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Bob A. Schelfhout Aubertijn – interview for Mountain Portal

/ Climbing

There are people whose work, engagement, unlimited passion and love for what they do give us opportunity to know about many important events and facts from the past which are believed to be revolutionary, spectacular or simply special.

That kind of person is, without any doubt, a well-known Bob A. Schefhout Aubertijn. He is a living encyclopedia of mountaineering, a man who devotes every day to create his unique calendar of world climbing. Especially for the readers of Mountain Portal in an interview with Bartosz Andrzejewski.

b A. Schelfhout Aubertijn podczas prelekcji na VI ODW
Bartosz Andrzejewski: When and where did your love for mountains begin?

Bob A. Schelfhout Aubertijn: I think it all started the first time when I went with my parents to Austria and I saw these lower mountains (2000-3000m) in the Alps and the people who were going up. I was very young then and I was always interested in minerals and geology. When it’s easy to find minerals it means that everybody goes there and when you find some special minerals it means that the place is not visited by many people. So first I wanted to climb to find these special minerals, I started like everybody – walking, making bigger tours, bigger walls, until I got to the point where it was safer to climb with mountaineering equipment. I think that’s how it all started.

B.A.: Are mountains the subject you devote the most time and passion to?

Bob: Roughly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week! I can't think of a more interesting subject. Of course, I have a cat and I have children to take care of, but mountains and mountaineering history is occupying my life.

B.A.: It’s known that you have been hiking and climbing in different mountains of the world. Which mountain regions of the world have you already got to know?

Bob: I’ve been to the Andes twice, to Ecuador and Peru, I have set up an expedition to Aconcagua, but before we left I had an accident so I couldn’t go. I would like to go to Patagonia, I will not go to the Rockies because I will never set my foot in the USA. I’m not really interested in Africa, as it’s too hot for me. I’ve been to the Alps, the Dolomites, I’ve been to Ararat in Turkey, the Hindukush, the Karakorum and some lower hills in Australia which you can’t really call mountains.

B.A.: Which mountain range is the most special for you?

Bob: Karakorum beyond any doubt. There are very appealing mountains to look at and the history of climbing in the Karakorum is far more interesting to me than any other mountain range. Besides, in life you always want to go further and higher and that’s the Karakorum for me.

B.A.: Have you already had the chance to get to know Polish mountains? Are you going to?

Bob: Yes, I’ve been to the Tatra mountains, not climbing though. I know the Tatras from the time when I was working on the book “Freedom Climbers” that was written by Bernadette McDonald and I was there when I took part in a festival in Poprad – once as the President of the Jury, and the second time with a presentation about the history of K2. As far as Polish climbers are concerned in this context, for me they are like winter warriors. What a meteorologist has told me - the Tatra mountains stick out (from Europe) so in winter there is a bit polar climate. When there was still the time of the Iron Curtain, Polish climbers used to train in the Tatras when they weren’t allowed to go to the Himalayas or Karakorum. When the Iron Curtain was taken down all the 8000m peaks had already been climbed by others so Polish climbers thought that they would have to do something else, go a different route, or in winter, not the same like everybody else had already done. If I’m not mistaken, 10 of the 13 8000m peaks have been climbed by Polish mountaineers in winter and 9 of them exclusively by Polish mountaineers.

Bob A. Schelfhout Aubertijn i Sandy Allan podczas VI ODW
B.A.: In some moment of your life you switched from practice to theory. What influenced that change?

Bob: I’ve always been reading mountaineering literature. I don’t need anything else because there are so many good mountaineering books that you don’t need to read anything else, at least I don't. In the 1980s I had a serious car accident and that gave me problems with my legs. And after 1993 I had another accident and that made climbing big mountains really problematic for me. One thing leads to another. But probably the most important reason was when my children were born. You can’t really say to your wife that you will be back after few months of expedition when you have small kids, at least not every year. That made me switch from being active in the mountains to being passive. And when you read different mountaineering books you come across the same information and some people make mistakes, for example in dates or heights. My work is to try to find them and correct them.

B.A.: In Poland you are very popular as a mountaineering chronicler. Your profile on Facebook which is updated every day is observed by thousands of people. Where do you take your enthusiasm for that from?

Bob: The thing that climbing has taught me is who I am, it told me a lot about my feelings and emotions. There are analogies between climbing and everyday life for me. And no university has ever told me as much about myself. I want to spend my time on Earth as I think it is the best way to spend it, my work is passion for me and I could do it 24 hours a day.

B.A.: You sacrifice a lot of time to honor climbers and all anniversaries connected. Where do you take such detailed information from?

Bob: I work with Eberhard Jurgalski who does the statistics about the highest mountain ranges on Earth and publishes these on his website 8000ers.com. But there is also a Himalayan Database. Liz Hawley – an American journalist who has lived in Katmandu since the Americans climbed Everest in 1963, and who was a reporter there and stayed there. Afterwards, she started receiving requests for the information about expeditions so she started registering all these expeditions in Nepal. Liz’s database covers information only in Nepal but in Pakistan you also have five 8000m peaks and Eberhard has spent the last 30 years on making detailed statistics about people who reached the summit, their nationalities, gender, about usage of oxygen etc. In our almost daily contact with Eberhard we search together, he does the numbers and I make the stories. The numbers are 100% factually correct so I take some interesting information from Eberhard's database and sometimes do nothing more than give the sec data and sometimes I find a little story to cover. I hope that when people read the stories they think: “Oh, that is freaking interesting! I want to know more!”. And I hope that’s how they will find books and start reading.

B.A.: Do you have an idol amongst mountaineers?

Bob: Yes. Several but I am not able to name just one. I think my top 5 would list 3 Italians and 2 Polish mountaineers. Definitely, I am not fond of any climbers that climb with oxygen on commercial expeditions. This is not climbing for me and they are just customers! ["Adventure without risk is Disney Land"] I always post about what is interesting for me, never because somebody asks me to write about something, but sometimes I also give my personal opinion about things or people. Sometimes I have very strong opinions and I don’t mind that we disagree; it can lead to interesting conversations. And what is important and worth mentioning, as a climber with almost 40 years of experience I don’t have to have first-hand experience on Everest to have an informed opinion about the current situation on Everest.

K2 - góra, której Bob poświęca najwięcej zaangażowania spośród wszystkich na Ziemi
B.A.: Do you like Poland? What do you think about events like VI OCD?

Bob: Whatever reason people may have coming to events like these - the climbing scene has many different flavors and preferences - as long as people enjoy them I am happy! Today people were really enthusiastic and happy and that’s great. What is more, I’m really astonished about how people here are willing to get to know me. They respect what I do and are very positive about it. They have been asking for selfies and signatures, can you imagine that? It's very hard to get used to :-)

B.A.: Is there a chance that you will appear in Poland soon? Maybe on some of the festivals?

Bob: Maybe in autumn there will be a meeting about K2 but I’m not sure if I’m allowed to talk about it. As far as I know, Polish people have a plan to go to K2 in winter. Even as an observer who tries to stay as objective as possible, I really do hope that the first winter ascent of K2 will be a Polish one!


editing and translation: Karolina Andrzejewska

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