Big winter ascent on the wild north face: Gietl, Hinterberger and Wohlleben climb Ultima Perla ground-up

Simon Gietl, Lukas Hinterberger and Michi Wohlleben complete the first ground-up ascent of the Ultima Perla mixed line. From December 27th to 29th they climbed the complex and imposing north face of Monte Agnèr. To get to the icefall in the upper section of the wall, the trio climbed the Messner/Holzer - a route that had only been climbed once in winter.

At the end of November 2023, Nicola Bertoldo and Diego Dellai caused a stir when they created the spectacular ice cream and mixed line at Monte Agnèr Ultima Pearl first committed. To get to the breathtaking ice formation, they rappelled down from the summit. Almost a month later, it's the turn of the three alpinists and mountain guides Luke Hinterberger, Michi Wohlleben and Simon Gietl managed to walk the line from below. They spent three days and two exposed bivouacs on the steep north face of Agnèr.

If you look up the wall 2000 meters high from the valley and see the waterfall towering above, then it is relatively impressive and also a bit frightening.

Michi Wohlleben
Steep, exposed, complex: The north face of Monte Agnèr. Image: Simon Gietl, Lukas Hinterberger and Michi Wohlleben
Steep, exposed, complex: The north face of Monte Agnèr.

Complex route finding, persistently challenging climbing

The plan of the strong trio from Switzerland, Germany and South Tyrol was quickly decided: via the Messner/Holzer route, which was first taken in winter, to the icefall and then via the Ultima Perla to the summit of Monte Agnèr.

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The implementation of this huge project challenged the three professional alpinists on very different levels. “One of the biggest difficulties on a tour like this is getting started mentally,” says Michi Wohlleben. If you look up from the valley at 2000 meters and see the waterfall towering above, it is relatively impressive and also a bit frightening.

What really surprised me was the steepness of the Agnèr north face. Normally, walls that have snow in them are often not as steep as they look, but at Agnèr there was also snow on the 70 degree steep slabs. 

Luke Hinterberger
Simon Gietl in the steep slabs in front of Ultima Perla. Image: Michi Wohlleben and Lukas Hinterberger
Simon Gietl in the steep slabs before the entrance to Ultima Perla.

Added to this was the complex route finding on the large north face. “We found an old snag at 800 meters in the Messner/Holzer,” says Simon Gietl. Michi Wohlleben adds that the route is relatively easy to find in summer because it is the path of least resistance. "On site, the beginning and the part after the band turned out to be rather complicated. We had a mess, there were two options, I climbed the wrong one, but then I noticed it pretty quickly in very bad terrain."

The three alpinists remember the slabs before they entered the ice lengths as very demanding – both in terms of climbing technology and in terms of safety. A mental challenge not just for the beginner.

The stands weren't particularly good and the security was poor, so you can imagine what's going through your head.

Michi Wohlleben

One of the most spectacular ice lines in the Dolomites

The three mountain guides could already see from below that the Ultima Perla waterfall had significantly reduced in thickness and had suffered from the warm temperatures of the Christmas season. An assessment that proved true at the start. “The lowest part of the icefall was no longer climbable or too dangerous because it was detached and dried out,” says Lukas Hinterberger. They therefore overcome this point using technical climbing on the ice/rock boundary.

Because the warm temperatures had taken their toll on the ice, the first two pitches were a lot more demanding than the first climbers had rated.

Simon Gietl

Simon Gietl enthuses that the rest was great to climb. «This ice line is definitely one of the largest and most spectacular in the Dolomites.

Powerful rope team

The three mountain guides and professional alpinists were on the mountain in this combination for the first time, but they hit it off straight away. “Simon and I only knew each other through hearsay,” says Lukas Hinterberger. With Gietl's calm and motivating manner, combined with his South Tyrolean charm, nothing could have gone wrong. In addition to the interpersonal aspects, the people from Eastern Switzerland were also impressed by the South Tyrolean's craftsmanship.

«Simon finds good placements incredibly quickly. Sometimes he would hit the dirt or soft rock with the hammer somewhere and find an hourglass to secure it.”

Luke Hinterberger
Exposed and cuddly narrow: bivouac on the Agnèr north face. Image: Simon Gietl, Michi Wohlleben and Lukas Hinterberger
Exposed and cuddly narrow: bivouac on the Agnèr north face.

Michi Wohlleben was also in good spirits right from the start. «I get along completely with Lukas and the battlement traverse worked well with Simon. What could go wrong?" In addition, their humor helped them through the long and extremely tight nights that they felt like they spent stacked on top of each other.

Simon Gietl summarizes the adventure on the Agnèr north face as follows: “Climbing the almost 30 pitches of the Messner/Holzer to get to the icefall and having to bivouac twice is quite unique.”

I couldn't have ended the year better than being able to climb such a unique line in this wonderful setting.

Simon Gietl
Ultima Perla Ground Up: The route of Lukas Hinterberger, Simon Gietl and Michi Wohlleben through the north face of Monte Agnèr.
Ultima Perla Ground Up: The route of Lukas Hinterberger, Simon Gietl and Michi Wohlleben through the north face of Monte Agnèr.

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Credits: Cover photo and images in the article Luke Hinterberger, Simon Gietl, Michi Wohlleben

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