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Through the mist is Purgatory (VI 5.12, 700m, 20 pitches), North Pillar, Acopan Tepui, Venezuela. Kurt Albert, Holger Heuber, Ivan Calderon and Stefan Glowacz made the first ascent of this line, one of only four on Acopan Tepui, in December. [Photo] Klaus Fengler

“Never have I seen such a crazy wall,” my climbing partner Kurt Albert said, and he’d been climbing for some forty years. After traveling three days by all-terrain vehicle and five days by folding canoes and after clearing trail with our machetes, we now stood at the edge of the dense rainforest. The north face of Acopan Tepui swept up before us, in orange, overhanging stone, to the summit plateau. According to the original inhabitants, these mountains are the residences of the gods. To attain the top, however, we’d have to go through our own purgatory.

In 2002 Renato Botte, Ivan Calderon, Helmut Gargitter, Walter Obergolser, Toni Obojes, and Pauli Trenkwalder had established Jardinieros de Grandes Paretes (5.11, ten pitches) on the south face, while in 2003 John and Anne Arran and Alfredo Rangel had opened Pizza, Chocolate y Cerveza (VI 5.12b R, 600m) on the southeast. The north face, however, remained unclimbed. Joined by photographer Klaus Fengler, cameraman Jochen Schmoll and expedition doctor Tilo Marschke, Kurt, Holger Heuber, Ivan and I hoped to be the first to climb it.

From faraway the lower section appeared compact; close up, it turned out to be so loose I could scratch a hole in it with my finger. But beyond the middle section of the face, the climbing became dreamlike, and we left behind the fixed ropes we’d been using to help haul our supplies and endured the rest of our Purgatory (VI 5.12, 700m, 20 pitches) without returning to the earth. Although we equipped each belay with two bolts, we used mostly Friends and nuts to protect the pitches. Despite the roofs and overhangs, our route always follows a natural line.

Kurt Albert, Holger Heuber, Stefan Glowacz and Ivan Calderon (from left to right) enjoying their success atop Purgatory (VI 5.12, 700m, 20 pitches), North Pillar, Acopan Tepui, Venezuela. [Photo] Klaus Fengler