Vertical paths - milestones in Alpinism

Alpine climbing

Milestones in Alpine climbing are the Comici route (Tre Cime di Lavaredo, South Tyrol/Italy), the Cassin route (Piz Badile, Switzerland), the Vinatzer route (Marmolada, South Tyrol/Italy) and the Heckmair route (Eiger, Switzerland). They are on top of most climbers' to-do-list and among my favourites. I was climbing just the other day and today I am already dying to go back. Alpine climbing is fantastic; one can easily become addicted to the thrill and beauty of the experience.

The master class of Alpinism

Alpine free climbing can be seen as the master class of climbing. Authentic Alpine free climbing means using only natural holds, steps and holes to move on steep rock faces. While climbers are secured by ropes, they move forward by using their own strength and skill. Alpine free climbing is the supreme discipline in climbing.

In the past, climbers looked for the easiest and quickest passage. The goal was to cross or scale a summit, a wall, a face of rock. Later, climbers often opted for ridges and crests to avoid being hit by falling rocks. Eventually, climbers chose chimneys and rifts. Today, climbers often seek the challenges of free, open walls, where orientation is difficult and climbing often seems impossible.

Must-dos and insider tips

Climbing routes became increasingly steeper and more exposed and eventually overhanging ledges were also mastered. This was considered to be the ultimate challenge, the maximum difficulty anyone can master. Such routes were grade 6 routes. Today, the world's best climbers master grade 12 routes with holds almost impossible to find. Grade 12 is almost like scaling rough wallpaper.

The Dolomites are the closest and one of the greatest climbing arenas the European mountain worlds have to offer. Brenta, Tre Cime, Tofane, Sella massif, Langkofel/Sassolungo, Marmolada, Rosengarten/Catinaccio, those are well known names, and places offering fantastic climbing opportunities. Those are the must-dos. However, there are also plenty of less well known routes and tours in no way inferior to any of the above-mentioned. Hidden, less crowded, they make for excellent tours for anybody who wants to concentrate on him-/herself and fully immerge in the experience. Does the name Lastoni di Formin ring a bell?

All great climbers scaled the big walls south of the Brennero mountain pass: Bonatti, Comici, Cassin, Buhl, Messner, Kammerlander, later also Güllich, Glowacz and the borthers Huber.

Masterpieces made of stone

They all - and many others - have engraved their names in the walls they first scaled, leaving masterpieces for eternity. It's impossible to repeat their first ascents, impossible to re-invent their routes. We can only follow in their footsteps and try to copy their achievement. Understanding this cannot but fill one with awe. Those climbers' achievements deserve great respect. Climbing a grade 6 route in the Dolomites is already demanding, let alone a grade 12 route. The greatness of their achievements, however, doesn't become fully clear until you think about the equipment of the time: sturdy, clumsy shoes, no climbing harness or helmet, ropes made of hemp fibre, simply slung around their waste... Paul Preuß scaled the Preuß rift (Tre Cime) without a single piton - first on his own, and back down without being secured. Then he took his guest up. During the first ascent to the Dibona ridge (Tre Cime), Rudl Eller used one single piton - just because he had one and didn't want to carry it around in vain. Today, the biggest of the Tre Cime is pricked by more than 80 pitons, old and new, including a few unusable ones. This might prove two things: Climbing has become a hugely popular sport, but not all climbers are aesthetes trying to keep the rock face as untouched as possible, following an unspoken clean climbing ethic.

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Günther Ausserhofer
Mountain guide
Dorfstrasse 29
I-39030 Luttach
Mobil: +39 347 4138336

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