28-03-2019 / 16:00

Reclimbing the Classics: The Face

The face is the mirror of the soul, a wise man once said. Does the face hiding in the light forests of the Altmühltal reflect the soul of the Southern Frankenjura? In any case, the two eyes have been watching the goings-on in the valley for many millennia …

Text: Andreas Kubin
Photographs: Rainer Eder

"Dot, dot, comma, dash –Smiley-face in a dash – it's that simple in a German children's rhyme. The "face" at the Schellneckkopf turned out a bit more difficult, though: "dot, dot…" – the eyes, and another one a little below – the nose! Spring 1983: The two boulderers Norbert "Flipper" Fietz and Norbert Bätz from Nuremberg were surprised to find the impossibility-turned-rock at the Schellneckkopf. Overhanging slightly at the bottom, continuing in a vertical sleek concrete wall, decorated with a few scattered pockets and the three one-finger pockets far up that were to give the project its name – a new challenge for "Flipper", forever looking for problems that others called unclimbable. To spite them, he usually managed. After a few days in the top rope, the movement problems were solved, the single moves climbed, and a name had been found: "The face"… "Flipper" was never interested in the climbing the full passage let alone the lead – he was happy if he managed the chess problem posed by the rock one step at a time; by the way: "Flipper" also is a great chess player …

" Bouldering out in the rope (= hangdogging) was strictly scorned by the British climbing ethics – the devil is a hangdogger! "

And then there was Jerry! Jeremy Moffatt from Sheffield greatly stirred up the European climbing scene in 1983! Wherever he showed up, he climbed the most difficult routes – usually on sight and otherwise only in a very few attempts. Wolfgang Güllich had invited him to Oberschöllenbach – to the legendary climbing group around Kurt Albert, Norbert Sandner, Norbert Bätz and Ingrid Reitenspieß. In Frankenjura, he not only repeated the most difficult routes of Wolfgang and Kurt Albert, but also solved an old toprope problem of "Flipper" Fietz, the massive rock overhang called "Ekel" in the Trubachtal – and the first IX+ in Germany was born.

Jerry couldn't get enough though. He always wanted more! Therefore, Wolfgang took him to the Altmühltal, showed him the "Flipper" project "Face", and Jerry was enthusiastic about the vertical, smoothly-rejecting rock pillar at the Schellneck. After he had abseiled down into the route, cleaned the holds and drilled in the necessary bolts, he set out. Up to the undercling traverse using down-sloping finger holes, then long pulls to a large pocket and finally up to the "face". The sequences around the "face" were hardest for Jerry. He often fell into the rope – and had to return to the ground. Bouldering out in the rope (= hangdogging) was strictly scorned by the British climbing ethics – the devil is a hangdogger! The "yoyo style", however, permitted leaving the rope in the highest bolt reached and climbing top rope to the section of the fall; every new unknown metre, however, became a new onsight problem. On his second day, Jerry almost reached the top when a sharp-edged one-finger hole cut his finger deeply: fall and out!

After two weeks, the finger was healed, but no one from the group wanted to come to the Altmühltal with Jerry to try the "face" again. "I could have cried," he remembers now. Finally, Chris Gore, a friend of Jerry's from England who also visited Oberschöllenbach, took pity on him and went to the "face" with Moffatt. Whether he did it in the first or the second try Jerry no longer remembers today – he just knows that it wasn't a big deal anymore. When he clipped the final bolt, the face became "The Face" – the first route of the minor Xth grade in Germany. Jerry could return to England knowing that he had left his scent marks in the Frankenjura for everyone to see.

"I have climbed a lot of easier routes in this difficulty grade."

"The Face" is a really tough nut to crack, as confirmed by Barbara Bacher – it was too cold for an ascent during her attempts in January, but she emphasizes the fact that this is an extremely difficult 8a+: "I have climbed a lot of easier routes in this difficulty grade." In a time when people want to climb only extreme and difficult routes, "The Face" shouldn't be overlooked, she continues. Even if people now tend to smile slightly at the idea of an 8a+. It is the undercuts in particular that make "The Face" such a difficult climb. However, Jerry and Barbara agree that the crux of the route is the section around the two-finger holes. "For me, this was one of the hardest moves as I had to push away from the small, poor footholds and really stretch to reach the hole with my fingertips," explains Barbara. However, the route is a challenge that she is happy to take up "because it is a milestone in the history of climbing".