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Gripped’s David Smart Talks About Bold 1911 Free-Solo

An interview with David Smart on Epic TV about the bold Paul Preuss

Gripped co-founder and author David Smart has written a number of books over the past 30 years and his most recent focuses on the life of bold free-soloist Paul Preuss.

Climbing before WW1, Preuss was famous for onsight free-soloing some huge routes. Smart was interviewed by Epic TV while in the U.K. in 2019. Take a look back at the man who changed climbing forever.

Paul Preuss

In a June 2019 interview with Smart here, he said: Preuss was an Austrian climber who died in 1913 at the age of 27. He made over a thousand climbs in the Alps, mostly in the eastern Alps. One important climb was his free-solo first ascent of the East Face of the Campanile Basso, a wall so steep and smooth that most people considered it impossible, after which he downclimbed his route.

He had also free-soloed the West Face of the Totenkirchl, considered the hardest rock climb in the Alps at the time, a few days before. He made early inroads on the first ascent of the Peuterey Ridge in the Mont-Blanc range as well, adding a new route to the Aiguille Blanche in the process.

I would say that his greatest contribution, however, was in the discussion later called the Piton Controversy, which was really about the definition and soul of free-climbing. He represented the total ethical core of climbing. He allowed no pitons and no rope tension or rappelling and even looked askance at clean protection (slings over rock features back then).

Other climbers contributed insights into the use of ropes and pitons or the importance of athleticism and the search for difficulty that were tempered by the knowledge that among them was a brilliant climber who unflinchingly and cheerfully embraced the ideal of eschewing all of these things. Without him, modern free climbing might not have developed as it did.

Bold 1911 Free-Solo