DANI ARNOLD ON SELF-CRITICISMWhether it’s ascending the fiercest peaks in record times or reaching career goals, Dani Arnold knows the route to the top
Having scaled the north face of the Matterhorn in an hour and 46 minutes (rather than the 12 hours it normally takes experienced climbers), the Eiger’s north face in two hours and 28 minutes (instead of six to 12 hours), and the extremely tough Crack Baby ice-climbing route in his native Switzerland in an incredible 27 minutes (usually five hours), Dani Arnold is one of the world’s fastest extreme mountaineers. The 31-year-old says it’s more about mental fitness than physical: “First, you have to get your mind in shape, then your body follows.”
THE RED BULLETIN: You climbed the Matterhorn in 106 minutes with only two ice picks and very little climbing equipment. What makes you so much faster than other experienced mountaineers?
DANI ARNOLD: My head. Climbing is all in the mind. It’s about being fully conscious in the here and now, not getting distracted by anything and staying totally focused.
But isn’t mountaineering all about building up your muscles and fitness levels?
Of course, strong muscles make you good at what you do. But a strong head makes you very good. You have to start out by strengthening your mind. That will spur your body on.
There are many ways to give your muscles a workout, but how do you go about exercising your mind?
I have my own strategy for that. I do it with an honest and critical examination of my performance.
You get stronger through self-criticism?
Absolutely! Self-criticism is your best friend!
But surely self-criticism is bound up with self-doubt, so you’re actually focusing on your weaknesses, not on your strengths?
On the contrary. You get to know yourself and your own limits. You have to switch off doubts and weaknesses. But you have to be aware of them before you can turn them off. Only then can you be self-confident, and self-confidence means mental strength. It’s painful confronting your own limitations. You always have to be brutally honest with yourself. That also means acknowledging your own weaknesses and limitations, too, and then working on them.
How do you do that?
You can only acquire mental strength by consistently increasing the demands you make on your psyche. I start off with short, simple routes and work my way up until I know it’s going to work. That way, you build up your mental strength.
And that strength then turns you into a world-record- breaking climber?
It will help you along in all areas, whether that’s climbing or your career. In a nutshell, it’s all about overcoming your doubts and weaknesses through repetition and increasing the demands you make of yourself for as long as you have to until you’re ready. Because if you want to pull off a tough project, like climbing the Matterhorn, there’s no place for doubt or weakness. He who doubts makes no progress.
But at the start of your ascent of the Matterhorn, you thought of stopping. Was that a question of you not possessing enough mental strength?
Not in the least. I know my abilities and never have any doubt in them. But there are some things that are beyond your control. Sadly, the first part of the route led over a snowy flank and I sank too deep into the snow. I was afraid the conditions on the peak wouldn’t be suitable. I even briefly thought about calling it off. But then I didn’t want to give up that easily.
You climb without safety equipment. Do you like risk?
Risk is part of success. There are dreams and visions it’s worth taking a little more of a chance for. I’m willing to take big risks, but only if external conditions, such as the weather, are 100 per cent right and I’m well prepared.
And aren’t you ever afraid?
Not of failure, no.