Thursday, December 14, 2017

Locker vom Hocker: A Foray into Legend

All good stories contain legendary characters and this one is no different.

Once upon time there were two influences in the world of climbing known as Kurt Albert and Wolfgang Gullich, unique to the times they pushed the limits of possibility. Influenced by the style of climbing going on in Saxony, Germany, Albert ushered in a new era of climbing in his home region of the Frankenjura known as Rotpunkt  (point of red). He would paint a red X on a fixed pin so that he could avoid using it for a foot- or handhold. Once he was able to free climb (using only his hands and feet to advance upwards) the entire route, he would put a red dot at the base of the route. This was the origin of the free climbing movement that led to the development of sport climbing in the following decade.
Climbing the classics of the Frankenjura

Gullich, also a young Bavarian whippersnapper, was driven by the desire to conquer new terrain and push the physical realm of possibility and was one of the best climbers of the time. He added several grades to the grading system and invented the modern training technique of campus boarding in order to climb the world’s first 9a, Action Directe in the Frankenjura.

The two made quite the partnership with their greatest legacy being the myriad of routes they opened together, taking their experience and strength far beyond the local cliffs and into the mountains and alpine, leaving a legacy of routes for the rest of us to follow.

These routes became just as legendary as their developers with many of them cloaked in tales of hardship, triumph, and heroism adding to the allure and curiosity of following in their footsteps.
Walking the Streets of Pottenstien
So, on that winter day in early 2016 , as I rummaged through a box of old climbing media from the 90’s I was delighted to come across an image of Heinz Zak climbing a beautiful line of alpine limestone titled, “Locker vom Hocker.” The image itself spoke to me and as I delved into the internet seeking any information I could about the line my stoke for it increased exponentially when I discovered it had been developed by Albert and Gullich, making it the first German grade VIII in the Wetterstein, limestone alps, of Austria. Everything in my being told me that I needed to go there, to climb that line and see what they saw.

The beauty pitch of Locker vom Hocker
In preparation for the route I asked around to my German and Austrian friends for any information on the area and the line and much to my surprise not much beta was gleaned. Rather than deter me, my intrigue only grew and with tickets booked I figured we would be finding out for ourselves in due time.

Waiting out the rain. 

We arrived in early October to a rainy forecast in Munich and with three weeks scheduled for the trip we wanted to get into the alps sooner than later. But, the bad weather continued forcing us to change plans and go with the flow.

It did, however, afford us the opportunity to climb in the Frankenjura, get our fill of Bavarian beer, goulash, and pretzels. 
Beers and Cheers

We ventured over to the impressive crag of Schlierwasserfal and as the days wore on, the rain and snow continued to fall and our affinity of sport climbing threatened to take over the entire trip. With our love affair of steep sport routes, we wondered if our trip into the Wetterstein would ever happen and then, with 48 hours left before we were to board a plane to Greece we received a weather window.

The awesome grey wall of Schlierwasserfal

Leaving some unfinished business behind at the Schlierwasserfal we jumped on our one and only opportunity to finally get into the Alps. We would have to nail it perfectly to pull it off, but we were going for it, because darn it, we were following in the footsteps of legends. We made the few hour drive to the valley where we would need to access the Wetterstein and packed our gear in the car park before making the 2 hour hike up to the Wettersteinhutte. I couldn’t believe we were finally going and the anticipation was palatable. However, it was all still such a mystery as we had no real topo, no real beta and only a picture of the route from the early 90’s to go off of.  

Wetterstein Hutte
Arriving at the hutte  in the early evening we situated ourselves on the porch to get as good a view of the wall as we could and we speculated about which feature it could be. Not too long thereafter a group of climbers arrived and ordered beers to celebrate their day in the mountains. We made our move to their table in search of perhaps a guidebook or any beta they could have. We were met with wide eyes and wonder as we told them what we were there to climb; the response, “You must be very good climbers if you’re doing that,” was said so much that we started to feel like we must be badass. No one that we spoke with had ever climbed the route, being swayed away by it's  reputation of boldness. We were sure to get into some adventuring the next day and the stoke was high that night as we nestled into our bunk in the hutte. 

Waking at dawn on our last full day in Austria Ben and I rose to a valley blanketed in fog. We ate breakfast and made the hour-long hike to the base of the wall. It was just as beautiful as the picture had portrayed; the smooth blue-grey rock swept its way 1,000 feet up towards an etched orange ridge-line with the cumulous filled sky peeking through at the summits edge.  A quick round of rock-paper-scissors had me on the sharp end first, getting the pleasure of leading the first crux of the route and a pitch that I will not soon forget. We climbed the 300m encountering a bit of everything from heady run outs  on tough climbing, finicky gear, beautiful rock, horrible choss, brilliant sun, heinous cold and a plethora of spectacular views. 

Leading the way on Locker vom Hocker
We topped out in some of the last light and proceeded in true Alpine fashion to pick our way through snow, ice, choss gulleys and various rappels before we hit terra firma again. With no light to spare, sleeping bags in tow and no real place to sleep we opted to bivy under some boulders along the descent. As I watched the star-filled sky  and drifted off to sleep, I wondered if anyone had ever slept there before; Had prehistoric peoples made camp here, had sheepherders taken shelter from a storm here, had Wolfgang fondled the edges of the rock dreaming of how to climb it? A few hours later we woke at 3:30am, had a most civilized breakfast of boiled eggs and the last of our German bread and made the rest of the walk back down to the car. With 4 hours to go we hurriedly packed our junkshow in duffel bags and made the two-hour drive to the Munch airport. Feeling weary, a little worn but filled with so much stoke we boarded our plane to Greece having made it perfectly on time.

I, like so many others, find great inspiration in the legacy of our climbing heroes. Their stories give me the strength, courage, and purpose to seek out these places of legends and to get a taste of the history of climbing because it’s as the author Peter Forbes so eloquently wrote,
“Stories create community, enable us to see through the eyes of other people, and open us to the claims of others.”
Inspired by a photograph we had gone to seek an adventure and what we found was the stuff legends are made of.

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