„I TOOK IT AS A CELEBRATORY DAY, SO I DRESSED ACCORDINGLY. DURING SOLOING, YOU CLIMB LIKE YOU’RE DANCING. YOU’RE GRACEFUL AND YOU’RE ENGAGING A LOT OF FOCUS AND SENSES. „SO I CHOSE MY WHITE HEMP SHIRT…“ ANTON SCHRÖTER DANCED CLOSE TO HIS LIMIT…
TEXT: STANDA „SANY“ MITÁČ PHOTO: MIKA JACOB, JOHANNA FRICKE, AUGUSTIN WENZEL, REINHOLD GEIPEL, GREGOR SCHRÖTER, ANTON SCHRÖTER ARCHIVE, BERND ARNOLD ARCHIVE TRANSLATION: STANDA MITÁČ, BARBORA SOJKOVÁ | JUNE 2023
TO ENTRUST LIFE TO THE SANDSTONE
Tick off 12 Meisterwegs in a single day. That alone would be enough for a big article. In the days of the East Germany, the way it worked was that whoever climbed 12 of them in a whole year received a „master class“ in climbing. To collect them in just one day, that’s something.
Anton Schröter climbed 12 of them on the penultimate day of May 2023, but with one difference that took this feat to another level: he climbed them without a rope… Is that even possible? (Those who need more context can find Alešák’s article on Meisterwegs here, ed.) In one sentence – in the 1970s, a list of the most difficult Saxon sandstone routes was created, mostly spectacular ones that combined physical and mental difficulties. By the way, Anton did not choose the easiest ones for his project…
„Er hat etwa 12 Routen geklettert. Solo.“ When the author of the article picked up this news as a whisper in the rocks, he took it with a grain of salt for a few days. Was there a linguistic misunderstanding? Some people sometimes confuse the terms „free climbing“ and „free soloing“. But then he contacted Anton and saw the photos. The rope is indeed missing, which is a massacre.
What to say about it? In terms of classic sandstone climbing, it’s probably the craziest free solo ever. And it’s a feat that stands up in a global context…
Comparisons with Alex Honnold and his solo „Freerider“ (7c+, 880m) are more daring but not completely off the mark. Anton also climbed almost 800 meters in a day. To do this, he had to deal with another mental aspect – switching his focus on and off. He abseiled the towers with a supportive team of friends, chatting together, moving together, having snacks… During this he had to switch back into 100% concentration mode several times. It was different than climbing one route and being fully focused on it all the time. Thirteen routes also means thirteen crux sections. Sure, the biggest difficulties amounted to „only“ French 7a but the main difference is that the sandstone is not the hard granite of Yosemite – some holds break unexpectedly from time to time.
Furthermore, in Saxony one climbs without chalk which in itself makes the situation very difficult for the soloist. In the dry conditions that Anton picked up, it wasn’t so much about sweaty hands, but rather about the fact that the climber can’t tickmark holds in the crux sections. Here, one is still climbing partly onsight. As even Anton admits in the interview, he had to improvise a lot… And not everywhere he looked like Alex Honnold machine. He made a mistake on „Ostrisse“ (VIIIc) where he grabbed a fixed sling. He didn’t count the route, so he climbed an extra one in the dark.
Just to get acquainted – Anton is 24 years old and studying his fourth year of medicine in Dresden, where he moved a year and a half ago. How do you combine medicine and sandstone climbing? „If you go climbing in Elbe Sandstones, you can study on the train,“ he laughs. In recent days, he has been visiting friends in Jena, where he started his studies. He has partied a bit and hasn’t climbed for about a week. „After such a big day, I needed some rest… But I’m starting to look forward to Saxony again – so maybe next week it will work out when the rain stops. Rain is good for nature, but it’s worse for the north faces,“ says the blond boy who was taken to the crags by his parents from a young age. His father first tied him to the second end of the rope when he was five.
In the past weeks it was so dry that you could climb basically everywhere… Did you have to wait long for the condition? Yes, more or less two years. That was the first time I climbed 12 Meisterwegs in one day – together with my friend Martin Trieber. Normally, with a rope and we picked up all the routes at Schrammsteine. It was a great feeling. After a whole day of climbing, my energy never left me and that very evening I thought that maybe I could do it without a rope. Leave less room for error… During the past two years I’ve climbed solo a bit, and I even climbed some Meisterwegs without a rope… And in the last two months the thought was running through my head: „Hey, it’s definitely possible to do this.“ But I still needed to try about seven more routes… After climbing each of them solo, I knew I was in for a treat in the next few weeks… I felt good. I’ve also been dealing with a finger injury for the past two months, so I couldn’t climb the harder stuff – routes graded Xa (7b+ fr.) and harder. So instead, I was able to focus more on these „mental games“. It was good timing – it was a rest for my fingers and good exercise for my mind.
Your big day fell on May 30… Yes, Monday 29 May was a public holiday in Germany, so there were a lot of people in the rocks. I can’t imagine trying something like that during a holiday. (laughs) Tuesday was great – it was quite warm but everything was beautifully dry. In the past years, I’ve sometimes climbed routes that weren’t completely dry, and about three times I’ve unexpectedly broken some holds. Even when the sandstone is dry on the surface, it can still be a little wet inside. So for a solo day like this, you need to have everything perfectly dry.
Why did you choose these particular 12 routes? I had a lot of different reasons. First: I needed a combination of east, north and west faces so I could always climb in the shade. I started climbing at six o’clock in the morning on the east face of the Teufelsturm, when the sun was not yet strong. Then I moved on to the Ostervorturm and so on.
Second: I wanted nice routes that are pretty to look at and inspire you… Like „Talseite“ (IXa) on Schwager, any route on Teufelsturm, or „Direkte Westkante“ (VIIIb) on Falkenstein: seventy meters straight up – unreal. Lots of air right under your butt… I love aesthetic routes and all of the choices fulfilled that…
Third: I know that cracks are best for soloing, whereas friction moves can feel quite uncertain. For example, one of them is ironically in „Ostrisse – Untere Variante“ (VIIIc) under the second ring bolt. I’ve practiced this move enough to gain confidence in it.
Fourth: I needed the climbs to be close together and to be able to walk between them in a single day.
Fifth: I wanted all of them to be on the Meisterweg list, of course. It was quite a challenge to complete the „masterclass“ in one day.
I heard about your mistake on „Ostrisse“ (VIIIc) on Dreifingerturm. What happened? I climbed it around 11 o’clock, so the sun was gone but the wall was still hot. My fingertips were sweating. Already in the crux at the second ring (Anton was climbing the harder „Untere Variante“ with one extra ring compared to the original, author’s note) I thought, „Ugh, this is going to be a lot of work. This is not going to be easy peasy.“ And then, in about the middle of the top overhanging part, I put the hand jam about ten centimeters below where I normally put it. Because of that, I couldn’t reach any further with my left hand.
I thought, „OK, I need to fix this somehow.“ I tried to go down, but my left foot got out of the gap, leaving just my right hand and right foot. That started to opening me like a door, so I quickly grabbed the in situ loop with my left hand before anything could happen. I probably could have made it without it, but it helped. „Ugh, this wasn’t the plan,“ I said to myself at the time. I took a few deep breaths and continued on through the „Obere Variante“ to the big jug that awaits you at the top out.
Which route did you respect the most? „Talseite“ (IXa) on Schwager, for sure. I always found the thin bottom crack to be quite precarious. Even though you would fall from a relatively low height, you would probably get badly injured on the boulders at the start, or something worse would happen… So the opening part is not completely sure, but it’s still not too bad for soloing. But not in a „I love this, I’d love to climb this“ kind of way.
How many times have you climbed it before? Once as a training free solo and a few times with a rope. But I felt comfortable in the finger climb during that day of climbing. It was my ninth route… But in the section below the second roof, I messed up somehow – maybe I put the hand jam a few centimeters differently and couldn’t reach the next good hand jam… I felt weird, so I climbed down a few meters. I was roasting under that roof and had to take a breath. I managed to climb it perfectly on the second attempt. I made some mistakes, but I was always able to correct them.
Anton in „Talseite“ IXa, Schwager (photo: Reinhold Geipel)
Anton in „Talseite“ IXa, Schwager (photo: Reinhold Geipel)
Anton in „Talseite“ IXa, Schwager (photo: Mika Jacob)
I DON’T CLIMB HARD
Did you have friends up on the towers who brought you harness and rappelling rope? Yes, because it was such a long day, I had friends helping me down the towers. Three of them were with me right from the start at 4am when we left Schmilka, and by the end of the day there were about nine of us. I rappelled most of the towers. Some of them I down climbed via the normal routes.
Do you know of any other free solos of these routes? Personally, I only knew about Bernd Arnold, who did „Ostrisse“ (VIIIc, 6c) without a rope, and Uwe Horst, who did „Talseite“ (IXa, 6c+) on Schwager… What about „Lineal“ (IXa, 6c+)? I don’t know exactly. Bernd Arnold probably has more, and I read in one guidebook that several people have soloed routes up to XIa (8a+).
Really? It says that Michael Scholz climbed „Victoria“ (Xa, 7b+) on Trautmannfels in Bielatal (according to the comments, a rather easier, three-step route, author’s note) and „Outbreak“ (XIa, 8a+) on Wildensteinwand was supposedly soloed by Thomas Willenberg (a controversial figure in Saxon climbing, author’s note). People have climbed a lot of hard solo routes here. But this climbing as many routes as possible in a day is, I think, more of a modern style.
What have you actually climbed with a rope in Elbsandstein? What’s your maximum? To be honest, not much in Elbsandstein. I have one top ten in AF style, and that’s „Eiszeit“ on Dreifingerturm. I’ve done about two routes graded IXc, or just one. The hardest RP I have done is „Universum“ (IXc, 7a+) on Doppelturm. I solo to the nines, but I haven’t climbed many IXb routes or harder with a rope. On the other hand, I climb a lot of VIIIb, VIIIc, IXa routes – that’s my terrain. I don’t climb harder routes very often, so I don’t have much experience with them.
„Talseite“ VIIIb, Teufelsturm (photo: Johanna Fricke)
„Ostwand“ VIIIc, Teufelsturm (photo: Johanna Fricke)
Anton Schröter on the top of the Teufelsturm (photo: Johanna Fricke)
Dance in „Route Zehn“ VIIIc, Meurerturm (photo: Johanna Fricke)
Chill with friends (foto: Mika Jacob)
„Ostwand“ VIIIc, Teufelsturm (photo: Johanna Fricke)
„Bergfinkenweg“ VIIIb, Rokokoturm (photo: Johanna Fricke)
What about more sporty routes? I have climbed „Bestseller“ (Xa, 7c) and „Toothless Yuchen“ (Xa, 7c) in Elbe Valley. I’m pretty proud of those – they’re on my RP limit. In Siurana, Spain, I’ve put up some French 8a’s during the winter. Same in Wadi Rum, where I found it to be pretty moderate grades. For me, for example, the key length of the „Rock Empire“ route (8a) was more in line with Saxon IXb in a slab.
Is there any climber that inspires you? I’m not a fanboy type, but I respect Bernd Arnold a lot. He was so far ahead of his peers… He climbed very well and did great routes that I would describe as „controlled scary“. I really admire that and he’s probably my biggest inspiration. Then also my dad who climbed a lot, but not as hard. It was mainly from him that I got my love of climbing…
Of course I have a question about your parents… What did your dad say? A week before that day, we climbed together in Bielatal. I didn’t tell him anything but he already suspected something, because it was obvious from the summit books where I had often written during the past years – alone, without climbing partners. People started asking questions: „What are you up to? What’s your goal?“ A few people found out and my dad found out from them… A week before that day, there was a conversation along the lines of, „Are you really planning on doing this?“
I told him I was. He wasn’t happy about it. I can understand his perspective, of course, having lost several people he loved in the mountains himself. Anyway, my dad understood that I was young and that I was going for it. Even though it’s not logical and doesn’t really make any sense… He told me, „Do what you have to do. You’re young and free. But promise me you’ll go into this with great care. Take care of yourself.“ I was quite relieved after that, as I got his „blessing“ of sorts. My mother didn’t know about this, she would have been very worried. Now after the event, she knows…
WHEN TO STOP?
You may be a generation younger but let me make a comparison. When Alex Honnold climbed „Freerider“, it seemed to me that he had „done it“ and that he would like to start doing safer things, pushing his limit on the rope or soloing easier stuff… Is that how you feel – you are becoming aware that soloing cannot be escalated to infinity? That’s exactly the question I’m addressing these days. I’m in the mental state now that you always experience when you’re coming off an adventure, like a mountain adventure. You reach your goal and then back in town you’re kind of wandering around with no further destination. So I’m like, „What’s my next goal?“ But at the same time, I’m aware that I had a couple of touchy moments during that day where not everything went as I thought it would. Catching a fixed sling, reversing in a crack and so on… So I’m thinking to myself, „How much further can I push it?“
I love soloing – it’s nice to climb one route after another and climb some 700 meters in a day… But I also love my life, of course. I need to think about it a lot now. Maybe I’ll find a compromise, where maybe I’ll climb a lot of routes in a day but with a rope – I’ll just clpi the rings bolts and not take slings… A good challenge might also be to climb all 92 Meisterwegs in one week but I don’t know if that’s even possible. Some of them are really dangerous and some are said to last only a few more ascents as key holds gradually break.
Pavel „Pavouk“ Černý in „Westwand“ VIIIb, Meurerturm, 1990 (photo: archiv BA)
„Route Zehn“ VIIIc, Meurerturm, first ascent 1966 (photo: archive BA)
„Ostwand“ VIIIc, Teufelsturm (photo: archive BA)
Are you not into harder routes with a rope? Yes, I would like to improve and climb harder. But it’s not a project I’m passionate about. I need to plan, rehearse, strategize, and experience long days. Like, say, in the mountains with my dad on „Walker’s Pillar“ in the north face of Grandes Jorasses or „American Directe“ on Petit Dru. In July I would like to do the Eiger-Munch-Jungfrau traverse without using the chair-lifts and huts…
By the way, what did you choose your outfit for that solo day? (laughs) I thought of it as a gala day, so I dressed accordingly. I like white because it’s pretty clean and looks good from a distance. When you’re soloing, you climb like you’re dancing. You’re graceful and you’re engaging a lot of focus and senses. The best match for me was the hemp shirt. It fit perfectly, although it was a little dirty and bloody at the end of the day from the crack on Schwager. Then of course the long trousers because of all the cracks. (And white Adidas socks in the climbing shoes, author’s note).
„I really bow respectfully. To climb 12 of these routes in one day solo, that’s a psycho knockout. I could imagine one, two, maybe three (not that I would… but that’s just what my imagination gives me). But twelve, or thirteen? Plus they’re all proper, long, exposed routes, mostly harder for the grade. I don’t know if there’s any under 50 metres, but probably none under 40. Some of them are over 60 metres. That’s close to Marmolada south face in total.“ (laughs)
Jirka „Piškot“ Chocholoušek
PRINT OF HAPPINESS
Did you have to improvise a lot while climbing, or did you know most of the key sequences by heart? I needed to improvise a lot, especially in the second half of the day when I was getting tired. For example, in „Talweg“ (VIIIa, 6a) on the Rokokoturm I solved a crux section in a completely different way than I had ever done before. I also climbed „Direkte Westkante“ (VIIIb, 6b) on Falkenstein differently. As the day progressed, I started to come up with different solutions due to my diminishing strength.
What’s your relationship with cracks? I grew up in Brandenburg, so we didn’t climb much on sand. A couple of weekends a year at most. For a long time, I wasn’t good at crack climbing but I learned to climb them at Indian Creek and I’ve loved it ever since. I’m enjoying them more and more – two weeks ago I was in Adršpach for the first time. I’d like to try „White Rose“ (IXa, 6c), but it’s been banned due to nesting birds, and other classics.
Simply journeys from which you will take away great experiences… Yes, that’s what I love about sandstone climbing. It’s never just your projects like sport climbs, but you always share those experiences with your friends too – belaying them up the tower and so on. I felt the same way during that solo day – it created a nice atmosphere and then we all met up at the top of Wilder Kopf, the last tower. I climbed down behind my friends with my headlamp… When I appeared at the top, everyone was very happy, they started shouting spontaneously and I joined them. They pulled out their champagne, „Dude, we’ve been under a lot more stress than you have during this day,“ they were relieved, and I guess they were right. At least those filming had something to do, so they had it better. The ones who weren’t filming and just watched were totally messed up. The whole thing was very emotional and it blew everybody’s mind that day.
At the same time, it was a day that I will remember for the rest of my life. I’m even more pleased that it took place in my home area which means the most to me. I think I have managed to leave a kind of „imprint“ of myself here. I am happy about that.
„Bergfinkenweg“ VIIIb, Rokokoturm (photo: Reinhold Geipel)
„Bergfinkenweg“ VIIIb, Rokokoturm (photo: Mika Jacob)
„Gemeinschaftsweg“ VIIIb, Wilde Zinne. (photo: Johanna Fricke)
And the last one: „Direkte Westkante“ VIIIc, Wilder Kopf (photo: Mika Jacob)
Celebration can begin. (photo: Gregor Schröter)
Cheers! (photo: Gregor Schröter)
„It is an incomparable climbing feat at the limit of current physical and mental endurance. It definitely deserves congratulations! Although everything in climbing is voluntary, hopefully there won’t be many followers!“
“Climbing is not about the grades and life is not about the money.”
He loves to write about inspiring people. Addicted to situations when he does not care about date and time – in the mountains or home Elbe Sandstones. Not being treated.