Carsten von Birckhahn–a respected member of the international climbing community and brand manager for Edelrid–died in a paragliding accident in northern Italy on July 15 while vacationing with his wife and kids. He was 49.
Born in Brazil, Von Birckhahn lived in Germany and Switzerland before he relocated to El Chalten, Argentina. He became a prominent figure among Patagonia climbers not only for his skill and his taste for adventure in the mountains–his list of summits and first ascents in Patagonia alone is impressive–but also for his contributions to the community. He welcomed many visitors to his home and built the Centro Alpino hut with the help of some friends. In addition, he was an innovator and businessman who helped Edelrid grow over the last 10 years.
From Martin Kroussottsi
Von Birckhahn’s close friend and climbing partner Martin Kroussottsi shared the following story in Spanish, translated by Rolando Garibotti:
When I decided to settle in Chalten, in 2004, Carsten was already a key player in the town, a pioneer, a promoter of the sport, keen on expeditions across the Ice Cap and of kayaking to distant peaks. Back then he was in the process of finishing building what we now know as Centro Alpino, a place that lodges climbers during the summer season, including some of the best in the world, people like Michal Pitelka, the Huber brothers, Tommy Caldwell, Alex Honnold, Colin Haley, Rolo [Garibotti], etc. Isidro and Juan Canale (“Pira”) and Carsten had built most of the Centro Alpino and his house, and it was a treat to help them finish them. “Pira” was one of Carsten’s closest friends and together they shared many mountain adventures.
Carsten and his wife Anke put a lot of effort to have their kids develop a link with the local culture, a country that he claimed was the country of his heart. Patagonia was the place where he felt the most free, where he would come to recharge his creative batteries so to speak. As far as creativity goes he was unmatched, beyond the norm. He had a tireless energy…. Problems did not exist for Carsten, only ways to solve them. He was a master at finding the easiest possible solution for anything. He was… [also] a student, a committed father, a superb boss and employee. He loved everything he did, and went all in, even when he knew his contribution would not be acknowledged, because he was convinced of the change he was helping generate. He was particularly keen on building, working with tools, and was quite an artist working with leather. He was fascinated by the culture of the asado (open fire barbecues), of the way the local gauchos celebrate through that ritual, and he often organized asados to celebrate summits.
As a friend he was extremely loyal, and quickly we recognized in each other our love for adventure and went on to have many of them, of all sorts. I had been a sailor for most of my life, and Carsten was one of the people that opened the door to the mountains, an environment where now I feel most alive and where I feel I can give my best. He took me to the mountains often, and on one occasion I was able to witness him at his best, while we opened a new route on Gran Gendarme del Cerro Pollone, which we christened in memory of a dear friend that had died recently.
Later I went on to help him build his house in Switzerland, and we worked together on a project he coordinated to help improve safety on via ferratas across Europe (a collaboration between Edelrid, Petzl and Mammut). This was an enormous gift for my wife Ivonne and I–in sharing his world with us he surprised us. In the meantime he transformed Edelrid, a company dedicated to rope manufacturing into one that is a leader in almost every category of outdoor products.
We shared a lot of life together, creating an international, intercultural family of sorts. In losing him I lost a brother and a piece of my heart. He did many remarkable things in life, but the biggest one being his deep love for his family, and his ability to enjoy every second. Recently I was on the phone with his mother, crying, and she told me: “Martin, don’t cry, you must remember that Carsten was always happy.”
From Josh Huckaby
Josh Huckaby got to know Von Birckhahn during his frequent climbing trips to Patagonia. He wrote:
Carsten was my friend. I met him in 2012, at the Centro Alpino in El Chalten. He built the Centro Alpino to have a place for climbers to gather and share information in Patagonia. Over the years, he created a family of alpinists that returned every summer to climb in the Fitz Roy massif. It was awesome. Although he was not much older than me, I looked up to him. Carsten carried himself in a way that only a few rare people do. Charismatic and confident: he was the coolest guy I knew.
I heard about him from stories that Mikey Schaefer and Kate Rutherford would tell about a Swiss/German guy named Carsten, who owned this place in El Chalten. Lisa and I stayed there during our first season in Patagonia, and have every season since. It was the best summer camp ever.
We would spend countless mornings sitting in the sun enjoying mate and solving the world’s imperfections. Carsten’s outlook on life was simple–he wanted to squeeze every last drop out of each day. When the weather in the mountains was not so good, we would spend time in town hanging around the Centro. Carsten would roll through announcing in his classic way, “How are my babies?” and drop invites to dinner. Something about the way he would say it made me feel like I was a part of something special. In the afternoons everyone would rally out to the crags and boulders to get some exercise and build up an appetite for “Family Night.” We would all get together and feast on a traditional Brazilian dish of beans and rice.
Carsten was always interested in everyone’s projects. Some of us who stayed at the Centro Alpino had the pleasure of tying into the rope with him in the mountains. I never did and it is one of my deepest regrets. I was so inspired during my first season in Patagonia that I wrote “CENTRO ALPINO” across the front of my helmet. I thought it would keep me safe on Fitz Roy and make me cool.
The best times I had with Carsten were sitting at his place sharing mate and talking to him about his kids. Michel, Finn and Dana were the most important people in his life and you could tell by the way he lit up while telling stories and showing us videos and pictures of them. His wife Anke, who I have never met, must be someone special….
Carsten will be missed by me and everyone who had the chance to meet him.
From Malcolm Daly
Malcolm Daly, a founder of Trango and Paradox Sports, got to know Von Birckhahn as a fellow climber involved in the business world:
I met Carsten when I was finalizing the prototypes of the Trango Cinch and wanted to see how it would work on the new Mammut 8.9mm single. Carsten welcomed me into the Mammut booth like I was an old friend and we ended up talking design and use of belay devices for two hours. Meanwhile I had customers waiting to meet with me and so did Carsten. It didn’t matter, he and I had bonded and that’s what mattered.
Fast forward 18 years and I heard that Carsten was now at Edelrid and that Edelrid had been bought by Albrecht von Dewitz, owner of Vaude…. I just knew that Carsten unleashed was going to re-invent the climbing world by turning his brainstorms into cool-ass products.
That I didn’t ever get to climb with Carsten and I didn’t have too many opportunities to hang out with him is something I will always regret.
Some notable climbs and adventures
Garibotti and Kroussottsi compiled the following list of some of Von Birckhahn’s Patagonia climbs:
* In 1998 he started from Fiordo Calvo in the Pacific Ocean, crossed the Ice Cap carrying kayaks, to reach Lago Argentino and descend Rio Santa Cruz to the Atlantic.
* In 1998, with Andy McAuley, he climbed the east summit of a group of towers called Grupo La Paz, located in Canal Santa Maria, four hours sailing to the west of Puerto Natales.
* In 2000, he established “Kurz vor Knapp” on the east face of La Mascara, in Torres del Paine, with Anke Claus and Robert Tanner.
* Shortly after, and also with Anke, they opened “Condorito” (6b+ or 5.11a, 300m) on Cuerno Este, and Pluma de Condor on Cuerno Chico (6b or 510d, 300m), also in Torres del Paine.
In the Chalten area he climbed many routes:
* Artebelleza, on the north face of Aguja Rafael Juarez, opened with Anke Claus, in 2002 (6c or 5.11b, 250m).
* Disfrute la Vida, on the west face of Aguja Guillaumet opened with Michal Pitelka, in 2009 (6b or 5.10d A0 30*, 450m).
* Rayo de Luz, on the west face of Aguja Guillaumet opened with Michal Pitelka, in 2009 (6b or 5.10d C1, 400m).
* Tee Pitelka, on the west face of Aguja Guillaumet opened with Michal Pitelka, in 2010 (6b or 5.10d C1, 450m).
* In 2012 he did the second solo ascent of the Brenner-Moschioni (6b or 5.10d 30*, 600m) on Aguja Guillaumet.
* That same year he attempted a difficult new route on the west face of Aguja Mermoz, retreating at two-thirds height, with Lorenzo Lanfranconi, Mirko Mase and Simone Pedeferi.
* Zigzag, on the west face of Aguja Tito Carrasco opened with Lukas Pflug and Sebastian Straub, in 2013 (6b or 5.10d C1, 300m).
* Perfekt Day, on the west face of Gran Gendarme del Pollone, opened with Lukas Pflug, in 2013 (7a or 5.11d, 300m).
* No Entiendo, on the east face of Gran Gendarme del Pollone, opened with Martin Kroussottsi, in 2013 (6a+ or 5.10c, 250m).
* In 2013 he climbed the Via dei Ragni on the west face of Cerro Torre with Dave Kotch and Whit Magro.
* In the Cerro Pollone group he attempted several times the traverse from Gran Gendarme to Cerro Pollone, climbing up and over all the intermediate summits. In 2015, with Clayton Laramie and Cody Scarpella, they climbed Gran Gendarme, the two Cumbrecitas, the three summits of Tridente, and part way up Tito Carrasco. In 2016, with two partners, he repeated the same traverse, climbing over Tito Carrasco to reach a point 100 meters below the summit of Cerro Pollone.
* He also opened two lines to reach the base of the south face of Aguja de la Silla, one with Juan Canale and Dominik Duer, another Colin Haley, with whom he went on to climb Aguja Desmochada.
On the west face of Aguja Guillaumet, Ben Erdmann and Jonathan Schaffer dedicated a new route to him, which they called Von Buergermeister, which roughly translates into “the mayor’s route,” honoring the central role he played among the group of climbers that visited the area regularly.