"We wake up at 5:30am and it‘s very cold in the van. Minus twelve degrees Celsius – 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 gleaming ice as it splits up the big black lower face. There is only a little snow and lots of ice on the ground, which makes the approach tricky.
The first thing we 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 30m, 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 70m and the ice is good – wet but not detached. Next pitch already looks not so good. There are numerous small icicles glued together and I have to be extra careful not to hit Tanja. After 60m, 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 70m pitch, we go up a short snow couloir to another 70m high pitch. The view from the top of this pitch up to the headwall is breathtaking. 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 70m 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 of good ice. I love this feeling of freedom and focus in the moment. Next move – careful cleaning, scratching, and kicking til it feels good. Finally, after 20m, I place my first screw – a bad one. I traverse over vertical snow to the left and gain better ice. Here, a good screw. Then it goes up for 30m on vertical ice – still not super solid, but less freaky than the start of the pitch.
On a nice balcony after 65m, 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 goes 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 few meters. Then I have to slow down. This pitch looked easy, but now the Freakshow is on again. The higher part of this pitch is a freestanding hanging curtain only 50cm thick. With delicate moves I get over the next 15m – no option for protection here and like everywhere on this line no place for mistakes. I reach a safe spot after 65m in a good cave and set up my belay.
Its getting dark. I realize where we are - very high up in a very scary place. But I am confident. Tanja and I are in good shape and the morale 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. 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 take our headlamps and Tanja decides 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 has led 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 a word, I go up the snow. We both know that 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 raps and down climbing – a lot can happen –- I need to be very concentrated.
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. The snow-icicle mixture here is very delicate to climb. On the belay we hug each other. We did it – 1300m of climbing and nearly 1000m in elevation are behind us.
We both know that even more 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 we are back down and very happy. 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!!!"
(Photos by Matthias and Tanja)