Armin Gazic is an experienced alpinist, and in his career so far, he has reached peaks up to 5,600 meters, as is Mount Elbrus in Russia. He has been practicing mountaineering for 19 years, and four years ago he acquired the title of mountaineering instructor. In the team with Haris Kalajdzisalihovic, he became the first alpinist from Bosnia and Herzegovina to climb the northern rock of the Matterhorn. Mr. Gazic is also a three-time national champion in sport climbing, and the winner of the recognition of the Sports Federation of BiH for his contribution and development of sport.
Mr. Gazic, was seriously injured on February 28thin 2014, falling from a height of 50 meters from mountain Prenj near Konjic, and he has started a “new life” in 2015.
Can you tell Sarajevo Times audience more about the accident and recovery, and how has this influenced your life.
“Rock climbing is teaching me to stay present, befriend my fear, unleash my radical imagination, and build loving community and stronger social movements,” Mr.Gazic begins his interview with Sarajevo Times.
As an avid rock climber for almost 20 years, his whole approach to life and career has been inextricably linked with his development as a climber.
“I began climbing when I was 10 years old, as this was the only sport that challenge me enough. There is no audience, just my rock and me,” he explained.
“It comes as no surprise that climbing accidents change people. The most important thing you can do when you are involved in a climbing accident is to learn from it. Here’s what having a quick brush with death taught me,” Mr. Gazic added.
He continued by saying that recovering from a climbing accident is 30% physical and 70% mental. It took almost a full year to physically recover, but the real work was in mental recovery. You can’t push through the challenges of physical therapy, surgeries and other major physical work without a strong mental resolve.
“Primary barrier to progress is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge and expertise. Climbing teaches that breakthroughs come not primarily by changing what we do, but by changing first and foremost how we think about what we do. And that is the toughest climb of all I have learned to be more present. Climbing demands intense focus. Everything in life does,” Mr. Gazic explained.
Speaking about some of lessons he has learned and some advices he would like to give to younger ones, Mr. Gazic said that climbing is an invitation to be fully present. It is moving meditation up a wall. When micro adjustments in foot placement or center of gravity make the difference between staying on the rock or taking an unexpected, epic fall, I notice everything: Is the rock smooth or sandy? Is the giant flake I’m reaching for solidly attached to the rock? Does my purchase on a hold change if I drop low vs. stand up?
“Climbing teaches me to take this demand for detailed observation into the rest of my life: Where do I carry tension in my body? What kind of clouds precede the rain?,” he explains.
“Take your time and make every move perfect. Befriend, respect, and thank your fear. Sometimes fear is our friend. It reminds us of real danger and encourages better decisions. Fear makes you think not about what you’re doing, but about the consequences of failing at what you’re doing, making you more likely to fail. Climbers (especially men) talk about “conquering fear,” but I’m trying instead to befriend and respect my fear. When fear comes knocking, climbing teaches me to breathe, thank fear for its life saving instincts, assess whether there’s real or only perceived danger at hand, and either address it, or respectfully disagree with fear and return my attention to the rock,” Mr. Gazic clarified.
He continued by explaining that climbers train for both endurance (climbing longer without fatigue) and power (making a few big, powerful moves). The real trick is to combine endurance and power (being able to make more big, powerful moves in quick succession).
Formerly known as Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America has been the goal of aspiring high altitude climbers since it was first climbed in 1913.
Its reputation as a highly coveted summit derives from its location near the Arctic Circle and the Pacific Ocean (Gulf of Alaska) giving it some of the most ferocious weather in the world.
“Ideally, you will need to experience climbing up to 6.000 m in order to understand how your body behaves under conditions of extremely thin air. If you aren’t used to dealing with high-altitude sickness, then, at some point, your body may simply stop working properly. On Denali, every year there are many rescue operations to evacuate climbers facing High-Altitude Cerebral Edema,” he adds.
The minimum climbing skills that are required before climbing are glacier travel and glacier rescue.
Having an experience of winter camping is also very desirable, because on Denali we had to dig a hole to put our tent in every night, it was up to 1 meter in the ground.
“You have to carry all your expedition with yourself. This means that for at least a week for 6-8 hours a day we had to travel with a backpack weighing up to 25 kilograms on our shoulders and with sledges weighing up to 30 kilograms. It is the coldest mountain in the world, with temperatures dropping to minus 30 degrees,” Mr. Gazic recalled.
Rock climbing naturally fosters a sense of community through shared spaces, a need for support, and more. As a result, climbing holds a ton of life lessons about friendship.
When you’re hanging from a single handhold suspended several feet above the ground, fear is a natural reaction. Rock climbing teaches you to face your fears and embrace failure so you learn persistence.
An essential element of climbing is strategy. You’ll find your mind is sharpened as you learn to weigh each route’s pros and cons, problem-solve through challenges, and ask for advice from others. Denali was that perfect lesson for both Tomislav Cvitanusic and I in that respect.
“Climbing with my daughter Amani top of Visočica mountain. She was two years old and I was caring her in my backpack. The peak itself is not demanding or difficult at all , however her presence made it the most memorable mountain climb event in my life! One of the most fun and challenging aspects of rock climbing and mountaineering is that there is always something new to learn. My daughter is my biggest teacher in so many ways.”
Mr. Gazic adds that when one climbs regularly, he or she will learn that life lessons are ongoing, and he is so grateful for the privilege it is to climb — for the invitation it has been to live a more present, fearless, connected life; for the opportunity to marvel at the beauty of this world from a clifftop perch he has arrived at by calming his mind and trusting his feet; and for the many lessons I’ve learned on the wall.
“If you want to keep growing as a climber and a person, you need to keep learning! I like to remember a saying: “If you don’t stretch, you don’t know where the edge is,” Mr. Gazic concludes.