Ines Papert: Climber, Crusher, Mother

Few female names in the world of rock and ice climb­ing are as syn­ony­mous with “crush­er” as Ines Papert. With three World Cup titles to her name, mul­ti­ple Ouray Ice Fest wins and a first ascent—solo, no less—in the Himalaya, she’s on fire for climbing.

When ice climber Will Gadd intro­duced Papert at the Boze­man Ice Fest this past Decem­ber, he laughed at how unim­pressed he’d been the first time he saw her climb. He went on to say that when she had her son, 13 years ago, he thought for sure her career would be over. But instead, she’s now climb­ing hard­er than most women—and most men, too—and plan­ning an Antarc­tic climb­ing expe­di­tion with Gadd. The Clymb caught up with her dur­ing the Boze­man com­pe­ti­tion to find out what dri­ves her, and how becom­ing a moth­er has changed her climbing.

Pho­to Cour­tesy of Arc’teryx

You haven’t always been a climber, right? How did the moun­tains first start call­ing you?
I had no back­ground at all. I came from a flat part of Ger­many. I was play­ing in the for­est when I was a child, but I had nev­er climbed a moun­tain. My par­ents tell me I was a lazy child, in terms of sports.  But for some rea­son, when I moved to Bavaria, I liked start­ing to hik­ing, bik­ing, ski­ing, and ski tour­ing. So I hiked all the sum­mits where I live, and I was like, I can’t real­ly trav­el a lot because I’m a poor phys­i­cal ther­a­pist. So I thought, I want to climb these moun­tains, because I’ve hiked all the trails. So with the help of some climbers in the area who had expe­ri­ence, I jumped into it. I nev­er had a course. It was just with friends.

So how did you go from casu­al peak bag­ging to where you are now?
As soon as I did my first climb, I knew this was some­thing I real­ly want to do. And of course, in the begin­ning, you do progress real­ly fast. And pret­ty soon, you’re climb­ing hard­er and hard­er. But I didn’t want to just climb hard, I want­ed to climb moun­tains. So I start­ed alpine climb­ing at the same time I start­ed sport climb­ing. I’ve always been a moun­tain climber. I still like the sport climb­ing, I’ve always liked it, but it’s just train­ing for the big­ger stuff.

You’re also doing big projects in the moun­tains, but it’s your ice climbing—specifically com­pe­ti­tion climbing—that has real­ly caught the public’s eye. How did you get start­ed ice climb­ing?
We were plan­ning a trip to South Amer­i­ca, to Peru, and there were a few 6,000-meter peaks we want­ed to do. And, of course, I had to do some ice climb­ing before, because it was main­ly ice. It was my first ice climb­ing, in late 90s. It was ter­ri­ble. We made all the mis­takes you can make. We climbed in a par­ty of three. My boyfriend at the time was lead­ing, and he was climb­ing just above me. I was stu­pid enough to just fol­low him, and he dropped a huge piece of ice on my face, and my nose was all bloody. I thought, no, this will not be hap­pen­ing again. But for some rea­son, I did it again. And start­ed to like it.

Then pret­ty soon the World Cup start­ed. These events start­ed around 2000 and became real­ly pop­u­lar in Europe and North Amer­i­ca. And when my son was born in 2000, it was anoth­er chance to con­tin­ue climb­ing and meet­ing peo­ple from all over the world, like Will Gadd and oth­ers. One impor­tant rea­son I’m here [at the Boze­man Ice Fes­ti­val] is to meet those guys again. They were like role mod­els for me. I used to be like, “Oh my god, he’s so strong,” and now we climb together.

Not very many women who climb as hard as you do are moth­ers, as well. Did hav­ing a child change how you climb?
I think if I had been old­er when I became a mom, I would have thought about it more. But I was 26 years old, in the mid­dle of my climb­ing life, and it was more like, what am I going to lose if I stop climb­ing? That was not the ques­tion for me. So I kept going climbing.

I choose my routes that I’m going to attempt in terms of the obvi­ous dan­gers. If there is a mas­sive, obvi­ous dan­ger, I wouldn’t go. Just because I love my life, and I don’t want to leave my son behind. I think this would have been maybe a lit­tle dif­fer­ent before my son was born. The younger you are, the more open you are. It’s not that I risk my life every sin­gle day. There is some risk, of course. But I think the risk of stay­ing home and get­ting into a bor­ing life, becom­ing a bor­ing mom, a depres­sive per­son, is much high­er than in the climb­ing that I want to do.

For exam­ple, in the Himalaya, there was a real­ly per­fect line on a moun­tain we want­ed to attempt on the north face of Tengkang­poche. The line looked hard, but pos­si­ble. But on top of the moun­tain there was a huge hang­ing ser­ac. And I don’t know if I would have attempt­ed that route if I didn’t have a child—I don’t know. But it was just obvi­ous to me. Already, two Rus­sians had died there two years ago. On the same face, same sit­u­a­tion. And that’s not worth it.

What has been your most proud or mem­o­rable moun­tain? Or is there one you’re real­ly look­ing for­ward to? A life­time goal?
I’ve nev­er had a life­time goal. I like to try some­thing, and if it doesn’t work, try it again, and if it still doesn’t work, try it again, and if it still doesn’t work, try some­thing else. But the first ascent of a moun­tain, which I did recent­ly [solo on Likhu Chuli 1 in Nepal], was some­thing spe­cial. Because I’ve nev­er stepped on a sum­mit where no one has been before.

What do you miss the most when you’re on expe­di­tion, besides your son?
Well, my part­ner, my boyfriend, of course. And some­times I wish I had a hot show­er. On the oth­er hand, it’s good that you don’t have it, because when you come back home, you feel like, this is the best. The longer you don’t have some­thing, the more you appre­ci­ate it.

Are there any lit­tle lux­u­ries you always pack with you?
I don’t bring heavy books any­more, since I have an eBook. And, I always bring a pil­low­case so I can put my down jack­et inside and have a soft pillow.