Jakob Schubert traveled to the Red Rocks near Las Vegas at the end of January with a clear goal: to inspect Sleepwalker (8c +). To achieve this, he put everything on one card - and lost. In the interview, the climbing world champion speaks openly about stubbornness, struggles and how he deals with failure.

As a Jakob Schubert end of January together with Nicolai Uznik and Michael Piccolruz seinen US trip started, many believed that he was with Sleepwalker (8c+) make short work of it and maybe even the seat start version Return of the Sleepwalker (9a) would try. But things turned out differently. In his vlog, the lead world champion talks about how his bouldering project Sleepwalker almost turned into a nightmare.

Video: Jakob Schubert's fight with the Boulder Sleepwalker (8c +)

Interview with Jacob Schubert

Your latest video shows you in an unusual situation - Jakob Schubert struggles with a single boulder for weeks. Do you win or lose in the end? 

Definitely both! It was a short-term decision at the end of January to fly to the USA together with two very good friends, Nicolai Uznik and Michael Piccolruaz. The goal was them Red Rocks near Las Vegas and a relatively difficult boulder.

The video shows the process I went through in the Sleepwalker, an 8C+ boulder. In terms of difficulty, the hardest boulder I've ever tried, and yet I figured I had a chance of completing it relatively quickly. In the video you can see the struggles, but also how great the atmosphere is when we boulder together.

You came home from that USA trip with no results – in retrospect, would you approach the project the same way again?

I'm still convinced that if I had had the skills to climb the boulder and made a few different decisions, I would have changed the outcome.

In such a process you always learn a lot about the boulder itself. The first few days it was much too cold and therefore much too dry, actually impossible to climb. We certainly invested too much physically and destroyed skin that I was simply missing towards the end.

"I'm still convinced that if I had been able to climb the boulder and made a few different decisions, the result would have changed."

Jakob Schubert

Going into a boulder with two cuts on your fingers is anything but ideal. One or two rest days more and more skin for the better conditions towards the end of the trip - that would have been the better recipe.

Jakob Schubert in the exit sequence from Sleepwalker (8c +). Image: Michael Piccolruz

For two weeks the whole focus on one boulder. You've got this in your head and you're determined to make it, even if it means coming home empty-handed - is that doggedness or stubbornness?

In the past, what I always enjoyed the most when lead climbing was climbing many routes on the second or third attempt – difficult enough that I couldn't do them onsight or flash, but not so difficult that I had to keep trying. To rip off as many of them as possible in one trip, that was also my goal in bouldering for a long time.

Of course it's cool when you're in the Rocklands in South Africa for the first time, have all the classics in one place and just go through them and do a lot of boulders that are just below your own level. This also fascinates other people when you graze on almost everything in a very short time.

"Everything has to be perfect when you're going to the limit like that."

Jakob Schubert

In the last few years I have increasingly started looking for a very difficult project and working on it. Perfecto Mundo is an example of this - that's when I realized how much I was learning about my own rock climbing. Everything has to be perfect when you push yourself to the limit. This approach isn't necessarily more fun, but it helps if you want to improve. That's what makes it exciting for me.

In bouldering, I've done relatively little testing and projecting, and Sleepwalker was my first trip from that different point of view. It certainly wasn't as much fun as trying a different boulder every day. However, I came back with the feeling that I had learned a lot.

"It actually didn't end well this time, I usually manage to get up there somehow and have this crazy feeling of happiness."

Jakob Schubert

It really didn't end well this time, I usually manage to get up there somehow and I'm so incredibly happy. Now I've had to learn that you can't always have it, so I'd say it was the right decision.

How do you explain this meticulous approach to outsiders? What does it look like in your head when you are involved in a project like this?

I still believe that 8C+ doesn't have to be my limit, it always depends a bit on the boulder and how much it suits me. With the Sleepwalker I had this hope that I would succeed after a few days, but I quickly realized that I would have to invest more and that was a little frustrating. 

"I still believe that 8C+ doesn't have to be my limit, it always depends a bit on the boulder and how much it suits me."

Jakob Schubert

After all, you also have your ego with you. As a climber, you want to be good at every style and have few weaknesses. During this trip, the whole team and I were shown a few deficits. I felt very lost at the beginning, especially on the underhand grips.

Red Rocks: A bouldering area not far from Las Vegas. Image: Michael Piccolruz

In the evening after a session, I think a lot about what I can do better. In the beginning it is all about finding the right variant for yourself. What can be the trick that works for me? Before falling asleep, I go through the boulder several times in my head.

“After all, you also have your ego with you. As a climber, you want to be good at every style and have few weaknesses.”

Jakob Schubert

On the day itself, it's about dividing everything up very well, always concentrating fully on the respective attempt and getting everything out of yourself in this go. After that you need a break, not just physically, but especially mentally. You can only enter beast mode a few times in a row.

In 2021 you did practically everything in passing, also devalued many routes, were untouchable and now you start 2022 with a negative result. Uncharacteristic of you. What do you learn from this?

Atypical situation – yes and no. It always depends a lot on where you spend your time. The Chapel for example, I was extremely accommodating, the Red Rocks with the Sleepwalker not quite so. You're not equally fit in every phase, but that doesn't immediately gnaw at your self-confidence. I'm feeling very good in training now and I've been concentrating on preparing for the World Cup, even though I have a lot planned on the rock this year.

"Next time I'll definitely have to do it better tactically, with days off, attempts and mental preparation."

Jakob Schubert

What I was certainly able to learn is that I'm not nearly as experienced in projecting a boulder on the rock as I am in route climbing. Next time I'll definitely have to do better tactically, with rest days, attempts and mental preparation.

Competitive season starts next weekend - what are you taking to the contest wall from the Red Rocks experience?

The weaknesses that were pointed out to all of us in the Red Rocks motivate us enormously for training afterwards. I certainly put more into it than I might have done otherwise and worked even harder on myself. That definitely brought me something for the World Cup season, I feel very well prepared.

"The weaknesses that were pointed out to all of us in the Red Rocks motivate us enormously for training afterwards."

Jakob Schubert

What can we expect from Jakob Schubert at the World Cup in Meiringen?

In bouldering this is always very difficult to predict. In the last few years, the first one or two World Cups were unfortunately not very fruitful, I never made it through to the semi-finals. That's why my goal this year is to do well in the first World Cups, to reach the semi-finals and to feel good.

The qualification is always the most difficult round for me, in the semifinals the boulders get harder and I usually find it easier to get to the final from there with a much higher success rate. So first of all full concentration on the qualification. I'm better prepared than in the past, especially on technical boulders and slabs, and I'm looking forward to the challenge.

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Credits: Cover picture Michael Piccolruz