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11-04-2019 / 12:00

Reclimbing the Classics: Action Directe

No, the name has no connection to the extreme left-wing French underground organization from the 1980s - as repeatedly emphasized by the man behind the first ascent. It alludes to the fact that this route feels like a true terrorist attack on fingers, ligaments and sinews. And also that every single move needs to be an "Action Directe" - hesitate for even a second and all is lost!

Text: Andreas Kubin
Photographs: Rainer Eder

The name says it all! Waldkopf ('wood head' in German) is the name of a rock barely 15 meters high somewhere in the Krottensee forest, hidden among high trees and shrubs in a setting that brings to mind an enchanted forest. With a little imagination, you could almost imagine a hobbit or an elf popping up from behind the next boulder - but the Waldkopf is not in Middle Earth, rather in the 'Hersbrucker Schweiz' area in the Frankenjura. And any hobbits or elves that may ever have lived in the Krottensee forest have long since disappeared - at least since once of the best-known climbing routes in the world came into being on the Waldkopf. Since then, this rock has been a place of pilgrimage for the world's best climbers - and for those who think they are...

"But this is where his friend came in, Wolfgang Güllich, who was back in top climbing form."

In the late 1980s, on one of his excursions through the Franconian woods, Milan Sykora came across the Waldkopf and spotted a potentially climbable line running over the steep, 40 degree overhanging wall. He placed bolts along the route but soon realized that although the line was climbable - it was much too difficult for him! But this is where his friend came in, Wolfgang Güllich, who was back in top climbing form after a few years on the mountains of the world and long, tough winter training on the campus board. Milan showed him his line and Wolfgang was immediately fascinated. He realized straight away that climbing this route would open up a whole new dimension of difficulty and was simply bursting with motivation. After eleven days of climbing, split over ten weeks in the summer of 1991, on September 14, Wolfgang finally completed his ascent: twelve extremely tough climbing moves with lots of boulders and a 70-second maximum load on the body - that's "Action Directe"!

And now the question: How difficult is this route? If anyone was qualified to answer that, it was certainly Wolfgang! In 1984, he climbed the world's first X grade ("Kanal im Rücken"), followed by the first X+ in 1985 ("Punks in the Gym") and the first X- in 1987 ("Wallstreet"). And then "Action Directe" - Wolfgang made an attempt and gave it a suggested grading of XI. And he still seems to be right: it took four years for the first successful repeat climb of "Action Directe", with many of the world's best climbers failing on their attempts to link together the uncompromising moves on this very overhanging wall.

To date, just 15 climbers have overcome this terrorist attack on fingers, ligaments and sinews (in one case, the British climber Rich Simpson, there is considerable doubt as to whether he actually climbed the route) and all confirm that not only is the grading is justified, it is also a really hard climb. For many years, "Action Directe" was regarded as the most difficult climbing route in the world. “I think that the low number of ascents can be explained by the special style and the extremely difficult first move, where you have to make a very dynamic jump out of a one-finger pocket”, says Jan Hojer. In 2010, the Mammut Pro Team athlete succeeded in completing the twelfth ascent after nine days. This spring, he climbed it again – although he didn't redpoint it this time – for the "Reclimbing the Classics" project photo shoot.

"A number is just a number - but not in the case of 'Action Directe'!"

Wolfgang Güllich died on August 31, 1992 as a result of injuries sustained in a road accident. The climbing scene lost a fascinating personality who had helped to shape and develop the sport of climbing for more than a decade. His ideas and visions are still pioneering today. A number is just a number - but not in the case of "Action Directe"! For years, this route was the first and only XI-graded climb in the world and it remains an eternal memorial to one of the greatest climbers of all times, in the enchanted wood of the Krottensee forest.

Climbing