Alex Megos at Bergsportdag 2019
Last week, on the 20th of January, the Dutch Mountaineering Association (NKBV) hosted its annual Bergsportdag (literally translated to ‘Mountain Sport Day’) at the NBC conference center in Nieuwegein (just under Utrecht). Present at this mountaineering event was Alexander Megos, one of the current climbing community’s strongest rock climbers whose humility would put the amount of praise I’m about to give him in this post to shame.
I’ve only been climbing for a year now, but I have amassed a paragon list of my idolized climbers and Alex is one of those at the top of it. Meeting him, being able to exchange a few words with him, and ask him questions during the Bergsportdag was completely surreal. Alex is best known for on-sighting (climbing without knowledge of the route) a 9a-graded route in Spain in 2013. In climbing culture, if you achieve a first ascent of anything, the fame that comes with it will more or less lead you to become a professional rock climber inundated with sponsors and interviews. It makes sense, since achieving first ascents are ridiculously difficult nowadays. Since his on-sight, this happened to Alex – which, he later explained during his presentation was a complete “pain in the ass” since he just wanted to climb.
Throughout the day Alex was scheduled for a presentation in the morning, manning his sponsor table for a few hours, then a Q&A later in the afternoon. The fan that I am, lightly followed him (some would say ‘stalked’) to where he was presenting. In his morning presentation, I was fascinated and inspired to hear his climbing adventures and wild stories, a feeling the audience also shared. It quickly became apparent during Alex’s presentation that he was incredibly funny. Not only as a public speaker but during his climbing adventures too. At one point, he showed a video of him projecting a three-move boulder route in South Africa that initially, was getting the better of him. He grew more frustrated and angry, and when Alex Megos becomes frustrated, he takes it out on his chalk bag. The entire audience couldn’t contain their laughter as the video showed Alex, screaming as loud as Adam Ondra, just threw and kicked his poor chalk bag (which was open, by the way) against the rock. At some point the bag flew maybe halfway across the desert. Then, a few moments later you see Alex having to sulkily walk back in that direction to retrieve it. That’s when he advised the audience, “remember to always close your chalk bag.” What an icon.
Alex’s humour is a hilariously childish mix of remarking on cultural differences between America and Europe, as well as Germans and everybody outside of it, and just plain, dry honesty. During his Q&A, Alex was asked if he ate a particular diet to accommodate his climbing to which he lightly joked with, “you know, as a south German, we consider chicken a vegetable,” and later, “I do love barbecues.” He also noted that American supermarkets were unbelievably large, noting, “you can spend four hours in an American supermarket – they’re huge. You can buy guns in one section and ride bikes in another.” Some of his other favourite answers of mine were that his favourite shoes (when the questioner meant climbing shoes) are flip-flops, he loves Taylor Swift, and that he “doesn’t like water” when inquired about his experience with deep water soloing.
I, however, did endeavor to ask him whether he felt a certain responsibility to inspire the younger generation of climbers – as he is looked up to by so many. He thoughtfully said that he “doesn’t feel a responsibility, but does hope to inspire others with his climbing. I do appreciate if people look up to me.” Afterwards, when I asked for his autograph, he told me I asked a good question. I was so taken aback by the praise, and that feeling combined with the already-present feeling of being in his presence that I mumbled a quiet “thank you” and my sweaty hands just dropped my phone on his stack of signatures. I need an entire chalk bag for my hands just to look at him.
Overall, Alex Megos is a hilarious, wise, and freakishly strong climber that I had the privilege to meet. He is quite an honourable individual that anyone, not necessarily a climber, can look up to. As mentioned earlier, he’s also extremely humble and as such, would politely smile and nod at all of this praise. To end this, I would like to leave a few more of his answers from his Q&A below, so any climber who also idolizes Alex can also know what he said during the Bergsportdag.
Are you planning to participate in the Olympics next year?
AM: If they let me! I hope to qualify for the Olympics, but it’s a complicated picking procedure. Only 20 athletes can go, two from each country, and one country from each continent and yeah, it’s just really complicated. But I’ll try.
What’s your next project? Are you working on any?
AM: Right now, it’s just training and try to get stronger for competitions.
How good is your speed climbing?
Not great [laughs]. Do you want to know my time? It was fifteen seconds. I think I came 106th place.
What did you think of Alex Honnold’s free solo of El Capitan? Would you like to climb El Cap?
I think it’s absolutely crazy what Alex [Honnold] did. I’m super impressed, though. I would like to climb El Cap at some point, yes.
Are you ever going to bolt your own routes like Adam Ondra?
Yes, I would, but the only crag that I really know well enough to be able to do that is my hometown in the Frankenjura, but there, everything that can be bolted has already been done. So, it’s not really possible to bolt any new routes, unfortunately.
What technique do you think is most important for a beginner climber?
Footwork and foot technique is actually really important. Most guys tend to use their arms more because they want to show bicep but your feet are more useful than you think.
What’s your favourite colour?
Guess! [He’s wearing an orange shirt and a blue jumper] No, it’s not orange or blue. It’s yellow.
How much money do you have?
Right now, in my wallet, I have maybe around 67 euros.
[Well, he definitely carries more than Alex Honnold, who generally has less than 5 dollars in his pocket.]