Some history, the latest exploits in the Dolomites, a proposal for a clearer ethical view
26 September 2008
by Maurizio Oviglia and Erik Svab
Certainly climbing was born free and only later it was "contaminated" by artificial means. First of all rudimentary bolts and hemp ropes, then more and more sophisticated material which allowed climbers to overcome walls without any setbacks. Depending on the historical period and/or personalities of various climbers which characterized the last century of mountaineering, free climbing rather than aid climbing, returned to being important. While some were managing to overcome the walls only thanks to the help of a never ending string of old bolts at the same time, there was who overcame them in one full swoop, with neither ropes nor pitons. This shows us the role that free climbing has always had, and still has, in the hearts of mountaineers but also shows a very different style and ability that is not always convenient to compare, since aid climbing also has its own dignity and raison d'etre. Anyhow the style of "free" has always been considered the more noble style to overcome a wall and it is for this that the need to "free" or rather re-climb on old aid climbing itineraries has always been one of the challenges in mountaineering.
Recent summers in the Alps have given us a return of interest in this type of undertaking, especially with high difficulty ascents. The beautiful free climbing ascent of the Via Couzy on the west peak of Lavaredo by Mauro-Bubu-Bole, was the switch that turned on the light in the heads of many top climbers. To use the progresses obtained through sports climbing and carry them onto big walls, once conquered using pitons, using only these for protection, without adding new ones but only removing them, was a challenge too inviting not to be accepted.
However, even in this case, it is nothing new, but rather a "happy return". As suggested by Manolo, however, "to climb a VI (UIAA), free, with few pitons is not like doing it on a X (UIAA), there is a big difference!" And we are very aware of it, even if one has to take into account the benefit of all the technical progress which the climbers of the last twenty years have had. Perhaps, it is for this reason that returning to free old aid routes today represents a new challenge to us, even if it is not. It is a little like testing the progress reached, but also comparing it in an intelligent way with the past, with those who opened those routes. In the seventies they were freed to show that it was possible to ascend free where the first climbers had used pitons, and thus legitimize the free ascent. Today, now that it is universally accepted, why does one look for this type of undertaking?
Without turning back to the roots of free climbing, in order to understand the reasons of who frees the routes, one needs to concentrate on this change in mentality which caused the climbers themselves to think that there was a reason to repeat the same walls, conquered by others, with a cleaner, more noble style. In Europe this happened around the mid-seventies. The European climbers of that time had been influenced by the free climbing in the Yosemite Valley where they were slow to go ahead with the concept of modern free climbing. The Englishman, Pat Littlejohn, was certainly one of the first to dedicate himself to the free ascent of old aid routes, and certainly following his example Ron Kauk, John Long and John Bachar started when they climbed Astroman, in Yosemite. In Italy, and exactly in the Dolomites, two very strong climbers, Heinz Mariacher and Maurizio Zanolla-Manolo were busy. To climb, by opening, freeing, and on sighting a route for Mariacher was the maximum expression of modern mountain climbing and as such tried to demonstrate this by opening Moderne Zeiten in 1982. Manolo already climbed using few pitons because that was his background and his tradition as a mountain person born at the feet of the Pale di San Martino. Manolo "felt" that this was the way to go, and so had immediately abandoned the most protectable lines and climbed by opening routes that could not be protected, without noticing that he was pushing the limits of his time. Whether this is what forced the young Manolo to climb the Cassin and Carlesso routes on the Trieste Towers completely free (in 1977/78 with difficulties of 6c and 7a+) is difficult to know. Probably a challenge for him or a conviction developed by speaking to people who had opened routes after the war in the Dolomites, with difficulty a distant echo of what was happening in America, since Manolo lived in an almost time-warped isolation, but at the same time revolutionary in its own way. Then there was the desire to improve oneself, to show that even an itinerary already opened could be recreated, and overcome in a more difficult and more noble way that that of its first conquerors, but at the same time recognizing with respect the value due to the time in which this happened.
The argument presented, on the other hand, by Jean Claude Droyer is very different, when in 1973 during a trip to England, he was strongly impressed by the English ideas which brought them to the present concept of free climbing. In France Droyer was a real pioneer of free climbing and the one who took to the French crags those mental innovations and style that developed into sports climbing. Droyer at that time, very polemically, conducted a real crusade against pitons in the cause of free climbing. For him to free climb the Comici on the Cima Grande (1978, 6b+) and the Via Cassin on the Cima Ovest of Lavaredo (1979, 6c+) was a real demonstration of what it was possible to achieve, a real thorn in the flesh in an area he considered traditional par excellence. Not by chance, as he himself says, did he choose a route on a great wall with historical connotations, and was the fundamental base for this type of undertaking and for the reactions he intended to provoke.
Another important aspect of Droyer's approach, nicknamed "the master" for these ascents, was the conviction that, by taking out all sorts of superfluous protections from the routes he was going to climb, this would make them re-acquire a certain dignity...Directly removing the old piton was initially a provocation towards those who maintained that putting a carabiner or pulling on a piton was the same thing. But with time, Droyer became passionate about "clean climbing" and to see a wall covered in pitons was for him an insult to the purity of the rock. To free climb these walls was therefore for him a way of giving back dignity to mountaineering and the phrase used by Lucien Devies is emblematic regarding comments on these ascents "Une nouvelle ethique est nécessaire pour que, dans les Alpes, la joie demeure" (A new ethic is necessary so that in the Alps the joy remains.)
In the eighties climbing big walls later went on to be divided into styles and sub-styles because by now it was necessary to come to terms with the systematic introduction of bolts in the mountains, no longer seen as a simple means of progressing but now also, or only, for protection. If on the one hand there was a strong influence by the pioneers who opened ground up using drills, like Martin Scheel, the Dolomites were, and still are, anchored in tradition more than other groups of mountains. It is not strange, therefore, that it was here that those who followed the traditional line with almost extreme seal, carried forward the search for difficulty without the use of bolts.
But if on one hand the evolution continues with the so called sport routes and the free ascent of these were an implicit consequence, from "Tempi Modernissimi" by Mariacher until the recent routes of Larcher, one cannot say the same of traditional routes. Starting with a case of perfect style, like that suggested by Heinz Mariacher with "Moderne Zeiten" climbed in fact opening it on sight, we then have the routes climbed with the ideal of free climbing in mind, of which the most interesting example is perhaps the legendary "Via in memoria di Claude Barbier", climbed on the north face of the Cima Grande di Lavaredo by the Czech brothers Coubal in 1989 with difficulties up to 7b and very dubious protection. Finally, many of the masterpieces of the 80s had to successively undergo the assaults of free climbers: first of all the famous "Via attraverso il Pesce" opened in 1981 by the Slovaks Koller and Sustr and then climbed free in 1987 by Heinz Mariacher and Bruno Pederiva with a difficulty of 7b+; but also the difficult routes of Maurizio Giordani on the same wall, the south face of the Marmolada, climbed whatsmore in a style similar to the Pesce and to the Barbier (that is, pushing free climbing to the maximum and reverting to aid climbing only for brief tracts but with the idea and the hope of ascending them free as well.) One of the most talented (and daring) from this point of view was without a doubt Roland Mittersteiner from South Tyrol, who first with the free climb of Fram and the Specchio di Sara (7c) and then with the incredible free climb and on sight of Andromeda (7c+), brought forward the limit of what was climbable in this style, a limit at present not yet overtaken!
From here to the recent ascents of Bubu Bole, of Hainz and Larcher, it is but a short step. Thanks to the level reached in sports climbing today these climbers are able to achieve things which up until a short time ago were unthinkable. And things continue to move also in other Alpine regions, as for example in the west, in Valle dell'Orco, where in the last few years we have recorded some first free ascents of old aid routes by young climbers like Cristian Brenna on "Itaca nel Sole" (8b, 2003), Massimo Farina with the "Via della Rivoluzione" (2002, 7c) and "Mangas Coloradas" (7a+), or again Rolando Larcher with "Colpo al Cuore" (8a, 2002). The same thing also in the central Alps with the free climbs of Simone Pedeferri and Miro Piala on the great routes on the walls of Val Masino and surroundings.
It is painful however to realize that the rules, according to which these achievements have been carried out, are still nebulous and easily interpreted as one likes. Nevertheless Jean Baptiste Tribout, already in 1987, took the responsibility of putting in black and white the style to be attained. At a time when the whole world recognized the style "rotpunkt", Tribout proposed its extrapolation from mountains, writing: "the term "free" can sometimes imply in certain achievements a kind of artistic "flou". According to the personal ethics of different climbers, to take short rests or to be content with merely joining up only the lengths not yet freed of a long route, without reaching the summit, is sufficient for them to say that they have freed it. Logically there should therefore be one definition to be taken into consideration: to join up means correctly as when climbing on crags, to climb in sequence all the pitches of a route, even if this means twenty or thirty pitches. The result being that an ascent starts at the bottom and finishes at the top." Reflecting on the clear words of Jean Baptiste one should ask at what point are we today, 15 years later, and if these have been assumed as rules just like with crags. The reply can only be negative, given that in the case of many ascents, they are freed only in single pitches, returning to the wall on several occasions (or even in different years) or else they are climbed with the help of a companion (alternating leads) and not continuously with the same leader. This means that being in three or absurdly even in four, the task is simplified even further, being able to share the effort.
The aim of this analysis, to which questions will follow on the subject to some of the main protagonists of these ascents in the Dolomites, is therefore to clarify ideas, opening a clear way through the tangle of mountaineering ethics. To establish some guidelines, the same for everybody, can be annoying and unpleasant in a fundamentally anarchic activity like climbing. It is however necessary and desirable at least when speaking of very high level achievements, to have clear instruments of evaluation on the state of the art in those very mountains which have been witness to free climbing from its origins.
Freeing old aid routes is back in fashion and many top climbers are concentrating on these. Do you think this is due to a lack of aims or other reasons?
R. Larcher (I)
I don't know about the others, but for me certainly not. Personally I have the opposite problem: too many aims and too much imagination.
Other motivations could be the opportunity for an adventure that gives you the chance to know and re-live traditional climbing in a modern way. But it also means a return of a secure image, due to the easier and immediate understanding of the undertaking. To free climb a famous route opened by a famous climber on a famous summit inevitably has a great "publicity" appeal. This is because it is understood by most, but above all by those who are in control of mountain news: usually those of a certain age, kept up to date at best by Nuovo Mattino. (ed. climbing movement born in Italy especially on the rocks of the Valle dell'Orco, Piedmont during the 70s). In comparison, a much more difficult and creative route will pass unnoticed and perhaps will not be appreciated for another thirty years.
It has always been stimulating to try and free climb where others have not succeeded or simply where we have not succeeded ourselves, and I believe this may be one of the reasons which has contributed to the technical evolution in climbing and mountaineering. To completely free a route which may only have one aid move is equivalent to freeing it and therefore improving it.
However, there is a subtle but substantial difference between the absolute unknown of a new route and the partial knowledge of a repetition, no matter how difficult this may be. Beyond the evident difficulty of the research and energy needed for opening the route (which goes well beyond the simple technical difficulty), it is undoubtedly easier to try to free an aid route also because no matter how badly it goes it will seemingly have been done better than the original climbers and for the media this makes more news than the umpteenth new route. This is not always true, since freeing a route is always a step forward, but should be sufficient to make one reflect on the delicacy of the problem and certain achievements.
Bubu Bole (I)
would not say that it is a new fashion, nobody is inventing 'hot water". This type of ascent has always been part of mountaineering and of its evolution. Every climber has his own reasons and own ethics for facing this type of ascent.
C. Hainz (I)
It seems to me that freeing an old route which already has so many pitons means less work in every sense and is also in the end safer than opening a new route. The first free ascent of an old aid route anyway allows one to invent a story and from the promotional point of view can be worth even more than a new route.
R. Mittersteiner (I)
I think there are several reasons which push climbers to free an aid route: the first is the unfolding or finding the logical line of a route: sometimes these directly cross slabs or overhangs and thus offer a reason, a challenge to try to free them. An important motivation is also the myth of the impossibility (in the free climbing sense) of an aid route. Besides one must never forget that on these routes often all the material is already in situ and thus one can check and try without risking one's life - especially if one strengthens the belay anchors with bolts like Alex Huber did on "Bellavista".
What does it mean to you, from the motivational point of view, to try to free climb an old aid route? What do you get out of it and why is it so important for you?
R. Larcher (I)
It is a wonderful adventure with an emotional unknown. An opportunity to do something new and motivating, a repetition which allows me to return to the classic areas in the Dolomites which otherwise I would never go back to, being so busy opening new routes and keeping up my training schedule. The routes which I have tried in recent years have always been attempted on sight, it is the style in which I climb that motivates me and takes me fewer days. Some have been a success, others I have abandoned, others I still have to finish.
There is a lot of emotion experienced confronting these old routes. I climb covered in equipment like a warrior, I know where to start from but don't know where I will finish. This is the pleasure of the unknown which I seek: a long labyrinth in which to test one's capacity, perfected after years of experience. If I find the way out, the joy is intense and the memory will remain very strong. Otherwise, the disappointment will soon be crushed by the immediate desire to try again and to find another route. In short, another great game in the fantastic world of climbing.
These routes are certainly repetitions, undeniably special, however resolving them, gives me similar sensations to what I feel on opening a new route. There are already many pitons, but the line of holds which may take me to the top by free climbing is waiting to be discovered. Another thing I like about this type of adventure is the opportunity of indirectly getting to know the mountaineers of the past, understand their personality, their style, their motivations and their lines, by repeating them. A comparison between first ascenders bearing in mind the difference in epoch. In a few words, a way of improving one's mountaineering culture.
I remember that right from my first climbs it didn't seem to me very honest to use the pitons to pull one self up nor to climb with an exaggerated number of protections. With this I would not denigrate or not recognize the value of certain aid routes, but often more importance is given to the fact of reaching the top than the way in which it was done.
For me it has never been like that and I believe I have shown this with my own routes. Certain routes which I opened or freed in the 70s in the Dolomites, speaking purely of rock ascents, I understood afterwards, had nothing compared to what was done in other parts of Italy and easily comparable.
I began to push my limits with the Carlesso on Torre Trieste free climbing (1978, 7a+), then I went beyond with the original part of Cima della Madonna (1978, 7b), then the following year on Biasin on Sass Maor (1979, 7b/c), to arrive finally with Mattino dei Maghi on Totoga...
I found it more ethically correct to try and force the free ascent by reducing the amount of protection, because in the end the difficulty depends also on the equipment. To climb the Carlesso today - with a protection every metre or so - is one thing, to do it on sight with one every 100 metres, 25 years ago, you will agree is another. This was not a necessity for me but a very precise choice, just like reducing to the bare minimum my equipment before setting off for a first ascent.
For me the obligatory on sight even on opening was something ethically very important, and resting did not even exist for me not even to put in pitons, and I should like this to be clear because I don't think everybody did it. On many of my routes of the 70s there was no possibility of protecting myself because by choice I had already abandoned the more evident or protectable routes to push myself beyond and that is on a terrain which allowed me to measure myself in an absolutely correct way, loyal and ethical without compromises, even if distinctly more dangerous. For this reason many routes opened at the end of the 70s have a great ethical meaning for me exactly because I limited the protection and at the same time increased the difficulty. Repeating a route, I commit myself less than in opening some aid itineraries (the Carlesso and the Cassin on Trieste, the Carlesso on Torre Valgrande, the Bellenzier on the Torre Alleghe, the Philipp-Flamm on Civetta, the Tofana, the Rocchetta di Bosconero, the Three Cime di Laveredo, the Marmolada and many other routes ...) were a confirmation of what I was doing and a way to demonstrate it.
Bubu Bole (I)
My first experience of free climbing on a route with tracts of aid climbing was eighteen years ago on the "Costantini-Apollonio" at the pillar of the Tofana di Rozes, whilst the last was in the autumn of 2003 with the Via degli Spagnoli on the north of the Cima Grande di Lavaredo. In these eighteen years of ascents I must say that from the motivational point of view absolutely nothing has changed, in fact the desire to climb these routes still continues, which gives me the possibility of discovering and touching with my hands the human rather than the sporting history of mountaineering. This type of ascent is part of my personal evolution, but the most important thing is that in all these years I have always respected the commitment and the sacrifice of the first climbers. This is the element which gives me the strength and the motivation to spend entire seasons on the walls covered by lines of pitons hammered in decades ago. Every route has its own peculiarity, also because every piton reflects the character of whoever hammered it in.
C. Hainz (I)
It interests me to know above all if it is possible to free climb a route with potentially severe difficulties, perhaps even with friable rock... There is always however a certain curiosity. From my point of view everything loses its value if the routes are bolted while attempting to free climb them.
R. Mittersteiner (I)
The most stimulating thing for me is to try to make possible something previously considered impossible and all the other reasons I already gave you.
There is a lot of ethical confusion on this type of undertaking, do you think that it is necessary to establish a common rule to know when to consider a route "freed"?
R. Larcher (I) I really think so. Other than the important matter of leading a climb or alternating leads, the route is freed only when it is climbed completely free, without any parts climbed in aid or with minimum variations which take advantage of the protection already in situ or the original line.
For me it is indifferent: if a ten pitch route is freed by ten climbers, it is a "freed" route but it has not been fully climbed by anyone. Therefore a route can be called freed when all the pitches have been red pointed and personally climbed when I have succeeded to do them all free.
Bubu Bole (I)
think that life is already too full of rules to be followed, therefore as far as I am concerned I would say leave climbing far from laws for as long as possible! For me, climbing is equivalent to a sense of freedom where I can decide to do whatever comes into my head without getting involved in fines. Each person expresses himself following his own ethics, so that whoever judges will not be a court of law, but our own conscience.
C. Hainz (I)
For me the most important factor on this point is climber's honesty. When the news is published it must say exactly how, when, who ascended first on the crux pitch, etc...
R. Mittersteiner (I)
think it would be sufficient if each person clearly says how he has made the ascent. It is clear if someone does not redpoint the route this cannot be considered freed. This style requires the climber to lead the route in only one day or in two or more days (always during a continuous attempt) if the route needs more time. However, I think everyone should do what they feel best.
Applying the crag mentality of redpointing, a free ascent should be carried out only by one person who is leading the climb (without alternating leads) and all in sequence, from start to finish. Only then can one speak of redpointing the route, while in other cases one eventually speaks of redpointing single pitches. Do you agree with this "rule" or do you propose some compromises, like leading a climb on the harder pitches and alternating leads on the others?
R. Larcher (I)
The absolute best is for the leader to free climb all in one go and perhaps on sight. Taking the facts into consideration however, since we are not sports climbing at a crag and there are notable logistical problems or availability of companions, some exceptions should perhaps be made, but with the strict obligation of recounting exactly how things happened. And here I am afraid is where the argument collapses!!!
To climb the route's most difficult pitches and alternate on the others seems to me to be an acceptable compromise: if subsequently someone else leads the whole route, clearly he will have the appropriate recognition. Certainly, however the real unknown is experienced only by the first candidate, the next one to come along will take advantage of the experience and information of the other both in terms of difficulty and of protection.
There are different ways of freeing an old route and I think that modern technology has been a great help to technique (a friend sometimes is decidedly safer than a piton) and a crack offers much more guarantee than a smooth wall. It is clear that it is the level reached which allows always more severe difficulties to be achieved. "Mentally permitting" if I am able to climb an 8c there is no doubt that to free an aid route which free climbed has a grade of 8a, even if not protected much, technically is much easier than climbing an 8c on a crag, even if much more dangerous and in some ways more like "mountaineering". I don't think it is forcing things to deviate by a little from the opening line (I would like however not to be misunderstood and consider a variant the moving away completely from the original line) actually sometimes it can be obvious and natural, also because the true forcing probably has been done during the aid climb, which evidently follows another logic.
Bubu Bole (I)
To lead all of the pitches is my personal ethic and I think that this goes for many others, but obviously not everybody follows this style. But as I said before everybody is free to do what they feel best.
C. Hainz (I)
I would agree with the following rule for red pointing: every pitch must be climbed free by one or other components of the team. If one person leads all of the pitches of a route in one day or anyway during a single attempt, the achievement is better and cleaner in style.
R. Mittersteiner (I)
I agree. If a team does the ascent together it is very good, but it does not have the same sporting value. The time taken also counts and the style of the ascent: there is a big difference between a team (for example on a long route in the Himalayas) using a fixed rope to "work" and try the pitches of a route and a team climbing in pure Alpine style with little equipment in the shortest possible time.
Many climbers, for the sake of freeing a route, resort to substantial variants, even very long ones, which deviate considerably from the original itinerary. What do you think, does it not seem to you to be forcing the situation just to be able to take home a result at all costs?
R. Larcher (I)
Absolutely. I can even understand the economic motivation of certain presumed achievements of some climbers (e.g. Huber), but if it is smooth and you cannot pass, then you have not freed the route! To dream of climbing a route completely free is anyone's right, as it is to make eventual variants if you meet tracts with no solution. The important thing is to clearly state and write down what has been done. There is nothing dishonourable in variants, but the original route cannot be defined as freed, it is a question of being serious. Let's hope the impossible lasts for another year or two!!!!!!
Bubu Bole (I)
With this reply I do not wish to blame anybody, but I think that variants which are very far from the original no longer belong to that route. As long as you pass a metre more to the left or right of the original and you protect yourself on the existing pitons, it is part of the game, if instead you are forced to piton entire lengths far from the original ... then, it is a new route and necessarily different.. But I repeat, it is always a personal matter.
On the Via degli Spagnoli on the third length I was at a point where I could not pass by free climbing, at least not for my abilities! I swear I thought of everything: chip a hole or improve some holds, open a variant to the right or left, but then my conscience suggested to pull myself up on the original pitons even if this broke the purity of the free climb. I wasn't at all satisfied with this decision, but cold bloodedly I am happy to have made this decision with respect to the first climbers, nature itself and my ethics!
C. Hainz (I)
Yes, it really is forcing. The climbers in question did not have the ability to free the original route and as a result it would not be fair to call it a success.
R. Mittersteiner (I)
It depends a little, because sometime the artificial routes climb up directly without looking to see if the rock offers possibilities a little more to the right or left. It would however be stupid to follow at all costs a direct line without looking around, but this depends also on the space on the wall and how many other routes ascend in the vicinity.
What importance does the psychological aspect of the existing protection have on the routes: in your free climbs, how do you react to the existing pitons? Do you believe it is fair to reinforce them or should the pitons remain exactly as they were, replacing only the old protection with new ones of the same type or also adding for example bolts on anchor belays?
R. Larcher (I)
The psychological aspect has an importance equal to or perhaps superior to the physical one. On the lines which I have tried and which I am still trying I reinforce as needed in the traditional style. Along the pitches I don't want to add bolts. On the pitches of the routes that I have climbed up until now, having climbed them on sight, I have almost always reinforced with quick protection and very rarely with traditional pitons and rarely have I hammered the old ones. This is because it is very difficult and consuming to do so over long pitches of 7b and more so with about ten kilos attached to your harness.
During these adventures, I always have with me ten 8mm bolts with a hand-drill for belay anchors. I always reinforce the anchors which do not give any guarantee in the traditional way. In the case that there is no such possibility and where there are already old bolts sometimes I add a new one. My philosophy is: the anchors must be solid, I can risk along the pitches, but my companion must not suffer the consequences.
Repeating and freeing a route classified A3 A4, completely pitoned or partially un-pitoned, is not absolutely the same thing as doing it when the pitons are not there and the anchors are not re-protected by bolts. Without taking anything from anyone but "the difference jumps up to meet you"! Today the opposite process happens, first pitons are added and then the route is freed!
In my repetitions of old routes or artificial routes I have never altered the original pitons. I must tell the truth that I made an exception on "Via Biasin" on Sass Maor: after having covered it at least 7 or 8 times in free I added three bolts but removed some scrap iron which seemed terribly "anti-aesthetic". I realise I could also have left it as it was, but even on TOTOGA I tried to improve many things, this however does not mean that I did the right thing. However, this little mark did not take away from the fact that I have always carried out the first repetition of whatever artificial route without altering the original pitoning.
I am convinced that the more the difficulties increase the more normal it is to find that certain protections are not "comforting". Above all, if the anchors are not safe they will not even guarantee the safety of your companion (who probably couldn't care less about the completely clean heroic ascent). However reinforcing the protection or the belay anchors by altering, I believe this is "altering" the route, in some ways is a compromise to achieve it.
I am completely aware that some 40 - 50 year old bolts do not offer great safety; I think that substituting one or two with a bolt could be an acceptable compromise. However then it will no longer be the first free ascent of an aid route, but maybe an A4, or something else...
Bubu Bole (I)
I have always left the original pitons as they were and never added any more pitons on the pitches, obviously I didn't see the need...but perhaps it was also laziness. Only on the Via degli Spagnoli did I add lots of pitons, but it was a route completely de-pitoned by the first climbers and never repeated again.
In any case on belay anchors I have always added bolts, because part of my personal ethics included anchors that had to be safe with respect to the life of my companion and my own. If I were to judge this decision of bolts on anchors on the routes which perhaps previously did not have any, I accuse myself, because in every case I have touched an ascent, an already existing one which I transformed and "dirtied"! In the end I realise that these first free ascents are a pure form of selfishness or as one sometimes says: "I want to, but I can't"! Who knows if one day someone will manage to climb the routes which I freed first without adding any protection on the anchors? Very honestly I think so!
C. Hainz (I)
If I speak of my first most important freed routes: on the "Scoiattoli" arête on the Cima Ovest di Lavaredo and on the "Molin": on the Cima Dodici I left the route and the protection exactly as I found them. On the via "Maestri" on the Roda di Vael I substituted only a few pitons (however always with normal pitons!) and I reinforced two anchors with normal pitons. However there is a need to distinguish between two different cases: if one anchor (as often happens for example on Tre Cime) has a lot of old bolts, it seems normal to me and cleaner to put in two new ones, since we are speaking anyway about bolts (old and new) and that is only for the bolts. It is completely unacceptable for me to descend a route using a fixed rope to prepare it!
R. Mittersteiner (I)
I have never brought bolts with me and have always found it possible to reinforce the anchor with traditional material (which afterwards I removed). If that had not been possible I would have turned back so as not to expose my companion to such danger. I believe that with the agreement of the first climbers it would also be acceptable to reinforce the anchor with bolts even where there were none previously. Finally it depends also a little on the situation and the traditions of the area in which these ascents are carried out.
What is your most memorable ascent?
R. Larcher (I)
The completely unplanned and improvised bivouac three quarters up the "Piussi" on the Torre Trieste. Having set out with equipment for only one day to try the first part of the route, I managed to do it on sight. Due to the precariousness of the tract climbed, with the interest of my companion at heart, Lino Celva, we decided to continue in the hope of finishing all of it on sight, but with the certainty of a precarious bivouac and a very bad weather forecast.
Perhaps it is excessive to define this the "best" memory, but in the light of the miserable dawn which awakened us and the positive result of our effort, it will be difficult for me to forget it.
The most beautiful memory for me is a combination of a vertical route experience with the subtle uncertainty which divides success from failure.
To go against present thinking I could say that in those years there was no difference between a crag of 200 metres or a mountain ascent, given that the technique of the ascent was the same and the only real difference was in the time of the approach route.
The first route which I climbed on M. Totoga (a crag in Primiero) is called "Lucertola schizzofrenica), (max 6c but also 6c obbl. 5 pitches). Today it looks as if it has nothing in common with the most difficult routes I opened or repeated in the Dolomites, but it is curious to think that as the approach in that crag has been influenced by an extremely strict ethic and as this has cancelled out the differences, it can still do the same today.
Bubu Bole (I)
Without doubt it is the Via Couzy on the Cima Ovest! It is the most beautiful and most intense story I have ever lived, also because it was the route which changed the direction of my life.
C. Hainz (I)
For me it was the via "Maestri" which gave me the most satisfaction.
R. Mittersteiner (I)
Throughout 1992: I felt very fit, unconquerable and immortal. I had achieved some great routes in the Dolomites especially on the walls with very good rock like la Vallaccia (in Val di Fassa, routes "il canto del cigno" 7a+/7b, "Via delle Arti" 7b); short itineraries which the Trento climbers Graziano Maffei-Feo and Paolo Leoni already opened at the beginning of the 80s in mixed style (free climbing up to VI+ and then aid) without bolts, but with traditional protection. For that period (these were the same years as the Pesce) they were really interesting and difficult routes.
It was also my last year in the mountains, since by the end of the summer I had a disastrous fall on the Marmolada on the first tract of a new route which I was opening in traditional style on the Passo Ombretta, where I fractured my ankle. For me a new phase of my life began when I climb less, above all I do sports climbing and bouldering but I do not take certain risks and I do not go out and about as I once did. I now live in Innsbruck with my family, teach climbing and do a bit of bouldering every now and then.