Monday, October 31, 2011

Do You Have A Knot? (Near Miss on The Gaisberg)

"Es geht locher aus!" ("There's easily enough!"), he said nine meters above the ground as he was cleaning the quickdraws from the route.  A few seconds later there was a scream from the young women belaying and the thumping sound of his body hitting the ground and tumbling down the steeply sloping landing.

The young couple climbing had a 60 meter rope. They were on a route that is 38 meters long and designed as a two-pitch practice climb to learn and perfect multi-pitch rope technique. There is a two-bolt belay anchor at 18 meters into the route. A climber could also naturally climb the full length and belay the second from above, making two rappels to get down.(there are independent rappel anchors)

The young guy that fell was luckily not seriously injured.  There are a number of wooden and iron spikes in the ground that support retaining logs that form flat terraces for the path and belay platforms.  He could have very easily landed on on one of the spikes.

A knot at the end of the rope would have prevented the accident.

ARC'TERYX: The Adamants "What Can Go Wrong, Will Go Wrong" from ARC'TERYX on Vimeo.

Toni and Brunno in the video above had a similar accident. Toni Lamprecht is a professionally sponsored climber and very experienced.  I assume Brunno is just as experienced.  If something like this could happen to them, it certainly could happen to you.  It's my firm belief that accidents like this are total surprises to the victims involved.  We rationalize that it is only others, those less experienced, less careful, in more demanding situations, that make mistakes.  This is why one must be vigilant, even in seemingly mundane situations.

It is standard practice to always have a stopper knot at the end of the rope while sport climbing, rappelling, climbing with a self-belaying system, etc.  Falling due to an un-knotted rope passing through a belay device is perhaps the most common technical mistake that leads to climbing accidents.  So if your partner is not tied into the end of the rope, then there should always be a stopper knot on the end.

KletterTreff Kletterhalle Salzburg

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Rest & Reflection

I can't remember how many times I have said to myself that I will keep my blog entries more regular.  However, no matter how good the intentions are, it is a lot of work and time intensive to regularly write. Since I started this blog, I have developed a lot of respect for people who are disciplined enough to regularly publish interesting information on the web, even more for those who inspire and motivate me.

Usually when I have long lapses between posting, it is due to being really busy with work and private climbing - courses, guiding, personal training, etc., and of course my own training.  Off the top of my head the list of what I've been up to is as follows:

Wilder Kaiser - alpine rock routes
Hohes Brett southwest face - multi-pitch bolted routes courses & guiding
Untersberg Berchtesgadener Hochthorn (south face, "Gelbe Mauer", "Schimkepfeiler") - guiding & private climbing
Weißseespitze - north face, alpine snow/ice
Wildspitze - north face, alpine snow/ice
Untersberg Salzburger Hochthron (south face, "Blausandpheiler", east face) - guiding & private climbing

Due to excellent fall weather and conditions, there have been extended time periods for climbing.  Alpine rock climbing is always best at this time of year in the Northeastern Alps around Salzburg.  Approaches are usually cold and the descents are also usually cold and in the dark, but during the day the temps are perfect with conditions that guarantee great friction for the feet and hands.

Additionally, we seem to get a couple of good snow storms up high every September and October.  The precipitation combined with a bit of sun and warmer fall temperatures work together to often create good conditions on classic north face snow & ice climbs in the Hohe Tauern range.

Yesterday (a Saturday), my wife and I were at the southwest face of the Hohe Brett for a fun, low-stress day of bolted multi-pitch climbing.  This face is one of my favorite climbing areas in the fall.  Highly-structured alpine limestone at an elevation between 1800 and 2300 meters.  In many years I have been rock climbing in the sun on one weekend here and then the following weekend skiing powder on the first ski tour of the season.  Anyways, we were alone on the face yesterday.  A few hikers passed by underneath us during the day.

In Tyrol, on the Weißseespitze and Wildspitze, I was also alone.  The glacier ski areas on the Kaunerferner and in Pitztal are running, so there were skiers around.  On the north faces, there was some hard wind-pressed snow and blank ice.  I found the conditions really good and perfect for training at a higher elevation and getting some early season mileage on steep snow and ice.  You can not artificially duplicate the training effect of climbing moderate 55 degree snow and ice over 400 or 500 meters of elevation.  It is also a chance to test the affects of summer fitness training, plus new ideas with equipment and clothing systems before winter sets in.

So today is more or less a rest day, though I'll probably do a little sport climbing or bouldering later on.  Upon reflecting back on the last few weeks, I've really done a lot, especially when I factor in the normal "mundane" training sessions.  When my wife and I got home last night, we were both tired and hungry - that deep satisfied feeling of tiredness and real hunger that only comes after a long day out. It's a great feeling.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Steve House at Salzburg Bergfilmfestival

Steve House will be coming to Salzburg on Friday, 25 November 2011 as the featured guest of the Salzburg Bergfilmfestival.  In addition there will be presentations by Stephan Siegrist and Albert Leichfried.  More information here.

I am really happy to see newer generation alpinists headlining the mountain film festival this year.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Process vs. Result

Climbers who are too strongly focused simply on results (i.e., reaching a grade / climbing at a grade) are often frustrated and dissatisfied.  In my experience, they almost always stop climbing.  Why?  Because one has two choices, either change your attitude or give up the game.

Another variation of this theme are people who apply society’s superficial values to climbing:  You’re a better climber if you climb a higher sport-climbing grade, standing on top of Everest is the greatest achievement in mountain climbing because it’s the highest, climbing completions give us the best climbers, etc.

 from Dave MacLeod

Simplicity can be a bad influence when it obscures or distorts the real picture or just dumbs everything down. Even words so central to sport like “winner” and “loser” must be applied carefully. If you have been watching tennis recently they keep talking about “great champions”. But there seems to be so many great champions they need a new definition already to stand out from them. It’s not enough even to refer to them as just “champions”, never mind “players” or even “people”. Edi Stark didn’t seem to want to accept my response to her question about how it felt to have done some climbs that are out of reach of some or most others. I said it was ‘nice’ to have found such a good connection with an activity like climbing. “Nice?” she repeated back to me with a mocking sarcasm. ‘Nice’ didn’t seem to cut it. Either that or it cut me out as an awkward personality? With the exception of an overflow of enthusiasm which is a fine excuse to dispense with caution, I feel there is no need to always attach larger than life language, deeper meanings or metaphors to my experiences in climbing or elsewhere. A climb is the expression of the climber through vision for the line, preparation of the skills and movement. And it is an appreciation inherent beauty of the rock and the place as well. These things are already special in their own right. They do not need sweetening or plumping up.

Having succeeded on my own climbing vision on the Longhope route with Andy, my feeling is not of me, the climber, being at the centre of the story and I do not feel any bigger or more worthy as a result of it. Rather completing my climbing involvement on this particular cliff leaves me with a greater appreciation of the scale, permanence and impermanence of different things in nature and this has been what is awe inspiring about it. I think that climbing and mountains have a great effect on peoples lives when it helps them to appreciate their true insignificance in the world both in scale and time. Paradoxically though this actually adds to the sense of meaning in life because you simply see more clearly how you fit into the world. In the process of appreciating your insignificance, you also get closer to a true sense of your significance.

How then, do you deal with another great paradox of a major effort on a big climb; that of the feeling of invincibility that climbing can give when you are performing well and at your limit. Of course if you step back it’s obvious that the feeling cannot really be invincibility or anything approaching it. So if it’s a misinterpretation, what is the correct one? I have felt happiest in climbing when I’ve seen this feeling not as wielding personal strength or power over my climbing environment, but as aligning to it, understanding it well enough to work in harmony with it. This idea of harmony with the medium, in this case rock, is so well known that it’s a cliche. Where does the difference lie between these two subtly different interpretations of the same raw feeling. The most frustrated, isolated or bored climbers I’ve met have been those who appear to chase after brief flashes of invincibility in themselves over nature instead of seeing brief flashes of the invincibility of nature in themselves.

from Brad Warner:

Let’s say you met a veteran mountaineer with over a quarter century of climbing experience, a person who has written books on mountain climbing and routinely personally instructs others in the art of climbing. And let’s imagine what would happen if you tried to convince this guy that people who take helicopters to the tops of mountains get everything that mountain climbers get and get it a whole lot easier.

The mountain climber would certainly tell you that the breathtaking view a guy who takes a helicopter to the top of a mountain gets is not in any way, shape or form the same view that a person who climbs the mountain herself gets.

To the mountain climber, the guy in the helicopter is just a hyperactive thrill seeker who wants nothing more than to experience a pretty view without putting any effort into it. The helicopter guy thinks the goal of mountain climbing is to be on top of the mountain and that climbing is an inefficient way to accomplish this goal. He just doesn’t get it. At all.

The helicopter guy misses out on the amazing sights there are to see on the way up. He doesn’t know the thrill of mastering the mountain through his own efforts. He doesn’t know the hardships and dangers involved in making the climb. And he’ll never know the awesome wonder of descending the mountain back into familiar territory. All he’s done is given some money to a person who owns a helicopter. He probably couldn’t even find the mountain himself, let alone make it to the top. When there are no helicopters around, the poor guy is helplessly grounded.

If the helicopter guy claims that he has reached the same place as the mountain climber, the mountain climber knows in ways the helicopter guy can’t even fathom that the helicopter guy is a fool.

To a mountain climber, the goal of mountain climbing is not the moment of sitting on top enjoying the view. That’s just one small part of the experience. It may not even be the best part. To a mountain climber, every view, from every point on the mountain is significant and wonderful.

People who think that the pinnacle of the experience is that moment of being right on the tippy-top, don’t understand the experience at all. The poor attention addled things probably never will.

Focus on the process, never on the end result.  What maters is personal growth through learning about yourself and honestly dealing with what comes out.  Perceived failures are part of the process.  They should be used as a point of departure for learning, evaluating and adapting.  If you chose to wallow in self-pity and frustration than you are egotistically involved in the result you fell short of and are immaturely wasting an opportunity.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Good Stuff on the Internet

I would like to paraphrase a a joke describing climbers who participate in different types of climbing: A sport climber will pontificate on grades, route beta, conditions, etc. You'll hear about all the routes he's done identified by their numerical grade and how their latest project is going, how close they are to sending, how many times they've needed (or will need), and on and on.  The traditional climber will usually speak a bit reluctantly about single and multi-pitch routes, but eventually you'll hear about how bad the protection was, how hard it was to place, long run-outs, no-fall zones, etc.  An alpinist just smiles and doesn't say a thing.

The part below is from the forum section of the Gym Jones site.  It is obviously about the state of things on the internet, but the points made could be applied in many areas where communication is involved.  (I think it really applies to running a course, teaching and coaching.)

A good friend, ally and member of the salvation site posted this on his website yesterday, and with his permission I thought it would be an invaluable "how-to" on communication. Thank you Rob Fusco for your insight.

"There are few original things left to say.

Chances are good that someone else has said what you’re thinking well before you thought to say it, and that they’ll have said it better.

Perhaps the best you can do is to write from your own life and to speak simply and succinctly.  Respect the brevity of life enough not to waste anyone’s time with pointless, ego-driven garbage which serves nothing but the author’s ego.

People, myself included, tend to fill the air with polysyllabic garbage, didactic phrases, cheerleading, busy talk and noise to mask the hard truth: they speak when nothing needs to be said because they don’t know what needs saying.

Are we really that afraid to appear to know nothing?  How important is it that other people read what we write or hear what we say?  Is it a matter of wanting to help, lead or impress others?  I have a strong suspicion that honest answers here will hurt.  Good.  Pain is a precursor to growth.

Write less but say more. Commit to knowing when to shut the fuck up for once. Then  perhaps in turn you may develop a sensitivity to the moments where something actually needs to be said (and what that something is).  Then have the balls to say it and the talent and attention to detail to communicate in as few words as possible.  Boil things down and they’ll taste better.

If this ultimately leads to me writing less and speaking less, then good.  Rarity lends to value.  Contemplate the difference between a drop of salt water and an ounce of platinum and you will see my point.

Speak short, live long."

There is however some really good stuff on the internet, some of it is listed in the Links sidebar.  Additionally, check out Colin Haley's site for some of the best writing and pictures about alpinism.  Ueli Steck, also an amazing alpine climber has a great site here.  You can learn a lot from these two sources.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Late Season Ice Conditions

I think most people have written off ice climbing for the remainder season around here. It's not so.  The ice is better now than it was in many places in mid-January.

Directly in the Salzburg area, the small flows and training areas of  the Kraftwerkfall in Wiestal, Cayon and Kriesfall in Königsee, Schanlinggraben (and other climbs in the area) in Untertauern are in very good shape.

In the well frequented Malta and Gastein valleys, the north-facing climbs are still in very good condition.  The main fall behind the Naturfreunde Haus in Kolm-Saigurn is in perfect shape and so are the other near-by climbs.

Last week I spent five days in Kaunertal in western Tyrol ice climbing. The long multi-pitch lines on the left side of the valley (north and north-west facing) are well formed and in top condition.  The Renkfälle are also in great shape and will probably stay that way into the beginning of April.

The general weather trend has been warming up during the day to between 6 and 10 degrees Celsius.  At night the temps fall as far as -10 Celsius.  The moisture content in the air has been relatively low.  The general weather trend has allowed the ice to build and regenerate through the night.

Additionally, there has been very low avalanche danger because we simply have not had any major storms for quite awhile.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Hinterbrand Ice Fall

The Hinterbrand fall shaded and tucked into a narrow gully
The Hinterbrand ice fall runs down from under the Hinterbrandkopf (Berchtesgadener Alpin, Hoch Kalter range) in a south-west direction.  On the Bayern Landesamt map (Lattengebirge, Reiteralpe - BY20), the thin blue line is visible embedded in a gully topping out at around 1500 meters.

Snow approach coulior to first ice ramp
After a short training break to allow some injuries to heal, I went back into the Wimbach drainage to hopefully find something interesting to climb.  I have lots of projects in the area -- ice and winter alpine climbs as well as ski descents.  It is just a matter of searching and then waiting for the right conditions.

I had seen some potential ice lines last October and November on the west flanks of the walls under the Hoch Kalter, Ofentalhörndl, Steintalhörndl and Hinterbrandkopf.

First pitch: snow cone to ice ramp leading to mixed ground
Mixed ground leading to upper ice fall
On Tuesday, 15 February, it was clear and cold in the morning hours.  I did the 3 plus hour approach to the climb in my mountain boots and short skis.  Skiing with mountain boots and approach skis is a skill that I want to improve upon.  It is an essential skill for winter alpine climbing and getting to secluded ice climbs.

I skinned up to the steep snow before the actual ice and got all my gear ready.  I brought a very small amount of ice and rock protection and two small diameter 30 meter ropes.  I planned to free solo as much as possible and use the equipment for getting down.

In better conditions, this would all be ice
I could free solo the first 20 meter ice ramp that led to mixed ground.  Water was already running down the exposed rock as the sun warmed up the upper face.  The ice quality was not that good.  The ice had melted away from the rock underneath and then refroze so that the ice was not bonded to the rock.

The mixed climbing was insecure -- snow over loose rock at times running with water.  The rock in this area is very friable and not to trust.  It is also at times difficult to put in rock protection.  Before climbing the mixed ground, I built a large ice/snow bollard as a main anchor.  I self-belayed over the mixed part, traversing right to solid snow that would lead up and leftwards to just under the main ice.

The upper ice fall was not as steep as it looked from below.  However, the ice quality was not that great.  I carefully climbed the last 30 meters or so of ice free solo.  I would say it was WI3+ or so.

The climb then starts out with a short bit of steep snow followed by an ice ramp (WI3) going from left to right.  Then comes mixed ground ( in better conditions it will all be ice) to the snow under the main ice flow.  The last 30 meters of ice is split in two sections, with a clear step in the middle.

Looking down from the top at the first rappel
At the top I built a good V-Thread and rappelled down to the snow under the steep ice.  Two further rappels brought me down to the snow couloir which I down climbed to my skis.

There was a hard base of snow covered at first with a dusting of powder.  As I lost altitude, the snow surface softened up to a couple centimeters of corn.  As long as the snow was not tracked and rutted, the skiing was fun.

After getting down to about 750 meters, gingerly skiing around and over rocks, I walked the last 45 minutes out of the drainage.  
Second rappel over mixed ground
Last rappel

I have never heard of anyone climbing ice back in the Wimbach drainage.  There is certainly no information about this climb.  I believe that it is a first ascent, but who knows for sure?  It was definitely a first ascent for me!  Hinterbrand Ice Fall 80m, WI3+ & easy mixed.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


It's been more than a month since I last wrote something.  I have been really busy with Salzburg Alpenverein courses, working in the Salzburg Kletterhalle, climbing and skiing.  I've climbed lots of ice before the temps and Föhn wrecked everything (but the ice is making a strong recovery, yeah!).  I also have been enjoying my new Line Prophet 115's (except when I have to carry them!).

Tomorrow morning I am off to Chamonix to hopefully do some winter alpine routes.  More to come about that, and I want to start writing some reviews of gear and clothing in the next months.

(Upper photo taken by Alex Gruber on the Middle Maralmfall in the Malta valley.  The bottom one was taken by Mark Miller during freeride'n on the Kitzsteinhorn.)