Howling with the wind to silence the echoes

Howling with the wind to silence the echoes

 Matthias Scherer on Svartberg Fall, Gudvangen, Norway - Picture by Tanja Schmitt

Matthias Scherer on Svartberg Fall, Gudvangen, Norway - Picture by Tanja Schmitt

Music - there is music in everything. And then there are the disharmonies - echoes resonating in us, destroying the focus and the free sight on the world around us.
I am blocking my right arm, go for the last placement: It's late October in a few days the ice season will start. We are in Valsavarenche, where Heike had equipped very discreet a new drytooling route  together with Patrick in the last winter.

Discreet because drytooling is a good training for sure and is related with ice climbing because there are tools involved which have similarities. But here the similarities stop... You get very strong physically, but the music of the ice will stay unknowable for you. You might come to the point where you can hang for one hour on one tool, but facing the unknown of an universe of frozen icicles above you it will not help you to decide, to act, to become part of the harmony. I clip the belay. I finished another training session sending twice in a row 'Testimone' M10, it's great, I am strong, but there deep inside of me I can hear the echoes, the echoes that clipping bolts create...

It's dark outside, snow is falling. The echoes of the summer, the heat and dust are still resonating in my head. 
Stanley Headwall is looming up above us shrouded in the low light of a rising day. We are back. Back in the Rockies at the start of another ice season. In silence we follow the trail through the forest. At a certain point we leave the path to head towards the French Reality part of the Headwall. The snow is hip deep and breaking the trail is hard work. We have never seen so much snow that early in November.     
Five hours later we arrive at the traverse below the routes. Four hours for a distance that takes us normally one hour... It will be for another day.
Again night, again breaking the trail with echoes of reason still resounding inside of me.
I am in the middle of the second pitch, the classic mixed pitch of 'French' and everything I remembered of my last ascent in November 2009 has nothing to do with the 'Reality' I am facing now. Back then pro was easy to find, this time it's different: Only snowy ice, just enough to climb on it and cover the cracks in the rock. The echoes are getting dimmer. I hear the wind, feel the cold. The last pitch is still above us - exposed and fragile ice. I start my way up and arrive in the moment - no more echoes, like a loosing knot they are falling away from me - I am living again life in every breath. 

The sun is sinking on the horizon. It's barely 4pm. Mid January we arrive in Norway, Oslo. And the cold is here, too. 
Long we've watched the temperature forecasts and bulletins of the west coast. Since three weeks they are far below zero. 
The echoes are back, gnawing on me, like wyverns on the roots of a tree. They are feeding my fear, my doubts - blood runs cold in discipline. 
Huge medusas looming above us. We all know that ego will end here and the ropes connecting us will be more than a colorful piece of modern climbing equipment. The look above me is overwhelming. Row after row icicles are hanging above me creating an 8 m overhang. The line we are climbing is 300m high with at its heart a 150 m high pillar with massif overhanging sections. Situated in Gudvangen on the Svartberg. The music on this place is mighty. Finding the harmony in this incredible variations means to open yourself and silence all the echoes holding you back. 

Water is pouring on me and freezing right away on the outside of my clothes. It's - 15 C today. Extremely chandeliered ice is leading me for 15 m up to the overhanging section. No possibilities for protection so far. In a little better ice passage I can get a screw in, before I can hook into the fragile sculpture of the first row of the medusa. I know that the screw below me will not hold much and every movement, every breath becomes from now on wonderful real. I squeeze myself into a small room between the medusas. Meter long daggers above me block my way. There is no other way then to clean them, to fight my way through. All the broken pieces are hammering down on me. A nearly men seized icicle gets surprisingly loose and hits me like a ram. My helmet takes the main shock. The ice is exploding and the debris is battering my arms and legs. I see stars and my head is growling. In the coming weeks my arms, back and thighs will be a big hematoma. But the passage is free. On a sheltered place I can put a belay.

Tanja and Heike are coming up. A deep look into each other's eyes and I start into the next surreal pitch. Incredible ice formations towering over each other with careful placements for the tools and few protection are leading to the final medusa: A five meter big leaf leaning out against all laws of gravity. I am climbing up in between this leaf leaning with my back onto this fragile creation. Expecting every moment that it might break off. Finally I reach the point where I have to get out of this ice chimney and pull out on the top of the medusa. The leaves continue above, they are covered by a crust of bad snowy ice and so I can only hook my tools into this hyper fragile inconsistent matter.  I jam my right knee under the medusa while stemming in a weird move my left foot on top of the outside leaf. I have to put now my weight on this left foot. My last screw is over 10 meters below.  Between me and the void is just this sheet of ice. I try to get more weight onto my tools, but they are ripping through. I hammer them in again but there are only these thin sheets of ice. No secure placement. Nothing to hang on. If the left foot blows I will fall... With all lightness I can create I slowly bring my weight on the left foot. Fully on guard I stand up and I can get my right foot over the lip into the frozen puff pastry above. Some meters higher another haven of shelter in a cave for the belay. Days are short in January in Norway and in the fading light I climb the next pitch. Compared to the pitches below it feels nearly normal with its only two meter overhanging sections. Finally there is a 'regular' freestanding pillar at the end of this pitch which is connecting to some more vertical but solid attached ice above. While Tanja and Heike are coming up night is on us. In the pitch dark we climb the last easy pitch. We are standing on top of this monstrous line. We see the lights of the road far below us. We are happy to be here. Tanja and myself had the chance to have this view some years before from the top of Kjerrskredskvelven. But we were missing our companion in arms. To share this moment, this ascent today with Heike is the best for us and far more important then just ticking another line.

Snow is rushing over us - we are muffled deep into our belay jackets. High above me I see Tanja abseiling towards us. She stops above to take a picture from me and Heike. The wind is rising even stronger. It's two weeks after our ascent in Gudvangen, and many other ascents in between. We are coming down from another ascent of 'Hydnefossen'. 'Lots of people are discussing the future of iceclimbing' - there is a strong gust coming and again snow is rushing over us. The wind is howling, I see Tanja smiling, I see Heike smiling. There is a harmony in everything.
Free again - no more echoes - the ice, the snow, the storms are blowing grades, names and definitions away.  Vive la vie! 

 

 

   

Matthias Scherer