Category Archive 'Kurt Albert'

07 Oct 2010

Kurt Albert, January 28, 1954 – September 28, 2010

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Though Albert claimed to have strong feelings about climbing safety, one famous photograph showed him, clad in lederhosen, dangling from a precipice by one hand, while brandishing a stein of beer in the other.

German climbing legend Kurt Albert succumbed to head injuries suffered in a 60′ fall from a climb equipped with permanent technical aids.


Kurt Albert, who died on September 27 aged 56, invented the “redpoint” or free style of climbing – in which the ascent is performed without technical aids.

He developed the idea in the early 1970s on expeditions to the Franconian Jura mountains, when he would paint a red “x” on each piton he could avoid using for a foot- or handhold. Once he was able to complete a route avoiding all of them, he would paint a red dot at the base of the climb so that others could have a go. Albert’s “redpoints” sparked the development of the sport climbing movement and the term “redpoint” is used as a measure of performance.

Albert marked new redpoint routes from Patagonia to the Karakoram and from Greenland to Venezuela. In Alpinismus (1977, with Reiner Pickle) he recalled that “we managed to apply the red dot even to some climbs where pitons had previously been considered essential. Handles and steps appeared that had never been noticed before.”

His more audacious feats include the first ascent of “Eternal Flame” on Trango Tower (6239m) in Pakistan’s Karakoram Range – one of the finest big-wall rock routes in the world. He completed the climb in 1989 with Wolfgang Güllich, managing most of the route free, but using aids for a small section; it was a feat which marked the beginning of the craze for free climbing on high-altitude peaks. It was left to Albert’s compatriots, Alexander and Thomas Huber, to redpoint the climb last year.

Albert’s other pioneering climbs included the first ascent of the aptly-named “El Purgatorio” up the North Pillar of the Acopan Tepui in Venezuela (2006), and the “Royal Flush” on Mount Fitz Roy in Patagonia (with Bernd Arnold, 1995). The newly-opened route was named “Royal Flush” for a reason: statistically a climber in Patagonia will have only two to three continuous days of good weather before violent storms make the ascent impossible. The route up the 1,400m North Wall is one of the most difficult in the world — and Albert always considered the climb to be his most important.

Kurt Albert was born on January 18 1954 in Nuremberg and started climbing, at the age of 14, with a Catholic youth group in his local Frankenjura mountains. He soon progressed to more challenging climbs, such as the Walker Spur on the Grandes Jorasses and the North Face of the Eiger, which he climbed aged 18.

A turning point in his life came in 1973 during a trip to the Elbsandstein in Saxony, where he met climbers who were more interested in pushing the physical limits of rock climbing than in conquering peaks. From then on the ascent became the main challenge, and the more craggy and vertiginous the route the better. As he explained to an interviewer, he liked his climbs to be 80 per cent rock face. Trudging through snow held little appeal.

Albert was not a typical fitness fanatic. He liked strong coffee and cigarettes, and confessed to being “lazy” at home. His commitment to redpointing, however, extended to his mode of travel to and from base camp. He considered it a point of honour to get to the rock face which he intended to climb using “natural”, non-mechanical means of transport and using no advance supplies or porters. …

He died from injuries sustained after falling 18 metres from the Höhenglücksteig via ferrata in Bavaria.

The scene of the accident is featured in this unrelated YouTube video of the Höhenglücksteig:

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