» it’s not about risk, it’s about safety «

Polarizing people starting from an early age

Thomas has always polarized the climbing community. At the age of only 20, he was setting new standards with prolific breathtaking solo climbs in the hardest rock and ice faces, at sea level and at 22.000 feet — yet his life off the slopes was equally eye-catching. He moved to Monaco at 23, drove a Lamborghini at 25 and married a woman some 20 years his senior. The couple had a son (while some frowned, the media loved it.) He has also modelled for Versace, climbed in a smoking jacket and posed naked for Italian life-style magazine, MAX.

He is a peak performer with a highbrow mix of friends and acquaintances. He discusses his theories with the likes of Nobel Prize laureate Joseph Stieglitz, leading quantum physicist, Anton Zeilinger, and the CEOs of the many international companies for whom he often coaches. Viktor Frankl, survivor of the holocaust, author of “Man’s search for meaning” (voted one of the New York Times most important books of all time) was his mentor, comparing him with Martin Heidegger. Frankl was especially impressed by Thomas because, in a time of abundance, “he creates, without compulsion or need, islands of secular asceticism”.

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An extreme climber, Thomas also lives a life of extreme contradictions. On the one hand, he resides in a luxurious apartment in Monaco, drives a Porsche and is an aficionada of tailored suits and Patek Philippe watches. On the other, he trains like any professional athlete and can spend months at a time, under the most frugal conditions, in a solitary tent in Patagonia or Tibet or Alaska. He will risk his life time and again, yet emphasizes that “it’s not about risk, it’s about safety”. He admits to often being very, very scared, but says: “it’s not fear, it’s my passion and courage that run the show”. He seems incredibly goal-oriented, yet believes deeply that “it is not about the summit, but about the climb”.

Never standing still

To Thomas, these are all single parts of the complex beings that we humans are — each one having its complement. Solo climber and loving father. Ascetic and Renaissance man. Thinker and doer. The most important thing to Thomas though, is movement. Never standing still, mentally, physically, moving from one world to the other and back. Evolving through experience. Through success, yes. But sometimes, importantly, through failure.

While he is often called a philosopher, to Thomas Bubendorfer, thinking is not enough. He believes in putting his ideas to the test: “Something has to be at stake, not just a thought”, he says. And, without doubt, the vertical rock and ice faces he spends much of his life on are the perfect medium for this.

After graduating from high school, Thomas lived in Italy for two years studying language and history. In 1985, he moved to the Principality of Monaco where he still lives. Here, as a doting father, the inner equilibrium within him is still evident. For though he has three, much-loved, children in Austria, still he claims that: “only when we are alone, are we truly free”.

Thomas Bubendorfer is a man, quite clearly, that never stands still …

© Thomas Bubendorfer 2019