DANI ARNOLD ON SELF-CRITICISMDANI ARNOLD knows how to ascend the world’s most dangerous peaks more quickly than anyone else and how to get to the top in all you do.
The north face of the Matterhorn in an hour and 46 minutes (rather than the 12 hours experienced mountaineers normally need), the north face of the Eiger in two hours and 28 minutes (instead of six to 12) and the extremely difficult Crack Baby ice-climbing route in Switzerland in an incredible 27 minutes (instead of five hours). Dani Arnold is one of the fastest extreme mountaineers in the world. He says it is more about mental than physical fitness. “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 10 times 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 keeping totally focused.
I always thought mountaineering was about muscles and fitness.
Strong muscles make you good at what you do. A strong head makes you very good. First you have to strengthen your mind. That spurs your body on.
There are any number of ways to give your muscles
a workout. But how do you exercise 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 self-criticism is bound up with self-doubt. You’re focusing on your weaknesses, not 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’ve always got to be brutally honest with yourself. That also means acknowledging your own weaknesses and limitations and then working on them.
How does one do that?
You can only acquire mental strength by consistently increasing the demands you make on your psyche. I start 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 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 having 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 one’s 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. And I even thought briefly 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 risk for. I’m willing to take big risks but only if external conditions, such as the weather, are 100 percent right and I’m well prepared.
And aren’t you ever afraid?
Not of failure, no.