One Step Closer
The Alpine trilogy are three of the European Alps’ hardest multipitches; each of them put up by a legend of the era.
“Silbergeier” (8b/+, 7c+, 8a+, 7a+, 8b+, 7c+) – Beat Kammerlander
“End of Silence” (7a+, 6c+, 6a+, 6a, 7b+, 7c+, 7b, 8b, 8b+, 7c+, 7a+) – Thomas Huber
“Des Kaiser Neue Kleider” (6c, 7c+, 8a+, 7b+, 8b+, 8a, 6b, 8b+, 6c) – Stefan Glowacz
All climbed in the early 90’s, they have stood the test of time and set a high standard in the realms of hard alpine rock climbing. In over 20 years there are few challenges in the Alps that are as difficult which goes to show just how far ahead of their time these guys where!
Over the last few years, I’ve dedicated myself entirely to multipitch rock climbing, taking on many different challenges from climbing in the Alps to Big Walling in Yosemite to putting up a new First Ascent in Patagonia’s Cochamo Valley. What I have learned is that the value associated with the grade is of no comparison to the amount of work put in, energy expired and tears shed through the process of climbing these things. It’s just a different game up there in the mountains; everything is much longer, harder and more effort.
2 years ago I succeeded in climbing “Silbergeier” as my first in the trilogy and on the same trip also made the 2nd ascent of “Project Fear” on Cima Grande and “Paciencia” on the North Face of the Eiger; it was one of the driest Summers the Alps have seen which made for excellent climbing conditions. In all honesty I still feel to this day that I kind of fluked that summer… I wasn’t at all ready for those climbs and I didn’t really know what they were about. I went up on the North Face of the Eiger with a bunch of quickdraws and just went for it!
It’s funny looking back knowing what I know now… it was completely insane what I did. I had no exit strategy. Willis my climbing partner was a bit more experienced than I was, but still, I cringe at some of the decisions we made. Maybe it was ignorance that got us up those climbs; or maybe it was dumb luck? Probably a bit of both!
“End of Silence”
I decided to return to the Alps this summer with the intent on finishing “The Alpine Trilogy”. I have been travelling with a friend from back home, Calum Cunningham. Calum is young (20) and talented, coming from a family of climbers and outdoor lovers; he was born to be in and amongst the mountains. Before this trip he had never taken on anything BIG, so it was going to be interesting to see how he adapted to this.
“End of Silence” was the first big route we took on, and the first day was hilarious. I knew that the climb was on a wall called the “Fire Horn”, and that’s about it. Needless to say, typing “Fire Horn” into Google Maps didn’t take us to where we wanted to be. Neither did typing “End of Silence” – Google Maps doesn’t know what that is. But typing “Berchtesgaden Alps” (which is the region) takes you somewhere. Following Google Maps all the way will take you to a nice little walkers path somewhere in the heart of the Berchtesgaden Alps, which if you don’t know, is a FREAKING MASSIVE PLACE!!!
We then had an alarmingly positive stroke of luck. After asking two dog walkers if they knew what “Fire Horn” was, the first didn’t speak English, the second knew “End of Silence”… It seems in Germany that every “other” man and their dog climb 8b+ multipitches.
Knowing where to go, we drove straight there and within 40minutes we’d arrived at a military base where the approach to the “Fire Horn” begins. Onto our next challenge; which path to take? Turns out the wall is huge and the “Fire Horn” is only one small part of it. Carrying enough food to last us a week, bottles of water and hundreds of metres of static rope, we walked up at a painfully slow pace. 5 hours of trekking later and we made it to the base of the wall, but still nowhere near the route! We then walked tiresomely along the base for 2 hours, scrambling over loose rock, scree and traversing dodgy grassy ledges until eventually arriving 7 hours after we set of, broken and completely finished!
I actually love a good epic, which is probably why I love climbing in the mountains. The next day we got up super early and scrambled to the base of the climb with all our ropes. This was Calums “First Day” and I was wondering when the first “fuck up” would happen. Turns out we didn’t even leave the first belay before he had dropped his brand new Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket… Calum would have to suffer, nothing teaches better than a good ole suffering!
We slowly made our way up the wall, fixing pitches as we went. Calum was definitely feeling the terror, but despite this was still going for it on every pitch! He did care about the run-outs and he did care about the exposure, it was all very real for him, but he sucked it up and just went for it anyway. I knew exactly how he felt; a part of me was feeling it still, but that deep inner terror you feel from the exposure numbs the more you climb these walls.
The Windy Push
Over the following weeks we dealt with some bad weather which slowed us down a bit, but as soon as the conditions arrived we would be back up there working the pitches, preparing for an attempt from the ground.
One day I awoke from my sleep… It was 9:30am and I went to get water from a drip we were collecting from. I could feel a bitter cold wind, the first I had felt here and a sudden realisation that this could be an opportunity sprung forth. I ran back to Calum and put forward the idea that we could actually just go for it today. Why not? We’re mega late, it isn’t an alpine start and we haven’t got anything ready, but sometimes a bit of spontaneity is just what is needed to get us up these things? I knew most of my climbing partners would shrug this off as “Robbie being a bit daft again!” – but Calum didn’t know any better… he was young, foolish and I’ll admit… a bit thick… He would jump of a cliff if I told him it would help his climbing.
We got to the base at 11:30am and threw an unbelievable effort at the wall managing to shiver our way up as high as the very last hard pitch (8b+). The sun was setting fast and we had three good goes each at the pitch. Calum was closer than I on his final attempt, but it wasn’t enough. I think we burned about 10,000 calories in shivering that day and another 10,000 calories trying to keep motivated as the wind broke us to pieces on the wall. We descended from our high point, not completely dissatisfied with our attempt, but actually surprised that on a day with no expectations we could almost climb one of the hardest multipitches in the Alps.
The Warm Push
At the base of the wall, the air temperature lies at a very comfortable 20 degrees Celsius – I’ll happily sit outside for lunch and maybe even go for a splash in the Lake… not really what I consider “sending temps” on hard limestone rock routes where you regularly trust all your weight on a quarter of the pad of your fingertip.
We once again began to climb, this time at a much more alpine approved start of 6am! By 11:30am (our previous starting time), we were already at the base of the 7b pitch, just one pitch shy of the first crux pitch, a gnarly 8b on small pockets in a really technical style.
Calum went first on the 8b on which he seemed to really struggle with the temperature. He had a few goes to begin with before letting me take over for a few rounds with the beast. I was annoyed on my first attempt; my hand slipped off after the crux… it was really greasy! Another go and I fell, but third time was the charm and I just trusted in my feet and let them do the work. I clipped the chains and was back at my highpoint from the previous attempt; one more 8b+ pitch and then I’m home free!!!
Calum repeatedly tried the 8b pitch, even managing to break through the bottom crux and into the final metres, but sadly slipped before he was scot free – it wasn’t looking good. He decided to rest a while and belay me on the 8b+ pitch.
I have found that I rarely feel the same pressure to succeed on big multipitches as I do on single pitch projects. I think it’s because I enjoy them more? I really like being up high, taking big falls and going at it up there. I will admit though, I started to feel a little nervous on this. I really wanted to succeed and I had had less luck on the crux moves than Calum. My original sequence for the crux felt solid V9, but luckily I found some new beta to bring it down to a far more reasonable V7 – this was the main difference between now and the previous push.
The crux pitch has an annoyingly long section of fairly easy climbing before arriving at the first crux. It doesn’t tire you out, but it does mean you have to keep lowering yourself to the bottom of the pitch every time you fall… This was just one of the things that made this pitch difficult.
The first part of the crux wasn’t actually very hard, but took us ages to figure out. It was quite balancy and required standing on some smeary footholds which are hard to trust. You then gain a good resting point on some sidepulls before the meat, a gnarly boulder problem which involved me locking down to my hip on my right-hand “Back 2” (Pinky + Ring Finger) to do a cross through to a slopey dish. This move has actually given me a minor finger injury in my ring finger, something I had envisaged happening and had been weighing up beforehand whether or not “End of Silence” was worth this price?
On my first attempt I fell during the cross-through… I knew I had limited attempts at this move due to the strain it would cause on my finger. I fell off and had what I’d like to call a bit of a mild tantrum… Marie and Calum might disagree. It’s not quite as bad as an Ondra-Scream, but not far off! We have footage of it, which I know I’ll regret posting online, but I think it’s funny so I’ll take the risk.
I didn’t want to have to have another go, so on my 2nd go, I got to that Pinky pocket and pulled like a bastard, locking it down to my hip and crossing through as if I was somehow cemented to the wall… Everything stayed and I crimped down hard on my left hand, locked it out once more and made the last “hard” move to agonising relief.
It wasn’t completely over; the last 5m of climbing are super tech and easy to fall off. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever climbed that section well; but as anyone who has been at the top of their project knows, when you’re not going to let go, you’re NOT letting go!
I screamed with elation as I sat at the chains – this was certainly no “End of Silence” for me; it was a great moment!
An Empty Victory
Calum had some more goes on the 8b, but it just wasn’t his day. This left me with a really strange feeling of emptiness regarding the ascent. Of course when you climb these big hard routes, having the right partner is important. I had felt that “End of Silence” was something we were doing together and I wanted us both to be successful. If Calum wasn’t successful, then I felt that in some way the ascent that day was partly empty.
I’m really happy with my free ascent of “End of Silence”; for me it’s one step closer to the ultimate ambition of climbing “The Alpine Trilogy”. As for Calum, I’m keen to return with him soon to support him on his ascent, and then together we can begin the next stage, “Des Kaiser Neue Kleider”, the final part of the trilogy.