Austrians Overcome X-rated Grade 7 Ice

Posted on: January 22, 2010


Centercourt (WI7+, 300m), Anlauftal, Valle di Gastein, Austria. Though the frighteningly steep and thin line had been eyed for years by ice master Hans Zlobl, it was not attempted until January 7, when Albert Leichtfried and Benedikt Purner made the first ascent. The route is now one of the world's hardest ice climbs, but the ascent is just one of three incredible achievements made in Valle di Gastein this month. [Photo] Albert Leichtfried

Two of the world's hardest ice climbs were established in Austria's Valle di Gastein this January. On the 4th, Austrians Rudolf Hauser, Alexander Holleis and Rupert Huber made the first integral ascent of Gamsstubenfall (WI7, 800m) in the Gasteinertal; three days later, Austrians Albert Leichtfried and Benedikt Purner made the first ascent of Centercourt (WI7+, 300m) in the nearby Anlauftal. The grade of Centercourt not only suggests that the climb is definitively Austria's hardest—it also puts it in a class of only a handful of WI7+ climbs worldwide, such as Second Choice in Norway and Leichtfried's other ice masterpiece, Senda Real in Chile.

Leichtfried, who has climbed about 50 ice routes with grades of WI6 or WI7, described Centercourt as "much harder... I can't imagine that there's another route which demands as much climbing ability as Centercourt."

Purner led Pitch 1, which immediately offered challenging WI6+ climbing and required creative Specter, Pecker and small-cam placements for protection. Leichtfried then climbed through a belay of C3s to the steep, 40-meter crux pitch. From below, it appeared to sport slivers of ice, barely attached, and only a couple bomber gear opportunities. The reality was far worse.

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As Leichtfried worked up the overhanging verglas, he found the pitch dire. Relying on three pieces of deplorable protection in the 40 feet before entering the crux, he decided a bolt was necessary. Barely hanging on his ax, Leichtfried spent fifteen minutes hand-drilling. He clipped the new bolt and forged upward through the steepest section of ice. In those hardest 50 feet above, he placed only one piece—a half-set 6cm stubby.

"Psychologically it almost felt like I was soloing it," he told planetmountain.com. "A fall from the difficult and extremely thin crux would have serious consequences and must be avoided at all costs."

In an email to Alpinist, he added: "What makes me a bit sad is that I could feel the close border between a very hard climb and a suicide mission."

Leichtfried, about to enter the crux of Centercourt. [Photo] Benedikt Purner

A solid screw above the crux stretch led a frazzled Leichtfried to the belay. The pair climbed three more pitches of easier ice—WI6, WI5, WI3—to the top of the wall without issue.

Gamsstubenfall, the nearby WI7 climbed just a few days before by Hauser, Holleis and Huber, also sported a deadly run out through the crux: a potential 120' fall onto an 8cm ice screw. The trio climbed the massive line, over 2,600' in height and considered one of Austria's last great icefalls, in an 11-hour push to make its first integral ascent.

As if that danger weren't harrowing enough, Hauser returned to the area on January 12 and free soloed Supervisor, a 270-meter WI6 that has long been an area testpiece. The sensational triumph took Hauser 100 minutes.

Sources: Albert Leichtfried, planetmountain.com

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