Julia: We always start our interviews with a rather easy question - who are you and what do you do?
I'm David Göttler, I'm originally from Munich but I'd say the whole world is my home nowadays. I do spend a lot of time in Munich, northern Spain, Chamonix and Nepal / the Himalaya.
After graduating from high school, I did professional training as a state-certified mountain and ski guide and somehow slowly got into expedition mountaineering, and that's what I still do to this day. Expedition mountaineering is also the type of mountaineering I like best and what I've been doing for many years.
Julia: Did you know your entire life that you wanted to become a mountaineer?
No, I definitely did not know that for all my life. I didn't even know that the profession "mountain guide" existed for a long time. I started mountaineering at the age of seven, first with my father and then at some point I did it myself. I then was a part of a youth camp of the Alpine Club, the so-called expedition squad, and that's where I got to know the profession "mountain guide" for the first time. Then I thought to myself that it would be more fun for me, instead of going to university.
I then worked full-time as a mountain guide and really enjoyed it. I was out and about as a mountain guide in the Alps all year round, but at the same time I started doing more stuff with the expedition squad to get to know the mountains of the world. I then went on more expeditions, first to Patagonia, then to India, and later to Nepal and Pakistan. Now, at the age of 42 I can make a living from professional mountaineering and don't have to do much guiding at the moment. I still do it sometimes because I really enjoy it.
Julia: As a student, what would you have thought your professional life would be like? Which job would you have done otherwise?
Of course going to university was something I did consider, and I would have been interested in doing maths and physics. But I knew it was pretty tough, so I was happy to have discovered "mountain guiding".
Many people have asked me what's my real job besides, mountain guiding. But that job was enough for me, and it's an incredibly demanding one.
Julia: Would you say that you have always been an adventurous person? Was it clear to you that at some point you'd like to go further and higher?
Yes, I think I got that from my parents. I never stayed in a hotel until I was in 12th grade on a school trip to Germany. We always went on vacation with our "motor home" - we had a converted jeep - and drove to the Sahara or Iceland, for example, and went on adventurous vacations. I always had so much fun doing that. I do think that it made it easier for me to somehow get into the adventure of mountaineering.
I certainly did often meet the right people at the right time, which was incredibly important for me. In addition, I have always dared to go into the unknown and at least try living a life like this. A lot of outsiders think that it's great, but you really do have to dare and give up the security of a "normal life". I don't think this is for everyone.
Julia: That does remind me of what it's like telling others about being self-employed (laughs).
Exactly, something like that.I wouldn't trade it for anything, but I also know that without planning certainty, others would have incredible stress and problems. Even in the current Corona situation, it's not that easy to have an income when, all of a sudden, nothing is happening and I'm not employed anywhere. Things like that quickly turn into an adventure.
Julia: Which expedition has been your greatest adventure so far?
It's difficult to pick just one. Every expedition has unique moments. Some of my first highlights were definitely spent with Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, with whom I traveled a lot in the beginning. We worked really well together. Recently, Shishapangma is a mountain that will always be special for me. I've been there twice in a row on the south face. The first time with Ueli Steck and then the second time with Hervé Barmasse.
Julia: What is mountaineering like for you – is it just a physical activity or do you also need the right mindset in order to make it?
The higher you go, the more it turns into a mental matter. Physical training is certainly important, but it does becomes more and more mentally challenging when you go high altitude without oxygen. When it comes to mountaineering, the head is generally one of the most important “muscles” in that sense.
Julia: What are the biggest mental challenges?
First, the motivation. When doing extreme mountaineering, you are almost constantly in a dialogue with yourself and motivate yourself for every single step. The second thing is the risk management that you have to do up there in order not to get into a dangerous situation. Thirdly, there are many factors that you cannot influence yourself, such as the weather. However, these factors determine success or failure - if reaching the summit is viewed as a success. Of course you have to be careful not to put too much energy into something and just accept that you can't change certain things. The pandemic has often reminded me a lot of my expedition life. I was able to simply accept the situation and not waste energy because you can't plan everything the way you want.
Julia: How do you define a successful expedition?
For me, "successful" means having learned something new, it's certainly not just the arrival at the summit that counts. As long as I learn something and the process is actively reflected on and accepted, i.e. failure is also accepted, then I would consider it a success. Unfortunately, failure is generally not really accepted nowadays and the word has a negative connotation. But if we want to develop further, failure is a part of that process – no matter in which field. If we never fail, then we are not out of our comfort zone, and we are not evolving. The most important thing is to reflect and learn from it. I learned more and matured much more as an alpinist and mountaineer in situations where I "failed" than in any other situations. When everything is going smoothly, I often think to myself - if I hadn't failed before, I wouldn't be on the summit now.
Julia: Did you ever get good advice from people you were traveling with - for example from Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner - that you remember?
There is no specific advice. But it always helped me that we, as a team, were incredibly open and honest with each other.We always accepted the weaknesses of the others and compensated them as a team, that was great with Gerlinde too. She was always incredibly motivated and had a very positive mindset. I'm sure I learned a lot from her too.
Julia: Do you have another tip for our readers as to which qualities to look for in an "Adventure Buddy"?
In my opinion, it is very important to be honest with yourself. This is certainly a requirement for doing something in a safe manner. Unfortunately, many people overestimate themselves and in the mountains, a misjudgment often has blatant consequences. So honesty is very important.
Mountaineering has become a somewhat trendy sport these days, which is great because it allows more people to get out into nature and be out and about. Still, it's a serious sport as well. You need to be patient and push the limit of what is possible for oneself just a little bit at a time in order to be able to do something for a long time and without injury.
Julia: Did you ever overestimate yourself?
For sure. It's also human, and the most important thing is to realize it. Of course, there is always a bit of luck involved. It's up to you how much risk you're willing to accept - and you only learn that through experience. On my first expedition it was really unrealistic to get up the summit, but I learned my lesson from it. I had to mature and gain experience. Finding this honesty with yourself is very important.
Julia: Are there any moments in your mountaineering career you'll never forget?
Standing on top of an eight-thousander is certainly always an unforgettable moment. Just the feeling of being up there, you know. You really feel like you're seeing the curvature of the earth. You're so close to heaven, it really is wonderful.
Going back from the mountain and getting to the base camp is as an unforgettable moment for me as well – a moment in which you've also made it because you feel safe again. Many people often forget that the summit is only "half the distance", and that you also have to go down.
Julia: What else is on your "to-do list"? Do you have any big plans in the next few years?
I've attempted Mount Everest twice now. I once had to turn around there 100 meters below the summit. I would like to climb the mountain without oxygen and without a Sherpa. Achieving that is a big dream of mine and I will definitely try it again. Moreover, there are still three or four of the eight-thousanders that I would like to climb. I've already been to five of the fourteen peaks, on the sixth we had to turn around 20 meters below the peak because there was too much danger of avalanches.
I know that mountains like these often take several years to climb, so it would be nice if I could still make it. The nice thing about mountaineering is that there are almost endless destinations, so I most certainly will never get bored. And there are goals for everyone, because all different levels of difficulty exist. Everyone can find their personal "Everest" on their own doorstep.
Julia: Finally, do you have any tips for people who are already mountaineering or just starting out? Any adventure tips - what makes the perfect adventure and what should you consider when mountaineering?
For me, the perfect adventure means stepping out of your comfort zone.If you have never slept outside before, then you can go to the nearest lake with your sleeping bag and sleeping pad and spend the night outside - that can be a huge adventure for someone who is doing it for the first time. Everyone can look for something which gives you that tingling feeling in your stomach.
Julia: Thank you!