TRE CIME SOLO WINTER LINK-UP
GOOD THINGS COME TO THOSE WHO WAIT
Three winters later, I had developed the self-confidence and drive to make the first rope solo ascent of Can You Hear Me on Cima Scotoni and in preparation for my rope solo winter Tre Cime mission. Finally, I was going to be standing alone, looking up at the first route in the enchaînement, the steep, towering Spigolo Scoiattoli (North-West Ridge) on the Cime Ovest. A few days previously, Florian Harasser and I had come to check things out. The conditions seemed pretty ideal for my solo attempt.
The first challenge is to decide exactly what gear to take and how much food and drink I need. It’s also crucial to obtain a detailed weather forecast from Lukas Rastner at the Weather and Avalanche Service for the Province of Bolzano. The forecast for the coming days is said to be stable with relatively mild temperatures, but strong gusts of wind. Sounds good, although the prospect of 80 km/h winds is a concern.
On Saturday, I carry my gear in to the start. My plan is to climb some of the Scoiattoli route, to find out how strong the north-west wind is on the arête and see if it will slow me down. From the moment I start climbing, I feel fine. The climbing is pretty straightforward, and I’m feeling pretty good.
On Sunday, I start out on the link-up. I feel full of energy and enthusiasm. As I move through pitch after pitch, my fingers, tendons and muscles get up to temperature and I notice the decisive advantage that solo climbing gives you: you’re constantly moving. There is no standing around at the belay, where you risk cooling down quick, especially during winter mountaineering. Alone on the imposing north-west ridge, I secretly enjoy the solitude and rhythmic climbing flow, my movements feel instinctive.
There is no room for error, with hauling or with rope organisation, despite the brisk pace I’m moving at. Getting the ropes tangled or the ends stuck in a crevice is just not an option. My pack, which I haul up after me acts like a compass needle in this vertical terrain. With every heave, it swings out into the air, reminding me just how steep the route really is.
Moving from the overhanging sections to the more moderate pitches, I had hoped for some slight relief. However, the mixed climbing remains delicate right up to the first summit. The mountain is already making it clear that the route will only be over once I’m completely through it and back down at the Paternsattel on the other side of the Tre Cime.
Reaching the Cima Ovest summit, I quickly take a few photos and then continue along the normal route to the point that the Cima Ovest meets the Cima Grande, where I had stashed a sleeping bag, a mat, a stove and some food.
I use the remaining light to climb on up the first 100 metres of the Via Dülfer and fix the ropes, before turning on my headlamp and descending to bivy for the night in the gully . I want to finish the project the next day without another bivouac. With this in mind, I’m gently rocked into a pleasant standby mode, despite the powerful gusts of wind throughout the night.
Next morning, it’s still dark as I pack a light down jacket, a couple of energy bars and an emergency bivy bag. Jugging up the thin rope on my ascenders turns out to be tricky. Every time I swing out, the rope seems to become more fragile, as it rubs on edges in several places. If I swing too violently it could break. Reaching the slanting rock of the grey section of the wall, I stop and take a deep breath. Happy to put this bold episode behind me, I give myself some encouragement. The Dülfer route is covered in soapy, slippery verglas, but it leads me on towards the summit, where I catch the first rays of sunshine on the Ringband Terrace. I hit the top of Cima Grande at 9:20 a.m. And then descend down the Via Normale, like I’m in high-speed downhill mode.
After crossing the gulley between the Cima Grande and the Cima Piccola and climbing up the first few metres of the Via Normale the physical and mental strain catches up with me. I have to stop and take a break.
Crouching in an alcove, I repeat my mantra over and over: “Simon, stay calm, focus and find that steady rhythm again. Forget about the stress and pressure. Don’t rush it.” After a while, I’m able to climb on with the necessary level of caution and without haste.
Arriving at the summit of the Cima Piccola, I immediately move on and prepare to abseil down the north face Via Innerkofler, which I start at exactly 11.44 a.m.
A UNIQUE JOURNEY TO THE CORE
Whenever a new idea or project gets into my head, I feel this overwhelming rush of enthusiasm, a mix of elation and motivation – I’m on a mission. For a few years, I had been planning a solo winter link-up of the Tre Cime.
In summer, the massif is literally flooded with tourists. Every time I saw a photo of those three distinctive peaks in a brochure, on Instagram, or in a magazine, I would consider my project again. My idea of tackling it alone and in winter needed time to mature.
I needed time to resolve my inner conflict: between the allure and the risk of such a solo enchaînement. I needed to find the determination, desire and inner strength. This had become an important personal development process for me, and one that required patience and perseverance.
PUNTA FRIDA AND CIMA PICCOLISSIMA – MY EMOTIONAL HIGHPOINT
I climb the sharp ridge of the Spigolo ovest on Punta Frida. Icy sections alternate with fragile, brittle rock passages. I barely notice the summit itself. As if in a frenzy, I quickly descend via the Spigolo est, the so-called Nervenschlucht gully.
A few abseils away from the first pitch of the Cima Piccolissima or ‘Torre Preuss’, I mobilize my last reserves of strength with a very last sticky power gel. I climb as if in a trance. With intense focus and in a total state of flow, I quickly move up towards the final summit, and the emotional highpoint of my Tre Cime link-up.
On top of the Cima Piccolissima, I can finally breathe freely again and am immediately filled with a sense of well-being. I’m able to take in my surroundings again, look off into the distance and enjoy the view. Tears of joy slip down my frosty cheeks. This moment and these feelings are so powerful, I want to soak them up deep within. Totally drained, feeling strangely detached and yet completely elated, I whoop with joy.
The decision to attempt a solo winter link-up of the Tre Cime set me off on an intense journey – a unique journey to my inner emotional core.