In 2008 I continued a line with Stefan Rass that had been started for the first 15 mt. by Michael Grassl („Gschlossei“) on the south-west face of the Untersberg, Berchtesgadener Alps, Germany back in the days. I was thankful for Gschlossei`s permission since I had studied the line several times. Stefan and I bolted the route in a direct line from the bottom. After technically climbing the route it became clear that a free ascent could be rather difficult. I didn’t know back then that it would take four years until I could redpoint the route.
During my attempts in the route I had doubts that I could send the project at all, due to my height because the crux in the slab part of the route turned out to be a length problem for me. I never gave up hope that one day, despite my stretched out position, my left foot wouldn’t slip from the slopy foothold. Grip would be the decisive factor. Constant doubts. Should I let a taller climber try the route? I’m not a big fan of occupying a route.
The only time of year that promised success due to cooler temperatures was late autumn. But I had either already planned expeditions or early snowfall foiled my plans. Another reason why I probably didn’t plan enough time was surely because the route was right in front of my doorstep and “waiting” for me.
Several attempts with friends of mine. I had to accept that it would take some effort to free the 6 pitches. In autumn of 2012, after my Baffin Island expedition, I was more motivated than ever before.
I called my friend Lisi Steurer. The East Tirolean mountain guide came for a visit to my place in September. She was inn.
We took advantage of every good day. We got used to the long approach. Thanks to our similar dimensions my beta worked for her as well. Thanks to Lisi, I started believing in a free ascent.
On October 6th we stood at the base of the climb. Perfect autumn conditions. Convinced we would be successful today. I was able to climb the first pitch before the warm temps sent in for the first time. It was damn close – absolutely no strength left in my forearm – as I exultantly reached the first belay without falling. Lisi lowered me down immediately. Now it was up to her, to send. I really wished she could finish the pitch. But her foot slipped from the slab – as mine did many times before – and she fell into the rope just before the belay. Lisi’s second try also failed. We decide to continue with the route. I send all other pitches that beautiful autumn day – with great effort – at first go. Even the last pitch, a short 7c.
In the late afternoon Lisi and I reach the top. To be able to share this very special day with my friend means a lot to me. We both agree to be back soon, she had deserved all my support.
But very unfortunately she got the flue and never returned.
The name of the route, „Schwarze Madonna“ (“Black Madonna”) maybe needs some explaining: my then 8-year-old son chose Bata Ilic’s pop song with the same title as his favorite at the time and knew the lyrics by heart. That ear worm was my constant companion not only during the first ascent but also at many family celebrations. The biblical substantiation of “I am dark but beautiful” also fits perfectly to the dark streak that makes it’s way up the south face of the Untersberg, my local mountain at which I began climbing.
– 180m face height
– Route name: Schwarze Madonna (Black Madonna)
– Suggested grade: 10- (8a+)
– 6 pitches (8a+, 7a, 6c, 7b+, 7c, 6a)