A Zillertal climbing holiday at home with Gerhard Hörhager for Mauro Calibani & friends
Mauro Calibani recounts his holiday with family and friends at the home of Gerhard Hörhager, in Austria's Zillertal rock paradise. A step back into climbing history, in the footsteps of great Hörhager and his Graceland 8b and Ganja 8a+ trad, two emblematic testpieces first ascended by this strong climber in the middle of the magnificent (climbing) 80's.
When I look in the mirror I often notice that my hair is going grey and this is an unmistakable sign not of my great new ability to change colour but instead of my gradual degeneration. And so I ask myself: should I cut or try to hide them? But since I'm a serious sort of bloke I show them off to all.
Ever since March, after operating my right knee ligament, the climbing I've seen has basically been that of others, not bad eh... but I prefer to be the one fighting against gravity! Five months after the op something finally changed, at last I was ready to get off on the right foot, perhaps even on the one beneath that creaking knee.
August 2012. We set off with a van full of children, food, motivation and high hopes and expectations while the temps outside hovered around 40°C. Direction Zillertal, where an immense Gerhard Hörhager waited for us with open arms at his magnificent "farm - hut" in the mountains high above Ginzling, and after a nine hour epic drive we finally reached our destination.
The rest of the gang tagged along later. Ric, Davide, Ele, Gio’, Tommy, Giorgio, Angelo, Barbara, Roberta, Simone and Matteo, Lorenzo, Silvia, Giulia e Carlo, Barbara and Hannes... all friends who'd come along by word of mouth, + myself, Dani, Diego and Dariotti. Put together we made a good football team, with plenty of reserves, fresh and full of energy... The game could begin...
Whenever we moved we seemed like we'd be attacked by a herd of grazing cows, as children yelled, knees were cut and too many things were left behind because we simply had to remember too many things. This, in short, was our holiday in the Zillertal. And as the days passed by in tune with this general chaos, Gerhard with his gentle manner revealed the granite pearls and, slowly but surely, the whole group found a harmonious balance and the fun began.
Late one evening, after my kids returned home since one was soaking wet after having fallen into a river pool for the umpteenth time and the other was completely knackered, my friends gave me the chance to climb with Gerhard...
This is how we began to assault the most beautiful and historical routes he’d recommended. All of a sudden, beneath a steeply overhanging face, he exclaimed:
"You know what Mauro? I used to be able to climb this every time I gave it a go."
"Oh yeah? And what's it called?"
"Ah, and what's it given?"
"8b, or eighta boulder..."
"Aaaahhhh, and when did you free it?
"In eighty6, or 80seven, I don't remember...".
Then Gerhard gave it a powerful go and... fell, but only just. Curious about the history of my sport and deeply attracted by my friend, I set off with an endless stream of questions after having realised that I was standing face to face with a superb piece of climbing history.
I discovered that Gerhard had begun climbing in the eighties as a kid while looking after 30 sheep. As often happens, he'd got his love for the mountains from his father who unfortunately passed away a few months ago while he was out on a walk with his mother. That young kid immediately fell in love with his Zillertal and started a staggering series of kamikaze first ascents on totally unprotectable multi-pitch routes and some shorter climbs which boasted the odd bolt here and there. And every now and then he sold a sheep or two to buy some climbing gear!
Thanks to the good milk his cows produced Gerhard grew up strong and pretty robust ... (After hearing this detail, we all started drinking industrial amounts of milk, but to no avail as the only result was Ric's bloated tummy and my slight diarrhea...) Shortly afterwards he realized that his instinct was directing him towards climbing the extreme and so during the '80's he managed to free two important routes on those valley boulders. Perhaps these are the basis, an example of what would then become the normal, gradual evolution of climbing up to present day.
The two routes were and are "Ganja", an 8a+ trad line and "Graceland" 8b. Both embody the energy and vision of this highly talented climber called Gerhard Hörhager. For those who don't know, as a youngster Gerhard made the first ascent of “Sogni di Gloria” - dreams of glory - at Erto in Italy and also made the first, extremely quick first repeat of "Jena" at Finale Ligure, two solid, historical eightbpluses. In Zillertal and elsewhere he freed routes with heelhooks, toehooks, delicate balance and brutal dynos off poor holds thanks to his talent, motivation and considerable muscle power.
But back to us and our holiday; I pulled up the sleeves of my E9 clothes ( :) ) and went to hunt down these two routes. "Graceland" takes after Paul Simon's beautiful album, filled with ethnical African sonora, that inspired Gerhard at the time. I needed a fair dose of courage and not too many attempts to send this bouldery 8a protected with very few bolts. To do so I transformed once again into a boulderer searching for that right "climbing rhythem" and succeeded inf ront of loads of friends and my son Diego. This was the first time he managed to share something so beautiful for me, despite my creaking knee. Gerhard later confessed that very few send this route so quickly...
After a couple of days we stood beneath "Ganja" which doesn't get its name from a Paul Simon album... Standing below it my eyes crazed at the sight of this magnificent overhanging crack which split the boulder right in half and which was so smooth it reflected the sunlight. Foot placements are difficult and slippery but once again this rock's magic renders everything perfect.
I checked it out briefly, two distant pieces of pro, a few disjointed fingers and there I was, on the top with loads of children and friends cheering from down below in the meadow. I stood at the top of a dream line once again, climbed in the pure style Gerhard Hörhager had chosen back in the 80s!
IN THE 80’s CLIMBING WAS COOL.
Rock climbing in the Zillertal