An Interview with Christof Nettekoven

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We caught up with Christof Nettekoven, an expedition climber. He talked about his passion for not only classic alpinism but also the rich cultural experiences that can be found on an expedition.

How did you first get into expeditions and climbing?

I grew up in Bonn away from the German Alps so the desire for mountains first caught me on an exchange program as a teenager. I stayed for half a year in the small town of Ridgeway, in the Rockies of Colorado, where I took part in activities all centred on surrounding mountains.

Later, my backpacking trips eventually led me into the high mountain ranges around the world; from the Andes to the Himalayas. You climb and then stand on 5,000m high passes, satisfied, but sooner or later wonder how the world would look from even higher than that. You want to see and do more. And this is the primary idea of classic alpinism. People in the past wanted to know what it was like up there, what it was like to be closer to their gods. Nowadays it’s also about pushing your own limits. That’s why I’m always on the lookout for the unclimbed peaks which you can still find in secluded areas. Real adventures in pristine areas with interesting people and fascinating cultures.

This is also another important element of my expeditions; I am very interested in the indigenous mountain people and their culture. I always look for a combination of both, unclimbed peaks and local mountain tribes, in faraway places around the globe.

Where/ what is your favourite climb?

The upcoming climb is always my favourite. But generally speaking what I love most are expeditions into secluded and untouched regions with unclimbed peaks above 6,000m. This kind of exploration is what I dream of. Planning, organisation and preparation take nearly a year each time. Sometimes an idea can take several years to be fulfilled because of access, permit problems and due to the politics in restricted areas. But, when the idea turns into reality, it is the absolute highlight of each season. Especially, my favourite mountain range is the Karakorum which still offers plenty of possibilities.

But I know you want to see numbers, so the list of my last self-organized, explorative tours looks like the following:

2011: Pakistan, Karakorum, Ghujerab range, Koh-e-Brobar 6.008m, first ascent.

2012: Afghanistan, Little Pamir/Wakhan Corridor, Koh-e- 5.725m, first ascent.

2013: Pakistan, Karakorum, Shuijerab range, Koh-e-Gulistan, 6.224m, first ascent.

2014: China, Karakorum, Aghil range, Xiao Kangri 6.102m, first ascent.

2016: Pakistan, Karakorum, Panmah Muztagh, Porok Ri 6.020m and Nera Peak 6.143m first ascents.

What has been your proudest moment in your climbing/ expedition life to date?

The explorative expeditions into those secluded areas are such an eclectic experience. It’s really hard to pick just one moment and when you come home you need months just to process everything that happened.

To be honest, the best moment is not only reaching the summit. Reaching the top with a good team of friends after an exhausting approach and climb is an incredible and unforgettable experience. But, the way to the mountain is already an adventure with the amazing local people and culture. Travelling via camel caravan through Shaksgam Valley, via yak caravan of the Pamir Nomads over the high altitude plains of the Afghan Pamir, exploring the Karakorum valleys with our local porters in Baltistan, Shimshal or Hunza and the summit celebrations together with the locals and their traditional food (which often included rough homebrewed liquor or wine, by the way) are all unforgettable moments. Seeing all the hard work and plans work out in the end – that is the biggest success I can have.

“To be honest, the best moment is not only reaching the summit. Reaching the top with a good team of friends after an exhausting approach and climb is an incredible and unforgettable experience.”

If you aren’t hanging from a wall or trudging up a mountain where can you be found?

Well, I have a quite a normal life apart from my breakaway expeditions. Don’t think of me as leading an Indiana Jones-like lifestyle – no, I have a regular working life.

I live in Bonn in the Rhineland and in my free time I like to enjoy the surrounding Ahr Valley as much for nature as well as for the good wine. Besides this culinary joy, those Ahrtal vineyards are some of the steepest in Germany and make for a good training ground. Apart from arduous expeditions I also like to take it easy with a good cup of tea and an old book of one of the classic explorers (real life stories which start me dreaming about the next expedition).

Who is your biggest role model, in or out of the sport?

I´m always impressed by the old school explorers and classic mountaineers of the good old days, back when travelling into and around those areas was much harder than today. The minimalist style of some of them, like Shipton, was way ahead of their time. People like Shipton, Tilman, Nakamura or Tichy, those were real pioneers with the right frontier spirit. They explored the blank spaces on the map and came back with a bag full of information and new ideas about those unknown areas that inspired future generations of mountaineers till today!

You are deserted on an uninhabited island. You have one book, one album and one Osprey Pack, what do you choose and why?

One of my favourite books is Graham Greene´s novel “The Quiet American”, a historical setting on one level, but also a political story about colonialism with the collision of idealism and practical politics on another level. But maybe a longer read like Amitav Gosh´s historical novel “The Glass Palace” would be useful for a long stay in a forest.

My music taste really depends on the situation. I need easy listening music to relax, but energetic music for sports or other activities, it really depends. A good mixtape of my favourites would be the best. I just cannot rely on just one artist. I would go crazy.

For such a forest scenario I would go with the Atmos AG 65. It would be great if I needed volume to carry a lot of gear or collect plenty of fruits for food – and if it gets a little hot or there is tropical humid rainforest the suspended AntiGravity backsystem together with the fully ventilated hip belt make it a very comfortable backpack.

If I needed to go light and quick, just like for climbing, I would pick the Mutant 38 with a slim design perfect for climbing and still with all the necessary features and clever solutions that such a pack needs.

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