“I don’t go to the mountains for social media, I go to the mountains to climb,” Thomas Huber tells me. “In this regard I’m old school.” The 52-year-old, the older of the two Huber brothers, wants to report only after his return from the Karakoram what he and his two companions have experienced. On Monday he will leave for Pakistan along with the 34-year-old South Tyrolean Simon Gietl and the Frenchman Yannick Boissenot. Thomas doesn’t want to talk about the exact destination, he only reveals that they head for the mountains around the Choktoi glacier. In summer 2018, the trio – then accompanied by Rainer Treppte – had set out to climb the still unmastered North Face of the 7,145-meter-high Latok I, but had been unable to enter the wall due to the great danger of avalanches.
Thomas, can I say that the mountains at the Choktoi glacier have become something like your second living room?
I really like the Choktoi. And it is my character as a climber that I always return to places I already know. I always say that I am an explorer, but then I somehow always return “home”, like now to Choktoi. Around the year 2000 it was the Biafo Glacier, then it was the Yosemite Valley, where I have been 15 times. Apart from that I didn’t see much of the USA. It is the same with Patagonia. There would be so many other places in the world where there are things to discover, but somehow I don’t need that. The Choktoi is so incredible, it has such an energy, I feel really good there. That’s why I go there again.
What makes the area so special for you?
They are incredible mountains: the Latok group, the Ogre group, which have accompanied me all my climbing life. They are standing there in an incredible rotunda, like an amphitheatre, surrounded by bizarre six-thousanders. You don’t necessarily have to climb a seven-thousander. We go there, are full of expectations and open to all mountains.
Like last year, you set off with Simon Gietl and the French cameraman Yannick Boissenot? What characterizes your companions?
Yannick is not only a cameraman, but also an extraordinary climber. We are on the road as a team. We get on very well, we have the same humor and I think we’ll have a lot to laugh about. Humor is sometimes the key to an expedition when you are away from civilization for so long. Except for the porters who will come by from time to time to provide us with supplies, we probably won’t see any people for six weeks.
How important is the right atmosphere in the team for you?
That’s the be-all and end-all. If the atmosphere is not right, you actually have to stop the expedition. It hasn’t been right on a few of my expeditions, and then I’d rather go home earlier. If you’re traveling with someone who isn’t really determined, you can’t force him either – and the mood in the team isn’t so good that you can go to the limit.
When you were 40, you said in an interview: “My family lives from me going to the battlefield and playing Hercules.” Meanwhile you are 52. Do you still have to play Hercules?
That was very bold and simple back then. It’s funny, at some point you talk bollocks and are quoted again and again. Basically, you just have to say: We are going into a life-threatening situation, undisputedly, and you have a lot to survive. But we exist because for us life is worth more than any mountain. Of course, we are lucky to be able to make what we prefer to do our profession. To put it another way: we do the most beautiful thing in the world and can feed our families with it.
In 2016 you had a serious fall, and you broke your skull. You were very lucky. Has this experience changed you?
I have become humble. I was very lucky. I am so grateful that I am alive. I prayed and thanked that I had a guardian angel and everything went well. My attitude towards climbing, however, has not changed. For us alpinists, the following applies: Since we have been tackling mountains, nobody has intentionally risked his life. Yes, we are looking for the risk, but in the conscious perception of the risk you are doing the right thing to survive. Everyone has this survival instinct. As long as I know it’s dangerous, I’ll do everything I can to minimize the risk as much as possible – even on the most difficult walls in the world.
Update September 2019: Thomas Huber and Co. returned from the Choktoi valley empty-handed but safe and sound. The reason for abandoning the expedition was the continuously warm weather in the Karakoram. So the trio’s base camp was hit by a mudslide. ” We realized, that the already dangerous mountains were deadly under these circumstances,” Thomas summed up afterwards on Facebook. They gave up their plan to climb the 6,946-meter-high Latok III.