Catch me if you can

Aged 28, the Austrian alpinist is the epitome of fast & light, adding a fiery streak to the mountaineering discipline as showcased in the media by Kilian Jornet and Ueli Steck. Philipp Brugger loves being on the move, up where he belongs. Let’s try and stay on his heels for a moment…

“Catch me if you can...” And 20 years ago, the family and teachers of the little blond fury certainly tried their hardest. “I was an awkward character!” admits Brugger. Not keen on school and rather restless – “Don’t be afraid to write ‘hyperactive’!” –, he spent hours doing sports around his home in the small Tyrolean town of Hall, a few miles from Innsbruck, as well as soccer matches and skiing tournaments in winter… but they barely had the desired effect of channeling him. “I already had a near-visceral relationship with the mountains, and I used to run up, down and across them for hours on end.”


And so it was on ski runs, then shod in trail shoes, that Philipp began to get a taste for competition, performance, and the desire to keep rolling back his limits. “No one in my family was a climber or even a mountaineer – it just wasn’t our world.” Except that the kid from Hall, a bit of a tearaway who “didn’t even know how to use an ice screw,” started going on ski-mountaineering trips and steep-slope skiing sessions, which he recalls with an impish look in his eye. During this carefree period, he even tried his luck on the east slope of Mount Rose, on racing skis. “Definitely the biggest risk I’ve ever taken.”

A six-month break for compulsory military service proved to be a salutary experience, with the chance for a more serious introduction to mountaineering. “And that was that – I was hooked.” Barely a year later, he clocked the Eiger’s north face in 10 hours. Followed by speed ascent records (Großglockner, Piz Bernina, Hochferner north face, Zwölferkogel north face); his first (solo) ascents of north and east faces of the Lüsener Fernerkogel; a challenge last summer to FA a route in the heart of the Karakoram range in Pakistan, all rounded off with vertical races and ski-mountaineering races. In the space of a few years, he’d stuffed many accomplishments into his (obviously lightweight) backpack.

« Le fast & light,
is the future
of mountaineering »

The man is also, and especially, talented in fast & light mode. “Maybe it’s because I’m just too lazy to carry a backpack,” he suggests in a burst of laughter. It’s impossible not to think of Steck or Jornet. “I’ve read all Ueli’s books and I’ve been on some great trips with Kilian. It’s inspirational to go out with him and understand his approach to the mountains. We clearly don’t have the same style, but we belong to the same community.”

Committed but sensible and rational, Philipp is also convinced that fast & light is, safety-wise, the best insurance policy around: “In my view it’s the future of mountaineering, because it’s the only way you can be hyper flexible in any situation... The faster you go, the less time you spend in the same zone and so the more you limit the risk.” It’s a version of mountaineering that matches the competitive and insatiable character that he’s always been. “I love running, climbing, skiing and scaling as many summits and faces as possible during a single excursion. I tell myself I can eat up 5,000 meters of positive elevation in a day, no problem. I like moving forward, not sitting down.” Which isn’t exactly a surprise, now that we’re starting to get a feel for the character.

The mountaineer is buzzing with ideas for ascents over the coming years, and in particular aims to tackle the Karakoram range again, next September. A whole string of challenges that the young Austrian will rise to in Millet’s company. “It’s THE mountaineering brand as far as I’m concerned. It’s been involved in the finest ascents – Annapurna, Eiger, Grandes Jorasses, and so on...”
And because the countless hours he spends every month up in the mountains – running and climbing and skiing – mean he can put Millet gear to an unusually stiff test, Philipp plays an active role in developing new products. “In trail running as well as fast & light mountaineering, on pack and pant projects... so stay tuned!” he says. “I hope that I’ll always have my toes, and that all my family will be healthy” – a reference to the baby girl who was due for delivery a few days after this interview. He will have a new role to play, and for once he’s not bothered about keeping his eyes glued to the stopwatch, in a “mission” where he’s already delighted that he has everything to learn.

Words by: Mélanie Pontet