“Sorry I didn’t get to you right away. I was on the highline on my roof and couldn’t answer my phone,” says Heinz Zak as he opens the door to his home, grinning, barefoot, his climbing harness still around his hips. Even when he is home it is not easy to get a hold of the professional climber, photographer and slackliner.
A quick glimpse into his garden with the slackline tensioned between two posts and you might think he was trying to create a shortcut to the nearby Karwendel mountains, his second home. The former teacher is your typical free spirit, immediately capturing your attention with his strong presence. The crystal blue eyes and happy voice don’t hurt either, and clearly, his passions keep him young and open to new things. Nothing comes for free though, he says.
Heinz Zak always takes his camera to capture his breathtaking experiences in the mountains. Several photobooks give an insight into his various adventures.
Here were are to explore the complex character of Heinz Zak and what drives him to live his dream every day.
I cannot imagine a life without mountains.
Already as a child I spent weeks on end on my grandparents’ alp. I found out early that I love hiking and spending time in the mountains. Up until today, the mountains are such good companions in my life. They taught me that I can be strong - and how important friends are to me. The experiences I share with dear ones are stronger and much more precious than the ones I make on my own.
It is still very important to me to face new challenges.
In climbing I found something for myself that allowed me to make my own decisions at an early age, something I am good at. This is essential to my happiness, it is like a joyful anchor in a complex world.
Also, training hard for something, not giving up has always paid off for me, in climbing and later on in photography and slacklining.
When it comes to taking risks, I am very careful. I prepare meticulously for my projects. Still I would not go as far as to say that I am able to control every risk. When I soloed the Separate Reality route in Yosemite National Park, which means you’re freeclimbing a six-metre horizontal roof, 200 metres above ground, I took the risk because I was so sure I could do it. I was mainly interested in what was going on in my head: How would I deal with the situation, how strong would my imaginative power be, would I be able to use my mind to activate all my strength?
I am many things, but I am passionate about all of them.
My goals change a lot. One day I am a climber, then I am a mountaineer, then a slackliner. This is rather cumbersome actually, because it always takes time to become good at something when you’re starting over. Nothing comes for free.
But I need a break when I am no longer having fun with something, even in climbing. I think that’s also the reason why I feel so alive.
But first and foremost, I am a climber. It is just so intense on so many levels. Then I am a photographer. I am very lucky for having my wife Angelika and my son Martin. They are so supportive and completely trust in me.
My home is my favourite place.
My home, this feeling of belonging in this region is rooted very deeply in me. I only came to know and appreciate it after many travels abroad. The Karwendel mountains or the Stubaital valley provide this amazing open space for me, allowing me to immerse myself completely in nature. I feel so grateful for being blessed with living here. When I finished my first book on the Karwendel mountain range I was actually really sad because I thought I had bereft myself of all reasons to go back there. Now, after the second book, I know that’s complete nonsense.
I was fortunate enough to experience the magic of the new over and over again.
When I was younger it was extremely important to me to always explore new climbing routes, to find the most beautiful and powerful places in the world. Angelika and I travelled a lot; we always slept out in the open, that was part of the experience we were looking for. I still feel like a traveller who loves to meet new people and be part of new developments and experiences. I have always been tempted by the unknown. My friend Dean Potter introduced me to slacklining. I watched American climbers balance on ropes already in the 1970s. Later they realised that using some kind of webbing would make more sense. Highlining – slacklining high above ground - was the next challenge and I am still happy I was able to contribute to the development of the corresponding safety systems.
I still have the original line that Dean Potter himself made for the legendary highline on Lost Arrow Spire in Yosemite. Looking at it still makes me chuckle; it was just not thought through to the end. But at some point you have to stop thinking and start trying.
We've always lived our dreams. That’s something I wish everyone could do. Thinking and acting for yourself are very important steps towards this goal. And a healthy dose of egoism doesn’t hurt either.
Text: Sandra Pfeifer
Photos: Heinz Zak
March 23, 2016