CLOSING A CHAPTER
NO LIGHTNESS, NO FLOW
The pressure is getting to me. And I’m the one causing it. I stop and think about what makes this route so special and so important. Why am I putting myself under so much pressure? I’m not able to feel even the slightest sense of lightness or flow.
Two years back, I made the first free solo ascent of this formidable route. Actually, I had wanted to climb it with Gerry (Gerhard Fiegl). He was the man with the original idea, it was his line. Gerry and I would constantly talk about doing the first ascent, I promised him we would climb it together, and that I would never climb it with anyone else. The day before he left for Annapurna, we talked about it on the phone. When I got the call that he had died, I was devastated. I couldn’t bear to think about the plans we had made. Slowly, I found a way to redirect the sadness. And because I had made a promise to only climb “Can you hear me?” with him, I climbed it alone. Ever since opening the route rope solo, I’ve not been able to shake off the idea of coming back for the redpoint. It felt like unfinished business. I wanted to close the chapter.
SOME THINGS TAKE TIME
We’ve been planning this for two years. But every time I returned to check out the pitches, I left feeling frustrated. The hardest sections are UIAA grade ten and I kept doubting myself – only to keeping finding my self-belief again. I just felt so up and down about the route. This had a lot to do with pitch six in particular, which I was still unable to free even after multiple, repeated attempts with good concentration.
And here I am, already struggling on pitch three, it feels like I’m getting mentally – and physically shut down. Breathing in deeply, I think of Gerry. Then I focus back on the rock, the face above me and the tactical task in hand. Cleaning off the holds for the next moves, I test the hardest sequences. The clock is ticking, I need to get moving. I set off again. Finally, the crippling pressure to succeed and my clumsy, awkward moves pass. The feelings of panic and hectic insecurity fade away. I start to relax and feel the flow.
South-Tyrolean alpinist Simon Gietl climbed the 21 pitches of “Can you hear me?” with his partner Andrea Oberbacher on the west face of Cima Scotoni (2,874 m) on 15 August 2020. He had been thinking about the redpoint ever since his initial rope solo ascent of the route in 2018. In climbing it, he was keeping a promise to a friend. The route brought out many different emotions, both happy and sad.
It’s a sunny Saturday morning, Andrea and I have the weather on our side. We both feel ready, strong, and up for it. We’ve decided to go without the obligatory coffee at the Scotoni Hut to get an early start in. The first pitches go well, but in the third pitch, I start to have problems. There’s this very delicate, tricky chimney-like flake. I can’t seem to find an efficient way up it. I feel all my previous optimism draining away. It’s frightening to see how quickly things can change.
On the next pitch, things go from bad to worse. Long run-outs, bold moves and dubious rock – it’s where things really start to get serious. Several times my fingers slip from the wet and slippery holds, I’m lucky to be able to swing myself back in to the wall, otherwise I would have been off. This pitch saves its hardest move until right at the end – I have to move quick from a slippery hole to grab the crucial ledge. I breathe out deeply. I’m a bit panicky.
The feeling stays with me as I make the crux moves in the massive roof before reaching the final ‘thank-god’ jug. We’ve freed the hardest pitch! Andrea joins me at the belay and we congratulate one other. Nevertheless, there are still 14 pitches to go before the summit. We climb on. The closer we get, the more our tense, hesitant moves give way to flowing sequences.
WITH GERRY AT THE SUMMIT
Reaching the top, I lay my head against the pale Dolomite rock and let my thoughts run free. It felt like Gerry was with me on the route, he was watching, and he gave me strength when I needed it most. I could clearly feel this. Andrea and I are so happy with the redpoint. Yet at the same time, the sadness is there. Today marks the end of a chapter. This is a project that has involved many years of my life and taken much energy and strength. And now I’ve completed it. I’ve kept my promise. And I suppose, it’s a kind of goodbye.
As we hug and congratulate at the summit, both Andrea and I are thinking of Gerry. This moment is for him. He was my friend, my climbing partner and the man behind the idea for the route that he will never climb. His approach, his smile and his attitude will be kept alive by this line up the Scotoni. The line that he had envisioned.
“Yes, Gerry could hear us.”