On August 8, Scottish climber Robbie Phillips climbed the 8b+ (5.14a) multipitch Des Kaisers Neue Kleider in the Wilder Kaiser, Austria. In doing so, he became the first Brit to complete the “Alpine Trilogy”: a set of three 8b+ multipitch routes in the Alps, all established in 1994.
The Trilogy was first completed in 2001 by Stefan Glowacz—who also established Des Kaisers Neue Kleider (translation: “The Emperor’s New Clothes”). The other routes in the trio are Silbergeier in the Rätikon range in Switzerland, established by Beat Kammerlander, and End of Silence on the Feuerhorn, Germany, put up by Thomas Huber.
Phillips started climbing indoors as a teenager, through a program called the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, for which participants must set and complete personal objectives in several different areas, including a sport or fitness objective and a volunteering objective. Phillips said, “I never actually got my Duke of Edinburgh’s Award because when I started the climbing part of it, which I really enjoyed, I just didn’t want to stop that, so I ended up just going climbing and that was it.”
Soon afterward, mountaineer Neil McGeachy became a mentor to Phillips, and the pair began taking trips to climb the limestone of Malham Cove in North Yorkshire, England—a 3.5-hour drive from Phillips’ hometown of Edinburgh. It was on a late return journey after a long day of climbing that Phillips first heard about the Alpine Trilogy. “He was talking about climbing in the Alps,” Phillips recalled, “and basically what he said was that the Alpine Trilogy was this trio of the world’s hardest alpine rock routes, put up by the legends of climbing at the time.”
Phillips described himself as an ambitious kid: “I had this idea that I’d do the Alpine Trilogy.” It wasn’t until ten years later, however, that Phillips began to spend more time on multipitch climbs and feel that the goal was actually plausible. In 2015, he climbed Silbergeier with unexpected speed, within a week of arriving at the mountain. Then, in 2017, he completed End of Silence, belayed by 19-year-old climber Calum Cunningham, despite unusually humid conditions and a finger injury.
Des Kaisers Neue Kleider was, for Phillips, unquestionably the most difficult route of the three. In addition to unpredictable and unwelcoming weather conditions, he struggled to keep a positive outlook. On the morning of the successful attempt, he told his girlfriend that he was beginning to get frustrated with how long the process was dragging on, and that he was grappling with doubts about the climb.
That day, Phillips and his climbing partner, the Austrian climber Mich Kemeter, roped up for a work session. Cool temperatures and early success on the wall, however, gave them the sense that their goal was within reach, and they quickly shifted focus from working to sending.
In an Instagram announcement of the ascent, Phillips wrote, “Mich, cool as a cucumber, kept his head and climbed superbly to the top. I was swiftly losing my head as thoughts of finally putting this dream to bed bombarded my mind. But Mich told me to ‘Keep Smiling’ so I did, and it worked!” Afterward, Phillips and Kemeter headed to a local hotel, where they celebrated the send with the classic Austrian dessert Kaiserschmarrn, a chopped-up pancake with strawberries and sugar.
The Alpine Trilogy has been repeated fewer than ten times. In 2013, Barbara Zangerl became the fifth person and the first woman to complete the Trilogy, and in the process, made the first female ascent of Des Kaisers Neue Kleider.
The completion of Des Kaisers Neue Kleider marks the fulfillment of a longstanding dream for Robbie Phillips, but he already has his eyes on the next challenge: free climbing Eternal Flame, a famous 5.13a multipitch in the Trango Towers in northern Pakistan. To get some practice on big granite walls before the attempt, he plans to spend the fall in Yosemite, where El Capitan’s Magic Mushroom (5.14a), first freed by Tommy Caldwell and Justen Sjong, is at the top of his list.