In the world of modern mountaineering, climbing and paragliding combos are opening up new perspectives. The young German climber Fabian Buhl is one of the most talented representatives, whether in the Alps, the Himalayas or Patagonia. He also has the particularity of not wanting to reduce the mountain to a beautiful image as on Instagram. A clairvoyant flying mountaineer.
We managed to intercept the stealthy Fabian Buhl between two trainings, somewhere in the Hautes-Alpes (France). The young German mountaineer has fallen in love with the Ecrins and has even settled somewhere “in the south of France“. There, he alternates between intense vertical drop sessions and more technical climbs with his friend Jonathan Joly, a local and also an adept of climbing and paragliding combos. But Fabian also wants to remind us that the mountains are not just a postcard filled with beautiful landscapes and smiling people. This early winter has reminded him of that.
Fabian Buhl : This winter started very badly, with the accident of a very dear friend and combo partner Lorris Buniol. I’m still struggling to get over this [Editor’s note: Lorris Buniol died in an avalanche in Ubaye. He was originally from the Hautes-Alpes).
After that, I went to Chile to fly. I didn’t want to see any more snow and I just wanted to be surrounded by friends.
This winter is one I will not forget
Alpine Mag : But you ended up coming back to the Alpes, to the Hautes-Alpes to be precise.
Fabian Buhl : Yes, I motivated myself for a cardio training. So I spent long and exhausting days skiing and climbing in the Hautes-Alpes. These long days kept me busy and I didn’t think much, which allowed me to anticipate the projects I had planned for the winter.
Then the weather warmed up and with Jonathan Joly, we were able to do some paragliding/ice climbing combos around my new home in the south of France. Unfortunately, just when I was starting to feel fit again in climbing and cardio, and had regained motivation, I injured my knee badly while skiing.
So I am back in Germany, where I have to follow the long road to recovery. Maybe this is a good thing, because it helps me to digest this sad and tragic winter. A winter I will not forget.
Alpine Mag : We see you all over the world, from the Alpes to Patagonia, but one destination seems to be particularly close to your heart : Pakistan.
Fabian Buhl : I see a lot of potential in mountains like the Karakorum, and that’s what motivates me the most at the moment.
Last summer we were able to make a very nice first ascent with Will Sim in Pakistan. We flew to the foot of the Gulmit Tower [Editor’s note: 5810m, in the Hunza region, west of the Karakoram] and spent the night there. The next day we made the first ascent by a mixed route, and in the evening we flew back to town.
Doing technical summits in this style is a great pleasure and less pressure than staying in a base camp. Moreover, you separate the climbing and the flying and the climbing part is done in the same way as if you were on site. This style is not suitable for all mountains or all routes. I think it’s one of the coolest ways to get around the mountains.
It’s one of the coolest ways To get around the mountains
Can you think of any peak that we could imagine climbing in a day?
FB : The question is whether you want to land somewhere high and walk to the top. In that case, the potential is endless. But I prefer to fly to the top, land at the bottom and then climb a real mountain in a technical style. Basically, all the summits that are not more than 100 km from the last village where you are staying can be reached by flying, and climbed.
To be realistic, it must be a route that can be climbed in alpine style and with little equipment. And the closer the village, the better. So anything around Karimabad, for example, would be very suitable. The Gulmit Tower is a very good example, because the approach from the Karimabad side is very long and dangerous. With the paraglider, we could fly to the foot of the mountain in about an hour.
The French paraglider Antoine Girard has specialized in these approaches in paragliding in the Himalayas and in the Karakoram. Did you share his experience on this terrain?
FB : Yes, in 2021 I had the opportunity to join Alexandre Jofresa, Sébastian Brugalla, Julien Dussere, François Ragolski, Guillaume Omont and Antoine Girard in Pakistan. We spent the first four weeks doing ski combos and some alpine combos, then we went to fly on the Baltoro glacier. I wasn’t a good enough pilot yet, but this trip opened my mind. I suddenly discovered all these incredible ideas about what was possible. I just had to become a better pilot. The combos that were done were very easy. Basically: land and walk to the top of a mountain. But I’m a climber first and foremost, so I really wanted to use the glider as a helicopter and then climb something technical.
Have you found those technical goals you’ve been dreaming about?
FB : I have plans for this summer with Antoine and Will, but I have to see how my knee is doing because I injured it skiing at the beginning of the season. I need to get better.
I also spoke briefly with Sam Anthamatten, as he seems to really like ski combos too! I like to see more and more people getting into paragliding and realizing the potential it offers for mountaineering or skiing.
More personally, one can say that you have a “cautious” relationship with social medias, which you explained in a video Disconnect to reconnect. Can you explain your vision in a few words?
FB : Social networks are evolving too fast. Quality is no longer important. It’s all about the hype or how loud you shout. Our sport is not about likes. Social media just shows the good side of life.
But I have to do it and be there so I do it, but in my own way. So far, I haven’t had to push things in a way that doesn’t work for me. I rely mostly on good quality films and images because they will stay longer.
mountaineering can’t always be glamorous and pleasant
According to you, is the rise in communication something new in the mountain world?
FB : No, most mountaineers or climbers have been writing reports or making films about their exploits for ages. But they always took the time to think about what they wanted to say. Today, everything has to be done live, quickly and in the most pleasant way possible. But mountaineering can’t always be glamorous and pleasant.
Your backpack sponsor, the brand deuter, is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its iconic bag : the Guide. This model has evolved and accompanied at least two generations of mountaineers. Do you remember your first backpack?
FB : I’ve been working with deuter for a long time. When I started climbing, my parents gave me an old Guide backpack. I still have it in my basement. I really enjoy having long-term collaborations with my partners. With deuter, things have evolved. At first I wasn’t an athlete, I was just giving recommendations for the Gravity line and we realized that both parties were benefiting. That’s when I started getting sponsored.
Since then, we’ve worked together on many exciting projects. We have redesigned the Guide series, made alpine racing backpacks like the Vertrail and a combo backpack. We have also been working on some very promising sleeping bag prototypes that I hope will be realized soon.
The first model of the deuter Guide series, in 1998.
The deuter Guide 2023 model, which extends 25 years of history.
The proximity of the brand and its commitments also seem to count for you?
FB : deuter is a German brand with a long history and its quality has long been recognized. The ethics and working conditions in the factory are also very high, which I appreciate very much and I think it should be like that everywhere. We produce equipment for our hobbies, so we shouldn’t produce it unethically or exploit people just to make it cheaper. deuter also offers a lifetime repair service.
Does a paraglider fit inside a deuter Guide? And can a deuter Guide fly under a paraglider?!
FB : Of course, paragliders are very small these days. In the Guide I can even put my combo wing. The smaller gliders can be put in a 7l trail running backpack. That leaves plenty of room!