Hansjörg Auer, free as a bird on Vogelfrei 8b/8b+, Schüsselkarspitze
Hansjörg Auer has carried out the first free ascent of Vogelfrei (8b/8b+ 400m), on the South Face of the Schüsselkarspitze, Austria.
After an intense summer in the Dolomites which reaped the first ascent of Silberschrei on Sass de la Crusc and the swiftest of repeats of La Cattedrale on the Marmolada, Hansjörg Auer from Austria concentrated his efforts closer to home. At the nearby and highly technical Chinesische Mauer the 25 year old managed to repeat Freetown 8c and redpoint his first ever 8c+, Dark Side (Much Mair, 2008) while on the immense South Face of the Schüsselkarspitze he carried out the first free ascent of the dormant 400m Vogelfrei, which now goes "free as a bird" as the name suggests at 8b/8b+.
Vogelfrei, free as a bird by Hansjörg Auer
I dangle on the rope once again, look at my trashed fingertips and the small, sharp holds. This last difficult pitch wracks my nerves and begins to shakethe foundations my otherwise strong desire to climb free. There are many meters of climbing, yet these few decide over success or failure. My brother Virtus was on belay. It's surprising how patient he is, he'd been hanging on this smooth wall for almost two hours. Yet the Vogelfrei adventure began twelve years ago.
In 1997 Michi Wärthl, Tom Dauer and Chris Semmel established a new route straight through the steepest and highest section of the South Face of the Schüsselkarspitze. They needed various days to complete the line, spread out between September and November and they called their first ascent "Vogelfrei". Although the freed all the lower pitches, which nevertheless offer difficulties up to 8a, they lacked that extra-something to free the very top of the route. The route wore their determination down and they made it an open project. I thought about the route every now and then and in August 2009 the time had come. A first attempt up to the 11th pitch revealed both the beauty and difficulty. I was hooked.
We were back at the Schüsselkar a few days later. This time with a Portaledge and a whole lot of motivation. I wanted to redpoint as many pitches as possible on the first day and possibly even clean the crux pitch. Things went smoothly and I managed to send all the pitches straight off. After a slightly easier section I reache the first hurdle. A long and beautiful 7c. Things became easier for a while before it all got really serious. Three pitches followed, graded 8a, 7a+ and 8a again. Short cruxy sections rather than long stamina were the name of the game and things proceeded well. I also stuck the dyno on the second 8a pitch first go. We reached the traverse – three pitches separated us from the summit. I glanced at my watch. It was late, but we wanted to traverse across to the route's big question mark. I was excited to see what this final difficult pitch was like. I climb 30m, almost all diagonally right, and reached the belay. My brother followed. I cleaned the next hold with the brush. Gosh they were sharp and small. But they had to suffice. Somehow the section didn't look that hard, but when I worked the moves I realised that the pitch was pretty tricky. I could climb the single moves, but as often happens, the real problem was linking it all together. By now it was almost dark, we descended and set up the portaledge at the start of the traverse. Finally we settled down and slowly filled our empty stomachs. Good night.
The next morning greeted me with a cold shower. I could only just scrape through the single moves, unearth them from my memory. You gotta be kidding! Don't let up now. I was tense, and with every attempt I lost some precious skin. Was all this effort in vain? I took a longer rest and after an hour I gave it all I had. I set off from the belay fully concentrated, held the small crimp left, stepped up high and moved my body right. This time, somehow, I managed to stick to the wall. I grabbed the pocket and suddenly become brutally nervous. Breath slowly, remain calm, turn it into an undercut, control the body tension, reach for the undercling left and ? I failed to hold the mono. Damn. So close, it made me sick. My left index finger was almost split and I knew I'd only got one attempt left before it would start spraying blood. We climbed to the summit and met up with Heiko and Matthias.
Heiko wanted to take some photos. And I? I didn't want to give up, a final attempt will provide certainty. As the sun began to drop behind the Westgratturm a light breeze arrived and it got a bit colder. Conditions seemed perfect. A quick glance upwards, off I went. I was completely in the flow and after quite a battle, always on the verge of tipping off backwards, I finally "woke up" clutching the finishing hold. I'd been transported upwards by the cheers of my friends. I let out an incredible scream which echoes through the entire Puital valley. My joy took flight. We did it. The long-term project "Vogelfrei" (8b/8b+) is free at last…
Vogelfrei, Schüsselkarspitze South Face – Wettersteingebirge/Tyrol, Austria
Length: 14 pitches
Gear: 60m ropes, small set of Cams up to #1
First ascent: Michi Wärthl, Tom Dauer und Chris Semmel 1997
1st redpoint: Hansjörg Auer, belayed by his brother Vitus 2009
Descent: Abseil down the route