Christoph Schranz establishes a 300-meter 8c (5.14b), ground up, in the Tyrolean Alps

Posted on: September 2, 2021


Christoph Schranz on the approach to the Kolosseum wall of Hohe Mund in the Tyrolean Alps. [Photo] Johannes Mair / Alpsolut PicturesChristoph Schranz on the approach to the Kolosseum wall of Hohe Mund in the Tyrolean Alps. [Photo] Johannes Mair / Alpsolut Pictures

On May 8, Christoph Schranz—a 30-year-old climber and IFMGA guide from Tyrol, Austria—freed a 300-meter, seven-pitch route that he had established ground up and rope solo over 20 days spread across three years before his recent one-day redpoint ascent with support from partners. Ocha-Schau-Schuich (8c [5.14b], 300m) is located on the Kolosseum wall of Hohe Munde, what Schranz called "the heart of the Tyrolean Alps." Every pitch on the route is at least 7a (5.11d) or harder, with four of the seven pitches clocking in harder than 7c+ (5.13a).

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Schranz began working Ocha-Schau-Schuich in 2018 to train for an upcoming trip to Patagonia, but it quickly became apparent that the route would be a worthwhile and difficult endeavor in and of itself. His progress was slow—sometimes as little as 5 meters a day—largely because of a strict adherence to local ethics, and the precedent set by Bernhard Hangl, who has established a number of routes on the wall up to 8b (5.13d).

"After many first ascents in the Wetterstein mountain range (particularly in Schusselkar), I became aware of the Kolosseum in 2005," Hangl told me via email. "The concave shape and the relentless exposure, especially in the middle section, fascinated me so much that I opened many new routes in the following years."

The red line shows Schranz's seven-pitch route Ocha-Schau-Schuich (8c [5.14b], 300m), which he established first as a ground-up rope solo, with mandatory sections of free climbing up to 8a (5.13b) over 20 days before freeing the entire line in a day with support from partners. [Image] Christoph Schranz / Johannes Mair / Alpsolut PicturesThe red line shows Schranz's seven-pitch route Ocha-Schau-Schuich ("Fear of Heights": 8c [5.14b], 300m), which he established first as a ground-up rope solo, with mandatory sections of free climbing up to 8a (5.13b) over 20 days before freeing the entire line in a day with support from partners. [Image] Christoph Schranz / Johannes Mair / Alpsolut Pictures

Hangl explained that he followed the traditional ethic of keeping the lines entirely independent of each other and establishing the routes ground up.

"To practice a good style is absolutely important as a first ascender," Hangl said, "to encourage other climbers to develop alpine routes only from below, to avoid crossing other routes if somehow possible and to leave space between the pitons for some adventure."

In keeping with Hangl's example, Schranz climbed unprotected sections of mandatory free climbing up to 8a (5.13b) during his rope-solo effort. He didn't preview any sections on toprope, made all upward progress through free climbing, and didn't drill any two bolts consecutively.

Schranz enters the roof crack on his free ascent on May 26. [Photo] Johannes Mair / Alpsolut PicturesSchranz enters the roof crack on his free ascent on May 26. [Photo] Johannes Mair / Alpsolut Pictures

"That means I placed a bolt, bouldered a hard sequence, tried to attach myself using a [hook or other piece of protection], pulled the tagline up, and placed another bolt," Schranz explained. "For some sequences [this] took me a whole day."

Schranz placed roughly 40 protection bolts on the route (an average of a little less than six per pitch, or one every 7.5 meters, approximately 25 feet). He finally topped out the route on May 26, 2020, after 20 days of effort spread out over two years. He used fixed ropes to regain his high point each day that he returned to the wall.

"Reaching the top, of course, was satisfying," he wrote via email, "but the final goal, to redpoint all the hard sequences, seemed impossible to me [at the time]. I needed much more specific training for rock climbing."

For Schranz, that meant a lot less focus on expeditions and big wall climbing. But when the COVID-19 pandemic canceled all his professional and private travel plans, it was an easy decision to pivot and focus his training on hard free climbing.

"I climbed a lot of very different routes, and areas, to meet the requirements of the project," he said. "You have to climb a number of steep pitches with incredible exposure. One of them is a roof with a perfect crack, climbed on gear—which is very special for limestone. Another pitch contains very demanding face climbing on micro holds. Additionally, some old school slab climbing with creepy protection needs to be climbed."

After training for months, Schranz returned on May 8, 2021, with his girlfriend Michaela "Micha" Koller, and his friends Egon Egger and Markus Karle, to free the route. He succeeded in an integral one-day redpoint ascent, leading every pitch free, with Koller belaying.

Schranz resting on a portaledge with Michaela Koller, who belayed him on the free ascent. [Photo] Johannes Mair / Alpsolut PicturesSchranz resting on a portaledge with Michaela Koller, who belayed him on the free ascent. [Photo] Johannes Mair / Alpsolut Pictures

Ultimately it took him 11 attempts with the aforementioned partners to achieve the full redpoint.

"I did my first tries (three days) in late spring 2020," he told Alpinist. "I had a break during the summer guiding season and after regaining my fitness level I continued trying in autumn (four days). After winter break I spent four days on the route to finally redpoint."

Schranz higher on the route. [Photo] Johannes Mair / Alpsolut PicturesSchranz higher on the route. [Photo] Johannes Mair / Alpsolut Pictures

Schranz' route is the latest (and most difficult) of the seven routes on the wall, all of which are unique lines. While Schranz believes there is potential for more climbs, he doesn't think it will be easy. The approach is long and arduous, including quite a bit of fifth-class scrambling in a gully that can be dangerous during heavy rain. More importantly, Schranz emphasized that "it's essential for future generations, but also to honor previous [first ascensionists], to continue the opening style that is typical for the area. Any opener of a route here should talk to the main opener (Hangl) and respect the ethics."

"I am particularly pleased that Christoph Schranz was able to realize his project in the same, certainly far more demanding, style," Hangl wrote. "To create a route of difficulties up to 8c in the practiced style is already something very special and to be considered an absolute highlight."

The name Ocha-Schau-Schuich comes from Schranz' native tongue—a dialect of Austrian German called Tyrolean—and means "Fear of Heights." Any future route openers in the Kolosseum will surely need to employ some creativity, as well as a healthy tolerance for their own personal Ocha-Schau-Schuich.

Christoph Schranz. [Photo] Johannes Mair / Alpsolut PicturesChristoph Schranz. [Photo] Johannes Mair / Alpsolut Pictures

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