AUTHOR: Reini Kleindl
PHOTOGRAPHY: Reini Fightinger
Since the first ascent of the Cima Piccola (Small Battlement) in 1890 by Sepp Innerkofler, numerous alpinists and climbers have made history on the rock of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo (Three Battlements of Lavaredo). The list of climbers that have conquered the Tre Cime reads like the Who’s Who of alpine history and includes Cassin, Comici, Meindl, Brandler, Hasse and Huber. Reini Kleindl and Armin Holzer added a new chapter to the history book.
It all started at the "Days of Distance" longline meeting at Stubenbergsee in summer 2010 when we started talking about highlining in the Dolomites. A couple of phone calls and another meeting later and we were both convinced and motivated to do a cool highline in the wild mountains of my home region.
We met in the climbing gym in Sexten and discussed which highlines we could attempt together. The walls above us were adorned with historic photos depicting the Tre Cime and their first climbers with hemp rope and felt hats. Then we asked ourselves, what is the best, most spectacular and coolest project that we can imagine?
To start with we reckoned our idea was pure utopia. The Tre Cime are known for their crumbling Dolomite rock and we were not sure whether we would even find places that would be suitable as anchor points.
However, our concern was unfounded because we located a world-class highline spot and perfect rock quality first time. As we descended the Cima Piccola and looked back up we could hardly believe our eyes. Instead of a mountain it looked more like a towering fortress from a fantasy film — with a highline spot like in a dream, powerful, spanning the whole width between the lower summit and the main summit, hundreds of meters above the plateau.
We grinned at each other; we had both had the same idea. What we were unsure about were the dimensions. We were worried that the spot was simply too large and the line too long.
On the Cima Piccola we also found the perfect anchor point in the middle of the piles of loose rock. Pleased with our success, we immediately set up the anchor points. The highline on the Cima Piccola was a fantastic project in itself, but we could see that even more options were open. We went to have a look at the western battlement (Cima Ovest). Climbing together we found an excellent spot on the summit of the western battlement with superb rock for the anchor points.
ReiniWe started on the Cima Grande. Together we lugged our highline equipment alpine-style up the standard climbing route. Exhausted, we reached the highline spot, a wonderful pinnacle west of the summit, directly above the famous classic north face route “Comici”, towering over the 500m-high north face. We spanned a 31m-long highline from this pinnacle. Setting it up was a challenge mdash; but that was no surprise. Away from the popular climbing routes much of the rock is crumbling and loose pieces of rock are lying around all over the place. The slightest movement and they would fall off mdash; a catastrophe for any climbers below us.
By early afternoon we were ready to go for it mdash; I crept onto the line in spite the wild gusts of wind around me. What a feeling!
The 500 meter-deep chasm beckoned mdash; the 2.5cm-wide highline seemed a lot narrower than usual. I managed to feel my way out over the emptiness. The oscillations caused by the wind made me nervous and I fell mdash; catching the line. After a couple of attempts I started to get going and managed halfway.
Suddenly I felt free and was able to cross the whole line. You could probably hear our celebratory shouts all over South Tyrol!
Armin was next onto the line. He also needed a few attempts to get a feeling for it, zone in and feel safe. And then, with surprising calm, he walked across to the other end.
ArminWe were ecstatic, felt as free and floating as the jackdaws that watched our every move and kept us company when we stopped for a snack.It looked as though a heavy thunderstorm was on its way. A daunting tension hung in the air. When I held the karabiners I had just removed from the pinnacle up in the air, they began to sing. We had to get off this huge lightening conductor as quickly as we could! We called this highline "Vertigo".
The western battlement was next. It was the warmest and most beautiful day of the summer. Destiny was on our side. The highline was near the summit and was 37m long mdash; facing east towards the Cima Grande. Again, we had to traverse unpleasant, crumbling terrain to set up this line. We had to be especially careful on the pinnacle opposite the summit cross because the classic "Demuth Edge" route passes directly underneath.
As soon as we had finished setting up I made my first attempt mdash; and managed to crack it straightaway. Coming back the other way also worked. We went crazy in celebration! Reini then attached the leash and managed both directions on the first attempt. The project was behind us, the pressure was off, and we started to play around, do some tricks and really enjoy being on this highline, which we named "Perle des Westens" ("Pearl of the West").
So there was just one more highline to do, the coolest of them all… The best spot we have ever set eyes on mdash; no less than 53m long. We were motivated and nervous at the same time. What is it going to feel like up there, suspended in empty space? Is the wind going to let us attempt a crossing, or rip our highline away while we are trying to set it up?
Setting everything up was as tiring as usual, but there was no wind this time. Lug the material up again, cross over crumbling terrain, make sure no stones fall down, and then span the line with the ratchet. As soon as we were finished spanning the line the sun disappeared behind the Cima Grande. The big moment had arrived.
I felt a bit uneasy as I stepped onto the line for the first time. Was I ready for this, come what may? Standing up went better than expected, but then I became entwined in the leash and fell. Go back and try again. Suddenly something inside me switched to overdrive. I could feel how the line supported me and I found my calm within the situation.
I moved step by step over the gaping chasm and could see Armin on the other side getting closer and closer. I pushed my worries aside and took the last step to complete the first crossing of this awesome highline.
We were both out of our trees with elation and jumped around hugging each other on the small ledge below the "Zsygmondi Chimney".
What a moment!
I was totally motivated by the success of my high-line partner and slid across to the middle of the line, from where I managed to cross right over to the other edge. To get an even better feel for the line I executed a couple of tricks in the middle before ending this challenging day with the final step off the line onto the cool rock.
After a short break Reini suddenly decided to cross the line again, this time from the other end. We had conquered the fortress from our fantasy film. We were delighted and proud to have completed this dream project.
During this tremendous project we crossed the Tre Cime di Lavaredo a total of eight times. Both of us learned a great deal from the other; me about alpine climbing in the Dolomites, and Armin about my techniques for setting up and tensioning high-lines. We both profited from the experience and were a perfect team.
We named the last line "Elysium" from the paradise of the ancient Romans. The project had been completed mdash; more than just crossing a highline on each of the battlements: we did the coolest and the most logical. In a certain way we felt an obligation to these mountains and the climbing tradition connected with them: it wasn’t enough to do any old highlines mdash; it had to be lines that live up to the reputation of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
We respect the brilliant mountaineers and climbers who have left their mark here, proving their pioneering spirit and living their dream.We are proud that we have brought our skills to these legendary summits and were able to add another chapter to their long history.
Berg Heil! As climbers say around here… PS: Just a bit of advice: if you want to repeat these lines, you not only have to be skilled in all the technical aspects of highlining mdash; you also need to be an experienced mountain climber. If you are not capable of climbing safely and responsibly in crumbling terrain, you not only put yourself at risk but others even more so.