byMammut 10-12-2015 14:45 – edited
Stephan Siegrist is at home on the Eiger north face, but feels happiest climbing unknown mountains in distant lands. He travels the world, experiencing each year more adventures than most people do in an entire lifetime. Mammut has been accompanying him for 20 years.
December 1995: 23-year old carpenter Stephan Siegrist, or Stef for short, was sitting in his tent in Patagonia. This was his first expedition to his remote area of the world, motivated by a desire to climb its world-famous granite needles. His expedition partner, the Swiss photographer Thomas Ulrich, had handled both the planning of the Patagonia trip and the equipment, in the form of two complete outfits from two different mountain sports brands – invaluable for these two young men. The climbers had been given these functional jackets and pants in return for the promise of some photos from their ascents.
«He initially had no interest in turning pro.»
However, on the first attempt wearing outfit number one, bad weather rendered their efforts impossible. When Stef left his tent for the second attempt, he was sporting a brand-new orange and blue Extreme combination supplied by Mammut. It looked somewhat unusual, perhaps even rather unsightly, but was highly functional and visible from a long distance away. The photo shoot went well and at the end of their successful expedition the climbers brought back some fantastic shots for Mammut.
As well as photos from his expedition, Stef also gave the Mammut product developers detailed feedback on how the equipment had performed under these extreme conditions. This led to a cooperation at an equipment level, bringing mutual benefits. At the age of 26, he turned his hobby into a career and became a mountain guide. He initially had no interest in turning pro.
«Stef Siegrist was becoming the face of the brand for many people in Switzerland.»
However, the decision was taken out of Stef’s hands in 1999, when he was invited to appear on „Eiger Live“, a 30-hour live TV report broadcast on Swiss television. Accompanied by three other alpinists (Ralf Dujmovits, Evelyne Binsack and Hansruedi Gertsch), Stef became the youngest climber in the rope team that scaled the north face of the Eiger, watched by hundreds of thousands of spellbound viewers at home. 1999 also marked the 27-year old climber’s breakthrough onto the international scene: the first successful winter ascent of the west face of Cerro Torre in Patagonia earned Stef a feature in National Geographic and propelled his name far beyond the German-speaking world.
Over the next few years, the partnership with his main sponsor went from strength to strength. As Stef traveled to distant mountains, explored the Himalayas and made repeated trips to Patagonia, photos from his climbs were also increasingly featuring in Mammut’s advertisements. To a certain extent, Stef Siegrist was becoming the face of the brand for many people in Switzerland.
«These mutual successes in no way altered the friendly relationship.»
In parallel to increasing international recognition for Stef’s alpine achievements, the Mammut brand was also experiencing exponential growth. Employee numbers increased from 60 to 600 and turnover soared from 20 million to 200 million. However, these mutual successes in no way altered the friendly relationship.
Despite all the trips to distant lands, one Swiss mountain still had a special significance for Stef: the Eiger. He first climbed the north face at the age of twenty, going on to scale it a further 32 times over the years. He has climbed the mountain in the attire of the first ascenders, been filmed by TV cameras for “Eiger Live” and even carried a heavy 8kg camera cube all the way to the top.
«It turned out to be a long and spectacular anniversary tour.»
So it was hardly surprising that, in the spring of 2015, Rolf Schmid suggested an ascent of the Eiger to mark their „joint“ 20th anniversary. Stef agreed and chose the west side of the mountain for the ascent. However, what he omitted to tell the vertigo-afflicted Rolf Schmid until the summit was that the route for the descent led over the exposed and technically demanding Eigerjöcher. It turned out to be a long and spectacular anniversary tour, one that Rolf Schmid will have memories of for a long time to come.
Even after 20 years in the professional sports world, Stef has no intention of easing off the pace. His most recent trip took him to the mountain landscapes of Kashmir, still relatively unexplored in mountaineering terms. “There are lots of beautiful mountains there that nobody in Europe knows about, still completely unscaled.” In any case, Mammut wishes Stef every success and lots of fun on his next projects and is looking forward to the next 20 years.
Cover photo: Thomas Senf
Further photos: Thomas Ulrich, Rainer Eder, Daniel Bartsch, Thomas Senf