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Thomas the boy wonder of alpinism?

Born in Salzburg, Austria, 1962, Thomas lived at the foot of the mountains, and because of this, had his future, quite literally, at his feet. With no climbers in his bourgeois family, Thomas engaged with the omnipresent mountains at the impressionable age of 12. “The mountains asked me questions,” Thomas recounts. “Who am I? What do I want? How do I get it?” It wasn’t long before he set out to answer them. This was the beginning of an ascent into manhood, both physical and mental, that would lead to him becoming the world’s archetypal solo free climber.

At 16, he had already solo-climbed VI+ routes in his home mountains of Hochkönig and Tennengebirge, as well as legendary ice routes on Großglockner and Montblanc. After dozens of solo climbs in Austria, Thomas, still aged just 18, gained international climbing fame when soloing the Philipp-Flamm route in the Civetta North-West Face — then one of the hardest free climbs in the Alps — in only four hours.

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The boy wonder of alpinism

Thomas had an in-built, and insatiable, appetite for scaling mountains — he also added the Pik Korshenewskaja, 23.490 ft., in the Pamirs. Two years, and dozens of climbs later, Thomas became the first (and still the only) climber to free-solo the big three north-face routes in the Alps: the Matterhorn, the Walker Spur on sight in the Grandes Jorasses, and the Eiger — in less than five hours. To this day, no other climber is known to have climbed the Eiger, in summer conditions, faster than the young Thomas Bubendorfer.

Unparalleled solo ascents followed across the length and breadth (and height) of the planet: in Patagonia, Alaska, the Andes and in Tibet, always unsupported, alone in his base camps and without contact to the outside world. In time, solitude became his friend. As Thomas explains: “Only when you are alone, are you truly free”. That said, when necessary, the famed solo climber has never been averse to climbing with his trusted partners. For as he well knows: “nobody reaches the summit alone”.