Donnerstag, 20. September 2012

Tre Cime Highlines

Last year I went for my biggest slackline adventure so far. I visited Armin Holzer in the dolomites. Armin shares my passion for highlining and we planned to try some highlines in his home area.
Whenever I saw pictures of the dolomites I was stunned by the crazy rock formations. The walls are very steep and there are just rock needles everywhere. On the other hand I knew that the rock quality was often very poor and I thought that it might be too dangerous to fix long highlines in such sketchy rock.
When I arrived in Sexten and ate some Pizza with Armin in the Cafe at the local climbing gym, we could not help but look at the old photographs at the walls: Pictures of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo and in front of them men with hats and heavy pickaxes - the first ascentionists. Originally, we wanted to start with something small to get a feeling for the rock, but then the idea came very naturally: Why not climb the Tre Cime and see if there were possible highlines up there?
What we found was absolutely amazing. The rock is really not too solid in certain places which is very disturbing at first, at least for a boulderer like me who loves crimps as long as they are solid and close to the ground. (Just joking. I also did quite a bit of alpine sport climbing, but dolomite is unique and challenging.) The surprising thing was that there was very good rock in certain places. The other surprising thing was that we found highline spots that were absolutely fantastic. Just look at this picture:
We thought: Okay, so let's go for the real thing. Let's do the first highline on the Tre Cime. But on the other hand, there are tree of them. What if we did one highline on each of them?
That's essentially what we did, in little more time than a month. In the process we climbed these mountains 8 times in total. Once I found my peace with the dolomite, Armin and I had some kind of natural understanding on the mountain which really helped us. We climbed fast and made little use of the rope. I loved it.
At first we did the highline on Cima Grande, which is the central one and also the highest of the three with an altutude of nearly 3000m. Close to the summit there is this rock pillar leaning out over the north face, 500m over the ground. The line we set is "only" 31m, but the exposure is absolutely massive and the terrain is very dangerous. We found that "Vertigo" was the appropriate name for this line.
Next was Cima Ovest. This mountain is almost as high as Cima Grande and this time we set the line really close to the summit. The line was beautiful and now it was Armins turn for the first ascent. It was slightly longer than the last one, 37m and slightly less exposed. We called it "Perle des Westens" ("Pearl of the west"). Special detail: Harry Wisthaler who made the beautiful pictures was recovering from a terrible groundfall in the climbing gym. It was his first time back on a big mountain.
We knew we had achieved something special by then, but the biggest task was still to come. Cima Piccola, the smallest of the three mountains, had not only the most difficult approach but also the longest line. The fantastic spot that we had seen when we climbed Cima Grande had a length of 53m. I had done lines of that size already, but never in such exposure and in such a demanding terrain. I had vivid memories of the day when I tried a 50m highline for the first time and failed.
The night before we rigged the line I had bad dreams. I was afraid I could die - which I knew was irrational because our setup was perfect. But the mountain left a deeper impression. A strange and fascinating experience.
The rigging took us longer than expected and when I started taping the thing and slid over it for the first time, the sun already disappeared behind Cima Grande. I knew there was no way back now. I was in some kind of mental tunnel. Everything was turned low, even the doubts. Instead of sliding back I made a first attempt. I was surprised that the line felt really good. I just had my foot under the leash and fell. When I tried again I had it right and kept walking. I saw Armin waiting for me and like through mist I realized what I was doing: I was making the first ascent of a line that I considered the best highline in the world at that time. (Forgive me my enthusiasm!) The thougt of failure came to my mind and I let it pass by. So i made the final step and touched solid ground again - in triumph!
Later that day I did the other direction in a single attempt. When we went up again the next day, I didn't manage another crossing. My head was completely empty. We called the line "Elysium" for its surrealistic beauty.

Thanks to everyone who was involved! Especially to Ale d'Emilia who was with us on the mountains. Thanks to Adidas, AustriAlpin and for support. Thanks to the amazing fotographers and filmers, Reini Fichtinger, Harry Wisthaler, Erwin Steiner and Matthias Aberer. Last but not least, big thanks to Armin Holzer who shared this adventure with me! He is not only a friend but evolved into one of the strongest highliners around. I wonder what he will do in his home mountains in the future ...