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 cimbing 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 20 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 7.30 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 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