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Hansjorg Auer on his April 29 ropeless ascent of Via Attraverso il Pesce (The Fish Route: 7b+/5.12c, 37 pitches, 850m), one of the proudest routes ever to be free soloed. Auer invited no publicity for the climb; this photograph was taken by a pair of Germans on Don Quixote, a nearby route on the south face of the Marmolada, Dolomites, Italy. [Photo] Heinz Zander / Courtesy of

On April 29, burgeoning free-soloist Hansjorg Auer made a ropeless ascent of Via Attraverso il Pesce (The Fish Route: 7b+/5.12c, 37 pitches, 850m) on the south face of the Marmolada, Dolomites, Italy. The route, considered one of the country’s “extreme classics,” was first climbed with aid in 1981 by Jindrich Sustr and Igor Koller of Czechoslovakia. Auer’s recent ascent marks one of the most difficult, long free solos ever tackled.

From Austria, Auer has climbed a great deal in the Dolomites: “I feel really at ease there,” he said. Not expecting any press, Auer made his free-soloing debut to the world last June when he climbed Tempi Moderni (Modern Times: 7+/5.11d, 27 pitches, 850m), which is also on the south face of the Marmolada. On that ascent he spied The Fish Route and wondered if it could be done in the same style. He knew its difficulties at the time, for he had attempted, unsuccessfully, to redpoint the route in 2004. Auer rappelled from above on April 28 to revisit the difficult sections, and after five hours on the wall, he decided to return the next day for the free solo.

The route climbs through a number of features, in particular the fish-shaped niche, located twenty pitches off the ground, that gives the route its name. A few committing but easier, slabbier lengths lead to steep terrain (mostly vertical, with a few short overhanging sections) and the first crux (8+/7b+/5.12c). Four pitches below and four above the “Fish” offer many of the line’s difficulties. Auer said that “the crux is located two pitches beneath the ‘Fish’ and is comprised of some underclings. During my solo, though, the most demanding pitch turned out to be the first of the hardest pitches… the actual climbing is often highly uncompromising and requires great determination.”

In 1990 the Italian, Maurizio Giordani, made the first solo ascent of The Fish Route, self-belaying up nine of the more difficult pitches. He finished the climb in ten hours. Auer’s ascent is the second solo of the route; going ropeless allowed him to climb efficiently–one could call his feat a speed ascent–dispatching the full 900 meters in under three hours (2:55). Fewer than three years ago, Auer’s failed redpoint attempt on the same route took him and his partner more than ten hours to reach the top. However, Auer’s free solo of the 27-pitch Modern Times took only 2:40 last year.

“After the ascent of the Fish I needed a number of days to completely come to terms with what I had accomplished,” Auer said. “On the summit I felt total emptiness, combined with an unimaginable sense of fortune.” Yet he returned to the same face two weeks later to redpoint Steps across the Border (8a/5.13b, Knapp-Rieser, 1995), a Dolomite testpiece that, in its twelve years, had seen only two previous ascents.