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(by Nicholas Hobley)


Ortisei, Summer

In this picturesque little town in the heart of the Dolomites the mountain guides have decided to stage their first climbing competition. The anxious crowd, packed tightly into the main square, watches excitedly as one climber after the next drops off the overhanging wall until, finally, the "local hero" steps out of isolation. The loudspeaker booms and a great cheer of appreciation follows. Acknowledging the applause, the 24 year old ties his knot and, showing little signs of pressure, calmly sets off up the semi-final. Too calmly though, for this 8a+ is packed into 10 vicious meters and requires explosive power, not unending stamina. The outcome is painfully predictable and he too, like the others before him, ends up dangling from the rope, far too soon. He waves briefly, hiding his disappointment, slips into the crowd and disappears.
Just a few days later though, alone beneath the massive Sella group, he makes the first ascent of Trick & Track, adding the mythical 8c grade to the Dolomites. The record has been put straight, his expectations satisfied. This is typical of this quiet, unassuming young South Tyrolean. Called Manfred Stuffer.

Hard routes are what Manfred specialises in, and his list of repeated routes in Italy, Austria, Spain, France and Australia is truly impressive. The highlight so far has been the 3rd ascent of Alexander Huber's Gambit 8c+ in August 1995. But performances like these don't just come from nowhere. Who is Manfred, and why have we heard so little of him?

Born in Ortisei beneath the towering Sasso Lungo, the imposing Sella group, and the sharp Geisler Spitzen, it is easy to see why Manfred was drawn to climbing at an early age. He served his apprenticeship in these mountains, repeating many of the classic traditional routes, but soon the focus shifted to smooth, steep walls where the grade, not the summit, is what counts. Naturally gifted, his rise to the top was rapid but, unlike some of his contemporaries, almost unnoticed. Until his repeat of Gambit in August 1996. Then the climbing press woke up and took note.


  

Trick & Track 8c, Pian Schiavaneis
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Manfred's strength lies not so much in his raw power, but in his never-ending stamina. He puts this down to his training regime, which incorporates the crag as an effective training tool. Anyone who has watched him workout at the crag will testify to this, as one 8a+ after the next is displaced with in rapid succession, all day long, seemingly without effort. He is often to be found at his favourite training ground, just a few miles from home and beneath the Sella. Here all routes have been drilled, chipped and consolidated with Sika, for the rock is extremely friable. The result, a magnificently steep "playground" for the elite, is no doubt highly debatable. Manfred comments coolly "if I climb a great route which, with a considerable effort has been cleaned, chipped or drilled, then I don't really care whether the holds are rock, sika, plastic or even wood. The important thing is only that they don't hurt and that the route is good fun to climb." Aware of the fact that his opinion may differ sharply from many climbers he adds "ethically speaking it would of course be better to refrain from such actions, but I nevertheless believe we must respect the view of the first-ascentionist. I appreciate Rheinhold Scherer's "Pietra Murata" (created after many, many hours of drilling and gluing) just as much as Alexander Huber's "Gambit" (created after many, many hours of searching and cleaning). Different crags obviously offer different opportunities and it's up to us to use these sensibly."

It soon becomes clear that there is more to Manfred than climbing, that he is not just interested in redpointing one hard route after the next. One is immediately struck not just by his massive build, but also by his welcoming friendliness, a trait which has earned him great respect from the climbing world. There is no hint of arrogance or elitism, all to often residual within the protagonists of this sport, as he dicusses issues with others, regardless of the grades they climb. At the cutting edge of any sport, sadly this is not often the case.


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"Kachoong", Mount Arapiles - Australia - solo

Everyone knows that there is little room at the top, and Manfred is only too aware of this. "Those who try to climb for a living, usually end up poorer than before" he explains, pointing to his decision to study sports psychology at Innsbruck University, and his desire to become a Mountain Guide. Collaborating closely with Boreal and Mammut has given him more financial freedom, but he seems in no rush to finish his studies, instead taking full advantage of his student life. "Like my past, I'll go where the flow takes me" he adds, inducing us to believe that all is left up to chance, to improvisation. But this is highly unlikely, for I believe his life to be a reflection of his climbing, where nothing is left up to chance. This statement masks the fact that there's a determined, clear thinking man at the tiller. Who just happens to be extremely strong as well.


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1 - Menhir 8a+ - Torre Meisules Orientale
     Sella Group, Dolomites


2 - Trick & Track 8c, Pian Schiavaneis -       Dolomites
      (photo: Rupert Messner)

3 - Nati Dread - Australia

4 - Manfred (photo Heidrun Aichner)
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