From international sporting competition to towering rock faces:
Anna Stöhr reinterprets her climbing style and finds new challenges on long routes.
After officially ending her competitive career in the summer of 2018, successful pro-climber Anna Stöhr set out in search of new challenges. She found these, amongst other places, in the Aiglun area of France – there, the 31-year-old took on the difficult Ali Baba route (grade 8, 250 m, 8a+). This native of Innsbruck talks to us about the differences between bouldering and rock climbing, new challenges, as well as gaining freedom and time for herself.
Anna, since deciding to end your professional bouldering career in the summer of 2018 – in part due to injury – you have made a number of changes. After more than 15 years of bouldering, during which you belonged to the world elite and were crowned multiple world champion as well as winner of the overall World Cup, you ultimately said goodbye to competitive sports. Do you find you now have more time to spend on natural rock and longer routes?
Anna Stöhr: It’s not like I’m climbing outside for the first time now my career has ended. I was always out climbing natural rock, even while I was a competitive athlete. Though of course, bouldering was generally the focus of what I did. It was in 2018 that I suffered a slipped disc. Shortly after that, in the first week, I couldn’t even run properly. Ultimately, that prompted my decision to give up competitive sports and discover something “new”. The constant impact involved with bouldering placed incredible stress on the discs in my back and on my whole body. When I take a positive look back on how things turned out, the accident and the injury gave me the space I needed to take a step back and reinterpret my approach to climbing. And in fact, I began to experience climbing in whole new ways, with brand-new goals. On the rock, with a rope, on routes with multiple pitches up some really high rock faces.
That was also the time when the iconic mountaineering brand SALEWA and I found each other. The film project Evolution, which can be seen online for the first time beginning 14.04., was born out of that partnership with SALEWA.
This question might sound a little odd, since you achieved practically everything as a world bouldering champion. But we would like to know what your experiences were like making this “transformation”. Was it a big adjustment for you? High rock faces and multiple-pitch routes instead of tricky bouldering challenges mostly on man-made walls?
Anna Stöhr: Yes, absolutely. There were a number of challenges for me. When I’m bouldering, I’m generally done in 10 seconds. And problems have to be solved quickly on the spur of the moment. But multiple-pitch routes, such as the Ali Baba (grade 8, 250 m, 8a+) in Aiglun, France, demand significantly more endurance and pose very different physical as well as psychological challenges. I needed around 10 hours to complete the Ali Baba. And the rock faces on that climb left a lasting impression on me. I couldn’t resist finding out whether I could handle a climb like that. I was confident I could deal with it physically, but I had major respect for the height and exposure on that kind of cliff. The mental skills I had been able to put into play in competition suddenly seemed almost worthless as I was hanging there 100 m above the ground. But I had my eyes set on a very clear goal; I wanted, and still want to change as a climber, and experience my sport and my talent in different ways.
My years in competitive bouldering, ultimately becoming one of the world’s best, have shaped my climbing style as well as me as a person. On multiple-pitch routes, you have to find your own style, or at least adapt your own style to those high rock faces. That said, my first job was to reinterpret who I am as a climber and gradually edge closer to the new challenges.
So, almost 2 years after you said your goodbyes to competition, where do you prefer to do your climbing? Outside on the rock or inside on a bouldering wall?
Anna Stöhr: I love the variety of my sport. When I’m climbing a high rock face, sometimes I feel like an absolute beginner. That makes it exciting and interesting for me. The different disciplines each come with their own package of challenges.
I think my story and the changes I’ve made – my personal journey from two-time bouldering world champion to a climber on tall rock faces – are something that can also inspire others. As I’ve said before, getting away from competitive sports has given me greater freedom, more control over my own life and more time. Beyond that: Climbing is still climbing. And the things you need bouldering inside a climbing gym, are also things that are certain to help you outside on natural rock as well.
Our film tip
The film “Evolution” with Anna Stöhr can now be seen in German with English subtitles on Youtube
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