Tuesday, June 7, 2016

highlander - early years

my journey with the "highlander" started with my first visit to sustenpass on a late afternoon in summer 2003. my friend simon wandeler showed me the „famous" traumland-boulder for the first time. it is a stunning 30 degrees overhanging shield with four climbed lines at that time. unfortunately it sits just some ten meters above the sometimes very busy, loud and stinky road up to sustenpass. so it is a very unpleasant place to be on an sunday afternoon. therefore my absolute favorite time up there is when the road is closed from november to june. its real "traumland" (paradise) this time of the year.

view from the "highlander": when the road is closed; it is real paradise up there

standing at the parking and watching up to this big boulder i instantly realized a line of holds crossing the whole boulder from down right up to the far left. i asked simon if this line already had been climbed. he laughed. he thought i was crazy. and well he was right. later in the day i tried the "middle-part" of the line i had imagined. this is the classic "traumland" and i was literally not able to do one move. nice try. but i was attracted to this big piece of gneiss nevertheless. what i did not know at that time was that i would be back climbing on this line for every year for the following 13 years.

2004 - way back in time while checking out the first part of the "highlander".
pic by angelawagner.ch

over the years i climbed lots of the classic problems up at sustenpass. the big line, the "highlander-project" was always in the back of my mind. but i knew it was way too big. so first i climbed the middle part, the classic "traumland". after climbing "le reve de faire", the second part of the "highlander-project" it was finally time to really go for it.

but i had to bail out pretty fast. i quickly realized that it was still way over my head. instead i opted to first top out via the easier and very classic"traumland". this was already a hell of a fight. but i got it back in 2010 when i was able to complete this easier version of the"highlander"-project. a nice line itself; "ikarus" ends at the traumland-finish and"deadalus" toping out.

2010 on the first ascent of the direct topout "ikarus/deadalus". "highlander" goes left from there.
pic by angelwagner.ch

feeling fit and having all the parts dialed i was back a few days later and went for a try on the real "highlander-project". i was pretty confident as compared to "ikarus/deadalus" its basically just two more (semi-hard) moves to the left. then a not really good restpoint followed by an not to underestimate topout to the left. i had two really good tries but went down setting up for that last hard move out left. then winter hit. but i was confident to send it the next season. that was not a total hybris with being twice already in the last move. just one more move. little did i know that it would take me nearly six years to finally stick that one more move.

going the extra-mile. 2hrs walk by split board. reward is a beautiful setting and perfect conditions

every year i was up there falling on the last two hard moves. battling wet holds when i was in great shape, missing perfect conditions because of illness, bad skin, too much work, broken holds, blew my knee, blew my fingers. once in the middle of the crux-section a foothold broke. making it just a little harder. but it took me two weeks to get to the last two moves again. and then winter hit. at your limit the difference between possible and impossible its very small. 

the most frustrating thing was to have really good tries, falling down at the last move and then coming back three days later and somehow not getting the first crux done anymore which is way lower in the boulder. and the craziest thing was that at the end of the day i still was able to climb all the hard climbing from just three hard moves in despite being super tired.

broken foothold from the crux-sequence - this did not make it easier...

my main problem though was (and still is) "cold fingers". arriving in the upper crux i usually could not feel the holds anymore. even in the middle of summer. this was not just "too cold". i somehow managed to press all the blood out of my fingertips. resulting in numb fingers. that resulted in countless dry-fires off the crux-sequence. i tried everything to avoid this. tried to activate blood circulation by running or putting my hands in ice-cold water.

or i tried to "shake out" quickly in between moves. this however just needed more power and the fingers on the other hand got cold because i had to hold on even more while "shaking out". it turned out that summer was even worse. because of the missing friction i had to dig even deeper and pressed all the blood out of my tips. with decent friction i did not have to press that hard on the holds and did not get such "cold" fingertips.

trying everything to get this circulation in my fingertips started.. ;)

somehow the years passed and i fell down again and again on this last two hard moves. but i did not even think about quitting. you can’t quit when there is just one more move to go. can you? and believe me, over the last six years. every time i was up there i was a 100% sure THIS would be the day. i mean. why not?! just one more move to go!!! 

despite feeling stronger over the years and climbing up to three times a day into the last crux i somehow just did not make it happen. i slipped off so many times with cold fingers. i lost count.

--->  the next blog will be about coming very close to finish the "highlander" and then injuring myself really bad while going for that last two moves and the following one year rehab.... stay tuned...

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