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Matthias in his element. © Hansjörg Auer

‘Kaunergrat’ Winter Traverse

From March 14 to March 17 my brother Matthias and I managed to traverse the main part of ‘Kaunergrat’ in winter. This ridge line in North-South direction hosts some of the wildest peaks of the Ötztal Alps. The project to connect the nine most important summits from ’Kleiner Dristkogel‘ to ’Rostizkogel‘ in winter by following the main ridge line was in the back of our minds for the last two years.

The process of dreaming, planning, thinking but also hesitating and being plagued by inner turmoil about a climbing project is often the most intense part of the whole journey. And to share all that with a brother implies an even higher level. With his family in mind the mountains of the Himalaya are not a goal to tackle at the moment for Matthias. His feeling of responsibility for his wife and his son is just too strong. So we were looking for something in the backyard of our home and we came up with the idea of this wintery ridge traverse. We just had to wait for the right moment, which provided good weather and at least useful climbing conditions. Our plan was to do it without any stashed gear and no other support, carrying everything with us. To make the approach and descent possible we used snowshoes.

Difficulties up to grade UIAA 5- on rock, many exposed, steep and corniced parts and also some hard digging through deep snow challenged us a lot but doesn’t really express what we experienced while being out there. In total the mission took us 38 hours of climbing spread over four days. However, this project showed me once again how, at times, grades and numbers can mean not very much in alpinism.

Summits from North to South:

Kleiner Dristkogel (2934m)

Großer Dristkogel (3058m)

Gsallkopf (3277m)

Rofele Wand (3353m)

Sonnenkogel (3153m)

Verpeilspitze (3423m)

Schwabenkopf (3378m)

Watzespitze (3532m)

Rostizkogel (3394m)

 

 

Icelandic Ice 9. © Tim Kemple

Icelandic Ice

Sometimes before going on a climbing trip I check out the official website of the country. So I did for Iceland, where I´d planned an ice climbing adventure with my friends from ‘The North Face America’.

“Iceland is a country of sharp contrasts. A place where fire and ice co-exist. Where dark winters are offset by the summer’s midnight sun. A country where insular existence has spurred a rich and vibrant culture.”

But honestly I´ve to say it´s much more. I was not expecting such a great landscape, couldn’t imagine that strong power of the Northern Lights and furthermore the glacial ice formations which we found were simply amazing. It was such a cool climbing trip on which we were exploring nearly every day a new area on the southeast coast of the island. Glacial ice climbing is not about to conquer this wall or that cave. The glacier is changing his face from time to time anyway and what you climb now will be gone in a few weeks and will be there in a different formation. It’s more like being a kid, jumping on whatever you’re up to and which line inspires you the most. One of those days:

“The ‘Blue Wall’ of the huge Vatnajökull Glacier is the most eye-catching part from a climbers perspective. At the very end of the massive ice landscape floating down from the Icelandic higher plateau it breaks down for more than 100 feet in slightly overhanging angle. Got my ass kicked being the first one up with some spicy one arm swing-outs high above my last screw and a final whipper which reminded me of spanish limestone. After I got down it was clear to succeed it would take some finely tuned and sharpened ice tools and crampons. On the next day I did the line first go and Sam put up another route on the virgin part just right of it. Above the ‘Blue Wall’ we then explored the ‘Five Finger Moulin’. An awesome and impressive place to climb next to waterfalls, on some fine and exposed ice ridges and all this on the bluest glacial ice I’ve ever seen. Iceland keeps giving.”

During the second day on the wall. © Hansjörg Auer / The North Face

Gimmigela East 2016

Located on the border between Nepal and India Gimmigela East (7005m), it is the subpeak of Gimmigela Chuli (7350m), and also referred to as ‘Gimmigela’s Sister’. It´s steep Northface had never been tried before by any expedition and was a well hidden project in the remote Kangchenjunga area. Situated approximately four kilometers from the World’s third highest peak Kangchenjunga (8585m), it´s summit was only reached twice by Japanese after trips in 1993 and 1994 from India, Southside of the mountain.

After a five-day gruelling hike through the jungle alongside the Tamar River and across the higher plateaus of the Ghunsa Valley, we basecamped a little higher than the classic Pangpema basecamp; one of Nepal’s most treasured sites.

Alex Blümel and I started to acclimate on the Dhromo south ridge and, after a total of three nights at 5900m, on November 8, we felt ready for Gimmigela East’s north face. Due to a wet Monsun with high precipitation we found the 1200m high face in perfect conditions. After two bivies, of which the second one on the final summit ridge seriously challenged us due to the small ledge been extremely exposed to the strong winds, we reached the summit at 7.30am on 10th November. A cold, windy but clear morning allowed us to see far into Sikkim’s great mountain range and to the unexplored east face of Kangchenjunga.

„Yet again, it was one of those expeditions where everything came together. A great project, an even greater friendship and a very efficient first ascent of a ’King Line’ on a 7000m peak in one of the most remote places in the Himalayas.“

Thank you Alex for the great time on and off the wall, and Elias and Matteo for making the time spent in the basecamp during this expedition even sweeter.

 

Fact Box:

Mountain Range:                                 Kangchenjunga Area/Himalaya/Nepal

Mountain:                                              Gimmigela East (7005m)

Altitude of Basecamp:                         5200m

Difficulties:                                            85° ice

First Ascent of the face:                      8th – 10th of November 2016 in alpine style

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The loss of the Demantoid

Together with Alex Blümel I established ‘The loss of the Demantoid’, a new alpine multi-pitch rock climb up the Kristallwand face on Kirchkogel (3280m) in Austria. This route we dedicate to our late friend Gerry Fiegl.

The 3280m high Kirchkogel in the Ötztal Alps is not really well known. But if you walk up the higher Gaisberg Valley it’s north face catches your attention immediately. Surrounded by a great glacier landscape the Kristallwand rises above your head. A steep rock face well hidden, which is mainly characterized by chossy rock, just a few obvious lines and a really steep overhang. Ever since I climbed the first two routes of the wall in 2012 and 2014, I had always wanted to go back to find a free climbable line.

I looked on the left part of the wall, where the rock is perfect. The only thing that kept me from doing it was that it’s pretty close and compact. So opening the route with minimum bolts was the hardest thing of my recent adventure on this wall. But my first visit this season was really promising and already after that day I knew, that working on this route will be a lot of fun and it was exactly the thing I was searching for.

After three days of opening the line and one day of checking the hardest pitches, I grabbed the free ascent on August 19 with difficulties up to 7c+. After all what happened to Alex and me on Nilgiri South, we thought that ‘The loss of the Demantoid’ is a great name for the route. A ‘demantoid’ is one of the most precious gemstones that exist.

There is an interesting fact around this face: The Kristallwand had been first attempted over 70 years ago by legendary Austrian alpinist Hermann Buhl and since then nobody else tried to climb it. When I came there in 2012 to open the first route, I found his piton where these guys abseiled off.

 

 

Short edit of opening ‘The loss of the Demantoid’ on the steep and wild Kristallwand:

Kirchkogel – Kristallwand – Ötztal/Austria – The loss of the Demantoid – Alex Blümel/Hansjörg Auer from Hansjörg Auer on Vimeo.

After many hours of climbing in the storm. © Alex Blümel

Annapurna III 2016

When arriving home from an unsuccessful expedition, I prefer to keep to myself and reflect. A short summary of our expedition, however, follows:

After pre-acclimatising in Zermatt/Valais Alps David, Alex and myself flew to Kathmandu early April, soon establishing Basecamp at 4600m between Annapurna III and Annapurna IV. Like previous expeditions we took the helicopter to achieve this. Nick Bullock, an alpinist who was there in 2010, described the area as follows and I couldn’t do it any better: “It’s one of the most special areas in the Himalayas. In fact the place has only ever had a handful of very privileged people enter beyond its steep entry walls or the very inaccessible sheer cliffs of the Seti Kola Gorge and it soon becomes obvious by the fact there are no paths, tracks, feet-worn formations, human detritus or markings of any kind. The moraine between the top of the Seti Kola gorge and the col at the head of the cirque is a massive untamed jumble filled with icefall, tumbling blocks, fins of towering rubble, minarettes, spires of rock and grass meadow. All of these are virtually untouched by human hand.”

After three acclimatisation rounds on the Annapurna III East Ridge with a highpoint of 6000m we felt ready to give the Southeast Ridge a try. During three days we climbed a possible new highpoint (around 6500m) in really difficult and exposed terrain. But in the end the weather was not on our side and forced us to retreat. After another bivy and many rappels we were back at the glacier. Exhausted we hiked back to Basecamp. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance for another try due to heavy snowfall and even more humid conditions after that. It was a hard but inescapable decision to finish the expedition. With a last glance up this great line on Annapurna III we left the mountain mid May.

Thanks to David and Alex for the great time in this amazing mountain range, to Mungo and Menk for capturing our activities and to Flo for raising the money. Back in Nepal this fall for another high altitude session.

 

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Nilgiri South 2015

From October 22 to October 26 Hansjörg, together with Alex Blümel and Gerry Fiegl, successfully made the first ascent of the 1500m high Southface of Nilgiri South (6839m). This is certainly one of the finest ascents of the season in the Himalayas and a long waited project has finally been realised.

Nilgiri is located in the Annapurna massif in Nepal. Comprised of the North, Central and South Summit, the South Face rises directly from the glacier starting from 5400m up to 6839m. 

The Expedition started on October 5 and following a tricky and steep approach to Basecamp, the team immediately started the process of acclimatization. After spending two nights up in advanced basecamp at a height around 5300m, the conditions allowed for an immediate first attempt of the peak.

“Out of his eyes shined the brightest light when we all reached the summit together. What happened next was one of the darkest moment in my life.”

Hansjörg, Alex and Gerry climbed a line on the right side of the face, via the previous unclimbed Nilgiri Spire (6780m) and then by traversing up and down on the spectacular and exposed ridge, they reached the summit of Nilgiri South at 11am on October 25. It was the first ascent of this face and only the second ascent of the South Summit itself since the Japanese First Ascent in 1978. The team’s descent via the previously unclimbed Southwest Ridge was more technical and difficult than they had expected and at approximately 2pm on the 26th of October Gerry Fiegl sadly took a fall from which he did not survive.

„When an good friend falls and dies in front of you, that’s when everything else loses its importance. Our expedition could not have ended worse.”

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Nilgiri South was first climbed on 10 October 1978 via the East Ridge by a Japanese expedition led by Kazao Mitsui. The formidable South Face and SW Ridge had been attempted unsuccessfully on various occasions by Japanese, Czech and Slovene expeditions and the new Austrian route, climbed with three bivouacs during the ascent and one during the descent with difficulties up to M5 90° ice, is only the second ascent of Nilgiri South. It is probably one of the most important Himalayan ascents this season, unfortunately though overshadowed by the tragic loss of Gerry Fiegl in descent.

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These are the moments, which are making all the effort worth it. © The North Face/Elias Holzknecht

Siberian Big Walls 2015

One year before our expedition took place it were my friends Iker and Eneko Pou, getting inspired by the pictures of the Chukotka walls they had seen of Australian climbers Chris Fitzgerald and Chris Warners expedition to the area in 2014. Because of the big potential of first ascents on the moderate high walls they searched more team members. Immediately I was on board, furthermore joined by Siebe Vanhee and Jacopo Larcher.

Being so high up in the Northern hemisphere gave us the opportunity to choose our climbing rhythm because of the 24 hours of sunlight. As a multidisciplinary team with a mixed kind of qualities we aimed for the obvious and the natural climbs. Climbing free and in one push but also the style of fixing ropes and focussing on free climbing a harder and challenging line was an important goal of the trip. For all of us the values of clean climbing and avoiding unnecessary bolting were of high importance.

To be as efficient as possible we split into two teams, one comprised of Jacopo, Siebe and myself, the other of Iker and Eneko. Most routes we climbed in a single push, weather permitting, and using trad gear only, apart from one line, the “Red Corner“ on the wall of Commander, where five hand-drilled bolts were placed.

The walls as well as the environment, including the horrible mosquitos, who stayed during our whole journey and definitely made the basics of living like a little challenge, left a great impression to all of us.

A short sum up of the eight new routes on the 300m to 500m high walls of The Commander, The General and The Monk:

The Commander

Into the Wild – 7a/425m – Iker & Eneko Pou

The Two Parrots – 7a/320m, Iker & Eneko Pou

Red Corner – 7c+/450m, Larcher, Vanhee, Auer

The General

Wake up in Siberia – 6b/240m, Larcher, Vanhee, Auer

Aupa – 6c/300m, Iker & Eneko Pou

Mosquito Rock Tour – 7a+/450m, Iker & Eneko Pou

From Zero to Hero – 7a/490m – Larcher, Vanhee, Auer

The Monk

Sketchy Django – 6a+/400m, Larcher, Vanhee, Auer

On top after the 'Mephisto Free Solo'. Mentally exhausted but happy about what happened. ©Archiv Auer/Mathias Nössig

Mephisto – Free Solo

I have been plagued by inner turmoil for some time now. It is difficult to explain; a drive revolving around pure motivation, egotism and a hankering need for solitude, which grows exponentially within me. This state of mind is impossible for me to share with others. Who am I supposed to tell? Who is genuinely going to understand and from whom do I need to ask permission to realise my goal? Such questions, although left wide-open, trigger much thought and internal debate that only I, alone, can resolve.

Free solo involves so much more than just the physical act of climbing. It begins directly under the route. A long, patient wait is accompanied by a yearning that begins as a small spark in a dream and develops into a blaze, roaring ferociously out of control. Keeping this yearning to yourself is the tricky part. It is something that one cannot openly talk about, but those who know me well can see the fire growing in my eyes. Only a few friends eventually confront me about my participation in free solo climbing and they express mixed feelings. It is hard for them to accept that their friend wants to risk everything and climb a big wall without a rope. This aside, they understand and believe in me.

In the case of my next project, it was my close friend Motte who sensed my inner unrest. I told him about my plan to climb “Mephisto” on the Heiligkreuzkofel in the Dolomites without a rope. Motte was unable to look me in the eyes as we talked, but he wanted to travel with me to the start of the route and wait at the summit for my return. I felt a sudden inner peace. Motte’s support and understanding was the last piece of the puzzle that I needed and I was ready. He was going to pick me up the next day at 06.30 in the morning. If everything went well with my own plan, I then wanted to climb “Moderne Zeiten” on the Marmolada south wall with him; a route that he had wanted to climb for some years.

“Mephisto” was a ground-breaking route climbed in 1979 and the first route graded UIAA 8 in the Alps. I made the decision to solo this route two days earlier whilst climbing it for the first time with my girlfriend. The crux pitch is complicated, exposed and very committing. Upon reaching the belay of that pitch, I looked back down at the holds and dishes breaking up the compact limestone wall and immediately accepted that this route would be the one. We eventually reached the summit and enjoyed our collective success. On the walk back to the car, however, I could not help glancing back at the west wall of the Heiligkreuzkofels.

What happened next is difficult to put into words. On the morning of 26. August 2015 Motte and I said goodbye after reaching the foot of the route. I was filled with elation after having finally reached this point. After a good hour of intense climbing, I sprinted through the last chimney and reached the summit. A loud scream of joy and one last look down at the cloud-shrouded face, followed by Motte’s welcoming handshake are all that remain of that moment in time.

After four years patiently waiting to find another project, a long-term dream has become reality and I am able to add another chapter to my passion of “free solo” climbing.

Mount Reaper - Sugar Man  © Archiv Auer

Mt. Reaper – First Ascent in Alaska

The mountain, located in the Neacola Range, rises with a stunning 750m high north face from the massive Pitchfork Glacier. The summits of this range are not as high as those in the nearby Revelation Mountains or the well known Ruth Gorge, but therefore the glaciers are going down lower which implies that the faces are still up to 1000 meters high. With three different projects in mind, I left my home beginning of May. My longtime friend and climbing partner, Much Mayr, joined me.

From the start, we got to know the unstable weather that this range is well known for, and the blue sky that greeted us upon our arrival only lasted for a day. After warming up on a rock pillar next to our base camp, where bad conditions forced us to retreat after around 400m of climbing, an intense storm kept us camp-bound. What followed were more than three days in the white out, constantly freeing the tent from snow, and I already thought that this wouldn’t be the luckiest trip. Living on the glacier, 100 of kilometers away from civilisation, demands a strong belief, and a great friendship to keep high spirits and good vibes.

To further complicate the matter, the temperatures were higher than we expected. Our objective was in tricky conditions, but anyway – after a day of checking out the approach we decided to give it a go. I knew that we need to be super light and that we have to try the climb in less than ideal weather, to avoid higher temperatures on the face.

In the end we did the climb in a 12-hour push from camp to summit and back, staying on top for less than five minutes because heavy clouds were coming in. Lots of spindrift due to strong winds higher up and some really challenging steep pitches with bad protection challenged us a lot. While I was leading the crux, where a fall was out of the question, it suddenly occurred to me that this route might be in the “knife-edge” category. Some of the belays were on our ice axes only, the ice was mostly just plastered onto the blank granite, and it really couldn’t have been any thinner otherwise our alpine style attempt would have ground to a halt.

Hansjörg Auer and Much Mayr – ‘Ice like Sugar’ – Mt. Reaper – Alaska 2015 from Hansjörg Auer on Vimeo.

 

Facts:

First Ascent of ‘Mt. Reaper’ (elevation ca. 2300m)

Route: ‘Sugar Man’ on the 750m high Northface

Summit on May 17 2015 by Much Mayr and Hansjörg Auer

Proposed grading: M7, 85°, A1