Alpinism on Pizzo Badile: interview with Marcel Schenk and Simon Gietl after Amore di Vetro
Interview with Marcel Schenk and Simon Gietl after the first ascent of 'Amore di Vetro' (800m, M5, R) a new ice and mixed climb up the NE Face of Pizzo Badile (3303m) Alps.
With their ascent of Amore di Vetro on 16 November the two mountain guides Marcel Schenk and Simon Gietl hit the jackpot, climbing with indisputable class an emphemerable and highly sought-after line up the NE Face of Pizzo Badile. The duo did so at great speed, leaving just two pegs in-situ and breaching difficulties that are certainly fairly difficult. Above all though, they took on a level of risk which cannot and should not be underestimated. This is hidden within the R rating of their grade proposal, which hints at a great adventure up one of the six great north faces of the Alps. More information was needed.
Marcel, you’re aware of the fact that this was a big dream for many, right?
Yes, since having climbed it and since the news broke I’ve now really become aware of how many had had their eye on this line. And also tried it in the past.
So how long had you dreamt about it?
Marcel: When I climbed the Cassin route on 12 February 2015 with David Hefti we followed a variation on the upper section, along a really thin and rather wild sliver of ice. This was really superb to climb, but we could hardly place any gear. After this ascent I was convinced that, given the right conditions, it would be possible to climb the line we did.
Out of interest, how well do you know Pizzo Badile
Marcel: I often guide clients on Pizzo Badile, mainly up the North Ridge or Via Cassin which is a outstanding. I’ve climbed other great routes such as Neverland or Another day in Paradise. Unfortunately though most alpinists repeat the North Ridge or Via Cassin, which means the other routes are falling into oblivion. Personally I’d like to climb some more routes on this peak, in particular those on the lefthand side of the NE Face.
Simon: I’d climbed the Cassin Route once before, in winter 2009. This is my second route therefore.
You climbed the route in November, but conditions were right in October…
Marcel: Yes, perhaps. Who knows! You get a great view onto the upper third of the face from the Engadin, where I live. I watched the mountain come into condition throughout this autumn, and I also walked up into Val Bondasca on numerous occasions to check the conditions through my binoculars. Things looked right in October, but from afar it’s difficult to know with absolute certainty. You simply need to go up and see for yourself, but unfortunately I couldn’t find a partner.
So, Simon, you received the call from Marcel
Simon: Yes. We’d met in Patagonia a few years ago, but never climbed together before.
Not a bad first route!
Marcel: Yeah. And it probably won’t be the last. I phoned him and he was immediately enthusiastic. Our plan was to go and have a look, if conditions weren’t right then we’d climb something else. We quickly realized we had the same ideas about the style of ascent. It was clear to me from the outset that I didn’t want to place any bolts. And so when I asked Simon, if we should bring an emergency bolting kit just in case we’d need to retreat, he laughed and said “Well if we don’t take any bolts with us, then we won’t be able to place any either”. So we didn’t take them with us.
Did you take any additional gear with you?
Simon: Our original plan was to climb the route and then bivouac in the emergency hut just below the summit, so we took two ultralight sleeping bags with us which made the rucksack, for the second, pretty heavy. In then end though we were so quick that we reached the summit at three and decided to descend back to the Sasc Furä hut. From there it’s only another hour or so back into the valley, so we continued on down to celebrate with a beer. Or two…
On your way up, on day 1, you reached the Ridge and saw the entire face for the first time. What was your initial reaction?
Marcel: Shit!!! I immediately noticed the big snowfield that needed crossing, full of unconsolidated snow and realized that we might not even make it to the start of the climb. We discussed our options and decided to break trail and protect ourselves along the rock band.
What was the night like?
Simon: The winter room at Sasc Furä is comfortable, with a wooden stove and good beds. We had loads of food and I’d even brought some cans of beer.
Marcel you started the lead early the next morning
Marcel: The evening before, while we made our way to the base of the route, I had a great feeling. And this was confirmed as soon as I started climbing up the first few meters. Despite the poor protection, we managed to make steady progress.
M5, R… all free, almost unbelievable!
Marcel: The route follows the natural line of weakness up the face. We thought long and hard about what grade we should give the route. M5 refers to the technical difficulties we encountered and is therefore completely conditions dependent. The main difficulties we certainly connected to the pro.
Tell us more
Marcel: The climbing reminded me of what I ‘d done on the Cassin route the previous winter. The variation I climbed at the time was the same difficulty and style, so I knew what we were letting ourselves in for. It was clear that a fall was out of the question, so we climbed carefully and at a steady pace upwards.
This sounds almost too simple, almost banal.
Simon: conditions were outstanding, but as Marcel said, we knew we couldn’t afford to make a mistake and so we were really focused. After our ascent we jokingly referred to it as a free solo with a rope. Yes, at times the pro was very poor and this result in some really long pitches. One for example was almost 110m long, with the two of us simul-climbing, protected by a single pecker.
Why didn’t you just solo it?
Simon: We always hoped that some good gear placements would come and that’s why we were tied together.
So what gear did you place?
Simon: We had a rack of pegs and placed about 4, the second took them out since we didn’t know what to expect higher up. Only one peg refused to come out and we left it in-situ. During the descent down the arete we backed up the final abseil with another peg, we thought it would be silly to risk hurting ourselves at that point!
Would you have been able to retreat?
Marcel: In the lower section, down some existing routes. On the upper section a retreat would have been extremely tricky.
Nevertheless you managed to take photos…
Marcel: Yes, this was a welcome distraction, it took my mind off things!
You defined it as a logical winter line, in those conditions
Marcel: Yes, it’s definitely a logical line in the cold season. The upper section comes into condition more often than the lower snowfield. If this happens then you can combine the upper section with the lower section of Via Cassin.
What’s the best thing about Amore di Vetro?
Marcel: It’s striking line, combined with the fact that we experienced a real adventure so close to home. In order to make such a quality first ascent nowadays you usually have to travel around half the world for weeks and weeks. For me Badile, and the entire Val Bondasca, are one of the best and most beautiful corners in the world.
Marcel Schenk thanks: Black Diamond, Suunto
Simon Gietl thanks: Salewa, Neolit, Grivel, Komperdell, Evolv, Keaxl-Board, Hotel Schwarzenstein, Julbo, Lyo-Foot
19/11/2016 - Amore di Vetro, new mixed climb on Pizzo Badile by Marcel Schenk and Simon Gietl
On 16/11/2016 Marcel Schenk and Simon Gietl made the first ascent of 'Amore di Vetro' (800m, M5, R) a new ice and mixed climb up the NE Face of Pizzo Badile.