Kurt Albert (1954-2010)

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 29/09/2010
Kurt Albert. Photo: www.kurt-albert.de

At 8:45pm yesterday, the 28th September, at Erlangen Hospital near Nuremberg, the legendary German climber Kurt Albert died of injuries received from a fall two days previously.

On Sunday 26th Albert was leading a party on the Höhenglücksteig, a relatively moderate via ferrata in the Hirschbach Valley of Bavaria. He had just completed the first stage when, for reasons still currently unexplained, he fell 18m to the ground, sustaining severe injuries.

Born in Nuremberg, Albert began climbing in 1968 when only 14 and in line with the focus of the period, soon graduated to alpinism, making ascents of prestigious routes of the day, such as the Walker Spur and North Face of the Eiger.

However, the young German's real passion lay in pushing his free climbing ability on rock. In the early 1970s many routes still sported a lot of aid and Albert set about free climbing them. This caused problems with more traditional climbers, which Albert solved in 1975 by creating the 'redpoint'.

At the base of every route that he free climbed Albert painted a red dot. This indicated to the up-and-coming hard climbers that the route could be completed free. However, as the in-situ aid was not removed, the 'older generation' was still allowed to climb the route in its original style. His idea of the redpoint would later determine the ethics of modern sport climbing.

Albert continued to push the standards of free climbing in the Frankenjura, creating many benchmark ascents such his ground breaking 1982 line, Magnet (7c). Five years later he took his philosophy to the Dolomites, making the first free ascents of the Brandler-Hasse on the Cima Grande di Lavaredo, and the Swiss-Italian Route on the Cima Ovest.

In 1988 he took redpoint techniques to the Greater Ranges with the first free ascent of Trango Tower via the Slovenian Route (7a+). One year later he would be back to put up the now World classic Eternal Flame on the same formation: 7b+ with only a few short sections of aid. This proved to be a landmark in hard technical rock climbing at altitude.

From then on he travelled the globe in search of new routes on big walls. Hardly a year would pass without the news of some impressive first ascent in Greenland, Patagonia, Canada or Venezuela.

But he was not without controversy and certain climbers have often criticised Albert's use of bolts next to perfect cracks, such as on his Patagonian masterpiece, Royal Flush (7c) on the huge East Face of Fitz Roy.

Together with well-known names such as Wolfgang Güllich, Bernd Arnold and Stefan Glowacz, Albert left a legacy of incredible routes in harsh environments, such as the now classic Moby Dick (7c+) on Ulamertorssuaq (Greenland), Riders on the Storm (7c) on the East Face of the Central Tower of Paine (Patagonia), Hart am Wind (7a+) on Cape Renard Tower (Antarctica), or Odyssee 2000 (7b) on Polar Bear Tower, Baffin Island.

Many of his latter new routes were completed by what he termed 'fair means'; taking team and equipment into the mountains without external assistance or mechanised transport.

A former Maths and Physics teacher, Albert's last major ascent of a big wall took place in 2009, when he put up Hotel Guacharo (7a+) on the 550m South East Face of Roraima in the jungles of Venezuela.
 



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