Hansjörg Auer: if the name is new to you, remember it. Why? Because on 29 April the young Austrian climbed the legendary Via del Pesce on the south face of the Marmolada in just under 3 hours, without a rope, armed only with climbing shoes, a chalk bag, a helmet and a light Goretex jacket. Before him only Maurizio Giordani had climbed this mythical route solo: in 1990 (17 years back!) the Italian climbed the route, self-belaying on 9 pitches, in ten hours including the descent down the via ferrata. Hansjörg has now carried out the next step: these are not our words, but those of Maurizio Giordani…
Auer's ascent doesn't stem from nowhere. In June 2006 the 23 year old carried out the third solo ascent of Tempi Moderni (after Maurizio Giordani ’85 and Tomo Cesen ‘89) on the immense South Face of the the Queen of the Dolomites. And while Auer was soloing Tempi Moderni his thoughts drifted across to the Pesce, that it would be possible to do the same on those 900m graded 7+, A2 (7b+) and first ascended by the Slovaks Jindrich Sustr and Igor Koller in August 1981...
Auer had climbed the Via attraverso il Pesce in autumn 2004 together with his climbing partner, and after having checked out the route briefly from above on 28 April 2007 he began his fast ascent early the next day: at 9.00am he set off from the base of the route and he reached the summit barely three hours later, at 11.55. It seems superfluous to underline the importance, danger and absolute demanding nature of this ascent. What we feel we must add though is that the reasons which push someone to carry out a feat of this sort are and must always remain totally personal.
For the record: Hansjörg Auer's ascent was witnessed by a German couple climbing up the nearby Don Quixote who also took the photo published here. Furthermore, Auer returned to the South Face last week together with Thomas Schreiber and carried out the third redpoint, all-lead, of the psychologically demanding “Steps across the boarder - senkrecht ins Tao” 8a (Darshano Rieser and Ingo Knapp, 1995).
Almost a month has passed since the free solo of the Pesce. Published below is a description of his ascent and his "post-Pesce" thoughts...
Hansjörg Auer and the via Attraverso il Pesce free solo
Hansjörg, first of all congratulations for your ascent. Did you already know the route?
Yes, I had climbed the route in autumn 2004 with a friend, but at the time I wasn't able to redpoint it... That day we needed circa 10.5 hours to get to the top.
Tell us how it went this year
I reached Malga Ciapela on Friday (27/04/07 editor's note) and on Saturday I walked up the Marmolada glacier and reached the cable car station. I then abseiled down the route using two half ropes and I attempted to learn the hardest sections. I didn't stop at easier sections. I remained on the route for circa 5 hours. Then I descended to Rifugio Falier's winter bivvy, where I spent the night. On Sunday I began my free solo climb at 9.00am and reached the top at 11.55. I climbed free solo, with just a chalk bag, a helmet, climbing shoes and a lightweight Gore-tex jacket.
How did you find it?
Long sections of the route don't go beyond vertical and there are only a few slightly overhaning sections. This obviously requires refined technique. The first section is relatively easy and the 4 pitches prior to and after the niche (the so-called Pesce, or fish, editor's note) encompass the hardest section of the route in about 200 - 250m. The crux is located 2 pitches beneath the Pesce and is comprised of some undercuts. During my solo though the most demanding pitch turned out to be the first of the hardest pitches. The pitches after the niche are steeper and every now and then there are some single finger pockets which need to be locked deep. Difficulties ease off above the ledge, but the quality of the rock deteriorates. The actual climbing is often highly uncompromising and requires great determination.
This seems a "detached" report, almost without any emotions whatsoever. Tell us what went through your head during the ascent.
The fascinating thing about soloing is living total freedom and lightness of movement. At the start of the route you somehow immerge yourself into another world which belongs to you only and you play with it with your body movements. Obviously you only realise what you've done a long time afterwards. You're concentrated 110% and the moves are in complete harmony with one another. It seems as if its pre-programmed, like in a film. There's no fear and your head almost explodes with self-confidence...
In reality I don't really know what it is - perhaps it's some particular ability? In any case I've been gifted with the capacity to turn some switch in my head which gives me an enormous self-confidence. When I'm at the start of the route I let my thoughts drift up high, so that it isn't fear which overcomes me but the joy of feeling complete concentration and that I'm about to make a dream come true. One waits for moments like this for a long time.
What are you waiting for now?
After the ascent of the Pesce I needed a number of days to completely get to terms with what I had accomplished. On the summit I felt total emptiness, combined with an unimaginable sense of fortune. During the days that followed I began to rethink about the route and, step by step, I realised what I'd done. To tell the truth I'm still surprised about how everyone has reacted to this free solo - I really hadn't reckoned with this.
Had you thought of climbing the route so quickly?
2 hours 55 minutes are correct, but I didn't climb to set a record. I checked my watch before I set off out of personal curiosity and I could almost not believe it myself that I’d climbed so fast. For the record, I climbed Tempi Moderni in 2 hours 40 minutes.... but the Pesce is almost 2 grades harder and 10 pitches longer. Simply unimaginable.
But you had imagined the route carefully beforehand...
When I soloed Tempi Moderni last year I simply thought that it would be possible to do the same on the Pesce. When at around Christmas time I began to think about it more concretely I didn’t imagine in the slightest what a reaction I'd get from the media. In the beginning I was simply overburdened.
On 29 April the right moment came about
Free solos of this sort can't be programmed beforehand - they arrive all of a sudden. You then prepare your mind and when you feel that right feeling you manage to carry out your dream. I climb solos exclusively for myself, to live out my dreams. I love the south Face of the Marmolada and I feel really at ease there. I didn't think that I'd create a feat, this ascent is simply the result of my deepest dreams and feelings. Any other reasons would be far too unimportant.