Alexander Huber, first free solo of the Hasse Brandler route - Cima Grande di Lavaredo (ITA) - /550 m, 7a+
The thought of that fall had constantly accompanied me in the last few days. My mind was focused on a precise moment and an image, that instant when a hold breaks, I am overturned and propelled into the void while my body is detached from the rock. What crosses one’s mind in such a circumstance? Do we get angry about our mistakes, about the destiny we have freely chosen? Or rather, are all our thoughts frozen by the utmost acceleration? Will I feel anything?
Those dark thoughts aside, I was also aware that I almost knew every difficult section of the route by heart and that I could master every movement. In the last twenty-four hours, both during the day and while half-asleep, I constantly relived those conflicting feelings. If I go beyond the point of no return, low on the third pitch, and decide to carry on, then I’ll have to bear the consequences of having to climb the following 500 m - whether I want it or not.
Just as my mind was fully engaged with the ascent, now the shadow of the big wall looms over the path I am walking on to reach the start of the route. The approach lasts one hour and, during that time, I can only vaguely sense the real world. The darkest thoughts are accompanied by the certainty of mastering all the sections of the route, as it happened in the last few days and during the night. Odd, mixed feelings at times quicken my pace, making me hasty and uneasy, and then, moments later, I feel calm and serene.
At the base of the wall I realise that I will not be able to start climbing unless these dark thoughts leave me. I also see the chances of this happening as very slim. I believe that, once I’ve set off, just one thought about coming back before the third pitch and the point of no return will be all it takes to be overcome by the overwhelming dimension of the wall.
Once again, I walk back and forth at the base of the Cima Grande. Then I sit on a rock. I know I have to give it my best shot. Today’s the day. This route once again fully occupies my mind and it won’t let me give up now. I have reached the exact point when I wish I had never set my eyes on this project. I am out of options. I have to go, I have to try. This is the day when I have to decide, once and for all, if I want to free solo these five hundred metres or not.
The decision hits me abruptly. I hadn’t expected it; up to two days ago, I believed I was completely free to decide when to make this project a reality. I now realise that my mind is overloaded and I am fully obsessed. This is a serious blow for my psyche. The pressure I had done everything I could to avoid, at all costs and with any possible mean, is right there. It is tangible. I feel like a hunted animal, I close my eyes and I curl up while sitting on a rock, waiting to see what I want to do in the next few minutes.
These feelings are muddled up and leave room for chaotic thoughts; my mind is tired. I put on my Mythos automatically; I lace up the chalk bag to my waist and climb the first four metres. I am completely dazed; I feel nothing. This won’t do. I go down again and sit on a rock at the base of the wall, once more.
Then I feel relieved - I realise I can stop this attempt at any moment, at least until the point of no return. I am not obliged to do anything: I am free. I feel good, once again.
After a brief pause I set off again and I climb the first two pitches. While I was too scared, tense and nervous during the hours before the ascent, now, finally climbing on the wall, the dizziness fades away and I go back to the normal mood of climbing; my mind is clear. I am scared no longer. I am simply too focused on the moves and the climbing to have time to be frightened.
I go beyond the belay on the third pitch and, after four metres, I reach the point of no return, but there’s nothing to decide, a decision has been made already. The crux is not here, in the tipping point, but it was earlier on, at the beginning, when I set off for this route. Leaving the void behind and deciding to get going was the barrier I had to conquer. Free solo requires you to overcome yourself and to control emotions. I have solved the first problem and, now that I am a hundred and fifty metres from the ground, the second feels like a much easier task. I nearly know the route by heart, I have thoroughly studied each move and I now execute the programme one move at a time - almost like a machine. Almost.
I reach the big ledge before the crux moves. Everything ran smoothly up to now, even if I have climbed for about fifty metres without stopping. All the senses engaged in the climb have been constantly under tension. I realise that my mind is tired; I cannot keep my focus clear unless I make a pause. I lie on the ledge and stare at the roofs above me at length: they are the crux moves.
I stand up after twenty minutes, I lace up my shoes, take some chalk and I am off. As a factory worker who goes back to his shift after a pause, I start again, one move after the other. Without thinking too much. Keeping the same rhythm as far as the top, when the difficulties end.
My thoughts roam free, once again. I begin to sense what goes on around me; I see the clouds, the ribbons of mist going up along the north face. The higher I go, the calmer and freer I feel. Just like a river losing its run, after the restlessness of the white waters, in the vast plains of the delta.