The Sharp End

Posted on: November 27, 2006


Jozef "Dodo" Kopold on a 2006 attempt on Cerro Torre's Compressor Route. Bad weather forced an end to the attempt, but the expedition was just a warmup for the Karakoram. [Photo] Gabo Cmarik

Alpinist readers first encountered Jozef "Dodo" Kopold in Issue 2, when he and three Slovakian teammates established a line on Castle Peak (ca. 6000m) in India's Miyar Valley. The two-time Slovakian drytooling champ has climbed significant routes in the Greater Ranges each year since, but it wasn't until 2005, when he and Gabo Cmarik blasted the ninety-pitch Assalam Alaikum (ABO: VII 5.11d A2, 2255m) on the south face of Great Trango Tower (6286m) that he emerged onto the world stage. Recently, the pair bagged another audacious ascent: Drastissima (ABO: VI AI6, 1900m), on the northwest face of Uli Biaho Tower (6109m). We caught up with Dodo as he was recovering from the effort in New Zealand.

What was it like learning to climb in Slovakia? We grew up in the High Tatras mountains, where there's an excellent winter-climbing specialty: frozen grass on steep walls. It's hard to climb, and harder to protect. This turf climbing provided our main training before we went to the Alps and the Himalaya.

Who were your early influences? When I grew up, there were many good mountaineers in Czechoslovakia, but now people mostly sport climb. A lot of the young climbers are talented, but they're afraid of huge objectives. When I was younger, I wanted to climb where others turned back—beyond the limits of safety. My first expedition [a capsule-style effort on Castle Peak] with Slovakia's best climbers left me wanting more. The next year Ivan Stefansky and I came back and made an alpine-style first ascent of Mt. Mahindra (5845m) via Last-Minute Journey (ED: 90 degrees, 900m). This was my first real alpine-style climb in the Himalaya, and I realized that I don't like to work as hard and climb as slow as you need to in capsule style. The climb opened my eyes: we were alone, without communication or tents, as light as possible. And I enjoyed it immensely.

Tell us about your 2005 route on Great Trango Tower. Someone told us that the climb was beyond our abilities, but I think it was just the beginning of what we're able to climb. Gabo and I chose the line a few hours before starting up the wall. We didn't have a weather forecast. With no idea how long it would take, we brought only the most important equipment. During the climb we struggled with the extreme cold. The last three days we had no food. When we reached the summit ridge, avalanches threatened the normal descent; Gabo had altitude sickness, and he had started to lose his sight. We decided to rappel the 2300-meter Russian Route on the northwest face with just our rack and a few bolts. Today I think our chances of making it down alive were fifty-fifty. On the south face of Great Trango, there are now two routes. The American route (Azeem Ridge, VI 5.11 R/X M6 A2, 2200m, Cordes-Wharton, 2004) was in fact a culmination of a number of efforts; we climbed ours in one push, with no information.

How did Drastissima compare to Assalam Alaikum? Uli Biaho's northwest face was my secret dream. I knew it would be completely different from anything we had climbed before. We had to arrive early in the season to find the right conditions. Our idea was to climb the face in perfect style, in a single push, without bolts, as quickly as we could. To warm up, we climbed on Hainabrakk East and Shipton Spire. We had trained a lot on ice and mixed terrain, but Uli Biaho was something else: steep, heavy, unstable snow with no protection. It was very dangerous, particularly just below the summit. We were lucky to climb the line—the conditions were on the edge of climbability. Our experiences from Trango helped a lot: we knew what to take and how to be fast enough. And it's nice to have climbed routes on both these significant faces.

What's next? I've climbed with Gabo for the last two years, but our goals are different now. After Uli Biaho, Gabo dreams of a nice holiday; I'd like to apply my experiences at a higher altitude to huge new routes in alpine style. Who wants to join me?

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