Austrian alpinists David Lama, Peter Ortner, and Hansjorg Auer have made a bold first winter ascent of the Sagwand, located in Valsertal, in Austria’s Zillertal valley. The trio climbed the formidable Schiefer Riss
(VI, M7, 80-degrees) and endured friable rock with bad protection and one sleepless, bitter-cold night while making the ascent.
“Most of the route is difficult mixed terrain and there are actually only two easy pitches on the whole climb,” Lama told Rock and Ice.
“The rock quality is pretty bad. Especially about half height, where there was a big rock fall about two years ago.”
Lama explains that he had first climbed in the Valsertal region during the summer of 2008, when he and Dutchman Jorg Verhoeven made the first ascent of Desperation of the North Face, which is a serious 17-pitch 5.12b, also located on the Sagwand. Since that outing, Lama has continued to visit the Valsertal, and last year added the route Badlands to the area, which he climbed solo for its first ascent.
“Since 2008, I’d always wanted to climb the Schiefer Riss
,” said Lama. “At first I wanted to climb it in summer, but the last few years I found the climbing in this valley much more interesting in winter.”
The Schiefer Riss
has a reputation as a serious alpine outing even in summer conditions. The route was first climbed in 1947 by Hias Rebitsch and Roland Berger and was quickly considered one of the hardest routes in the Austrian alps. In fact, the route wasn't repeated until 1976, when Heinz Mariacher and Hans Peter Brandstätter Hölzl made the second asent. However, rock fall near the second half of the route has changed the nature of the route, creating a large band of loose stone. Lama had noticed the route's current conditions during his outing on Desperation of the North Face
, and was immediately drawn to the challenge of climbing Schiefer Riss
Lama first recruited Hansjorg Auer—perhaps best know to Americans the first free ascent of the Black Canyon’s Hallucinogen Wall (5.13+/R)—and the duo spent the entire day of March 11th climbing the route, but because of the extreme difficulties, snowfall, and the fact that they hadn’t brought bivy-gear, Lama and Auer retreated.
Five days later on March 16, Lama and Auer returned, however, this time they were accompanied by Lama’s frequent climbing partner Peter Ortner. After a two-hour skin to the base of the Sagwand, the trio set off with Auer and Lama leading through the familiar terrain until they reached an ideal bivy spot. With temperatures below -8-degrees, the Austrians settled in for a difficult night.
“We were well aware that we stood absolutely no chance of sleeping,” Ortner told Planet Mountain, “so we just sat down next to each other and waited for dawn to break.”
The next day, Ortner set off and led through unknown alpine terrain that consists of a long corner, ending at the summit snowfield. From the snowfield, the trio simul-climbed to the summit. Finally, the team quickly descended via rappels down the Sagwand’s north face.
Each member of this powerful alpine trio contributed to this bold ascent. Lama climbed the first block of the route and navigated difficult terrain, while Auer skillfully surpassed the loose rock of the route’s second half. Ortner, who followed behind the entire first day, led the team through unknown terrain to the summit of Schiefer Riss. On whether or not climbing in a group of three on an alpine route is preferable, Lama stated: “Maybe climbing in a party of three is a little slower, but for this route it was perfect to climb with Hansjorg and Peter. After leading a few pitches of demanding climbing and with bad pro, you’re happy to follow.”