Rolo Hemetzberger: Sending WOGÜ—Europe’s Hardest Multi-Pitch

Spring 2016

As usual, we are again completely soaked with rain. On top of that my tendon is completely done. I am hanging in my harness and can’t believe it. It’s a low point for both of us. Tough stuff in the mountains.

But let me start from the beginning …

Images: Fabian Hagenauer

Nalle Hukkataival asked me approximately 1.5 years ago if I would like to join him on WOGÜ. But after only the second day my pulley ligament in my middle finger was torn—a big setback for three months. I had never had an injury in my life! However, I committed it all to Nalle and belayed and supported him—but unfortunately we were shut down by bad weather.

So what did I do for three months of being injured? Oh, the usual stuff. I shared beers with good old friends, studied for exams and visited my Grandma more than I ever did before. This break was great but, in the end my Grandma got worried.

So she gave me this advice: “I should have faith in big objectives!”

After that I made up my mind and followed a plan.

Spring 17

I had new wind in my life. I moved to Innsbruck and started working at Black Diamond. And it was time to try the monster of the Alps again. This was my schedule.

6:00 a.m. Wake up. One hour of hangboarding and core strength exercises

8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Office time at BD

12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Lunch with one hour hangboarding and core strength exercises

1:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. Office time then one hour hangboarding and core strength exercises

I did that over weeks. The truth is, my favorite phrase “effort is the answer” fits for every project, otherwise it isn’t a project.

Sometimes I drove alone to the mountain range and rappeled the entire route and filmed with my phone the handholds and talked to myself about the sequence. Does that sound super weird? Trust me, I would laugh about it later. But honestly, I was discovering new ways to become more efficient. That is the cool thing about climbing. There is always space to be a better, smarter climber, not just physically stronger. The climbing is so demanding, brutally fingery and sustained. This is the reason why you need hours to get used to the climbing.

A long planned expedition to Tibet held me back from the Alps. I came back truly obsessed, though, with a full belly of rice noodles and a mind that was ready for the Rätikon. The 40 hours of travel back home didn’t phase me.

My mom picked me up from the airport and served me some good food at my parents' place and asked me if I would stay at home a bit. My answer was that I’d already packed the car and was going to Switzerland. I had something left I needed to do.

She shook her head.

“Why you are so driven boy?”

I said nothing to her. But I knew the answer. If I have a drive in my live for anything, then it’s probably worth it.

The following two days in the mountains were the worst I’ve ever had. It was full of snow. I got a cold and I simply felt awful. After that weekend I thought I’d have no chance to climb it.

I got back to the weekly office life and started to gain new strength. Two weeks later my friend Zeno Hamberger gave me a call.

“Hey, Rolo. As I promised, I will support you on your project … because the university is closed.”

We both started laughing.

The first day on the wall I was unexpectedly close …

Three times I fell in the last 40-meter long 8b+, always on the last few meters to the anchor. My mental batteries were so empty and I had insane cramps in my arms.

Two days after that, on September 30, I found a unique flow.

I sent every pitch on my first go and reached the summit at 7 p.m. with tears in my eyes. I coiled up the ropes, hugged my friend and realized I climbed one of the hardest multi-pitch climbs in the world. Then, 15 minutes later, it began to rain.


—Rolo Hemetzberger