13-03-2019 / 15:00

Between easy and impossible – ice climbing in the Schöllenen Gorge

When Dani Arnold, extreme mountaineer, ice climber and MAMMUT Pro Team athlete, sets his sights on a new alpine challenge, it’s often time to get packing. Challenges have already taken him from Patagonia to Alaska and from Scotland to Japan. Not this time though, this time everything is different.

He's been aware of the line that leads up the Schöllenen West Face for some time; he lives so close that it's practically on his doorstep. Then, in midwinter 2018, the time came. Together with Martin Echser, Dani made a first attempt at setting up the climbing route. However, major disillusion set in when they realized how solid the granite was. It was near impossible to place pitons and cams for protection. Plus the ice was much too thin. Without any bolts, as originally planned, it was simply not possible. After only one pitch, they both decided to postpone the venture until the following winter.

In January 2019 Dani returns. He's lucky. Despite an extremely dry summer and fall, the whole line is more or less covered in ice. In four days he manages the first ascent with three different partners: Martin Echser, his brother Mario and André Kluge, Quality Manager Hardware at MAMMUT. However, the mountain doesn’t make anything easy and demands everything they've got. A name is quickly found for the new route: Uristier.

"While suspended by rope at 50 meters above the ground, they release the afflicted rope by hacking with sharp ice axes."

The ice is often so thin that the rock shimmers through. Often, they need several attempts to find the right place to make progress. They only have one day of good weather. Apart from that it snows, or strong winds blast or both. The road, and therefore also the access to the route, is blocked for days. They set up the first four pitches and leave several ropes hanging so that they don't have to start from the beginning each time. However, at points where a lot of snow and rain falls, the ropes are quickly frozen under a layer of snow and ice. This has to be removed again each time – an arduous, tricky operation and not completely without danger. While suspended by rope at 50 meters above the ground, they release the afflicted rope by hacking with sharp ice axes. Dani and his partners are determined.

The new ice climbing route is nine pitches long. The level of difficulty is as always heavily dependent on external conditions. Just a few millimeters of ice make a decisive difference: easy or impossible. At the time of this first ascent, Dani rates the route as WI6+/M8. There are occasionally a few small hooks or footholds along other climbing routes. Not so in the Schöllenen Gorge. All this makes the Uristier something extra special. The route is something for experienced experts with a lot of patience for the right moment. But when this moment arrives, it becomes an exceptional adventure.

Eiger Extreme