On their flying visit to the Dolomites, the Swiss rope team Glatthard-Wahli was able to climb several major alpine classics with their onsight ascent of the Weg durch den Fisch, the Drei Zinnen crossing or the Magic Flute. In an interview, Yannick Glatthard talks about the feeling of climbing into the unknown, his fascination with winter ascents, and about flow and risk assessment.
The two mountain guides and alpinists Yannick Glatthard and Simon Wahli have known each other for half their lives. And even if they lost touch after spending time together in the training group in Interlaken, they have grown together again into a well-rehearsed rope team in recent years.
Yannick, you started your Dolomite trip in mid-February with a couple of decent ice and mixed lines. What have you climbed?
I had a few routes in mind including The diamond, an M11 tour of Kurt Astner. Unfortunately, the conditions there were not quite ideal. With Magic Flute in Langenthal and Via snowboard on the Piz Pordoi we were able to make some really nice classics. Now nothing extremely wild, but simply a must if you're there. In Reintal we could CrazyDiamond climb, another line of madness.
Photo gallery: Ice and mixed routes in the Dolomites
A little later you have crossed the three peaks in one day. Why did you choose the "unusual" variant from east to west?
For this project we were in close contact with Simon Gietl, who had already done the tour three times. once with Michi Wohlleben, once with Roger Schäli and once alone. He always went from west to east and recommended them to us as well. But we thought it would be super cool to try this in a different way. And I have to say: it was a tremendous experience. Certainly a highlight for me in alpine winter mountaineering.
Video: Simon Wahli explains the layout of the crossing of the battlements
What was the most challenging thing for you?
Making certain decisions and also finding your way. We had to improvise a bit on the original route on the large and western pinnacles due to too much snow and crossed diagonally from the saddle into the wall. Since there is no topos for these sections of the wall, the best possible alignment had to be found. This was certainly challenging for the head.
What role did temperature play?
Of course, moving in climbing finches at minus ten degrees and in the wind is challenging. But not only for the feet. If you held onto a tape with snow on it with your bare hands, you might get stuck two holds further because the moisture could freeze. You could literally buckle our trousers.
But I also have to say that I can handle the cold very well. Of course my feet sometimes hurt from the cold, but that's just part of mountaineering in winter. If something means a lot to you, then you put up with it if you have to.
What role does the rope team play for you on tours like this?
A very big one. Simon and I have a similar approach, often make the same decisions and just get along well. I have to feel comfortable with my rope partner and be able to rely on him - otherwise a project like this isn't even possible
How much planning goes into a project like the winter crossing of the Three Peaks?
Of course you don't just drive aimlessly into the Dolomites and see what you might like there. At home we thought about a few tours that we would like to tackle. We talked on the way there that it would be cool if the battlements worked. You only know whether a tour can finally be carried out when you are on site and can get an overview of the conditions.
Since mountaineering always involves several factors for an ascent, I think it's important not just to plan one project, but to be a bit spontaneous and implement those projects that are feasible. At the Way through the fish was that the case. We talked about it, but the project only became concrete once we had an insight into the route.
Good keyword, you climbed this alpine classic onsight in nine hours.
The route was already onsight climbed in 1992 and also committed solo. With 9 hours we were certainly not extremely fast, but the experience counts much more: We ran up in winter, it had snow, it was cold, the days are much shorter and you have to time the whole thing well. I just like to climb in winter.
Where does this preference come from?
Simon and I went to the in January 2020 angel horns. That's when we discovered the beauty of winter climbing for ourselves: With skis to get started, there's snow everywhere and you climb a south face and you're on your own. The whole valley is yours. I thought that was so cool as it's more complete. In the Marmolada it was similar.
But the way through the fish is not so easy, is it?
The Way through the fish is a must-climb route if you feel comfortable at this level. It's true that there isn't too much material in the route, the stands are usually all good. You should always check the existing hooks, because not all of them are really good anymore. The same applies to the hourglass slings - the sharp edges and the weather take their toll on the slings. Friends can often be used very well in the route and this is a must.
The 4-, 5-, and 6-man pitches are in challenging terrain - you mustn't fall. We also climbed some of the easier pitches simultaneously. In this way you can make quick progress, but you must not neglect the placements.
How did you experience the key length?
There is an old tricam with a sling. I don't know what to say about that either - it's half good and you're still four meters above it. But it's a single move that takes a bit of commitment - then it's over.
In your head you have to be ready for such things - but it's not like this move was full of risk. In such situations you simply pull yourself together even more because you don't want to provoke a departure under any circumstances.
Did you also have to wear it on the tour? Hansjörg Auer think who climbed this 950 meter high wall free solo?
I tried to empathize with what it must have been like for him. And I have to say: that is tremendous. Maintaining the tension over this length – after all, there are 1200 meters of climbing – is impressive. In addition to the key point, there are also external factors such as falling rocks, which create much more uncertainty than, for example, a tour on granite. There you have cracks, defined ridges and that's it. And when something breaks out, it's so big that there's no more wanting it anyway.
How quickly do you get into a flow on big tours like this?
I feel at home on big walls and during tours like on the battlements. It takes one or maybe two pitches and then I'm in the flow. But this does not mean that I only function and no longer perceive anything around me, on the contrary. When I'm in the flow, I'm relaxed and my climbing style becomes a bit more playful. I'm just happy and content when I climb.
Has that serenity at the sharp end of the rope always been there?
No, I can still remember the times at JO very well. As a child, it was a new drama every spring until I was able to climb again outside in the climbing garden. I also had a lot of trouble getting into a sling.
In addition, various accidents of friends and acquaintances have put a damper on me. I realized: hey, that could have happened to me too. But if I can really integrate myself into the rock and the route, then I can hide that really well.
What is your risk management when climbing?
I try to dose the risk with the amount, because the amount makes the poison. I like climbing routes like that Way through the fish and I like to be on the road at the same time, because you simply get ahead better and faster.
At the same time, this is the reason why we are talking about the Dolomites are back. We were able to do so many cool tours during the three weeks and everything always went smoothly. I think it's important to remember when it's time to go home and relax.
If you just keep going, these tours lose a bit of their value for me. Suddenly they are just a number. I'm not willing to do tour after tour for an extended period of time without being thankful that everything is going well.
What does the onsight walk through the fish mean to you?
Getting through a project is always an incredible feeling. Andrea Milani, a friend of ours who is aspiring mountain guide from the Dolomites, brought us the skis as well as tea and chocolate to the summit - that was just brilliant. We then left the Marmolada together, ate a delicious pizza and drank a few beers. I can't imagine a nicer end to a stay in the Dolomites!
How do you deal with it when things don't go as planned?
The competition experience helps me a lot when dealing with defeats. During a competition, months of preparation have to be delivered within a few minutes. There's pressure because if you don't do your best, it was all for naught. Well, it's never for nothing, because you always learn something new from a defeat: sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.
When it comes to mountaineering, many other factors come into play, such as the conditions, the weather and, of course, the team. And compared to competitive climbing, you can decide for yourself when to go. Sure, there will be defeats, but the mountains won't run away. And as long as you're safe at home, you've won anyway. That's absolutely the most important thing, and as a mountaineer you're allowed to communicate and say that.
Yannick Glatthard and Simon Wahli's ticklist
- The octopus, M6 Wi5+
- Via snowboard, WI4+
- Magic Flute, M9 WI5
- CrazyDiamond M8 +
- river dance, M9+WI5
- exceeding the Three Peaks from east to west in 11 hours
- Onsight inspection of Way through the fish (7b+) in 9 hours
That might interest you
- Film of the first female ascent of "Weg durch den Fisch"
- Details of the solo tour on the Three Peaks by Simon Gietl
- Dani Arnold sets speed record in the Comici-Dimai route on the Great Battlement
Do you like our climbing magazine? When we launched LACRUX, we decided not to introduce a payment barrier. It will stay that way, because we want to provide as many like-minded people with news from the climbing scene.
In order to be more independent of advertising revenue in the future and to provide you with even more and better content, we need your support.
Therefore: Help and support our magazine with a small contribution. Naturally you benefit multiple times. How? You will find out here.
+ + +
Credit: Cover picture Yannick Glatthard