“Modern equipment is much more comfortable and safer!”
You are undoubtedly one of the international stars of climbing, but little known to the general public. Can you tell us about yourself?
It’s kind of you to say so! It is true that climbing is not a high-profile discipline, but that doesn't mean that we do not exist.
In 2013, I stopped competing to devote myself solely to discovering new places or new routes around the world.
I am still a climbing professional. The only difference is that in the past I used to fight for a place on the podium, while today I am constantly on the lookout for new and more ambitious projects.
For the uninitiated among, us, can you tell us a little about this discipline?
Climbing sports can be divided into two categories: sports climbing which includes competition and rock climbing. The first discipline involves climbing walls with artificial grips for the hands and feet. Of course, there are wall configurations for every level; the more experienced the climber, the harder the wall. There is also a category of events for disabled climbers, which is called paraclimbing.
Traditional climbing is practised on natural walls. This includes bouldering which is not necessarily performed at great heights (3 to 5 metres) but is very technical, and route climbing which involves climbing by following or looking for routes. The walls, whether natural or artificial, all have a level of difficulty defined according to the French rating system. These levels range from 1 for the easiest walls to 9C. There are just over 300 9-rated routes in the world and only 2 with a 9C rating. That tells you all you need to know about the level of difficulty!
Can you describe the equipment you use?
For climbing routes, I use specific climbing shoes, a harness, quickdraws, a helmet and a chalk bag. For bouldering, all I need are climbing shoes, chalk and a crash pad made of polyester and polyamide cordura® for the parts subject to friction. In addition to its modernity, all of this equipment is made of synthetic materials such as plastics.
Climbing shoes are particularly technical and have evolved a lot in recent years. I am not a materials specialist, but I know that the sole is made of a rubber comprising various synthetic polymers and natural materials such as rubber. Each manufacturer keeps its recipe very secret, but I imagine that the proportions and characteristics of each of these polymers will create soles with varying levels of grip and resistance. It's a bit like a car tyre. The thickness of the rubber also has to be taken into account since a thin sole increases the ability to feel the rock, but also tires the foot.
On the other hand, thicker rubber on the sole decreases the sensations, but rests the foot. As a general rule, climbers like their shoes to be very tight, with the toes and heel touching the edges.
Their upper is also made of different materials. Natural leather is still used for the parts that need to remain rigid, but they also include many microfibre elements based on Nylon® (a variety of polyamide) and polyurethane.
This composite material is particularly strong and resistant to traction, tearing and torsion. It is light and does not deform in any temperature. In addition, it is breathable in most cases.
Finally, Nylon© Velcro is becoming more and more common. It is strong enough to guarantee good support and hardly ever slackens. Shoes come with 1, 2 or 3 Velcro straps which can be placed parallel to each other in the same or opposite directions; there are also Z-shaped systems. Ultimately, every climber has his or her favourite brand.
We also use a harness. It is as important as the shoes because our lives depend on it. A good harness must therefore be strong, resistant to traction and abrasion, and must also be unintrusive. Harnesses comprise a plethora of synthetic materials such as high-density polyethylene for abrasion resistance, high-strength polyester for tensile strength and EVA foams to make them comfortable. The adjustment buckle systems are made of aluminium.
These harnesses are also used to carry equipment such as quickdraws and ropes.
Although they seem simple enough, the ropes are very technical as they must be elastic enough to absorb the shock in case of a fall, but not too elastic either in order to avoid creating a yo-yo effect.
In short, they must have a proportionate stretching capacity. They are called dynamic ropes and their stretching capacity should not exceed 20%.
The first polymer ropes appeared in the 1950s and have been a must-have for several decades. I think that they are the only ones that perfectly meet the climbers' demanding specifications.
The sheath is usually made of polyamide. As for the core, it all depends on the expected elasticity. They are generally made of polyamide or polyethylene.
What major innovations in terms of equipment have you seen since you started climbing?
The equipment has become lighter and more comfortable to wear.
However, the most important feature is safety, which continues to improve.
This is a good thing, all the more so as standards are also evolving and are increasingly demanding. This is good, because our lives are at stake!
The design has also changed. Today's equipment is much more colourful and therefore less austere. I think that we owe all these developments, which are heading in the right direction, to synthetic materials.
Are you involved in the development of new equipment?
I am part of Team Edelrid, a renowned equipment manufacturer in the climbing world. We hold annual meetings to talk about their products. The aim is to constantly improve them by adjusting a multitude of small details. A few years ago, I joined the production team of shoe manufacturer La Sportiva to develop the "Python", a shoe specially designed for competitive climbing. We discussed all aspects of the shoe in order to achieve the ideal product. Of course, I am not involved in the choice of materials, but when I tell them that it would be good to reinforce an area of the shoe or improve its grip, La Sportiva's engineers know which materials to start investigating.
What achievement are you most proud of?
It is very difficult to say because every competition is different and has its own specificities. I am particularly pleased with my first place at the 2010 European Championship. Not only because this competition was held at my home in Imst, but also because it was my return to competition after a serious shoulder injury in 2008 which compromised my career at the time. The surgery, the support and guidance from ASP Red Bull, my team and my iron will enabled me to return to the top level. In 2011, I won the world championship for the third time.
What are your sporting projects or future challenges?
There are still a lot of climbs that I would like to do all over the world. I'm not sure what the future holds for me, but I know that whatever happens I want above all to stay healthy.
Angy Eiter’s achievements
• World Champion: 2005, 2007, 2011, 2012
• World Cup Winner: 2004, 2005, 2006
• European Champion 2010
• Title holder with six wins at the Rock Master
• First Austrian climber to climb 9a routes.
• First woman to climb a 9b route: “La Planta de Shiva” in Spain.