The waterfall is growling: the sound of the melting ice and snow. Unleashed energy that was bound for a season, frozen still. Now it is rushing towards the sea for another cycle. My 24th full ice climbing season has passed. I remember the dawn of the season back in November in the Rockies, the chase during the following months for the frozen element and its fading at the end of march...
Luckily I found with Ski Alpinism again a remedy to accept the flux of an universe. I breathe the flux and start to ski up towards the night with the hope for another dawn.
Chasing early season ice in November 2016
Ribbon Creek - Kananaskis -Canada
During the Single Push Tour del Gran Paradiso
shortly before Col Neyron - April 2017
A night that lasts but with focused rush I keep going. A breeze is blowing from the starry sky. A breath of the void on this planet and ice is an ephemeral reflection of this breath: its merciless but wonderful reality is not to capture in numbers and grants no securities. Humans with a hang to narcissism and self celebration get quickly frustrated from the hard and exclusive nature of ephemeral ice formations. They dive into training sports like drytooling to celebrate numeric victories. They howl with the big pack that believes in numbers over commitment and experience. And why? Because they are afraid of the unknown, the inconceivable.
Direct exit of 'Repentance' - Cogne - Italy - March 2017
Since ancient times humanity tries to encounter the unknown with a mathematical system. The fear of the unknown forces whole societies into the worship of quantification: bank accounts, grades, calories, heart beats, Strava, clicks on social media, blood pressure, ... On the other side mighty clubs were and are always busy to keep one of the mightiest power of humans, the belief, under control. They direct humanity towards a belief in fear of the past and the future. Never in history people of our western civilization were so worried about what will happen and try to get insurance for everything. No more self awareness nor self responsibility. It has become the life in fear of living...
Stepping on the fragile matter of frozen water means stepping away from all the definitions and conventions - alone, but with trust in the inconceivable and acceptance of the unknown to experience the harmony of the life in every breath.
Another winter will rise - I can feel its breath....
Trip in the night - Degioz - Italy - January 2017
Repentance - Cogne - Italy - March 2017
during mine and Tanja Schmitt's 38th ascent of the line
'Facing the unknown we shall have no fear, we shall feel no remorse'
Matthias Scherer on Svartberg Fall, Gudvangen, Norway
picture Tanja Schmitt
While summer is on its peak I updated my list of my top 100 ice falls: For years 'Juste une Ilussion' on the Gramusat north face in the Freissinieres valley in France was for me the incarnation of THE ice line. Outstanding aesthetics, difficulties, every pitch ephemeral and high commitment for the whole team. This winter in January I found and climbed a line in the valley of Gudvangen in Norway that blowed our understanding away of how ice can be formed in scale and shape. The line is situated on the Svartberg - over 300 m high and at its heart an over 180m high pillar that formed medusas leaning out against all laws of gravity. The whole team had to put its believe and will together and only supported by the incredible spirit of Tanja and Heike it was possible for me to overcome the extreme difficulties. I will give no grade because on ephemeral ice grades are dust and ashes and only cited by those who live for the image and not for the breath. We found no signs of an previous ascent in this past season, but a very small group of committed ice climbers have climbed the line in previous years, most of them I am lucky to know personally and have them as friends sharing the same passion. So the Svartberg Fall will take now the first position in my subjective top 100 ice falls list.
A full report of the climb of Svartberg Fall can be read below.
Howling with the wind to silence the echoes
Matthias Scherer on Svartberg Fall - Gudvangen, Norway - picture by Tanja Schmitt
Music - there is music in everything. And then there are the disharmonies - echoes resonating in us, destroying the focus and the free sight on the world around us. I am blocking my right arm, go for the last placement: It's late October in a few days the ice season will start. We are in Valsavarenche, where Heike had equipped very discreet a new drytooling route together with Patrick in the last winter.
Discreet because drytooling is a good training for sure and is related with ice climbing because there are tools involved which have similarities. But here the similarities stop... You get very strong physically, but the music of the ice will stay unknowable for you. You might come to the point where you can hang for one hour on one tool, but facing the unknown of an universe of frozen icicles above you it will not help you to decide, to act, to become part of the harmony. I clip the belay. I finished another training session sending twice in a row 'Testimone' M10, it's great, I am strong, but there deep inside of me I can hear the echoes, the echoes that clipping bolts create...
Heike Schmitt traversing on Stanley Headwall, Canada
picure Matthias Scherer
The view down from the last pitch on 'French Reality',
Stanley Hedawall, Canada - picture Matthias Scherer
It's dark outside, snow is falling. The echoes of the summer, the heat and dust are still resonating in my head. Stanley Headwall is looming up above us shrouded in the low light of a rising day. We are back. Back in the Rockies at the start of another ice season. In silence we follow the trail through the forest. At a certain point we leave the path to head towards the French Reality part of the Headwall. The snow is hip deep and breaking the trail is hard work. We have never seen so much snow that early in November. Five hours later we arrive at the traverse below the routes. Four hours for a distance that takes us normally one hour... It will be for another day. Again night, again breaking the trail with echoes of reason still resounding inside of me. I am in the middle of the second pitch, the classic mixed pitch of 'French' and everything I remembered of my last ascent in November 2009 has nothing to do with the 'Reality' I am facing now. Back then pro was easy to find, this time it's different: Only snowy ice, just enough to climb on it and cover the cracks in the rock. The echoes are getting dimmer. I hear the wind, feel the cold. The last pitch is still above us - exposed and fragile ice. I start my way up and arrive in the moment - no more echoes, like a loosing knot they are falling away from me - I am living again life in every breath.
Tanja and Heike Schmitt approaching 'Svartberg Fall', Gudvangen, Norway
picture Matthias Scherer
The sun is sinking on the horizon. It's barely 4pm. Mid January we arrive in Norway, Oslo. And the cold is here, too. Long we've watched the temperature forecasts and bulletins of the west coast. Since three weeks they are far below zero. The echoes are back, gnawing on me, like wyverns on the roots of a tree. They are feeding my fear, my doubts - blood runs cold in discipline. Huge medusas looming above us. We all know that ego will end here and the ropes connecting us will be more than a colorful piece of modern climbing equipment. The look above me is overwhelming. Row after row icicles are hanging above me creating an 8 m overhang. The line we are climbing is 300m high with at its heart a 150 m high pillar with massif overhanging sections. Situated in Gudvangen on the Svartberg. The music on this place is mighty. Finding the harmony in this incredible variations means to open yourself and silence all the echoes holding you back.
The Medusas on Svartberg Fall, Gudvangen, Norway - picture Tanja Schmitt
Water is pouring on me and freezing right away on the outside of my clothes. It's - 15 C today. Extremely chandeliered ice is leading me for 15 m up to the overhanging section. No possibilities for protection so far. In a little better ice passage I can get a screw in, before I can hook into the fragile sculpture of the first row of the medusa. I know that the screw below me will not hold much and every movement, every breath becomes from now on wonderful real. I squeeze myself into a small room between the medusas. Meter long daggers above me block my way. There is no other way then to clean them, to fight my way through. All the broken pieces are hammering down on me. A nearly men seized icicle gets surprisingly loose and hits me like a ram. My helmet takes the main shock. The ice is exploding and the debris is battering my arms and legs. I see stars and my head is growling. In the coming weeks my arms, back and thighs will be a big hematoma. But the passage is free. On a sheltered place I can put a belay.
Matthias Scherer on Svartberg Fall - picture Tanja Schmitt
Before heading into the last pitch on Svartberg Fall - picture Tanja Schmitt
Tanja and Heike are coming up. A deep look into each other's eyes and I start into the next surreal pitch. Incredible ice formations towering over each other with careful placements for the tools and few protection are leading to the final medusa: A five meter big leaf leaning out against all laws of gravity. I am climbing up in between this leaf leaning with my back onto this fragile creation. Expecting every moment that it might break off. Finally I reach the point where I have to get out of this ice chimney and pull out on the top of the medusa. The leaves continue above, they are covered by a crust of bad snowy ice and so I can only hook my tools into this hyper fragile inconsistent matter. I jam my right knee under the medusa while stemming in a weird move my left foot on top of the outside leaf. I have to put now my weight on this left foot. My last screw is over 10 meters below. Between me and the void is just this sheet of ice. I try to get more weight onto my tools, but they are ripping through. I hammer them in again but there are only these thin sheets of ice. No secure placement. Nothing to hang on. If the left foot blows I will fall... With all lightness I can create I slowly bring my weight on the left foot. Fully on guard I stand up and I can get my right foot over the lip into the frozen puff pastry above. Some meters higher another haven of shelter in a cave for the belay. Days are short in January in Norway and in the fading light I climb the next pitch. Compared to the pitches below it feels nearly normal with its only two meter overhanging sections. Finally there is a 'regular' freestanding pillar at the end of this pitch which is connecting to some more vertical but solid attached ice above. While Tanja and Heike are coming up night is on us. In the pitch dark we climb the last easy pitch. We are standing on top of this monstrous line. We see the lights of the road far below us. We are happy to be here. Tanja and myself had the chance to have this view some years before from the top of Kjerrskredskvelven. But we were missing our companion in arms. To share this moment, this ascent today with Heike is the best for us and far more important then just ticking another line.
Coming down from the top of 'Hydnefossen', Hemsedal, Norway - picture Tanja Schmitt
Snow is rushing over us - we are muffled deep into our belay jackets. High above me I see Tanja abseiling towards us. She stops above to take a picture from me and Heike. The wind is rising even stronger. It's two weeks after our ascent in Gudvangen, and many other ascents in between. We are coming down from another ascent of 'Hydnefossen'. 'Lots of people are discussing the future of iceclimbing' - there is a strong gust coming and again snow is rushing over us. The wind is howling, I see Tanja smiling, I see Heike smiling. There is a harmony in everything. Free again - no more echoes - the ice, the snow, the storms are blowing grades, names and definitions away. Vive la vie!
Stormbringer - No Retreat
This year in February we had set out for the third time in a row to the west coast of Norway to Eidfjord with the objective to climb a monstrous ice line called 'Fjåne Fossen'. From this journeys we took very precious memories with us: not only on the impressive and committing climbs we did but also the experience of the raw energy of the northern hemisphere, the power of the unleashed winds never stopping in their rage and the feeling of meaninglessness facing such archaic elements. It gave us an idea how mankind maybe felt once and how the need did arise to explain to themselves the terrible beauty of this world.
In the face of the incredible power of the Fossen the fragility of human life, a climbers life, becomes clear. Fossen rarely freeze completely. They constantly reshape themselves - with sometimes huge parts of them collapsing like imploding buildings.
It was all about finding the right day with the right conditions for the climb but also for oneself and our team of three.
In this week in February we found the right days for finishing the ascents of Fjåne Fossen and a possible first ascent next to it that we called Stormbringer. The commitment on both lines was high. We had left Cogne with the information that Fjåne Fossen was formed and all our minds had been set by the same conviction for this journey: no retreat
This conviction came from our individual and common experiences and gave us the necessary momentum to do the ascent after the previous attempts. You cannot take back a breath or a heart beat - so it goes with the dreams we life to realize. Once a dream has risen there is no more going back. Here the film about this journey...
Respire the beauty of the moment -it's the ephemerality the transience that gives the world its beauty
Water is floating over me but the ice is hard and brittle - I plant my tool and with a dry sound a long crack is horizontally taking the tension out of the ice. The storm is raging I see Tanja and Heike through the mist of water and snow down as dark figures on the belay. Grim they face the never ceasing downpour - there is no retreat now - we climb on, another pitch up to the summit of another monstrous ice fall... Step by step I walk forward - 16 hours on the skis - the sun is going down - I remember its red glow when it gave me warmth rising the same day. Now the cold is coming back. I look forward and see Tanja and Heike breaking into the wet and insecure snow. There is no turning back - step by step we venture into the fading day up to another col... I taste the blood in my mouth - I feel a chunk of ice hitting my face like a fist - I feel my skin gets cut like so many times before - all teeth still in place - pain is the consequence of inadequate moves and the best teacher. I plant my tool a bit higher more carefully this time in the dry and brittle ice. I love to be here right now and I embrace it. I respire the beauty of the moment to move, to climb on this earth under this heaven in the realization of a dream...
Now it's summer and I am dreaming again. Dreaming about frozen ice lines, long lonely days in remote places. I am preparing my body for the challenges to come. The training is set - countless vertical meters on the bike, running up mountains and classic faces, countless laps sport climbing and I forgot the numbers of pull-ups and push-ups I have done since the last icicle broke down... I forge myself in the best way I learned over the years - still I know that there will be moments coming again when all cloaks will fall and just the pure will and courage will prevail.
Still it's summer, I am dreaming and I am arranging my training in a world of illusionary safety. The mind can be in all this treacherous. Arrogance, hubris are minds most potent poisons to cloak your perception of the reality. In my actions my mind is a tool, important for sure, but I am not slave of its visions... The rain is running down on my face, it's August and I am cycling up to the Lago Ponton. I get soaked and my heart welcomes the rising cold in my body - my mind is revolting, good to remember the true values. The time of the mindfully organized days of sport climbing, running and cycling are coming soon to an end. The cold winds are rising - I am looking forward to let them guide me again... RESPIRE!
Illusions and Realities - the way to perfection
Matthias Scherer on the first ascent of 'Stormbringer', Eidfjord, Norway
picture Tanja Schmitt
Dreams and imaginations are the biggest reactors for us as human beeings and especially for us ice climbers who get out and launch themselves on desperate endeavors.
Nowadays it becomes a fashion to start right away in an illusionary picture of perfection. Ignorance of possible failure and missing acceptance of an organic way of evolution in things are pushing many beyond their capacities in actions they can not define or understand. Motivated by the common wish of fitting in a picture. A picture of perfection and harmony, ignoring that perfection and harmony in iceclimbing is - like in life - a long never ending path. A personal process which necessarily includes passing hard and desperate moments. Who never walked in shadows can not stand in the light...
The greatest gift of alpinism and ice climbing is, that we have the freedom for adventures, that we can choose freely to risk our life for conquering the inutile. We can choose freely to risk everything and so have the responsibility to decide what we do. Standing in front of an ephemeral ice line it's exactly the moment when one is alone with once decisions and responsibility.
A freshly formed ice line it's therefore the greatest challenge. Only you can and will know if it will be possible or not. We had this winter again and again this great moment. Standing on December 30th for the 25th time underneath 'Repentance' we were the first in the season and not sure if it would work out. We had found a real challenge that day. The line was fragile and formed in a way we had never encountered before over the past decade. It's the beauty and the adventure of the early season. We both found what we were searching for and so Tanja and I returned home stoked from this real ascent that day.
With the extremely changeable temperatures this season all climbs in January remained very interesting and conditions were not easy to understand. Still our minds were always turned to our projects in Norway. Not one day and night without thinking about that big lines we had tried in vain in the passing years deep in the fjords of Norway's west-coast.
Days in Cogne passed with good days climbing ice and mixed lines and building up the necessary peace, focus and will to go back to Norway.
Short video of the mixed assent of 'Pattinaggio Artistico Direct' by Matthias Scherer on the 30th January 2015 , in Cogne, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy
Filmed by Matthias Scherer and Tanja Schmitt
On 10th February we looked into the magic afternoon light of the Norwegian sky above Oslo. Temperatures were high, but that we knew and started our two days journey to our destination on the west coast.
On 12th February in the light of our headlamps we were approaching the huge cirque with the gigantic yellow ice fall looming above us. There were lots of snow this year but luckily settled. Still we had a good time to do the track up the narrow canyon that leads into the cirque. Crossing the river through hip deep freezing water was one more highlight on the way to our line. The climb of 'Fjåene Fossen' itself proved to be the expected epic battle on ice: bad ice quality, lots of water and snow pouring down on us... After several hours Tanja, Heike and myself reached the top of the line in a raging storm. Standing on top of this monstrous line to the sound of the nearby 'Twin Fossen' who was continually calving that day - forming and breaking down in a never ending cycle - was a humbling moment for all of us.
Tanja and Heike Schmitt approaching 'Fjåene Fossen'
picture Matthias Scherer
Matthias Scherer on 'Fjåene Fossen'
picture Tanja Schmitt
On the way up that day we had already seen an awesome looking line on the black rock wall left to 'Fjåene Fossen'.
Four days later in an even heavier storm we reached the top of this line and doing most probably its first ascent we named it 'Stormbringer' (250m WI IV/6+). Three huge pitches of wonderful gully climbing had brought us up to a snow ledge that lead to the final and crux pitch. A 50 m pitch with a 40 m freakishly formed succession of daggers and icicles formed by the incredible power of the Storms raging over the vast plains of the 'Hardangervidda' and searching their way down to the sea in the cirque we were climbing... Protection in that pitch was scarce and the climbing demanded technical and athletic moves on very fragile but beautiful structures.
Tanja Schmitt on the intial pitches of 'Stormbringer'
picture Matthias Scherer
Matthias Scherer on the crux pitch of 'Stormbringer'
picture Tanja Schmitt
Norway will leave nobody untouched with its grandeur and will look deep into you and your motivations. For me it's the best place I know so far for ice climbing in its truest form. Nothing will distract you from your quest. The solitude of the wonderful highlands and the huge and majestic dark walls of the fjords will let see you motivations in a clear light.
So with this great experience and the sight of exiting projects for future times in our minds and souls we left the coast for Rjukan and the Ice Festival.
The Rjukan Ice Festival has become a fix date in our agenda. The great atmosphere and people that join this event year after year makes it always a fun experience. Unfortunately it was quite warm during the first days but for the weekend the temperatures dropped and there was good climbing on carefully selected structures possible. Friday night we had a great presentation in front of an awesome public in the Rjukan house. Saturday on the same place it was great to listen to Rudolf Hauser and his true impressive way and philosophy to live and climb ice. Later that night we were inspired by Joakim G Eides's presentation about his ice climbs in the mid and northern parts of Norway and seeing the countless possibilities one cannot stop to dream...
Dreams can be sometimes cruel but you will wake up and it's over - ice climbing seems to be sometimes dreamlike but it's a reality - and sadly sometimes a hard one - and like with everything in life: All that give's you greatest moments of joy, satisfaction and happiness can also take it away from you...
Turning home to Cogne the constant cold had found its way in our valleys. Climbing my way up through the wonderful peaceful ambiance and the last sun rays of a fading day on the 'Hard Ice Pillar' had brought me truly home again...
Matthias Scherer on 'Hard Ice Direct', Cogne, Italy
picture Heike Schmitt
Never stop to dream, never stop to reach for perfection, live in every breath - life is to short to be wasted. Vive la vie!!
'Reborn - the quest for early season ice'
Matthias Scherer season 14/15 FA of 'Carlsberg' - Field, Canada - picture Tanja Schmitt
The dawn of a new ice season is for me the most magical time of the year. The moment when the first cold arrives and the lines start to reappear. You have to be open for surprises because nature is not calculable. Coming to Canada late October we found warm temperatures and no ice at all. Since we had spend a lot of time during the cold summer on alpine ice with no time for extended power training, we used the mild weather for two weeks of intense drytooling. We pushed our resistance level up to sessions where both of us climbed ten laps on the athletic 'Swiss cheese' M9. Then finally the cold came and from one day to another temperatures dropped from +10°C to -25°C: Over night winter had arrived.
Tanja Schmitt running laps on 'Swiss cheese', M9 - Canmore, Canada
picture Matthias Scherer
Tanja Schmitt season FA of Nemesis - Stanley Headwall, Canada
picture Matthias Scherer
As a result of the cold shock nature seemed to be captured frozen in an instant. The ice reminded me extremely at the shock frosted wonders of Norwegian ice. We started our water ice season with a wonderful day together with Steve Swenson on Murchison falls on 12th November. For sure one of our coldest season starts. We all had a great time there getting back into the swing of keeping warm and finding a way up on thin and very brittle ice. A couple of days later found us on Stanley Headwall. Tanja was eager to climb Nemesis. I had climbed it back in early November 2008 and remember well the day when I followed and belayed Heike up a couple of weeks later in a full blizzard... We were all quite impressed standing at the foot this year on the 16th November. Nobody had climbed it this season. The ice looked thin but extremely featured, so the climbing would be interesting. Tanja had a great day there overcoming fast and safe all four pitches and Steve and myself enjoyed ourselves while following the very technical and on the first two skinny pitches mental climb on Nemesis. At -25°C the challenge was to keep warm and keep the focus on very hard and brittle ice.
Matthias Scherer on 'Whiteman Falls' - Kananaskis, Canada
picture Tanja Schmitt
Two days later saw us in Field - still with temperatures below -20°C. I scratched and trashed my way up the very various early season formations of Carlsberg doing the season FA of this ultra classic. I climbed the column in one pitch and the upper part was just a big stash of bottle like icicles with lots of air in between - the typical no protection early season fun that I had found the year before on the season FA of Pilsner Pillar. In the next weeks we were restless searching for lines and climbing at temperatures below -30°C in full blizzards and like on Whiteman Falls struggling in chest deep snow to get to the base of the climbs. Every day was real and I enjoyed being out there feeling the cold and my life in every breath. With a magic day in the Ghost together with Steve our early season trip to the Rockies ended. We climbed sorcerer. The day was cold again with -28°C. Steve did a great job driving in, putting the first tracks after the strong blizzard the week before. With help of GPS navigation we were tracking very fast to the base of the climb through the wonderful wild forests of the Ghost. The climb itself was fun and all of us had a good time leading one of the pitches. Turning back from the climb we all enjoyed the savage peace of this powerful place. Not much words were spoken but all of us were just happy to have had another great day together on Canadian ice.
Watch here the film about our trip - REBORN -the QUEST for early season ice ....
Fear no darkness - the next cold season is rising
Matthias Scherer crossing the Schrund on the MacIntyre/Colton route at the 'Grandes Jorasses' - picture Tanja Schmitt
Summer ended - but was it really summer? I love this year. High mountains were covered with ice and snow without interruption. Walking through a full snowstorm at 2600m in mid August was just my taste. Subsequently faces in the western Alps were and are in brilliant conditions for ice and mixed routes. As a part of our preparation for the oncoming ice season Tanja, Heike and I spent a wonderful day on the MacIntyre/Colton route on the 'Grandes Jorasses' north face. We all enjoyed the climbing and none of us came close to his/heir limits. I felt like walking through a museum and wondering about the epic beauty of this wall... Watch here the film of our day on the MacIntyre/Colton
The Wooden Swords
Summer - a time of peace?
For the last years I measured the level of commitment I showed myself on the ice during the winter on the level I became sick in spring and summer. For many years I accepted that spring was the end of a cycle and I tried to find peace.
At the end of each winter season my body was broken and I needed the summer to regain physical and mental power to get back into the swing. This year in spring I’ve chosen a different way - instead off accepting the end of the winter- accepting that the time of real fighting was over, I went on skis and had 'real' good times on steep descents and fast ascents where I pushed against the fatigue and spring peace!
I am a fighter and I am not made for peace times. Snow and ice melted away, but there are the wooden swords now: drytooling is the choice to keep the power and reflexes alive - biking hours through the rain and mud keeps the body and head strong - that's were I come from, where I builded myself as a boy: Cycling for hours through the hills and fog of the German forests, dreaming about all those ascents I now have done during the last twenty years.
Now I find myself dreaming again, about all those epic fights on the ice to come and I am psyched - motivation is the key of not getting sick and dull - to stay sharp, cause the next winter season is already rising.....
Commitment - that's what it's all about
Reflections at the end of the water ice season 2013/2014
At a certain point in your life it may appear that you don't wanna have doubts and fear anymore-you grow fond of getting things under control.
So you start training and training and get stronger and stronger. But the truth is that your body and maybe your mental focus while training are getting stronger. Your pride and arrogance will increase,too, at the same time. But when it comes to the 'real thing' you will have to do the step into the unknown. Confront yourself with the Real - ice is never under control - it's an adventure! You always have to commit yourself again and again. I love it - it's the essence of ice climbing. To overcome yourself, your fears, see your partner doing the same and to share this moments where both live in every breath - that's my way to harmony...
Back in Cogne mid of February we found excellent conditions - so we had a good day on 'Hard Ice Direct'. I climbed the line in 2005 in skinny and 2009 in fat conditions. This winter it had formed solid in an aesthetic way and it was a very enjoyable climb. Tanja, Heike and myself had all a good time while we climbed it each, leading this jewel of the Valeille...
The Rjukan ice festival was next on our schedule and so we left Cogne again. The festival was big fun with a good mixture of climbing, party and conversations. We had excellent conditions during the festival but sadly it became directly afterwards very warm. Nevertheless we drove to the coast and checked in Eidfjord some lines - but they were more in a liquid than a solid state. One of the good sides of the visit was that we could drive very far into the valleys and got lots of inspiration for the next cold season. A long drive to Oslo and the flight to Torino brought us back to Cogne and we headed right away out to get some climbing done.
Fresh snow had turned the valleys in a beautiful state again, and there were less people, also. In that way we tracked up to 'Repentance'. Tanja climbed the 'Big' pitch up to the candle and I enjoyed both candles with the exit to the Plateau Money. Cool thing was that the fresh snow with the meltdown had refreshed the line with new ice layers and had covered all the traces from before. It was the 6th March and the 24th ascent of the line for us and again we were both just happy to be there and to have climbed it again...
There were different places we knew that the ice would be still in, even late in the season and so we packed our van for another trip through the alps.
First halt was the 'Breitwangflue', where we climbed the unique 'Metro' on the 11th March. This line is hidden inside the big face of the 'Breitwangen'. Three pitches of very varied and technical climbing to come back into the light were super cool to climb and Tanja and I had both a good time...
A short stop at 'Eptingen' to check the spot for the summer and we were off to Tyrol again.
The 'Renkfälle' are high and even with temperatures above 20 degrees in the valleys we were sure to find some good lines there. And indeed on the 14th March we had a perfect day on 'La Linea/Valentinstag' with a splendid last pitch - a 50m high double column, steep with lots of features. Tanja had a good time leading it and I enjoyed the beauty and solitude of the place. Like on Breitwangen we were completely alone...
In front of the 'Zauberfloete' in the 'Lunga Valley' is the 'Piovra' fall. Just a great classic line and this time on the 17th March the snow was settled. So we had a very cool fun day there and I felt a deep inner peace at the top of the climb in this amazing beautiful part of the Dolomites.
We finished our ice season at the 5th of April at home in Cogne. Nearly every line had broken down. But it's great to visit a place and to witness the cycle of the season. Standing on the masses of the broken down 'Repentance' gives you a feeling of the might of the line. We climbed 'Monday Money' one of the last remnants of this season in cool conditions. A long journey has come to an end - we started at the 25.October in Canada and finished today with the head full of dreams for the next cold season. The lines fall to rise again!
So I am realizing at the end of this long and challenging season that in ice climbing it comes always back to the same values : patience, courage, discipline, focus, strength and love! Yes love - it's the most important - I love what I do. I am an ice climber and Alpinist - that's it! I found it funny that there are so called 'Top-ice climbers' which are just giving prophetic advices about 'what to do and what not on ice' and don't cease to express that 'ice climbing is close to rock climbing' or 'the future of ice climbing is scratching tools in chipped holds' with a solid bolt beneath you! May they call themselves drytooling athletes, because that's what they mainly do and obviously love! Don't promote bolt protected mixed routes as ice climbs. Respect the nature of ice - and that's wild, anarchic and archaic - where luckily we all can have our own rules!!! I wish you all a good time over the 'iceless' season and don't stop to dream big...
Another winter will rise!
THE JOURNEY IS THE REWARD
You always have to go out for another quest on your way to perfection and harmony. The search for the master line is never ending! So staying in Cogne is great but I felt, that we had to leave we started to become restless - the quest is our live....
In fact as strange as this winter is for ice conditions in the alps, there were two lines formed in Cogne which we haven't seen since we live there (2004). Memoire du Bouquetin and Riaccamo in the Valeille were those. With the increasing popularity of Cogne's ice falls we climbed Memoire in the dark before leaving to the Ecrins for the ice meeting. No ice but lots of snow in Freissinieres and Fournel - drytooling was the only option and it was great fun to watch masters of the discipline like Jeff Mercier and Gaetan Raymond honing their skills... I had good fun climbing on the new school dry routes at the "toit de chèvre".
Back to Cogne we had a quick mix of days ice climbing and drytooling in the Haston cave,where I climbed "Captain Hook"(M9+) and "Pyma"(M9), both short and powerful routes with a good chance to land on your head, if you blow a clip... On the same day when we left for Austria and Munich we climbed "Riacamo" , first climbed by Thierry Renault and Christope Profit back in 1993. Tanja enjoyed a thin and interesting first pitch with longer to go passages. From a perfect screw belay I started in the traverse of the second pitch and I have to say, that the whole line is one of the best climbs we've done in Cogne. The ice of the stalactites proofed to be a way better in quality, than the ice in the first pitch and so with good screws I enjoyed great airy from dagger-to-dagger moves.
Tanja Schmitt on the first pitch of "Riacamo", Cogne
picture by Matthias Scherer
Matthias Scherer on the second pitch of "Riacamo", Cogne
picture Tanja Schmitt
Some hours later we left for the eastern Alps. Coming late in the night to Innsbruck we saw no snow and the thermometer of our car showed solid positive degrees. So decision were quickly taken. No ventures for ice instead we were out early next day to the Dryland, Albert Leichtfrieds "Drytooling Mecca" above Innsbruck. We played a little bit that day, but all of us had just three hours sleep. Nevertheless the walk to the cave was good and the view is not to be missed. We came back next day. I climbed the ultra classic "Happy" (M9). Heike was unlucky with a flying tool, but it's part of the game, while Tanja sent the route in her very precise style some days later. Drytooling is for those who are initiated in the values of ice climbing and alpinism a good exercise to get more control about movements and gain more power but should never be mistaken with climbing on the real thing: ICE !!
We had some days on the ISPO and it was great to meet a lot of very cool folks around there and of course to have a peep on the new armory for next winter and I have to say that there are some very cool parts of our sponsors coming... They will not make you fly but they will make you fight longer and better...
We turned back to Innsbruck with Greg Grenzke the Ascent Line designer of Arc'teryx to test some new protos. We had an incredible ski day with the best pow I have skied so far this winter. Next day our mission was south. The Gardena Valley is home to some very impressive ice and mixed lines. We chooses the "Pilat" Icefall. This 60 m column towers over St.Ulrich on an impressive cliff. No tracks and no signs of previous attempts. Only half of the pillar remained - since the right side had broken down before. On the cliff the fall was forming again and I gave the fresh formed ice a check but it was all chandeliered and extremely wet. The look in the massive hole at the foot of this newborn curtain was very impressive and I was touched by its might. I decided to climb the left side of the fall and the climbing was both very technical but also physical.
Overcoming the big medusas demanded some interesting moves with not much room for errors... The second part on the remaining half of the pillar was steep overhanging ice and due to the fragile nature of the whole structure I set my tools with extreme care. The exit over glassy thin ice with the view on the growling water behind was a great finish and I was very happy that we had found again such a wonderful line!!
Next day we had one more day with Greg on ice in north Tyrol before he had to leave for Vancouver again - his mind full with great ideas for new rad products for the "Bird" - so watch out the next seasons...
Unfortunately, or should I say in the order of this winter, it started heavy to snow in the Gardena valley where we had some cool lines in mind. Therefore we returned to the "Dryland". I checked out a line called "Open End" (M11). I could do all the moves and I felt that I could do it. So we turned back for two more days and also Tanja got quickly the moves. After some long moves on the start you come to a less steeper section before you start to traverse in the roof with long and powerful moves. One long reach brings you out in less horizontal terrain and a good rest, before the route gets again very steep to the end. Several times I fired the route till the long move out of the roof but I could not reach the good hook. It was my fifth try and I started very calm just doing the moves as they came and then with a long roar I got the hook and the fight started: up with the right heel and firing the tools from one hold to the next I climbed out to the good rest position before the final. With fresh power I quickly did the last bouldery moves and clipped the chain ! I roared in joy. Tanja cheered from below. She had supported and coached me in such a great way... Now it was time for me to do the same for her She climbed super solid till the long move out of the roof but her tool slipped. She had fought in the best of ways with great focus and dedication, had given her best and so we walked both down towards the roofs of Innsbruck knowing that Tanja would come back on another day.
But we had the ice falls in the Lunga Valley on our mind. The snow seemed to have settled and early next morning we drove over the Brenner to witness falling snow! No, we would not turn around again. Coming up to Wolkenstein we had to put the chains to get in the Lunga Valley. Thirty centimeters snow had just fallen - the sky was clearing and the mountains looked splendid. Lots of spindrift and small avalanches were coming down the towering walls. We shouldered our packs knowing, that the risk of coming back empty handed was very high that day. Finally we got a sight of the "Piovra" Fall and the slope looked all but inviting. In front of the "Piovra" is the famous "Magic Flute". The line was perfectly formed but also here getting to the fall was the real challenge. So we left the packs knowing that we had to take some risks to put a track up to the line. Making a track through hip deep snow through the lite forest on the slopes on the right site of the couloir leading up to the climb was good sport for our bodies and minds... We stopped that day where we would have to get into the couloir for the last hundred meters. It was clear that we would have the next day a very early start before the sun hit the slopes above the line.
So we were leaving our van next day at 6.00. Our track from the day before brought us quickly back to the couloir and we both knew that we had to move quick now. We both tracked in change always as fast as we could and it was a good effort with snow partly more than hip deep. Finally we reached safely the base of the climb and we had for sure one of the more dangerous parts of the day behind us. We checked out the first pitch that brings you up to the ice fall. It's a M9 mixed pitch very well protected with lots of bolts... We both did all the moves free but decided not to go for a redpoint of the pitch but to focus instead on the ice that day.
From the hanging belay Tanja stepped out on our element - a fun pitch of sunbaked ice brought her up to perfect ledge. I went for the next pitch: a perfect sculpted vertical candle super fun to climb and over some treachery snow and icy crusts I reached the next ledge before the last pitch. A wonderful freestanding pillar was rising in the sky. Tanja was climbing fast upwards and she really enjoyed the wonderful scenery of the place. Coming up to the belay I was really touched that we had found another magic place...
Matthias Scherer pitch 3 "Magic Flute"
picture Tanja Schmitt
Tanja Schmitt pitch 4 "Magic Flute"
picture by Matthias Scherer
We hugged each other - both very happy about this climb. Quickly we abseiled down over the mighty ice formations. The "Magic Flute" was a great experience - for sure we have climbed harder and more committing lines - but this line in Lunga valley is in such a beautiful place that it's just very satisfying to climb there...
Next morning we had skis on the feet and the Piovra Fall as objective - but half way up the slope that leads to the line we decided that we had played enough avalanche-gambit the last days and doing some good turns we returned to our Van.
Tanja had to return to the "Dryland". So we made our way up out of the fog that hung over Innsbruck. It was significantly colder that day and fresh icicles covered the rock. After warming up she went for the first try on "Open End" and passed the long move over the last roof to slip from one tool. Second try was one hold further again over the crux but the tool slipped and Tanja took a big whipper head down first. Round three: I have to say, that I really wished Tanja to succeed. As I know her she climbed all the moves super precise overcame the crux again - everything looked super easy -no loss of strength and then one of her tool dropped! I guess her roar of rage could be heard still in Innsbruck. After only a short rest she went again - but now the power started to fail - a hard lesson to accept and much to learn but I was again amazed how hard Tanja fought that day and overcame herself. So it remains "Open End" for Tanja but sometimes it's more precious to show that you resist and stay strong even when you miss a challenge by the hint of a hair.
Our trip to Tyrol ended with a climb of the "Hanging Gardens" one of the classic extreme ice falls of Tyrol. The line had seen maybe a bit too much passages but was still fun to climb. It had nothing to do with our climb back in February 2010 when we climbed at -20 and we could discover no signs of previous parties but still it's steep with overhanging sections. So we returned to Cogne but in few days we will leave again...
Vive la vie! Vive l'aventure! A great second part of the ice seasons to all of you!
THE TRUE SPIRIT - one of the best season starts in Cogne for a long time
Matthias Scherer enjoys real conditions in the Valeille picture Tanja Schmitt
It's a month now since we came back from our Canada trip and I have to say, it's great coming back to Europe: you simply get the opportunity for another season start, once again you can live all the magic and beauty untouched ice offers. Early season ice is for me the happiest time of the year. To see the ice growing and taking shape is always a wonder.
Out of the plane and on the climbs we enjoyed right away the ultra classic Coyote in the Valeille in perfect early season conditions on the 7th December. I try always to be the first person on the lines in Cogne - being first in the season on a fall means to discover the line again, a venture in the unknown. The fresh ice is fantastic to climb, no holes from other parties. Mostly the ice is still chandeliered and often hard to protect. Whoever wants to live ice climbing in its truest, challenging and aesthetic form should climb early season... But no stress - you can find early season ice all over the winter. The great thing about ice is, that it's in a constant change - forming, melting and sometimes breaking down to be reborn again when the next cold spell arrives... Sure most of the classic lines, especially here in Cogne, see not more much changes after January, except for growing in mass and being hacked out, but there are places in the Alps where the wonder of fresh erupting ice can be witnessed over the whole, long winter.
This year in Cogne, we had the best season start ever in all the ten seasons Tanja and me spend living and climbing here. Lines that have not been seen for years showed up and by mid December nearly all classics were in. Fun moment was for sure to to do the season FA of Patry Right on the day before our Ice Opening event. Patry Right is such a popular line and it was a great moment to be the first in the season on this line. Remembering all the happy faces on our event, I suppose all the climbers joining this event and arriving from all over the world equally enjoyed, as we did, the magic of the early season.
Another remarkable moment in Cogne for me and Tanja was returning to Repentance. A team of young French climbers had climbed it during our event, but we did not bother since we had several times the privilege to do the season FA of Repentance in the past.
I always love walking in the back of the Valnontey. On that day, the 20th of December, Heike joined us. Although we have climbed it many times, the line has not lost its appeal for any of us. I started in a very wet first pitch. Like so many times, at this time of the year I had to overcome quite fragile medusas that are big fun to climb. As in all the 21 times I climbed Repentance I linked the first two pitches in one big pitch to the right of the candle. Picture by Tanja Schmitt: Matthias Scherer on Repentance
Tanja and Heike followed up, then Tanja enjoyed climbing the candle - this early season with very transparent fragile ice that was super fun to climb. The exit candle to the plateau Money was formed also - and Heike was the first person this winter to climb this exit variant of Repentance. Super chandeliered and fragile with the cornice on top of it : a great finish and another wonderful day on Repentance. For Tanja and me it was the 22nd time we climbed Repentance.
picture by Matthias Scherer: Tanja Schmitt on Repentance
Days were running in December, we climbed lots of great mixed routes and ice falls in Valnontey and Valeille.
Matthias Scherer mixed climbing in Cogne - picture by Tanja Schmitt
A long dream of Tanja and me was to capture the best ice lines in Cogne on a professional film. This winter our sponsors Arc'Tery and SUUNTO gave us the chance by sending us a team of two great cameramen and Filmmakers: Franz Walter and Hans Hornberger. Both have done impressive films about alpinism and ice in the past, with a high commitment to capture the truth of the moment and the beauty of the terrain. So Tanja and I were psyched when they arrived on the 29th at night. The valleys of Cogne were glittering under a cold sky, freshly covered with a half meter of fresh snow, which had fallen just two days before: PERFECT FOR FILMING!!
picture by Franz Walter: Matthias Scherer and Hans Hornberger on the camera during the film project
So the following day we tracked to Repentance. Nobody had been there since our last visit. The day was supposed only for landscape shots. So the next morning we went there again, this time to film the climbing action. We had to set up the fixed lines for Hans to film and in that way Tanja and I climbed Repentance on the 31. December several times. On this occasion I want to thank Hans, Franz and Heike. They worked perfectly in -15C over the whole day to capture the magic of the climb on Repentance in highest definition!
Next days we were always out early and turning back home late, and we can say that the footage we collected about the ice falls in Cogne surpassed what we had imagined. So be psyched for the film that will come ... picture by Matthias Scherer:Tanja on Cogne Ice
Now, while I am writing this lines we had just a cycle of warm temperatures - but as I said in the beginning, the great thing about ice is it's constant evolution - it will fall to rise again!
To all of you great days out there and keep living the spirit of adventure!!
THE MYTH OF THE EASY ICE - reflections about the nature of things after returning from Canada
This early season in the Rockies was for sure different. Strong changes in temperature and howling winds made the ice formations very special. Only on few lines we found good, solid formed ice. Mostly it was formed by chandeliered - icicles and obtained a lot of air. Hence the climbing was always very interesting. One example for that was Pilsner Pillar:
Pilsner is normally not a too serious climb, but this year I had really a good time on it. The freestanding pillar appeared to be just a big connection of loose icicles with few solid spots for the hue of a protection. The passage to the higher pillar showed itself as a 8 m high curtain with no room for pro and very delicate hooking. Always wonderful to find a real good challenge where you would not necessarily expect it. But this is the nature of the ice.
Up on the belay my thoughts are going back: Some days before on one of our training days on the "Playground" dry crag I followed the conversation of two climbers saying "that the dry and mixed is THE game and ice... - well is, JUST ICE ! You cannot get really challenged by ice!" It's not the first time I 've heart this and it makes me smile. I have climbed in my life ice on countless lines and today, here on Pilsner, I had to bring again a REAL effort to get it. Some days before, I fired 4 times a M 9+ in a row and felt not pumped: great to see me getting stronger but on the same time something was missing - it's a different game. Pilsner today gave my body and my spirit a real challenge and afterwards I felt really happy...
Hard Ice climbing is never getting easier - it remains a fantastic adventure - with new surprises and beauty to find every time. From time to time I, too, love to swing with my tools on rock with a bolt below me - drytooling and iceclimbing two different games - enjoy them both! A great ice and mixed season 2013 and 2014 to all of you!
picture: Matthias Scherer climbs "Oh le Tabernac" during this trip to the Rockies - shot by Tanja Schmitt
No (start in the) season like another . . .
Matthias Scherer on the first pitch of Riptide, Mount Patterson, AB, Canada - picture Tanja Schmitt
The time of contemplating, training and dreaming is over. We leave the car on the Icefields Parkway, Alberta,Canada. Outside it's -18°C; full on winter. It's the fifth November. We are back and we are heading for the first real challenge of this season: Riptide on Mount Patterson. We checked the line a week earlier while looking for possible falls formed.
Steve is joining us on this early season adventure today and it's great to spent some time together again. We cross quickly the still not frozen river - nobody gets wet feet - perfect. Quickly we reach the bowl and make our track to the couloir leading up to the base of the climb. Till here we were quite fast. But the couloir is deep unconsolidated snow and even with Tanja working hard to make the track, Steve and I have to track again.
We reach the base of the climb in the narrow couloir. Spindrift is blowing hard on us. What a wonderful ambiance. We have to find a safe spot for a belay and some meters up the first pitch we find a quite OK spot with enough protection from falling debris. Tanja and Steve are getting comfy on the freaky belay while I start in the first pitch. The ice is dry, partly detached and mixed up with snow, but I didn't expect anything else. Protection is scarce, in the middle of the pitch I find a good cam placement before a brittle curtain followed by a crusty slab with more snow than ice. It takes me a while to place a more or less OK stubby and over increasing quality ice I join a good spot for a belay with decent ice.
Tanja and Steve are coming up and Tanja starts in the second pitch. Same show here like in the first pitch - freaky ice with minimal pro - after a solid runout also Tanja manages to get some good pro in the rock and fires up the last meters of her pitch. She finds an old belay with two antic bolts. Steve and I have fun following and try not to knock us out with all this brittle ice patches.
Tanja Schmitt on the 2.pitch of Riptide, Mount Patterson, AB, Canada - picture Matthias Scherer
Steve is going for the next pitch - but also here he has to climb very carefully - the ice is crusted and we have our belay not exactly on the best protected spot. The higher he gets the worse the ice quality becomes and behind a pillar he finds a good spot for the belay. The dusk is slowly settling while Tanja and I follow up. Yes, today we were not super fast. The ice and especially finding good spots for belays took us a good amount of time.
Steve Swenson on pitch 3 of Riptide, Mount Patterson, AB, Canada - picture Matthias Scherer
It would be one more pitch but we all decide that's OK for today. We start to rap down and with the last light we reach the base again. I enjoy the wonderful atmosphere of the spot. The stars a glittering in the cold air and far below I see the lonely lights of some cars on the parkway.
I am grateful for this intense day shared with two great climbers on my side. The season is on - il faut s'imaginer Sysyphe hereux...
Watch here our new film about our ascent of "Kjerrskredkvelven" - the monster ice fall in Gudvangen/ Norway last february.
Another winter is coming - Another journey into the unknown will begin
Life was rushing along through the summer, like the water it flowed but winter will come and for a short moment we will have the beautiful illusion to hold it - frozen solid - like the ice...
Autumn is here. The air is getting colder and the wind is already foretelling the arrival of another cold season. Rsch rsch is the file gliding over the battered picks of my tools. Soon I will have to change them, but I love to carry them over at least in the first climb of this new season. I filed my mind and my body over the last months, tried to work the dents and bents out of them, that all those great moments on the ice over the past winter have left. The summer is over and it was training- lots of running, rock climbing, dry tooling and reflections - what to do better and how to do it better in the next fight season. When has my body and when has my mind been the limiting factor? How can I support my partner better to overcome her limits and strike higher? All these questions are to be answered or at least tried to be answered for the moment- till the next lesson. One thing is clear:
We will push harder and further but let's not forget : Heaven can wait - too many friends are waiting there already...
LOOKING BACK - LOOKING AHEAD ...
The winter is over - definitely. Outside it is raining hard - the big melt down has begun. Time to have a look back on our last ice climbing season. It was a long and intense season. Already in November we found in Canada great lines like "Virtual Reality" and "Whiteman Falls". Difficult to say afterwards what was our best climb in the Rockies during the last season. Maybe it was "Rainbow Serpent" in the Ghost. We love the Ghost for its rough and true nature. Days there are never lost and the "Recital Hall", home to "Rainbow Serpent", is a magical place with an overwhelming ambiance. Coming back mid December to Europe we found condition of the finest at home in Cogne. But then the big heat over Christmas came and changed everything. Black wet rock in Kandertsteg, Freissinieres and Sixt..... Nevertheless on some high and very remote places we found wonderful lines, like "Azimut Brutal" in the Oisans near Briancon, that took us a five hour approach. Finally mid of January temperatures settled and it became colder. In Austria we were lucky and could climb the freshly formed "Seebenseefall" on an extremely cold day with -20 degree Celsius. Then we drove up to Norway and right away, hardly two hours from the landing of our ferry in the Gudvangen Valley we came upon one of our best lines - the endless "Kjerrskredkvelven". Nearly 1000m high we climbed a whole day and finished the descent at night. It was a day when we had to overcome ourselves many times and those are the best.
So looking back it has been a continually up and down - with remarkable hights but also with some deep valleys... We have an extremely motivating outlook on next season for Norway, where we discovered incredible lines, possibilities for many many years to come. And also in the Rockies a new and fresh winter will rise with many dreams not yet realized and others even never thought about.
The winter is officially over - but coming back from Norway we found the ice in Cogne still in very good condition. The cold is not leaving the valleys of the Alps so fast. After the mediocre start in December /January the season seems to stretch out in a nice way. Below you find a short film we made last week about our climb of Repentance in early February conditions but on the 20th March...
Here the report about our climb of "KJERRSKREDKVELVEN" on the 20th Februray 2013
1300m long - nearly 1000m elevation - ice climbing in another dimension
We are back in Norway. Back again over the rough Norwegian Sea. We came over night and now in the red light of a new dawn we are driving from Bergen to Laerdal, where we finished our Norway ice trip last year. I remember how we sat in our Van, 10° Celsius plus outside and the magnificent line of Thorsfossen disappeared in front of our eyes. This winter is different. It was very cold over the whole winter in Norway. Already driving out from Bergen we can see more snow and ice than the previous year.
But the weather can change very quickly here on the west coast and while we are driving the sun is veiling, temperatures rise and it starts raining. Our thoughts are going back right away to last winter... but the forecast announces very cold weather for the next days again. The quick change of temperature is something you have to accept when you climb near the coast. On our drive to Laerdal we pass the valley of Gudvangen. None of us has ever been here. It has escaped also our attention, that this valley is home to some of the biggest water ice lines on this planet. I am driving and look around: The huge black walls rising up to the sky with white and blue veins of ice tearing up to the horizon seem like a dream to me. I feel like back in my early twenties. Back in those times when I drove through the Alps - no guidebooks, no information where to go, just looking for fascinating frozen lines and climbing it. One ice line is especially taking our attention - it IS huge. It starts from the valley in a narrow gully, continues with some snow and more ice to an incredible headwall with monstrous pillars and curtains. And after that it ́s still not finished: above the headwall, after a short snow couloir is a huge curtain with a surreal cone towering. We stop the car and glance on that miracle. Suddenly Heike points some black figures out on it! What! Where? Then I see them, too, right on the pillar of the headwall, still far away from the top. It is 5.30pm and dusk is setting in. They are going to have some serious fun... down lower, near to the river we discover a a tent and a russian car...
We have to leave this place for now and head to Laerdal, meeting a friend from Canada there: Jen Olson. Next day sees us all together checking out lines in Laerdal. But it seem that there was not a lot of water in autumn - Thorfossen is far from being formed and so my thoughts are going back to Gudvangen. In fact with the first view of this monster line, it was clear to me and Tanja, that this is exactly what we came for. That this is a line where we can measure our experience of countless days spent together on the ice.
So we drive quickly back from Laerdal to Gudvangen. Jen has a glance on the line, too. She and Heike decide to team up together and try this route as well. I am curious about the Russians, so I head to the tent. There are voices talking inside. I ask against yellow walls, if there are climbers in. I immediately get a friendly response in perfect english. They invite me to come in and being amazed i have to admit that these guys know something about winter camping. They have a big tunnel tent with a heater inside and drying lines. In the tent is a second single wall tent for sleeping. Very well organized. We have a short chat about the line and they tell me that they encountered lots of water and very bad ice conditions on the route. When I mention that I am here with my wife, they are smiling, like: oh yeah, this guy knows how to do this right, he brings his wife for cooking and does big routes with his partner. When I say, that I am going to climb with my wife - in fact that I am always climbing with my wife, their smile changes to : ok, this guy is a little crazy. But when I point out furthermore that there is also a twin sister and another women with me, the big smile becomes one kind of: Ohhh ..KKKK.. - GOOD LUCK -ähh.. COMPLETELY CRAZY!!
They wish me good luck for the next day and I return to the van. Its getting crispy cold while we sort out our gear. Our plan is that Tanja and me will start first in the early morning and Jen and Heike attacking later, in this way avoiding to get hit by ice.
It´s 5.30 am in the morning when the watch is ringing. Its very cold in the van : -12°. Perfect for our climb, but a little bit cold for a nice breakfast. Outside is utter darkness. The wall is only to be seen because it is even darker. After some steps from the car we can see the ice gleaming in it. In fact it splits up this big black lower face. There is only little snow and lots of ice on the ground, which makes the approach tricky.
The first thing we are to discover in the light of our headlamps is the first pitch not being in. This was not visible from the road. So in the twilight of the dawn I am starting to scratch on granite slabs seeking for a way up to the terrace from where the ice starts. Finally by a delicate traverse on grade 4 rock without any protection for 30 m I gain the terrace and put up a belay on good ice. Tanja is going right away in the first pitch. She runs out nearly 70 m and the ice is good - wet but not detached. Next pitch looks already not more that good. There are numerous small icicles glued together and I have to be extra careful not to hit Tanja. After 60 m I place my belay and there is now a lot of water and very bad ice in front of us. Tanja chooses to bypass the easier but insane wet ice on the right by a steeper pillar and seconding, I realize how bad the ice quality is. Just icicles loosely connected... After this 70 m pitch we go up a short snow couloir to another 70m high pitch. This pitch will be later the only pitch with good ice from bottom till top.
The view from the top of this pitch up to the headwall is breathtaking. The headwall is towering over us. Some snow climbing brings us closer. We decide to attack on the right and to put up a belay in a cave behind the freestanding pillar of the next pitch. Difficult to understand in this dimensions, if our 70 m ropes will be long enough or not.
Tanja is climbing up in this vastness. The rope is running through my ATC and again I have to simul a little bit till she can reach a safe spot for a belay. The ice consists out of layers of bad ice and is treacherous. 75m of delicate climbing are again behind us. I am going in the next pitch. It will be something like the crux pitch, but on a big line like this, the word crux becomes relative. Still it looks very serious. I climb up a freestanding pillar. The ice of the pillar is some of the worst I have ever climbed but I enjoy this challenge. Only icicles with snow in between makes every placement very tricky. I climb higher and higher and still no sight for good ice. I love this feeling of freedom and focus on the moment. Next move - careful cleaning scratching and kicking till it feels good. Finally after 25 meters I place my first screw - a bad one... I traverse over vertical snow to the left and gain better ice. Here a good screw. Than it goes up for thirty meters on vertical ice - still not super solid - but less freaky than the start of the pitch. On a nice balcony after 65 meters I put up my belay. Tanja is following and due to her wet gloves she has a hard time with cold fingers. So she takes a fresh dry pair out of the pack and on it goes.
The mighty headwall
with a closer look on the pillar I am on
70 m of less steep but still bad ice in a traverse to the right is the next pitch. From Tanja's belay we look up and the top of the headwall is still far away. But the day is not over yet. The sun is going down and colors the right side of the climb in a magical red. I am racing up the next pitch - at least the first meters. Then I have to slow down. It looked easy, this pitch but now the Freakshow is on again. The higher part of this pitch is a freestanding hanging curtain only 50 cm thick. With delicate moves I get over the next 15 meters - no option for protection here and like everywhere on this line no place for mistakes. I reach a safe spot after 65 m in a good cave and set up my belay. Its getting slowly dark. I realize where we are - high up - very high up on a very scary place. But I am confident. Tanja and I are in super good shape and the moral was good over the whole day. So I wait for Tanja to come up.
But she is not coming. I wait some minutes more - still nothing. I am yelling down -no answer. Shit, this is not good. Normally she is super fast seconding. Then with a relief I feel that she moves . But slow. When she reaches my belay we are nearly in the dark. She looks cold. A piece of ice had hit her badly on the shoulder while I was leading. We speak and I feel that she is slowly taking back more and more courage. We take our headlamps and Tanja decide to go for the next pitch. At least we want to finish the headwall. A sip of tea, some food and we are both fine again. In the dark I follow up Tanja's pitch, that she had lead in astounding speed. When I reach her I see it: a short snow couloir and then in the wonderful night sky the intimidating curtain of the last pitch. We look each other in the eye and without any word I go up the snow. We know both, we have to finish this now. Behind the curtain I install a good belay. My thoughts are working - we have to go down later here - I need to be fit for the descent - at least 10 big rap's and down climbing - a lot can happen - I need to be very concentraded...
Tanja is so motivated - amazing after her hard time earlier. I feel that it's best when she goes up the last pitch. She seems to feel the same and with astonishing optimism she is gone in the dark. I see the light of her headlamp shimmering through from behind the curtain. She is climbing fast and soon I hear: BELAY!!! I am slightly cold. It is maybe -20 now and the first moves feel bad. Over the cone I come up to the curtain and I see that Tanja went smartly to the right of this monster where the ice is better. Still also here the snow icicle mixture - very delicate to climb. On the belay we hug each other. We did it: 1300 m of climbing and nearly 1000m in elevation are behind us. We both know that another fun starts now. Its 8.30 pm and it will be a long night. The moon enlightens a cold black sky and a slight, steady wind is blowing. In the warmth of our belay jackets we start the descent. V-thread after V-thread we are working our way down. Pitch after pitch. Then the down climbing and more V -threads till finally at 3am in the morning we are back down and very happy.
Back at our Van we meet Heike. Jen has already left for Rjukan and work. They were on the first crux pitch below us when night fell on them. So they decided to retreat, being not equiped for such a big adventure. But they had great climbing nevertheless.
With hot chocolate and tea we are all happy in the Van in our sleeping bags. A long day comes to an end - a great one!!!
SEEBENSEFALL - here the report about our ascent on last sunday
...breaking the trail to the "Seebeseefall" near Ehrwald in Austria
By chance I see a picture from a fantastic ice line near to the German border on the south side of the Zugspitze. It's called the Seebenbseefall. The Seebenseefall is one of those lines where you know that it will be a very intense day. Formed by surreal daggers, balconies and stalactites it is a crazy universe for itself - a labyrinth both beautiful and terrifying. It's a Sunday and we are early on the parking place of the Zugspitze cable car . Blue sky, some twenty centimeters of fresh snow and -18 C - no wonder that there are already many skiers, too. The fall is partly visible from the parking and there is no track going up. We are anxious to see the fall in real, to know if it will be possible or not. Heike, Tanja's sister, has joined us for the day and together we ski through a romantic forest towards the fall. The fall is an impressive sight. Impossible to see from below if we can make it. We have to climb into this world, where ice formations seem to have set out the rules of gravity. Over a slender pillar and a short mixed traverse I get on to the main fall. In a cave behind huge stalactites I put up a belay. Tanja and Heike are coming up. The ice is cracking - it's cold, very cold. But still, there is water pouring down from above out of one of this surreal ice tubes and so we are all completely coated with ice. I am attacking the next pitch. It's incredible. I climb behind a complex mix of curtains and balconies and there seems to be a passage to get out again and up on the curtain on the right. The passage is extreme, the ice is like glass. I have to cut my tools with the highest caution into this super fragile creation. One feet on rock and one on this slender pillar I work my way up - no option for pro - the ice is too fragile. The pillar is ending in a weird kind of balcony and somehow I have to get my feet on this crazy feature that in a sick way is partly holding up the the pillar I am standing on. I am hanging on my tools and they are not comfortably sticking in solid ice - I just scratched them in. Protection is far below and the passage is overhanging - so not to much time to waste here. On the left I see that the pillar has a more or less solid connection with the rock - maybe 40cm of "solid" ice. In a weirded position I manage to place a stubby. Then I bring up slowly my right foot on the out leaning balcon. I find a placement for my right tool and with the highest caution and making myself as light as possible I step on and over the balcony and gain the more solid curtain and medusas on his right. It's done - what a crazy moment. The last meters in traversing to the right side of the fall are still tricky - but then I can put up a belay on a safe spot. Tanja and Heike are having fun coming up and finally we are all very happy to be on the belay... Two more pitches are waiting.
...getting ready for the second pitch
the second pitch
the "fantastice" formations of the third pitch
below: the third pitch
Next pitch is less extreme but still the ice is very bad and the snow crusted medusas demand lots of cleaning and caution. On the left of the final pillar I find a very comfortable place for a belay on good ice with no danger from above. We have a short break - some hot tea and some food. There are thirty meters left. The first half of the next pitch is on a thin freestanding pillar and the second half seems to be on a hanging dagger... I am climbing up on the freestanding - also here the ice is extremely fragile and makes eerie noises when I am searching for placements. Finally I am out of the small freestanding and right away I see the next crux. The next five meters are on very thin ice and slabby rock, that leads to a extremely skinny curtain. From below it looked like a dagger but here I see that it has some connection with the ice below. A stubby gives me some pro while I am approaching this last obstacle. Climbing one foot on the rock slabs and one on the just an inch thick ice layer I am getting to the tiny curtain. I try to place very careful a tool in his base and with a crack the lower part is splintering away. Now it's a dagger again... Somehow I have to get higher without touching this very meager feature too low.
I find a small crack in the rock on the left and finally a good placement higher up also in a crack for my right tool. Hanging on this I manage to hammer a knifeblade into the crack. At least I have some solid protection now, if the whole dagger would collapse with me. Leaning out from the good placement in the crack I bring my feet as high up as possible and start to tick on the dagger like on a eggshell. I create a little placement for my right tool. I am stemming with my feet on the featureless rock and bring up my left tool. The ice sounds better. Right tool again even better - finally I make a pull-up on my tools and lean my feet on the ice. A long move up with my left tool brings me into solid ice. I swing my feet fast to the right on a iced up rock, then I am out.
The blood is rushing through my head - that were some really intense meters at the end. An incredible final for an incredible ice fall. We are loosing no time with the descent- we are all cold and still we have some spicy abseiling over the ice chaos below in front of us. Luckily our ropes are long enough and with a last long rap we glide like spiders down under the gigantic icicles. With turns in a wonderful fresh snow a fabulous day comes to an end - what a great experience!
A week in Tirol is over and it was quite a good week under the circumstances of warm temperatures in the beginning and afterwards strong snowfalls with a high avy danger as consequence. The "Pinnis" area in the Stubai valley proved to be again a very good place for some quality ice climbs. "Männer ohne Nerven", "Kerze", "Vorhang" or "Rumpelkammer" are all great classics and it's very big fun to link them up in a day. Best part of a climbing day in the "Pinnis" is the way down on a toboggan - it can be more scary then the climbing - especially when you do a race with some "crazy" Canadians... Thanks to Jon and Greg for two SUPER FUN days...
Tanja on the crux of "Männer"
Matthias high up on the "Kerze" while linking it up in one pitch
Tanja on the "Rumpelkammer" where we finished our day after "Männer" and "Kerze"
We had a two day break from climbing on the ISPO in Munich - there are very interesting new products coming from all our Sponsors, that will enjoy the heart of every ice fanatic ;-)...
We have also a new partnership with "CHIMPANZEE", a young and very dedicated european food company. They will support us from now on with delicious energy bars and high performance energy drinks. And here comes the best part: All CHIMPANZEE energy bars are made from 100% organic ingredients.
Back from ISPO we had a "Family" day together with Tanja's sister Heike on "Das Problem" in the Obergricht near to Landeck in Tirol. The fall is very good formed this winter and it was very good fun for all of us. Due to to the tricky snow conditions in most part of the northern alps we might change our "Kandersteg" plans and switch for some days in the Gasteiner region.
Matthias on the upper candle of "Das Problem" in the Obergricht / Tirol
We are packing for our trip to Norway. Our travel will lead us from Austria, Switzerland, Munich to Danmark.
The last days we were climbing in and arround Cogne. In the last week we had a short trip to "Glacenost" in Bramans in the Maurienne (France). We've checked on the line a week before on our way back from Argentière to Cogne but decided to come back later. Last Thursday we climbed this great line. The ice was formed in surreal shapes and was very interesting to climb. The crux pitch is touched by the sun, hence the ice was quite brittle.
24. Januar 2013 - Matthias on the crux pitch of "Glacenost"
"Azimut Brutal" in the Aup Martin valley in the Oisans
We are back from our "Event / Ice - Trip to Kandersteg and Argentière la Bessée. Ice conditions were quite tricky but we found a real jewel this week all hidden in the remote Aup Martin Valley in the Oisans : "Azimut Brutal"
It took us five hours to get to the foot of this beautiful and serious line - but the climbing in this wild and remote valley was worth every step. A long technical pitch over interesting medusas led us to the big freestanding pillar, who is standing like a sentinel above the valley. The pillar was steep and athletic with a few ice passages that demanded some caution. The ambiance was GREAT!! It felt like climbing in Canada - far from all civilization you feel the power of nature...
We used skis for the approach and on the return we enjoyed fresh tracks in perfect snow....
Tanja on the first pitch, while overcoming the detached medusas...
the belay behind the huge freestanding pillar
Matthias on the fantastic pillar
We finished the work on our "CANADIAN ICE - CALL OF THE FROZEN WILD"film. It shows the highlights of our Ice Trip to the Canadian Rockies in November/December 2012. Enjoy!
A happy and wonderful year 2013 to all of you !!
Yesterday we succesfully did our 20th ascent of "Repentance" in Cogne - see COGNE ICE for more pictures and a short report.
Canada Ice Trip - part two by Tanja Schmitt and Matthias Scherer
It is November the 25th. Our goal for the day is Whiteman Falls in the Kananaskis Country. In the light of our headlamps we heed up the creek. When the first frozen ice appears we put on harnesses and crampons. Being ready first i start to climb the initial easy ice. As i reach the exit i hear the noise of roaring water and see the light of my headlamp reflected in dark water: In front of me lies a small lake, surrounded by icy edges, seemingly not passable. It’s still early in the season.Matthias comes up, astonishment on his face. The adventure seems to start already here: Falling off from this rock means taking a very cold bath and returning to Canmore.So i´m quite curious watching Matthias drytooling the little passage - to my surprise, nothing spectacular is happening. Then it is my turn to safe the day. The placements hold, soon i achieve soft, welcoming ice and we are able to follow the Canyon up to the mighty column of Whiteman Falls: Big, bright and impressively it looms over 80 meters up to the sky. Hugh mushrooms are forming the first pitch. Matthias starts out for it. Some medusas are seized the hight of of church domes.The sound of the ice axes are echoed back from the encircling walls. It is really a stunning place we ´re in. Climbing up to the belay on the pillar, i get direct contact with this most bizarre forms. On belay i look up for a long minute: Above us rises the ice now vertical into the sky, a powerful monument of pure water, frozen in treachery shapes of long daggers and pipes. Hard to judge the ice quality and the possible placements for screws...it is for sure a long way to go. Matthias sets out for it. Looking at him i feel overwhelmed by this great white shining line, the cathedral like rock and the endless forests building up behind. As soon as belay is achieved i follow up. A beautiful and demanding climb.
On November 27th we find ourselves again in the darkness on the Icefields Parkway. We approach “Dancing with Chaos”: a long cascading white line falling down on a huge rock wall. The initial ice pitch is easy ice followed by a steeper bulk of chaotic ice: the name is well found, although i have seen many worth creations of ice. The ice demands some weird movements but i can find some good placements for protection. The dance turns out to be a nice one.
We´re living in the rhythm now, heeding against north in the early morning again, the acquainted darkness rushing by, the forests, the silhouettes of the mountain ridges...start the approach for “Shooting Star” I. We don´t talk much. Shortly before we reach the ice a thick morning fog appears, veiling in the whole scenery. Then the curtain rises and “Shooting Star” awaits us with all it´s might. We gear up and then the climbing starts. The ice is thin, i have to take care. In the upper section fragile medusas are formed, demanding swift and quick movements. Somewhere between the loose ice i find an ice bulk of thicker consistence. Perfect for a 10 cm screw. And on goes the climb. Spin drifts are coming down, covering my face and my neck with snow. When i finally reach the thicker ice, the hollow sound of the ice axes makes me aware that the whole upper part of the fall is detached from the wall. But apart of the nerve killing sound the ice is good. When the rope is running out i build a belay on screws, not a most confidential one, but one i can live with. Matthias comes up and leaves for the second pitch, good ice, but slightly detached from the rock. Then a snow couloir leads up to a large bowl. On the headwall a mighty column has formed, large medusas building it´s extremely aesthetic pedestal. It is a great sight! I sit down, drink some tea and breath. The initial medusas have to be climbed with care. When i reach the free standing pillar i put in my first screw. Now the steep part starts. Looking up i see the vertical ice looming above me and I focus on the moment. The ice is hard, this fall had not had much repetitions yet and i have to find the balance between scratching and hitting the ice, knowing that this fall demands some carful treatment.Shaking my arms out i pull myself up the last meters. As soon as i am on belay, Matthias starts to come up. He gives me a high five and goes for the last pitch, a mixture of ice and a lot of snow. More spin drifts are coming down. Suddenly i hear Matthias cry out. Vibrations of stress go through me. White masses of snow are rushing down. It is not the first time i experience this: we have been seriously avalanched on an ice fall once, and the memory of it never has left me. But we´re lucky! The avalanche is of no big seize, soon it is stopping. I feel the rope moving again and the sign for belay given a short time later. I follow up and focus on speed. But when i reach the upper part i simply have to stop and gaze in disbelief. The sight is just awesome: A huge round rock is chocked above the rock walls, an incredible sculpture of nature.It is looking like the mythical stone of Sisyphus, left here as an eternal symbol. But there is not much time, we are in the middle of an highly potential avalanche gully and the wind is getting stronger. So we hurry up, Matthias is pressing on, he quickly builds a v-thread and smashes in a kniveblade. But we are lucky. With four abseils and a walk down the snow couloir we are at the bottom of the climb again safe and sound.
Due to the tricky avalanche situation the next days sees us on the “Weeping Wall” ticking two of the classic lines there.
More snow is coming and the trail of snow drifts on the ridge lines above Canmore let usdecide that it´s time to give our nerves a break and go for some safe drytooling to “The Playground”. After the warm up routes we go for the M10+ route “Swiss Cheese”in the cave.We checked the route already a week before but could not send it yet. Mat, memorizing the moves completely now, sends it on his first try today. Great, i am really happy with him. I try the route myself, but fall off somewhere in the middle. Next time! Two days later we are there again. My first try fails cause i´m too nervous. But on my second try everything works out fine and i can clip the anchor after a clean RP.
We still have not been in the Ghost for climbing but we know that we simply have to go there!!! The Ghost is a special place. Here the impressions of Matthias:
The day is rising with a red light, that puts the huge rock walls above us aflame, while we are approaching on the frozen drainage of the Ghost lakes. Our objective for today is “Rainbow Serpent”. A mythical line all hidden in a natural wonder called “Recital Hall”. We have teamed up with Steve Swenson, a real connoisseur of the Ghost. The ice is cracking under our feet and I take in the cold fresh air. There is a wonderful peace filling the air here and I enjoy every step of the approach. We reach the the foot of “Aquarious”, the access fall of the “Recital Hall”. Tanja is racking up to climb this very aesthetic 60 m pitch of ice, thats separating the big rock wall. She is gaining fast the belay and Steve and I are following up. I pass Tanja on the belay and enter the “Recital Hall”. First my eyes fall on the unformed shape of “Fearful Symmetry” but after a few steps more I cant believe what I see - It’s too beautiful: “Rainbow Serpent”! It is one of the most aesthetic ice pillars I have ever seen and standing in front of this nearly 100m high natural wonder fills me with deepest admiration and respect. The sound of our voices get’s amplified by the natural structure of the “hall”. I am climbing up the easy ice to the huge first freestanding pillar. I put a screw at his base and with carful tool placements I am getting on it. While I am on the middle of the pillar two big black ravens come in to the “Hall” and the crackling of their voices follow the sound of my ice axes... I am getting nearer to the end of the pillar when out of sudden with a deep crack and boom the whole pillar is cracking and settling. Luckily nothing more is happening - we are the first to climb “Rainbow Serpent” this season. Over the medusas on the right side I gain a good belay on the foot of the upper pillar. On two bomber screws Tanja and Steve are coming up. The look of the upper pillar is tremendous. The sun is caressing the ice and creates wonderful reflections. The ice itself consists out of thousands of little icicles frozen together. A wonderful view, but it will be tricky to climb. I am starting in to the pitch. Four easy meters bring me to the upper pillar. I am looking for the first placement for my right tool on the fragile ice when I am cutting loose a double fist sized ice block. This time I am not fast enough and it hits me full on my chin - luckily no open cut. Steve is cheering from the belay and a little bit on the left I find good ice and swing on to the fantastic pillar. There is a lot of air under my feet and the exposure is incredible beautiful. I have to stop and to look down to savor the greatness of this place. The pillar is getting narrower towards the top but the ice quality gets better and with a last look down in to the far away ground of the “Hall” I am topping out. A deep happiness is filling me letting me forget the cold and the wind. I am grateful, that I could be on such a wonderful place with such wonderful people as Steve and Tanja. When they come up we shake hands, but it’s really cold and they have been both waiting on the belay- so they are double cold. Steve is building with high speed a perfect v-thread and off he goes. Whilst I am following down Steve has build already the next v-thread. I am waiting now, to have a little bit longer here with this view. On the way back to the car Steve is talking about his plans for the next months - the way he speaks about his projects and deeds of the past -I feel big admiration for him and his modest way to live and tell about his live as a climber and alpinist.
One more day is left for us in the Rockies before we will turn back to the Alps. The snow settled and the winds are quiet - so we decide to do the classic Bourgeau left fall in Sunshine. The low temperatures on that day gives us a good challenge and so we sit all satisfied the next day in the warm plane back to Europe - Canada was great - we will come back !!
I refreshed the COGNE-ICE site - check here for news about ice conditions in Cogne.
Back from Canada and right away the ICE OPENING EVENT at home in Cogne. Thank you all for coming it was GREAT!!!!
First week on the ice in Canada is over - here a short report about our climb on "Virtual Reality" on the 16th November 2012
“Reality is a very flexible substance…”,
those are the reflections running trough my mind, while I am approaching the ice lines on Mt. Murchison. We had been here just two days before - and had climbed Murchison Falls. The line had been a great climb, filled with wild and partly chaotic formations but the difficulties had still stayed at a moderate technical and physical level. Nevertheless, it had been a good day out, and in addition to that it had taught us a lot about the ice quality in the area.
“Reality” is very stretchable term and we found the crazy shapes of the Murchison Falls evidently outclassed by it´s direct neighbor "Virtual Reality".
And exactly this was the line we were heeding for today. The fall looked quite chaotic in the upper part. Hard to deem, if it could be climbed or not so early in the season. The imminent question arises, how the fragile looking ice is connected to the rock. From our experience on Murchison we estimate, that it should be ok, but you never know- till you are on it.
We solo up the little steps to the climb. Tanja takes the first big pitch with very changeable ice quality. I join her on a good belay in a little cave. Now the pretty unknown awaits. I start to climb up - there are some tracks from a party seemingly climbing the day before. The ice has a lot of tension and is cracking beneath me. After 15 m of climbing I have the option to climb left or stay right on a fragile looking curtain. I am going for the curtain. With some steps in the rock I overcome the very thin and brittle start of it. With two swift strokes of my tools I am over the first meduses and quickly reach the second curtain. Now it starts to becomes really interesting - no more tracks of other climbers above me - just a v-thread and an abandoned screw....
The ice is of an extremely glassy consistence. Every movement I put forth is responded with a cracking moan. I am scratching and cutting my tools with highest caution into scetchy thin icicles. My last screw is placed 10 m below me in the best ice I could find, which is, here, quite relative.
But I feel good. I have found my inner peace and with very calm moves I am approaching the overhanging meduses above me. From the picture we had studied before, I know that there might appear a possibility for a belay above this overhang on the right. I have only 15 m of rope left, so I am in an urgent need to find something. In a glassy ice flute I place a screw to protect the hard moves over the meduses. The curtain is reverberating menacingly under my feet and I try to balance my weight as much as I can. Luckily the ice above the meduses is responding with a reassuring sound. The ice is now better connected to the rock than below. Behind a big icicle I find a cave and, Yes!, there is a wonderful crack going up the rock. Two cams and a kniveblade build a very mind calming belay. Tanja is coming up and I watch her placing the tools like scalpels - the sound of this fragile structures demands the highest caution...
The name of the line might be "Virtual Reality" but the climbing is real, even if the ice, formed in utmost fragile and bizarre shapes might appear quite "unreal" ....
I am attacking the next pitch. The ice has a better sound, the whole structure a better connection to the rock, but still it is formed by countless little icicles making the climbing very delicate. After 20 m the appearance of the ice changes dramatically: big finger like tentacles of spray ice are covering the rock. The ice is just some centimeters thick but luckily the angle decreases and over phantastic and beautiful molded ice I gain the plateau above the climb. On a solid rock I can place a sling and Tanja is coming up. What a great place - what an extraordinary climb !
Tanja on the approach -
on the left "Murchison Falls" on the right "Virtual Reality"
Tanja on the first pitch
Matthias on the crux pitch
Matthias on the top pitch
Less than a month now - see you in Cogne !!!!
Ice Climbing Opening in Cogne
Saturday 15th of December
Join us in the backyard of the Bar Cascate in Lillaz/Cogne for the ice season opening event and BBQ.
In the morning:
- Discover the area with tips from the local pros
- check out the latest equipment from Arc'Teryx, Black Diamond, La Sportiva and Sterling Rope and bring it for a free test on the ice.
- meet other enthusiastic fellow ice and mixed climbers and get inspired for this winter
From 2 pm :
- join us at the event site for a coffeebreak
- don't miss the start of the first ice BBQ: we will provide you with free food and drinks, music and a great ambiance....
- win some of the best ice climbing equipment from the event sponsors....
- enjoy the get together in the Bar Cascate till 10 pm and make plans for the next day.
In the morning: handover of test gear
Ice climbs conditions information
A reservation for the BBQ by December 12 is essential
FROZEN LOVE - AN ICE CLIMBING JOURNEY Watch our new film here
FROZEN LOVE - A FILM BY TANJA SCHMITT AND MATTHIAS SCHERER
Frozen Love- a film about extreme ice climbing and the passion, voyaging, story and partner ship behind it. A search for " frozen windmills" starting on thin and brittle ice in Italy and ending on sun burned ice in Norway.
Spring and summer the hardest seasons for ice climbers?
Yes - like every year all the wonderful icy challenges just disappear and now the question is:
What’s happening if you push yourself through a whole winter season on the ice and you do a stop?
Most probably you become sick - your body and your nervous system start to recover with all uncanny side effects.
So over all the past years we tried to avoid to stop. Stopping on the ice falls - due to the melt down - we moved directly in the spring snow by ski touring and in the alpine ice and mixed. To close the gap between spring and summer we changed quickly the skis and crampons for rock climbing and running shoes.
The challenge is to find the right balance. When it comes to hard ice climbing you have to push yourself over your physical and psychical limits but in the off season you have to accept the boundaries of your body and mind. Digging to deep in that time can unravel still unknown inner demons and interesting reactions of your body...
By slowly walking thousands of vertical meters in the spring with the skis and climbing moderate but beautiful routes in the alpine, by running lonely mountain trails we reinstall our inner peace and restore the power to fulfill our yet unrealized dreams.
We had yesterday a very good time on the Frendo Pillar on the Aiguille du Midi north face.
Tanja and I had an alpine start at 4 am celebrating my birthday by climbing this 1200 m high classic mixed route in the Mont Blanc mountain range.
The weather proved to be a hard challenge in the last weeks. Continual snowfalls and strong winds created a very tricky avalanche situation in the high mountains. Thus the access to all our mixed- and ice climbing projects in the Mont Blanc range was denied. So we stayed in our home mountain range, where we know the terrain very well. On one of the more or less sunny days of last week we skinned up to the Gran Sertz (3552m) and enjoyed a wonderful descent on this stormy day. Watch the film of this day here
Looking out of my window I see the last white fragments of ice disappearing under the warm italian sun, also the snow keeps coming back sporadically. But for the ice climbing it is definitely over, and I start to reflect the season and all the experiences we have been through, and notice, that this will take some time: The season had been long, demanding and full of challenges:
The start of the season 2011/12 appeared not to be very promising: we set out for the first ice fall of the winter, it was the 12.12.11., I had a new constellation of crampon/ boot which did not fit the optimum and as a result a very bad accident happened. After my crampon detached itself from the boot while I was leading the second pitch,I took a 20m fall. I had not put a screw because it had been easy ground, and now I was flying fast, passing the belay and smashed into the ice below. I immediately lost consciousness, emerging to the surface only from time to time, before sinking down into the blackness again. I awoke fully at the Aosta emergency hospital.
Analyses: heavy cranial trauma and several bruises. I was lucky. After four days I was released.
The long awaited snow arrived and accompanied my healing days. I came to think a lot of what had happened and how to carry on. Alpinism and especially ice- climbing has become my life, our life, which glues everything together. Our training, our motivation, our concept of life and our organization of it, our shared philosophy and our ideals.
I could not just turn my back when the time had arrived to pay a prize. But I could learn from the accident, and it definitely left me stronger...
Ten days after the accident I carried on, first only seconding, but soon enough also leading again. I had some slight shoulder problems but otherwise felt o.k.
We climbed many ice falls but the seasons exceptional climbs should become "Rappelle toi que tu est un homme" and "Rappelle toi que tu est un gnome". Both falls were outstanding, in their appearance but also in their inherit dangers.
These places of thorough dangers provide a pulling attraction.There are forces buried in them, which we cannot explain but who doubtlessly are leaving marks deep inside of us. Returning from these places makes us feel grown inside, formed and shaped by something powerful. We have experienced intense moments, as if life itself is bundled in this prism of glass, sucking out our life- energy but on the same time returning it in powerful light. We feel elevated, light and full of inner energy afterwards, also our bodies are often soar, tired and spend.
After Fressinier we prepared ourselves for an ice climbing trip to Norway. The far north captured our enthusiasm and we climbed many great falls. But the most aesthetic line we found was the legendary "Lipton", hidden in the dark gorge of Vermok. The climb of it created a strong and unforgettable memory. Another exceptional climb should become "Hydnefossen", not only because of it's barely protectable ice consistence, but also because of the rough nordic landscapes it was settled in.
Departing from the northern coastline and enduring the towering waves of the Skargeragg sea, we leave the country with the strong urge to come back.
Outside the sun is breaking powerful through the heavy clouds: I sigh and enjoy this moment of peaceful reflection. The dragons are gone now - but not for long.
The next winter will come!
Even the most dreadful storm does have a break. We used a moment of good weather to make a quick ascent of the Col di Tuf in our home mountain range.
Great conditions for Ski Mountaineering in Cogne. Check in the snow chapter for our video about our ascent of the Torre del GranSanPietro on the 31.03.12.
Here the report from our Norway trip
Norway Ice Trip by Matthias Scherer and Tanja Schmitt
Escaping from the heatwave in the Alps we took the road to Norway - the long road.
We've heart a lot of stories about Norway in winter. We've seen photos. Will Gadd told us it would be the future of ice- climbing. We were more than curious when we loaded our ice climbing gear and our whole nutrition into the van. After 1700 km of driving we arrived in Hirtshals and entered the ferry towards Larvik. We passed the sea by night.The rough sea of the Skagerrak let the huge boat tremble beneath gigantic waves: Both of us became seasick. At two o'clock in the morning we rolled over norwegian ground through the night.
Finally we arrived in Rjukan. The town is small and colorful. The ice climbing-guidebook Rjukan tells us : "Rjukan is a place you cannot ignore, it is either makes you depressed or enthusiastic; there are a lot of emotions hidden (...)". We were curious about the emotions we were going to encounter.
To overcome our seasickness we climbed directly two great classics of Rjukan the Vemork West and the Sabotørfossen. The gorge of Vemork is an amazing place - the black rock with the veins of yellow ice creates an extraordinary aesthetic and is also laden with dramatic historic events:
In the end of the second world war, when the germans occupied the area in order to get the heavy water necessary for their desperate try to build the atomic bomb, brave acts of Norwegian sabotage thwarted the Germans plans by destroying the heavy water tanks. The heroic story of this events is remembered and given tribute in the museum of Vemork.
Matthias Scherer on the first pitch of Vemork West - photo Tanja Schmitt
Next day we went for one of the highlights of Rjukan: Juvsøyla (WI 6) is an amazing sight - this 60 meter vertical pillar is overseeing the whole lower gorge and the shine of its yellow ice cannot been overseen.
We climbed the direct start in quite dry conditions - a big pitch of delicate mixed-climbing with marginal protection on very thin ice brought us up to the gleaming yellow pillar. We climbed this perfect featured ice line in one big pitch.
Juvsöyla - photo Matthias Scherer
In the upper gorge is the real jewel of Rjukan hidden - the legendary "Lipton" fall (WI 7). We checked it from the opposite of the gorge and the line looked fantastic. I was extremely motivated to give it a try and two days later with perfect temperatures we were down-climbing in the gorge to the foot of this monumental place. "Lipton" cannot be overseen- you walk over a frozen lake to the surreal sculpted icicles and daggers surrounded by the towering walls of the gorge. Already the sight of this miraculous place was worth the travel. My plan was to link the first three pitches - the crux pitches of the line - in one. The first pitch started in a tight corner with the typical amazing yellow ice hanging in it. Some easy meters brought me to the fragile pillar, that was leading up to the traverse. I put a good cam before I went on the pillar - the ice was quite fragile and carefully I made my way up. It took some good meters before I could place a screw. The look into the traverse was very impressive - especially the last meters looked very difficult. I put a srcew and stepped out on the first hanging dagger. With over 40meters of air underneath me I stepped over to the next icicle. What a wonderful line!! It took me some moments to understand how I could get on the next icicle and then doing the moves was very intense. I scratched and hooked my ice axes over my head in an awkward move in the overhanging top of the big icicle. Then I put my right feet just on a tiny rest of an ice curtain, that was the rest of the big stalactite who had fallen
off, was just GREAT
Lipton (WI 7) - photo M.Scherer
Matthias passing the crux on Lipton -
photo Tanja Schmitt
It was done and I released my tension with a loud cry - I put up a belay with good Cams - I had linked the Crux pitches of "Lipton" and the beauty of the moment will never leave me. Tanja was coming up and we had a good moment of joy and were both deeply moved from this powerful monument of frozen water. I went in the next pitch. Not as extreme and surreal as the first, it still demanded very careful use of the tools. A last classic pitch brought us to the top of this natural wonder.
Matthias Scherer linked the first three pitches of Lipton in one pitch - photo Tanja Schmitt
We had a very pleasant rest day at Jakob Fink' s hostel in Rjukan. His place reminded me very much at the climbers and skiers community I had lived once in Chamonix. It's impossible to not get touched by Jakob's hearty and energetic personality and we can only recommend everybody a visit of his place. As one of the main organizers of the Rjukan Ice Fest we had met him the days before during this merry gathering of climbers from all over the world.
Our next aim was the well known Hydnefossen (WI 6) near Hemsedal. Although our map assured us of a smooth 250 km drive to Hemsedal, the small roads only accepted low velocity and we felt restless.
Hydnefossen - photo Matthias Scherer
Warm temperatures had arrived and we awaited the cold by going for runs and reading.
On the third of march conditions were finally good enough for this impressive line. We approached the fall under a gleaming red morning light. The cold of the day before had frozen solid the snowpack. It took us less than one hour to get to the foot of the fall. Over our head towered Hydnefossen, 200m high with all its might.
We chose the line in the middle. I climbed my way up on the stone- hard ice of the first 60 m enduro pitch. Then Tanja took the lead. At this time of the year the upper part of the fall gets 3-4 hours sun the day. Tanja climbed up a steep pillar, the ice was white and very difficult to protect making the climb an interesting mental challenge. Finally she found good ice again and built a belay under the shade of a hugh ice-column.
Tanja Schmitt on the second pitch of Hydnefossen - photo Matthias Scherer
I attacked the next pitch and after a 15 meter runout up on card house like ice, I put my first solid screw. A short time later I was on belay and Tanja followed up. 20 meters above us the big cornice was towering, the last obstacle before topping out. I worked my way through this extraordinary pitch. After I had overcome the cornice, it was a great feeling as the vertical world of the ice fall changed instantly into a horizontal line of the big northern flats. While walking back to our Van and enjoying our climb the vastness of the land around us made us dreaming - we know that we have seen just the tip of the "iceberg". Useless to say, that we will be back next winter in this land of countless ice climbing possibilities...
Back from Norway
We just returned from our Norway Ice Trip. Despite extreme weather conditions we climbed succesfully several impressive ice lines in this land of the "countless Fjords and water falls"...
Check back in the next days for our coming trip report !!
"Lipton", Rjukan - 27.02.12 : I linked the first pitches the "Crux" picthes in one pitch - picture by Tanja Schmitt
Back from a big week in the Hautes - Alpes:
We are just back from a long week on epic ice lines in the Hautes-Alpes. Here some words about those long days on extreme ice and mixed:
It started on monday the 6th of February. We went early in the morning in the Valley du Rabioux to climb the incredible line of “Rapplelle toi que tu es un gnome”. It was very cold (-15°Celsius) and that was good: The ice fall is facing the sun from early afternoon on and then everything becomes very fast very dangerous. Standing in front of the line we understood the name better - we really felt like dwarfs (gnomes) facing the gigantic hanging daggers.
the first pitch of "Rappelle toi que tu es un gnome" - picture by Tanja Schhmitt
No water was running - too cold. The ice was hard and fragile. The first pitch was climbing on classic graded ice - than in the second pitch the real climbing started with technical, brittle and thin ice.
the second pitch- picture by Tanja Schmitt
The third pitch started on a fragile pillar to get over in a wall of meduses and thin curtains. I linked this pitch with the fourth pitch to save time, because the sun was getting nearer. It was 60m of very varied difficult ice climbing - great. I went full on in the last pitch but also here a open tube with very bad ice quality was demanding careful use of the tools.
the start of the last pitch of the gnome -picture by Tanja Schmitt
When Tanja came up to the top of the fall we were extremely happy about our ascent. The sun came on the fall in the same time, so we started very fast the abseiling. The abseiling is an adventure for itself. Since the ice fall is so steep I had to catch a monstrous hanging icicle with my ice axe to pull myself back to the wall and the belay. Coming down the water was now spilling down - we packed up as fast as we could and emerged on a safe spot. It was a very good day on the ice and this fall will find for sure his place in my top ten ice falls.
Next day Tanja was keen to take the lead and she decided to go to the impressive line of the Viollines in the Freissiniere Valley. We had not the earliest start on that day, so there were already two (!!) parties engaged on the fall. But nobody was on “Cousin Hubert” the line on the right of the “Viollines”, so Tanja changed quickly heir objective for the day -we would come back for the Viollines on another day. “Cousin Hubert” is for sure looking less impressive than his neighbor, but the climbing was very technical and demanded a cool head and sure skills with the tools, because the ice was on the two crux sections thin and very fragile with no room for errors. Tanja climbed all the four pitches in a safe and calm way and I enjoyed the part of the belayer and to second the very interesting climbing.
Tanja on the second pitch of Cousin Hubert - picture by Matthias Scherer
After a rest day we headed in the lonely Valley du Couleau to have a look on the legendary ice fall “Rappelle toi que tu es un homme” first climbed by Christophe Moulin. This ice fall was a milestone in ice climbing history and so I was very curious, what it was looking like. I had heard and read many stories about this line and all came in the summary to one resume : Extremely delicate climbing on rock and even more delicate climbing on ice...
The approach on the skis went quick and we did not feel the length of the path - but I “remembered” still the “gnome” and the first sight of the “Homme” in the red light of the dawn was really impressing...
"Rappelle toi que tu es un homme" - picture by Tanja Schmitt
The nearer we got the crazier the formation of the ice became.We left our packs with the gear on a safe spot and had a closer look. I understood where the start was and how the first pitch was traversing under the ice curtain on the brittle rock up to the first belay, but I felt, that I was not in shape today to give it a try. We put our skis on and went back to our van.
Two days later we were back again - I felt fresh - especially mentally -but it was very cold. The thermometer of our van had shown - 13°Celsius on the parking and here at the foot of the ice fall there were for sure some grades less.
I climbed the first pitch - the M8 pitch - so the original grading. I used the hands or the tools where I could - the fingers were cold but it was getting better with every meter. Some old pitons were there and I could also place some C3’s in small cracks to back up the old pegs.
pitch one of "Rappelle tou que tu es un homme" - picture by Tanja Schmitt
Some other climbers were coming, while I was climbing the first pitch and observed my doing. Coming to the belay we had a short chat by calling and one of those three men were Christophe Moulin - the man of the first ascent... They decided to come back on another day and Tanja started to second up the first pitch. Also she was suffering extremely on the fingers but climbed it all free with the pack on heir back. The second pitch started with a short section on rock and than right away with very fragile and thin ice. Also for the rest of this pitch the ice remained extremely fragile and I was placing my Fusions and stingers with the outmost care.
the start of the second pitch - picture by Tanja Schmitt
The third pitch started with a slight traverse before I climbed over a thin curtain over-crowned by fragile meduses. Tanja was coming up and I prepared myself for the next pitch on this crazy line. The first 20 m of this pitch continued in the same style as the two previous pitches - very hard ice on thin columns and overhanging sections on brittle meduses. I placed screws where it was possible, but still in fragile ice like this, you don't want to test them. The ice became less steep but remained hard like concrete and every meter to gain was hard work. Scratching my way over a huge thin ice crust I made the last meters to the belay at the foot of the pillar of the fifth pitch. Arriving there I felt how the cold had worked on my body and also my mind was summing from the effort... I had a look up and the pillar was towering over me - still I felt some power and spirit left and while Tanja was coming up I restored my energy with some gels.
Tanja was also encouraging me to give this “second Crux” pitch a try and to finish the fall. In the original way the pillar was not formed and was climbed in mixed M7 on its right side. I was testing the pillar with my tools but the sound was not very good and the exit of the pillar would have been a big curtain, so I stemmed my way up between the rock and the pillar to the right side. I climbed a short section on rock before I got my legs back on the ice, some old pegs gave some pro and in that way, by placing screws on the left and cams on the right I was making my way up.
between ice and rock - on the fifth pitch - picture by Tanja Schmitt
On that last meters with very serious passages on the ice I was glad that I had spent so many days training myself over the last years - it’s for moments like this! Over less steep ice I came to the end of the pitch and placed my screws for the belay. Tanja came up and we had a moment of joy - I was very happy to be with her here on this place and without her I would never been able to climb this line (like on many others...) While I was fixing the pack on the belay I realized the weight of it and were impressed how Tanja had climbed with this extra burden! We placed two v-threads and started in the last light of a long day with the abseiling. “Rappelle toi que tu es un homme” and “un homme peut faire des erreurs” - “Remember that you are a human” and “humans can make errors” - so we did on the last pitch to the ground - we jammed our ropes ... We could not see far enough with our headlamps and decided to come back the next day to take our ropes...
So we were pilgrims of the Vallee du Couleau again the next day - when we approached the line a huge icicle were coming down and reminded us of what we are: HUMANS
To finish our big week in the Hautes-Alpes we turned back on the next day to the Viollins. I had climbed this line already in 2005 but now Tanja wanted to do it and she racked up for attacking this beautiful and impressive line. Two classic pitches brought us up to the towering freestanding pillar of the third pitch. The ice of the pillar was formed in many little fragile features and Tanja made her way up through this very technical terrain. She placed good screws and enjoyed herself on the crazy forms of this wonderful pitch.
Tanja on the impressive pillar of the "Viollins" - picture by Matthias Scherer
I came up to Tanja and hugged her for her good effort. A great week on the ice came to an end with lots of very precious memories and experiences for both of us and the always returning understanding, that there will be always something new to discover, something new to learn...
all pictures copyright by tanja schmitt, matthias scherer and heike schmitt