The high-alpine rock season came unusually early to Europe this year. Due to hot weather, walls dried out much earlier than usual. Andrej Grmovsek and I started the season with the route Smer Norckov (Route of Fools, V 5.10b A3, Karo-Jeglic, 1983) on the north face of Site, in Slovenia’s Julian Alps, spending a day climbing and studying the twenty-five-meter A3 pitch. On our second day, I climbed the pitch free on my second attempt. I rated the pitch 8a (5.13b), making this the hardest free climb in the Slovenian Alps. There are seventeen to twenty pitons on the pitch, all of which should be clipped due to their lack of quality.
In this and all the free climbing we would do this summer, we followed two simple principles: we would place no additional bolts, and we would rate pitches as if they were sport routes. Some of the routes we would climb this year would prove to be overgraded. We feel grades for alpine rock climbs should be the same as on sport routes; it shouldnt matter if the climbing is at high altitude, poorly protected or on a cold wall. While it is harder to climb 7c or 8a higher up with bad protection, it doesn’t change the grade of the climb; the climb just feels harder. There is no need to make some compensatory grading just because of alpine factors.
The next stop was the south face of the Marmolada in Italys Dolomites. We arrived after a storm; though the wall was wet, we climbed the route Specchio di Sarah (V 7c [5.12d]) onsight. After four days at home working, we returned to the Dolomites, this time to Tre Cime Di Lavaredo. Our goal was the Akut Route (8a [5.13b], 500m, Astner-Ties, 2001) on Cima Ovest. We climbed the route free in one day, climbing all but two pitches onsight.
After a day of rest, we freed the route Das Phantom der Zinne (7c+ [5.13a], 500m) on the Cima Grande in twelve hours, onsighting all the pitches except the crux. The route, which has a reputation of being one of the hardest in the Dolomites, was first climbed by Hainz and Astner in 1995 and free climbed by Hainz in 1996, but not in one push.
We then went to Courmayeur to climb Divine Providence (5.12d, 900m), one of the longest routes in the Mont Blanc region. We started climbing at 8 a.m., taking only two ice axes and a small ice hammer. One of the axes broke on the first pitch. The first 500 meters of the route involves climbing up to 6a (5.10b), and there are problems with route finding. Then, the wall becomes steep, with some of the best pitches in the region at over 4000 meters. We found the crux pitches to be very wet and felt lucky when we onsighted them. At 5 p.m. we reached a ledge one pitch above the crux pitch that made a comfortable bivouac.
The next day we started climbing at 8 a.m. Another pitch of 7b (5.12b) and a few easier pitches brought us to the Bonatti Route (ED1). We followed this to the Peuterey Ridge (D+), where we encountered delicate climbing with really poor gear on hard ice. At 8:30 p.m. we finally reached the top of Mont Blanc, having climbed the route onsight.
This was supposed to be the end of my summer climbs; I had promised my wife I would spend a week with her and my two children. Just before leaving on our family vacation, I talked to Mauro “Bubu” Bole, who told me that he had just free climbed the Camillotto-Pellissier Route (8b [5.13d], 500m) on Cima Grande. Instead of going to the sea?where it was too hot anyway?we changed our plans. We would go to the Lago di Garda region, not far from the Tre Cime area. I was able to arrange two days for climbing.
The first day Jure Niedorfer and I checked out the first four pitches. Returning to limestone from granite makes for big problems. My skin wore out fast, and I climbed like a beginner. When we rappeled off, I thought it was going to be a nice project for next year.
After three days we returned, just to check out the pitches higher up. I climbed the first pitch with big problems. After Jure arrived at the belay, I threw up. I decided to go down, but changed my mind, because the drive to the Dolomites takes five or six hours each way. Since I work regularly and climb mostly on weekends, I really wanted to see the upper pitches.
On the second 7c (5.12d) pitch, Jure commented, Sorry, Marko, but that was the worst I have ever seen you climb. Really encouraging. Before starting the next pitch, the 8b (5.13d) crux, I told Jure, “We are in big trouble if I climb it.” And I did. After the crux was an 8a (5.13b) pitch. We then reached the part of the route we hadn’t yet climbed. Another hard 8a+ (5.13c) pitch climbed a roof. On my first try I did a good job and nearly climbed it onsight. After forty minutes rest, I climbed it with the last atoms of my power. Because this is an old aid route, you have to clip between twenty and twenty-two old bolts and pitons on the hardest pitches (Bubu had added bolts only at belays).
This summer was something I dreamed about twenty years ago when I started to climb as a twelve-year-old boy: fast climbing with a good onsight level on the big walls of the Alps.
Editor’s Note: Mr. Lukic considers the ascents of Akut and Das Phantom der Zinne first-free ascents because he and his partners were the first to climb the routes free in a continuous push, either in a day or with a bivouac.
— Marko Lukic, Maribor, Slovenia