Category: Now

June Afternoon. © Elias Holzknecht

June Afternoon – New multipitch in Ötztal

Finally I’ve freed my old multipitch project in Ötztal calling it June Afternoon. This five pitches long sport climb located on the right side of the Nösslachwand offers some great climbing on incredible good rock smoothed by the glacier thousands of years ago.

More importantly than the overall difficulties is the beauty of the fifth and final pitch, an 8a which is without doubt one of the most beautiful in the entire valley. The Nösslachwand hosts a series of other multipitch sport climbs, most of them far easier, ideal for spring, autumn and cool summer days.

Thanks to everyone who was up there with me this and over the last years, when I was trying the line occasionally. Also High Five to my longtime buddy Thomi. Together we’ve explored this piece of rock nine years ago during our crazy time on and off the walls.

Facts – June Afternoon (8b/+, 150m):
P1: 8b/+, 35m
P2: 5a, 20m
P3: 7c, 30m
P4: 7a, 25m
P5: 8a, 20m

Approach:
From the parking lot Nösslachwand, just before the village Au/Längenfeld, take a small path on the right side before the road gate. This will lead you directly up to the base and central part of the wall. After ten minutes follow the cairns to the left, move up a short fixed rope, traverse far left and climb up some easy slabs to a small ledge (approx. 25 minutes).

Descent:
Abseil back down the route. From the second belay abseil off directly to a hidden belay stance. From there one more rap back to the ledge.

Gear:
10 quickdraws, 70m single rope

As the sun was already setting down. © Hansjörg Auer

Mango Tango – New climb in Black Canyon

On May 4 2017, Much Mayr and I made the first ascent, ground-up and in a single 11 hour push, of a new climb in the Black Canyon, Colorado, USA. Actually it was my second trip to the Black Canyon after I’ve travelled there with Ben Lepesant in spring 2011 where I managed to free climb the historic Hallucinogen Wall (5.13 R) for the first time ever.

The new route is called Mango Tango and climbs a 600m line on the righthand side of the Diagonal Will Buttress between the routes Diagonal Wall and Pathfinder. We graded it 5.11+ R/X and the 18 pitches are characterized of serious trad climbing along logical systems of cracks and corners but also some spicy run-outs on the face climbing pitches like the third one, where falling is no option. We left two pitons and one nut in-situ and even if the Black Canyon is famous for poor rock this new climb offers mostly the opposite.

So if you’re looking for a big and adventurous day out, Mango Tango is exactly what you would think about.

 

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.”

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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.

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

 

© Elias Holzknecht/Woodslave

New alpine climb in Corsica

On March 20, me and my buddy Much freed our new 400-meter route up the granite Westface of Corsica’s Capu Cascioni (1091m) at 8a, calling it “Le Petit Prince”. 

The mediterranean Corsica is a place with lots of world-class granite walls, some of them big, some very small, but always incredible because of wind-shaped tafoni features. The atmosphere of the island is similar to a sparsely populated southern France – small villages, tiny roads located in a pretty wild and unexplored landscape. The northeast coast, the place of the new route, is not really known for alpine multi pitch climbing and the quality of the granite makes the climb really unique.

We spent three days wandering around the area in September 2014 in search of a challenging new line. In the end we set our sights on Capu Cascioni, acting on a tip-off from Corsica expect and Frenchman Arnaud Petit. Starting from the ground, we spent the next three days preparing the route. Unfortunately we ran out of time and had to go back home. The plan was to return a few weeks later, but when I crashed while paragliding I knew that we had to postpone the trip until this spring to recover.

Finally this March we conclude unfinished business and, in-between dodging the raindrops, we spent one more day completing the route, than worked it a further two days before grabbing the first free ascent. We protected the often-overhanging route with natural gear and 12 lead bolts (excluding belays) over the course of 12 stout pitches.

“Le Petit Prince” – another great new climb of Corsica.

 

Glimpse  (c) Woodslave Production

GLIMPSE – a short video portrait

A short video portrait and an insight view of my life as a climber, my personality and the failed second ascent of a rarely good grown south facing ice climb in the backyard of my home mountains in Oetztal.

GLIMPSE from woodslave on Vimeo.

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The Music of Hope

Finally I managed to finish off another project on Kristallwand. A steep rock face hidden in Gaisbergtal in the Ötztal Alps, which is mainly charactarized by chossy rock, just a few obvious lines and a really steep overhang.

After I made the first ascent of “The Music of Chance” (6c/A3/500m) in winter 2012, I came back with David Lama last January to attempt a new and more free climbable line to the right without using bolts. Steep terrain, really loose flakes and some bad whippers forced us to retreat at half height. “We didn´t want to come back after that first try. Without taking a lot of risk you won’t climb that line. The Masherbrum Project was at stake.”

Nevertheless I was thinking a lot if it would make sense to come back in summer for another attempt. My vision to open this line without bolts was still in my mind. I asked my friend Gerri Fiegl to join me. On 9th of September, after 9 nerve-wracking hours of climbing and 12 pitches, shrouded in mist and clouds we were on top.

Name: ’The Music of Hope’ (7a/A1/500m)

Location: Kristallwand at Kirchkogel (3280m) – Ötztal Alps

Protection: mainly Bird Beaks, no bolts