Maria Kittl from Upper Austria scales steep rock faces such as the Zwerchwand multiple times a week. She’s 89 years old. “When I see a steep wall, my heart starts to sing,” she says.
Kittl said that concentrating hard as she positions her shoe on the next foothold is pure joy, and not only does the precarious nature of free climbing keep you alert in the moment, a study from the University of North Florida found that the specific characteristics of climbing could significantly improve a person’s working memory and other cognitive functions.
Kittl also appreciates climbing for the company. “I always have a mountain guide with me. What’s better than that?” she says. Her mountain guide Christoph has become Kittl’s friend. They have spent weeks-long climbing holidays in places like France, Croatia, and Spain. “She has this ability to always adjust to new situations”, Christoph says about his travel partner. “At her age, something or other might ache or be painful, but she always finds a solution. That’s impressive.”
“In the past four years, I’ve thought to myself, ‘I want as many climbing days as possible.’ So I did 250. In one year,” she says. In her younger days, she was a state champion in skiing and climbed some of the most difficult local routes with her husband Robert, a well-known alpinist. She was the first woman to climb a number of big climbs in Austria. In 2008, her husband was killed in a climbing accident on Dachstein mountain, and her son died at age 17 while paragliding.
“When I was 70, I said: If I keep on climbing, I’ll make it to 90. I basically trained my own subconscious, and here we are,” she says. She plans on climbing for many years to come: “There are only two options – giving up or becoming stronger.”