain guide. The best thing about teaching people about mountain climbing is to see them enjoying the mountains: the fantastic weather and incredible landscapes, so much to see and experience,  the summit, and the feeling of returning to the valley safe and sound. When my clients are exhausted yet completely satisfied with everything they have seen and achieved, that makes me happy. I also like teaching people about the simplicity of enjoying the mountains. You hike a bit, have a rest, reach a hut, eat something, keep your eye on the goal, reach the summit and then walk back down again. The simple life at its best. I think it is important to remember that, when visiting mountain huts, you can’t expect the same facilities you would find in a hotel. You need a certain willingness to adapt your expectations, which is unfortunately quite difficult for some people who are used to a consumer lifestyle. 

TVB: In your book "Das Ziel ist der Gipfel" (The Goal is the Summit) you write that the most beautiful mountains are at home. Do you have some recommendations for our readers?

Peter Habeler: The Ziller Valley mountains offer everything a mountaineer could wish for: steep cliffs of extreme difficulty, unique ridge climbing, rewarding high alpine tours, hikes through stunning landscapes, friendly and welcoming mountain huts and, if you want, solitude. Even though the Ziller Valley is now a developed tourist region, it maintains its original charm. In addition to the peaks which can be reached via normal paths such as the Reichenspitze, Wollbachspitze, Großer Löffler, Großer Möseler and Olperer, hut to hut hikes are currently very popular. One of the most scenic routes in the entire eastern Alps is the Ziller Valley High Alpine Path from the Kasseler Hut to the Geraer Hut. A well-maintained path on the north side of the Alpine divide leads from one hut to the next. Each day’s tour takes between four and six hours. For ambitious hikers, who are looking for a real challenge, I recommend the route from the Edelhütte to the Kasseler Hut. However, you can find many more less demanding and more suitable alternatives for bad weather around Mayrhofen, Lanersbach and Finkenberg. For example, from Brandberg to the Kolmhaus or Mayrhofen to the Edelhütte. 

©Anne Gabl

About Peter Habeler

Peter Habeler was born in Mayrhofen in 1942. He became world famous in 1978 when he and Reinhold Messner became the first people to climb Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen. He has also successfully climbed several other 8,000m+ mountains such as Nanga Parbat or Cho Oyu. In 1999 he was awarded the title of professor for his services to alpine safety.

When asked what keeps him coming back to Mayrhofen, Peter Habeler replies “I feel a strong connection to this valley and the countryside in which I grew up. The mountains here are the most beautiful in the world! When I drive into the Ziller Valley from the Inn Valley, even right at the start of the valley near Fügen, and I see the Löffler shining in the sun, I see the west face and the steep east ridge – that is a mountain! It looks like an eight-thousand-metre-mountain, almost like the Makalu, with its sharp edges – just fantastic. I love it that in a short time I can withdraw into the tranquillity of the valley . That’s why I can understand why people like to get away from the cities and enjoy the peace and nature here. Or why they want to enjoy physical activity in the mountains as an escape from everyday life.

"Das Ziel ist der Gipfel" Tyrolia Verlag, 200 pages.
In personal texts and in interviews with the renowned alpine author, Karin Steinbach, Peter Habeler describes his most incredible mountain experiences.  

"Der einsame Sieg" Frederking & Thaler, 219 pages.
Peter Habeler describes his adventure with Reinhold Messner, when they became the first men to climb Mount Everest without supplementary oxygen.