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25.03.2013

Sagwand – First Winter Ascent

In summer 2008 I climbed the “Desperation of the North Face”, a first ascent on the Sagwand in the Valsertal, with Jorg Verhoeven. It was the first bigger alpine undertaking for me during which I could put my ideas about climbing in this kind of terrain to test. Already then, an extraordinary line caught my eye. The legendary Hias Rebitsch discovered it in 1947 and did the first ascent. The “Schiefer Riss” was one of the most demanding climbs in the area for a long time with climbing up to the 6thgrade and – typical for Rebitsch - marginal protection. It took almost 30 years until the route got repeated. Nowadays, the Schiefer Riss is too dangerous in summer due to massive amounts of rock fall. There hadn’t been a winter ascent yet.

I had the idea in my head for more than four years. I returned to the Valsertal several times.

I climbed the classics, like the north ridge of the Fußstein or the Diagonal Route on the Schrammacher, and drew new lines onto these walls with first ascents and ski descents, but it took a while until I got to try the Schiefer Riss.

On march eleven, I skinned up to the start with Hansjörg Auer. It was already kind of late and we didn’t have any bivy gear with us. The climbing was much harder than expected, and after climbing for ten hours without stopping, it dawned to us that the summit was out of reach. It was getting dark, and we didn’t have a chance in this terrain with headlamps. Moreover we were mentally drained, and neither Hansjörg nor I wanted to do any more leading. It had been an awesome try, which motivated us for more.  We would be back before the end of winter and try our project with a different strategy.

Five days later, the time had come. Peter Ortner was busy during our last attempt, but this time he joined Hansjörg and me. We would be able to split the difficulties in between us in a better way. We started around eleven. I lead the first pitch. I already knew this pitch and remembered it as being really tough. Actually, I thought I wouldn’t have to lead it again, but knowing it was an advantage – and also a disadvantage because I knew what I was in for...

I got a little scared, but climbed to the anchor without any serious incident. I lead two more pitches and then Hansjörg took over the sharp end. In order to make fast progress, we would lead the pitches we already knew on the first day. Peter would take over the lead on the second day and climb to the summit. After many pitches of mentally and physically demanding terrain it would be good to not to have to lead any more.

Sagwand Winterbegehung

Hansjörg beim Sichern im Schneesturm während dem ersten Versuch.

A couple of years ago, there was a large rockfall at about half height of the wall, which affected the Schiefer Riss. The Schiefer Riss turns right in the rockfall area. While Hansjörg fixes another pitch through the rockfall area, I make a little ledge in a snowfield to the right of the anchor.  It was large enough that the three of us could sit on it. I put a couple rocks on the border so it doesn’t break and there it was, our “doss”.

Before we left the car in the morning the thermometer had shown a temperature of -22?C. It hadn’t gotten any warmer, and to the right of us the Spindrift came down relentlessly. We were happy because we thought we would be spared from the icy shower during the night. We boiled some water for our Travelluch and got ready to freeze.

Every once in while one of us broke the silence with a heart-felt “What the fuck!?”. In these situations it’s better to not to ask any questions that dive too deep. We all put our sleeping bag over our head and tried to rest.
Our arms and legs had been numb for a while when the spindrift hit us. It was the coldest bivy we have ever experienced. Shortly before it dawned, we boiled some water and ate a sausage from Hansjörgs parents. We then left the bivy, because we weren’t getting any sleep anyway.

Peter led everything to the summit as planned. In the first pitches from the bivy, huge snow mushrooms hung in the crack. The climbing was hard and fairly dangerous, but we made progress and moving provided some warmth, which encouraged our toes and fingers to painfully come back to life. Around eleven o’clock, we stood on the summit. We were happy to have made the best of the good conditions before the Föhn storm came and to have climbed a route that is no easier than the routes in Chamonix or even Patagonia. The wind didn’t let us enjoy the sun on the summit, and thus we quickly rappelled.

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