THE 'FISH ROUTE'
„I’m glad the ‚Fish‘ is getting more repeats, but it shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s still hard, technical alpinism. On the Marmolada an 8+/9- is also a little different,“ laughs the first-ascentionist Igor Koller.
1200 METERS WITH NO BOLTS
The second night that we spent on the wall was not planned. In addition to that Igor Koller showered in the waterfall of the neighbouring „Via dell’Idealle“, where he also got water. Together with his 17-year-old partner Jindra Šustr, they were in for an uncomfortable night without food.
They were at least lucky to have found some wood, that had fallen from the construction of the cable car. Until midnight, the light of a small fire gleamed on the south face of the mountain, which they dried their clothes on. Not everything dried out though, so they had to share their warm clothes…
The aforementioned Koller-Šustr team did the first ascent in 1981 and graded in VII A1; the route is 1200m long. The name originated thanks to the shape of the cave in the middle of the face. It was a great achievement at the time, which caused a stir in the Alps and attracted the attention of many of the best climbers, mainly due to the fact that the entire first ascent was done without the use of expansion bolts. (Someone added bolts to the anchors in the lower sections of the route, and someone else smashed them with a hammer. Some can still be threaded through though, editors note). 40 years after this work of art was initially conceived, it still holds its reputation and notoriety. The free grade of the route has settled at 9- UIAA (7b+ fr.).
What is the ‚Fish‘ route like?
– Tomáš Lukášek, Ondra Hašek and Igor Koller –
The fact that Igor and Jindra Šustr paired up for the route was a coincidence. Igor’s usual partner for such endeavours at the time was Andrej Belica. He however went on an expedition to Kanchenjunga, and so Igor was alone for the summer. He was looking for a partner, when a friend suggested: „Try Jindra. He’s only 17 but he’s got his head screwed on. He’s also got a load of first ascents in the Moravian Karst and the Tatra’s. You’ll be pleased.“
Jindra didn’t disappoint, in fact he exceeded expectations. They hadn’t actually climbed together before the ‚Fish‘ route. They just got under the Marmolada, roped up and set off… „It was like we’d been partners for 20 years. Smooth as butter. Brilliant young lad,“ recalls Igor.
Following their first ascent, they knew that the route could be free-climbed and had to try themselves. But the ensuing evolution of Jindra’s enthusiasm is described by Igor as: „Three months before setting off: ‚Brilliant, yes, yes!‘ Two months before: „Not so sure…“ It was hard to get hold of him after that – there were no mobile-phones. A month later he disappeared completely and I couldn’t track him down…“ The first free ascent was done six years later by Heinz Mariacher and Bruno Pederiva.
THE AUSTRIAN NUTTER
How did the story with Jindra end? He stopped climbing two years after the Fish route… He now lives in Brno, but Igor and him don’t meet very often. Igor once managed to drag him out to the Mountains and city festival in 2010. Hansjörg Auer was there, who free soloed the route in under three hours in 2007.
„Anyone familiar with the nature of the route knows that back then it was incredible. It still measures up to Honnolds free solo of El Cap,“ claims Igor. Alex Huber managed to free solo a similarly difficult route, at least on paper, the ‚Hasse-Brandler‘ 8+, 550m on the north face of the Cime Grande. But he also acknowledged: „Soloing the Fish route is just something else.“
Hansjörg had to do delicate friction moves while pulling on small pockets and pushing off small ledges, needing 100% certainty that his foot wouldn’t slip at any point. „It’s frightening just imagining it,“ says Igor. Upon hearing about this, he was concerned that Hans wasn’t alright, but after meeting each other they instantly understood one another. „It’s hard for me that he’s not here anymore. He was a good man. There weren’t many like him.“ (Hansjörg Auer died in an avalanche in Canada in 2019)
The elegance of moving with minimal equipment and a calm mind is uplifting. This time was different. My large rucksack with a camera and three lenses weighed me down. I rarely get by with a small camera on trips. A project on such a big face needed to age like fine wine and now the time had come. I had known the route on the face for years, and hopefully I’d get some use out of the years spent at photography school.
„My parents say I’ll go to uni, so I can make something of myself and won’t have to pack crates like my mum.“ (…) „But our little boy would rather climb up mountains, and there’s still no real job in sight.
The logistics were as follows: one mirrorless camera, two lenses, two wireless mics and a GoPro for the boys. In a small but effective team, Stoupa (Dušan Janák) and I will asced the route first, while Tom and Ondra follow behind. We’ll then spit some wisdom about life on the wall, and wait to see if it makes them smile for the camera.
„There are quite a lot of pitches, so there will be time to shoot lots of stuff from different angles, I think to myself. Everything goes according to plan. We are one pitch ahead of the lads with Stoupa, and so I fish for some quality footage. The full-body workout starts in the harder pitches.
I fight up the crux 7b pitch, forcing me to use aid. I place an abalak and a skyhook, and whip straight on the abalak. Try again; better this time. Abalak, skyhook, runout, abalak falls out… thank god I wasn’t aware. After abseiling down to the crux pitch, my hands were shaking so much I couldn’t hold the camera. The mics also stopped working and I started cheering on Tom audibly in the crux section. Under labrotory somewhere on a sport route, that would be unacceptable.
To avoid making it sound like the filming didn’t go very well, I must add that we had very good lighting, good conditions for climbing, and everyone participating learned a lot. The interview, which I left until the bitter end of the last day following a storm was glued together and from it was born a film about the difficulty and beauty of the Fish route.
FILIPA ZAORAL’S MEMORIES
The Fish route was my third on the south face of the Marmolada
I remember those two days full of adventures rather fondly.
Losing my down-jacket, a cold night on the ledge, fighting for a free ascent, fear of the bad gear, icicles in the upper half of the wall, getting lost in the exit chimneys and a long descent from the summit. There was a lot, but the main thing for me was sharing it all with my partner Lukáš.