The Climbing day of my life

Climber: Alex Luger Route: 7th Direction Location: Rätikon, Ray Demski

Seventh Direction (UIAA 11-, 220m) first ascent in the Rätikon

“Western culture speaks of four directions. Native American cultures throughout the continent recognize seven. There are the cardinal directions of East, South, West, and North, directions that correspond to our life cycle of birth, youth, adulthood, and time of being an elder, respectively. Then there are the directions of Earth and Sky. These Six directions are easy to locate. The Seventh direction, however, is harder to see. It is the direction within us all, the place that helps us see right and wrong and maintain the balance by choosing to live in a good way.” (J. Bruchac, Earth and Sky 1996)

“This wall is impossible, there is no way, I can climb through this steep rejecting wall” I said to Florian, when we were climbing together on a first ascent project on the neighbouring wall. However, I couldn’t let my eyes of this object and we discussed, on how rad the attempt would be to climb this wall. But only the thought of it, while standing below this wall – equipped with the idea of a ground up free ascent – brought up a feeling of nervousness and disbelieve in myself.

All day long my mind kept switching to the wall beside me. The yellow color of the rock surface indicated that it could be of bad quality and the overhanging angle of the whole face predetermined my mind in disbelieve. In general, I am a person with an optimistic approach on handling the unknown but in this chase my psyche questioned the completion of this climb. No, I was not questioning the success on this project I was convinced that it´s not possible for me. In the retrospective it was this feeling of given disbelief, that lit the spark to attempt the first ascent.

In the summer of 2018, I found myself in front of this mega face, well prepared to start my ground up free climbing journey. I had the strict ethic to start from the bottom and climb up the wall with only the power a human has available and without artificial help to progress on the climb, such as cliffs, friends, wires and drill. The uncertainty was as big as possible and my personal given chances to be able to climb this route, where set around 1%. When I would be confronted with a flat two square meter passage without rock features, I could hold on to, the climb would have been impossible to proceed, and months full of work would have ended abruptly.

During the first ascent I experienced some of the best physically moments in terms of performance as well as some super low days, where my body and mind where absolutely overstrained. I had days with good progress and regressing days, where I couldn´t climb past a section to push the route.

During all those highs and lows on the climb, there was one thing set: That I am up there hanging in this wild wall with the company of good friends. They built me up when I was down, they made jokes of me, when I was too serious, and they helped me with their big bag of experiences to fell decisions. They pushed me to my limits. And I am convinced that without them I would have never climbed this wall.

On the last day of the climb I was accompanied by my father. There where only a few meters missing to low angle 3rd class terrain. Up to four meters to the top I was able to explore this wall in free climbing without any artificial climbing. Four meters of unknown steep terrain. Four meters separated me from finishing this dream. Four meters to end this two-year lasting experience. Four meters to get certainty, four meters to get rid of my mental chainmail, where I stored all fear and doubt carefully.

I climbed to my highpoint belayed by my father. Below my father was emptiness and sheer exposure. On my harness dangled a selection of cliffs, one birdbeak and two binners. I took a few deep breaths – as I always do before a demanding task – my lungs filled up with air, fuel for the last four meters.

“I crimp a small three finger hold with my left hand, trying to get as much surface of my fingers into this knife blade hold. While placing a high right foot I am reaching for a side hold with my right hand. I am looking up left, realizing how little structures I will face on the next one and a half meters. Focusing a small sloppery two fingers hold I need to reorganize my feet. Then I push for this two-finger hold with my left hand. I scream and all the accumulated tension transforms into force. I have to continue with my left hand onto a shoulder crimp, bring up my right hand on the two finger sloper and jump to the rail, which divides the steep wall from low angel terrain. Within seconds I am able to mantle up onto flat terrain with great caution as there are loose blocks in the size of TV´s. I get around those threatening obstacles reaching easier terrain. Now then I am sitting down on a flat spot still holding on to the wall with my hands. Everything is gone, I feel empty, I feel redeemed, I feel excited and sad.

I lost something. No trust is needed anymore as uncertainty fades away.”

Now I am realizing that the biggest motivation to start this climb was to face and bear the antinomy between the believe and the disbelieve, both real and both true at the same time.

If I would have known from the beginning that there is a high chance of success to do the climb, then I think I would have not been drawn enough to it, to put in the needed work. The motivation was fueled by my trust. The trust I have in this world and myself, the trust that I am able to create and keep an open mind, on what is to come, instead of hooking on to the imaginary picture of safety and all-around control.

On the 6th of August in 2022 I was able to realize the first free ascent of Seventh Direction in a day accompanied by Pio Jutz.

Facts: UIAA 11-, 7 pitches, 220 meters

Pitches: 1. 6; 2. 6; 3. 10; 4. 10+; 5. 11-; 6. 10-; 7. 10  

Location: Drusenfluh Ostwand, Lindauer Hütte, Rätikon

First ascent by Alex Luger with Hanno Schluge, Flo Wild and Christoph Luger over the summers of 2018 and 2019.