Professional indignant: Stefan Glowacz criticizes first climber for setting up from above

The Multi-pitch tour by professional climbers on the Riffelkopf is causing heated debates. It is not so much the route itself that is the subject of discussion, but the fact that it was opened from above. Stefan Glowacz thinks that is completely unacceptable. The developers Dörte Pietron and Daniel Gebel see things differently. We spoke to both parties.

Am Riffelkopf im Wetterstein Mountains the famous climbing couple Daniel Gebel and Doerte Pietron a new multi-pitch route and later free climbed it. The fact that they drilled their line Profiemrörer from above is a Stefan Glowacz incomprehensible.

The professional climber then launched a debate on his social media channels about the style of climbing alpine routes, but Daniel Gebel and Dörte Pietron did not join in. That is why we asked both parties for a statement for this article.

We would also like to invite you to contribute constructive contributions to the topic in the comments column at the end of the article.

Stefan Glowacz has a clear opinion when it comes to first ascents of alpine routes: the only way to get up is from below. Image: Tim Glowacz | Red Bull Content Pool
Stefan Glowacz has a clear opinion when it comes to first ascents of alpine routes: the only way to get up is from below. Image: Tim Glowacz | Red Bull Content Pool

Contrary to common practice

Stefan Glowacz's main criticism in the Profiempörer case concerns the climbing style, i.e. that the route was drilled from above.

In the Wetterstein Mountains, it is tradition that the first ascents are made from below. 

Stefan Glowacz

"I would like to point out here that Dörte and Daniel have already set up some routes in the Höllental from below," Glowacz continues. "They must be great routes, with the highest levels of difficulty. That's why I'm all the more surprised that they drilled the Profiempörer route from above."

It is common practice in mountaineering that alpine routes are first ascended from below - an unwritten law, so to speak. The DAV, for example, writes in its guidelines for first ascents under point 5: "First ascents of alpine routes are always carried out from below." Of course, not only Stefan Glowacz knows this, but also mountain guide Daniel Gebel and top alpinist Dörte Pietron.

A question of weighting: process vs. result

They explain why they decided against the common practice as follows: "The wall in which the line lies has no clear structures or systems. You could climb anywhere and nowhere."

dörte pietron and daniel gebel_photographer ralf dujmovits
Dörte Pietron and Daniel Gebel at the Mountain Guides World Championship in Sport Climbing. (Photo Ralf Dujmovits).

Our concern was that if we came from below, we would climb into a dead end somewhere and then have to relocate the line.

Dörte Pietron and Daniel Gebel

"We wanted to find the optimal route with as homogeneous a difficulty as possible. Last but not least, we also wanted to experience setting up a tour like this from above in order to test the hypothesis that this would produce a better result. We have found that developing from below is more fun and more of an adventure for the first climbers. But that alone would be a very selfish view."

We consider the result to be more relevant than the process.

Dörte Pietron and Daniel Gebel
Daniel Gebel setting up a new tour. (Image zVg)
Daniel Gebel setting up a new tour. (Image zVg)

"If someone heroically climbs up a wall in a chaotic line through poor rock and with bad and incorrectly placed hooks, then the process may have been ethically exemplary, but the result will probably be manageable. If someone in difficult-to-assess terrain prefers to take a close look at the situation from above, then checks it out from above if you like, drills it, gets the line perfectly, places all the hooks exactly right, then I think the result is more important to me than the process."

The process is the ego moment of the developer.

Dörte Pietron and Daniel Gebel

"Nobody else will benefit from it afterwards. It belongs to the first person to climb it. And he can then think about what is more important to him - the process or the result."

Dörte Pietron at her favorite cliff
Dörte Pietron at her favorite cliff. (Image courtesy)

Role model function and the risk of repetition by imitators

In his answers, Stefan Glowacz repeatedly expresses respect for the climbing couple and the alpine routes they have opened up in lead climbing. Nevertheless, he points out that they are role models, particularly because of their media presence and reputation in the climbing scene - Dörte, for example, leads the women's expedition squad at the DAV:

If the route of professional indignation does not remain an isolated case, there will be imitators and then this process will be unstoppable.

Stefan Glowacz

By process, Glowacz means developments such as those in sport climbing, which he believes also threaten alpine climbing: "I grew up as a sport climber in a time when first ascenders of sport climbing routes used to take hold like wild ones. If they were not able to climb the route, the holds and footholds were adapted to suit the current level of ability.

This took on grotesque features until the climbers themselves realised that they had maneuvered themselves into a dead end and that no improvement in performance or development was possible in this form. It was the systematic destruction of potential projects for the next, more capable generation of climbers. For me, drilling alpine routes from above has a similar dimension.»

Dörte Pietron (right) with the current women's expedition squad. Photo: DAV/Philipp Abels
Dörte Pietron (right) with the current women's expedition squad. Photo: DAV/Philipp Abels

Dörte Pietron and Daniel Gebel do not see the "gentlemen's agreement" for setting up alpine routes in danger because of their exception for professional climbers:

Developing from above is pure work. No fun, no adventure, no glory. Pure service. Unpaid.

Dörte Pietron and Daniel Gebel

"It doesn't sound like a description of an activity suitable for the masses. But in exceptional situations it can lead to a better result," is her opinion.

The two are very aware of their role as role models: "That's why we think very carefully about what we do and how we do it." In training courses such as the expedition squad, the point "from above" or "from below" is not even addressed, especially since "from above" is not an option at all. "The aim of the training is to climb mountains in expedition-style. To do this, the participants have to learn how to climb from below for the first time."

Different attitudes when climbing for the first time

Stefan Glowacz, Dörte Pietron and Daniel Gebel agree that rock is a scarce resource and that new routes should therefore be opened with caution. However, opinions differ when it comes to the focus. The climbing couple encourages people to keep potential repeaters in mind when making first ascents:

«Think carefully about which lines are really an asset. Think about who the repeaters will be. Open up the route for the repeaters and not for your ego. If you notice that you have placed a hook incorrectly or too few – repair it. If necessary, remove hooks in such a way that no remains remain visible. Use durable material.

For us it is less about whether it is from above or below, but rather about the paradigm shift of clientele-oriented routes, commitment to repeat climbers, careful use of resources, perfect hook material vs. the first climber has every right to his line, the heroic act of the first ascent from below, the more deadly the more glory…»

Stefan Glowacz during a first ascent in Turkey. Image: Tim Glowacz | Red Bull Content Pool
Stefan Glowacz during a first ascent in Turkey. Image: Tim Glowacz | Red Bull Content Pool

Stefan Glowacz sees the first ascent as an individual confrontation with himself and the wall: "A Ground Up first ascent requires so much more than just being able to climb well. It's about the aesthetics, drawing a line in the rock with a first ascent based only on the climbable structures that will last forever. That requires a lot of experience, creativity and an honest assessment of your personal abilities."

There is hardly a more exciting moment in climbing than climbing into a sea of ​​rock on a ground up first ascent without knowing what to expect.

Stefan Glowacz

"This requires courage and determination, is associated with a constant up and down of emotions and, at the end, with an indescribable satisfaction. If a route were to be set up from above, a large part of it would be lost and the first climber would become the first to repeat his own route."

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Credits: Cover photo Tim Glowacz | Red Bull Content Pool

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28 comments

  1. In my opinion, the two first climbers are right: only the result counts. In our current era of equality, free thought and the expression of personal inclinations, the word tradition is rather difficult to define. In the past, we all had to wear baggy trousers when hiking in the mountains - because that's what you do, out of tradition...
    Well, this is a multi-pitch sport climbing route, so in my opinion it doesn't matter how you bolt the route, whether from above, below or across. The hooks have to be securely placed.

    • How can you deprive yourself of the best part of a first ascent: the crackling uncertainty of a possible route, which you sometimes maintain for years to come. From ABOVE, it is no longer an alpine conquest, but rather carefully placed hooks in a wall that has been searched for in advance (according to your own ability level) with those sections of the wall selected that are appropriate for the aspiring first ascentist in his physical and psychological condition.
      It is not just the result of climbing that counts. The area was chosen from ABOVE for this purpose and thus robbed of the fact that it was a “piece of rock never before walked on by humans”. That is gone before I have even climbed it…
      Offering the best line to those who follow is an excuse; there could be people who will find the ideal line from below through better preparation (evaluation of the wall sections) and greater skill and who will be able to offer new generations of climbers even better improvements.
      Because these are ALPINE tours that climbers want to tackle and not prefabricated via ferratas.
      Wolfgang Schwarz Austria

      • But trying to tell other people how they should or shouldn't do something is also wrong. The mountains don't just belong to the elite, or those who see themselves as such. I understand that setting up a route from below is a different experience than from above and that it has a special appeal. Nevertheless, people should mind their own business and not constantly look for mistakes in others. This can be seen in many areas, especially these days.
        Glowacz sounds more and more like a bitter old man who can't cope with new times and aging. I would like to belittle everything he has achieved and accomplished, but that simply doesn't give him the right to judge like that. Similar things have been observed in other areas.

        • Such a patch of earth is a rock face that is unique and should therefore not be "worked on" in any way, because it belongs to everyone who still wants to make first ascents using "fair means". And it does not belong to the elite either, but only they can use the piece of rock, because it differs from, for example, via ferrata climbers through hard training and willpower.
          Such a piece of rock was first climbed alone by Paul Preuß on the Donnerkogel (Gosaukamm) more than 100 years ago. Today, a via ferrata runs exactly along this route, where people pull themselves up using steel cables and iron steps - the so-called ladder to heaven! It is no longer accessible to climbers.
          Yes, everyone is free and can do anything, not just the elite? I hope Stefan (who you call an old man) allows you to give him some water...

  2. With this explanation, I consider the two of them to be real pioneers in climbing. A synthesis of old and new. Congratulations!

  3. Sportherz in the Wilder Kaiser was also first climbed a long time ago, even by a man from Hesse (Saupreiß:-)). It has since been renovated and is one of the most popular MP in the Kaiser without an avalanche of development starting from above.
    All styles should have their place.
    And I think Professional Insurrectionist is a great name ;-).

  4. Since not all mountains can be accessed from above due to their difficulty (except with technical aids such as being dropped off by helicopter), I have to agree with Stefan 100%, the mountains should be accessed from below!

    • Since all mountains can be drilled up from below (see the compressor route on Cerro Torre by Maestri), unfortunately this cannot be determined.

  5. First ascents are set up/drilled from below, developments can also be drilled from above, but are not first ascents!!! Multi-pitch routes should be developed from below, but there is enough rock for everyone, and many enjoy these tours. Stay cool and climb on

  6. How about this:
    Climbers who have mastered the 8th grade are only allowed to bolt routes from the 8th grade upwards. Climbers in the 10th grade are only allowed to bolt routes from the 10th grade upwards, etc.

    My thoughts on this: When 8th grade climbers set up routes in grade 5, it often becomes harakiri for 5th grade climbers. Logically, with a 5th grade move 7 meters above the last protection, an 8th grade climber hardly demands this. For 5th grade tourists, however, it then becomes a turning point, depending on the situation.
    Adding additional equipment later (top rope!) is also ethically questionable, as a discussion launched here recently attempted to demonstrate...

    If I drill from the cliff while leading, I have already lost the onsight of my own creation and will only be a repeater later. And there are also areas in which routes have been set up from below, alpine, following the "natural lines". Zig-zag and one route covers an entire wall...
    Now I'm faced with two new style dilemmas: firstly, can a new line cross an old, existing one? Can I use the old line and use it to create sport climbing on the top rock below?

    I think that you can also honor a great piece of rock from above with a carefully thought-out line and leave a worthwhile undertaking for subsequent rope teams. This also requires a lot of experience and commitment. As a repeat climber, I only get a limited insight into the heroic deed at the limit of the first climber, since I already have information about the route.

  7. Drilling a MSL route from above is not a first ascent, but the creation of a sports equipment.
    Not an adventurous achievement for me!!!
    Only those who conquer the land below should be the first to climb/open up such tours – see Ethik Elbsandstein.
    If you don't have balls, don't do it!!!

    • Climbing is not just an adventure, it is also a sport. The ethics of the Elbe Sandstone are not valid beyond the borders of that. I don't really understand what all this has to do with eggs.

  8. All those who think that it is too safe should just leave out the bolts and because of tradition, then they should climb with hemp ropes around their stomachs because of tradition, then where would they use cams etc.

  9. It's a shame that two alpinists of their caliber are resorting to the worst possible style. In my opinion, drilling from above is a dead end for alpinism, as it closes off touring opportunities for the next stronger generation. I also cannot understand their argument that they might get lost in this part of the wall and need several attempts to get through. Isn't it the art of the first ascent to find the best route under difficult circumstances and moral strain?! But it is somehow a reflection of our times to look for the quick route to success and to avoid possible adversities or "worse" (temporary) failure at all costs. Real challenge and progressive alpinism look different. It's a shame, actually...

  10. "Development from above is pure work. No fun, no adventure, no glory. Pure service. Unpaid."
    Then it would probably be in both parties' interest that something like that simply isn't done, right?

  11. I advocate not thinking of the sub-disciplines of mountain sports in a hierarchical manner (bouldering -> climbing garden -> Tannheimer Alps -> Wetterstein -> Dolomites – Chamonix -> mountains of the world), but rather viewing them as equal within mountain sports.
    Even in ball sports, no one would think of using the foot, hand or hockey stick as the only true way to move the ball. In skiing, it would be surprising if downhill skiers, slalom skiers, cross-country skiers or ski jumpers attacked each other in this way.
    I wish for respect for other athletes and their sports.

    PS: The route “throwing pearls before swine” was also a taboo break.

  12. I think drilling from above allows for more sensible route guidance and hook positions. All in all, a better line for repeaters. Isn't it heroic how the developers give up their own onsight in order to offer repeaters a better experience and to make the best possible use of the limited rock resource? In contrast: Maestri's compressor route on Cerro Torre, which was developed from below, is really mean. Drilled from below but very disrespectful. If you really want adventure and want to conquer the mountain, you should climb clean/trad. If a tour doesn't work out, then the mountain was probably too strong or you were too weak 😉

  13. I don't know if someone like Stefan Glowacz should really throw stones here. I remember a film about an expedition where the first attempt is from below and the second attempt is by helicopter and then abseiling...
    Ultimately, the result is what matters. Relatively consistent difficulty, appropriate protection. No repeater will ask whether it was drilled from above or below. When drilling from below, it often happens that the key sections are compulsory to climb and often significantly above the hook. That may be in line with pure teaching, but it doesn't really encourage repetition.

  14. Stefan, Dörte and I had a long discussion about opening up MSL routes in the Hotel Steingletscher in August 2022. Stefan's statement that day was literally: "I don't give a damn about repeaters, this is my tour and I can do what I want." I can understand the statement in two respects: Stefan was the first to climb many routes at a time when rock was endless compared to the number of climbers. Secondly, his view is absolutely permissible within the framework of the usual climbing ethics - the tour belongs to the developer.
    We felt that if this is part of our ethics, we no longer want to share it because the framework conditions are increasingly changing.
    As some of you have already correctly noted, you can only climb a route once, but you can repeat it a thousand times. We therefore think it would be nice if the next generation of explorers would not focus on their own personal adventure and fame, but rather on the experience of repeat climbers. Whether that happens from above or below is of secondary interest to us, as long as it is a beautiful route and it is set up appropriately.

  15. Dörte Pietron and Daniel Gebel put it in a nutshell: “process vs. result”. You could also say “first-time user benefit vs. repeat user benefit”.

    A route climbed from below - by that I don't mean that the next bolt is placed using a foot loop from the last one - certainly has a much higher sporting value for the first climber. But the route and the positioning of the securing points do not primarily follow the optimal clip position, safety considerations or necessarily the best climbing line, but to a certain extent the requirements for the placement of technical aids in the rock.

    Those who set up from above have other options to combine the best line with adequate security.

    Stefan Glowacz's line of argument is clearly focused on the individual benefit and the mental and technical challenge for the first climber. At least from his wording, it is not clear that repeat climbers are taken into account.

    When repeating a route, the heroic or even ethically impeccable performance of the first climber – to put it mildly – ​​takes a back seat for me. What is more important is good rock, a great line and adequate protection.

    I cannot understand the comparison with the negative example of “artificial holds”, since the rock is not changed by accessing it from above and free climbing is not made technically easier as a result.

    And resorting to the mothballed argument of "destroying the projects of future generations" is at least open to discussion, because it is - once again - about the elite target group of a few top alpinists who will still find their routes - that's for sure. And it includes the determination that their interests are to be given greater weight than those of a broader group of climbers who can currently enjoy repeating the route.

    From the perspective of ambitious normal climbers, numerous projects have already been destroyed by climbing them once (from below), using inadequate equipment and then almost never being repeated or only "once in a blue moon" by proven experts. This aspect is not taken into account at all in the current discussion - in my opinion, wrongly, because it has a much wider impact.

  16. From the perspective of an active Elbe Sandstone climber and first ascentionist:
    We have a rule of thumb to develop from the bottom up. This has developed historically. Most of the time it is possible for it to be an adventure for the first climber AND for it to be a useful tour for repeaters. Because the undeveloped rock surface is getting smaller and the difficulty is increasing, unfortunately in some cases you end up in dead ends. If you had at least looked there beforehand, there would be a few less unnecessary holes in the rock. It also happens/happened again and again that the securing points (rings) are not ideal for climbing. This is because sometimes you cannot put the ring where it is needed when leading. All in all, however, these are always special cases and the majority of the community develops routes for their own adventure and with repeaters in mind. But there are also people who feel elitist when their first ascent is not repeated. This is of course a selfish approach given the limited resource of rock.

    We therefore handle it in such a way that a first ascent is reviewed by a committee of the mountaineering association and, if it is recognized, the first ascent becomes "common property". Of course, the name of the first climber and their style are forever linked to the route, but they created the route for the community. This gives us the opportunity to decide retrospectively as a community about things like subsequent securing or moving rings. The first climber has a say in this, but he is not the "owner" of this piece of rock and his creation. For this reason, the safety equipment is also subsidized by the association.

    Personally, even outside of the Elbe Sandstone, I look for a compromise between adventure from below and a great tour for posterity. Sometimes it works, sometimes you drill something with auxiliary hooks or from above, depending on the situation. Sometimes you "simply" set up a sport climbing route from above.

    Our sport is so individual and has so many facets, so well-considered decisions like those made by Daniel and Dörte are to be welcomed. In the end, it is always a generational conflict and how many have already predicted the demise of mountaineering/alpinism/climbing...

    “Tradition is like a lantern; the foolish cling to it, the wise man finds the way” (George Bernard Shaw)

  17. In my opinion, nothing needs to be developed any more. Natural areas where flora and fauna can develop undisturbed are increasingly in decline. Worldwide, species extinction is higher than ever. The question is whether the ego satisfaction of the first climbers can and should exceed the general interest of biodiversity. There is more than enough climbing on offer where every individual could let off steam for the rest of their life. If it is done at all, first development is mainly a service to future generations. On the subject of climbing ethics, I notice that it is often adopted without reflection. If such old legal texts were written in any law book, everyone would doubt them. When it comes to climbing ethics, this seems to be an irrefutable fact, based on unwritten rules that were drawn up over 100 years ago, at a time when "mountaineering" was founded. But a lot has changed since then. Not only in alpine sports themselves, but also in the environment in which they take place. Another question, namely the legitimacy of the establishment of rules, must also be asked, because alpine sports do not take place in empty space or in a “dead environment”, but in nature, of which we mountain sports enthusiasts and we humans are only ONE part.

  18. We live in a time in which individualism is often confused with egoism.
    Unfortunately, my generation started it.
    Establishing a route with more rope lengths from above is not a first ascent but a first rope ascent.
    Failing and possibly changing the route is part of the nature of a first ascent.
    Since I have had little to no interest in the so-called scene for 40 years, the two first climbers of this route are unknown to me. Since climbing has now become a lifestyle sport with all the negative consequences, opinion leaders in particular should be particularly careful about the actions they take. The mountains and nature do not belong to us, we have merely borrowed them from the next generations and should leave enough opportunities for climbers who are creative and brave enough to develop them fairly to enjoy this extraordinary experience.

  19. Dörte and Daniel certainly meant well. Personally, however, I don't need such a "service". For me, as a repeat climber, the spirit of a route is at least as important as the beauty of the individual climbing moves. Why should I consume a synthetic product drilled from above when I can spend the same amount of time celebrating a real work of art by Kaspar Ochsner or Michel Piola? But mountaineering should develop wherever it wants and let people do what they want. That has worked quite well in our sport so far.

    • Yes, what can develop from this, or what already happened years ago, can be seen on the Donnerkogel in the Gosaukamm.
      More than 100 years ago, Paul Preuß was the first to climb a very beautiful grade 4 route on the Donnerkogel.
      Today, the Himmelsleiter via ferrata goes up exactly along his route, where people pull themselves up using ropes and steel steps.
      After many comments, everyone is allowed to do anything here. You can see where that leads at the Donnerkogel - cheers!

    • Based on the discussion here, I would like to say with a wink: “Everything does not always come down where it came up.”

      In the whole discussion, I have simply completely forgotten about normal climbers (let's say up to 6a). As far as I'm concerned, professional climbers can set up their routes however they want, with personal guidelines and self-limitations of all kinds. But then I also expect them, when they are older and no longer at their original top level, to stop climbing routes that are "sportingly worthless, of no standard and without spirit" and are bolted for the climbing rabble.
      I have already heard several times about “old fighters” who now labelled their former “heroic deeds” as nonsense due to a lack of experience, resources or excessive sportsmanship, and who again reached for the drill to correct their own “sins”…

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