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Nicolas Hojac, mountaineer: “If you’re frightened, you’ve taken one step too far”

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Nicolas Hojac has been living his passion for more than ten years: mountaineering. He climbed the north face of the Eiger for the first time when he was 18 and then set a new speed record for the ascent with Ueli Steck. Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau are his home mountains, but remote mountains in Pakistan, China or Patagonia also appeal to the native of Bern. He already has more plans for 2020.

To try where others have failed: these types of adventure appeal to Nicolas Hojac the most. And the 28-year old mountaineer has already set himself a few challenges. “The last ten years have been very intensive”, he say and lists adventures such as the expedition with SAC to China and the north ridge of K7 in Pakistan, his latest trip to Patagonia, but also his own projects in the Swiss Alps. Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau are on his doorstep in Spiez – so he came up with the idea of climbing all three peaks on the same day. To save time, he flew down into the valley with a paraglider. His time was 11 hours and 43 minutes. 

Through the north face of the Eiger at a record pace

Everything began with a language course in Lower Valais. “Rather than polishing my French, I discovered my love of the mountains there”, says Hojac. There were small climbing trips to begin with, later 4,000 meter peaks and then the first highlight was the north face of the Eiger at age 18. He has so far climbed the “mythical face” eleven times, one of which was with Ueli Steck in a record time of 3 hours and 46 minutes. Hojac already has some ideas for 2020 and is planning an expedition with friends. “We haven’t decided yet where we’re going to go”, he laughs.

Nicolas Hojac ice climbing on the Bachero route in Kiental.

Close encounter with an avalanche: Nicolas Hojac ice climbing on the Bachero route in Kiental. (Photo: D. Bleuer)


Turning back requires courage

Hojac is not just interested in testing limits and setting new speed records. “My aim is to be happy. A simple trip can give me just as much happiness as something obvious.” It goes without saying that he’s always on the lookout for new challenges, but not at any price. He goes into the mountains with the aim of coming back safely, says Hojac. “I have probably turned back more often that I have actually reached a summit.” Turning back requires courage, “but if the situation is critical, I find it quite easy to pull the rip cord.” 

My aim is to be happy. A simple trip can give me just as much happiness as something obvious.

Nicolas Hojac, mountaineer
Nicolas Hojac and Lukas Hinterberger run through deep snow on the Xuelian Feng West mountain in China.

On an expedition in China: Nicolas Hojac and Lukas Hinterberger on Xuelian Feng West. (Photo: Thomas Senf)


A doubled-edged sword

Hojac is rarely frightened. Even if his trips often seem dangerous to outsiders. “If you’re frightened, you’ve taken one step too far.” Obviously climbing mountains is a doubled-edged sword. “It’s very intensive and exciting, but it’s more risky than an office job.” If you’re out in the natural world, you have to be able to live with the dangers, says Hojac and recalls a particular experience in Pakistan: “We were at 5,000 meters on a glacier when an avalanche was triggered on the side of the mountain and bore down on us. A colleague screamed. We began to run. I thought it was the end. Obviously I was frightened at the moment! Luckily the avalanche didn’t reach us. But we would have had a problem if we had been nearer to the mountain face at that moment.” 

Ueli Steck was my good friend and also a mentor. I learned a lot from him.

Nicolas Hojac, mountaineer
Professional alpinist Nicolas Hojac on the Eiger. To his right is a drop of almost 1,000 meters over the north face of the Eiger into the valley.

En route on a precipice: Nicolas Hojac on the Mittellegi Ridge. To his right is a drop of almost 1,000 meters over the north face of the Eiger into the valley. (Photo: Michael Berger)


The question why

In the past few years, some mountaineers have lost their lives, including the famous Swiss alpinist Ueli Steck. This also affects Hojac. “Ueli was my good friend and also a mentor. I learned a lot from him. After his death, he often pondered the question about what it all means. “Once I was ice climbing, it was minus ten degrees. I was shivering and thought: What am I actually doing here? But almost as soon as I was back, the feelings of happiness returned and I was incredibly proud that I had climbed such an aesthetic line. Now I know what has been making me happy since I was 14 years old.”

Becoming a professional alpinist: The big dream

It is Hojac’s big dream to be able to make a living from mountaineering. With sponsors, talks and his own projects, he has laid the groundwork for this and also accompanies mountain tours and expeditions as a photographer. He is additionally studying engineering and is currently writing his Bachelor thesis. “I could make a good and regular income as an engineer” states Hojac. But that’s not what it’s all about for him. “I’m trying to live my dream. My goal isn’t to make as much money as possible, but to experience as much as possible with my life and to use the time I have intensively .”

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