Austrian Hansjörg Auer has recently been highly active in the Dolomites, completing a hard new line on the legendary Sass dia Crusc and the first on-sight of one of the Marmolada's finest.
With Thomas Schreiber, Auer made the first continuous free ascent of Silberschrei (Silver Scream: nine pitches, two of 7c) on the West Face of the Sass dia Crusc, right of the classic Meyerl Diedre. The two created the route in 2005 but had to wait four years for the redpoint.
Using trad gear only, Silberschrei offers demanding climbing on the walls right of the Right-hand Pillar and involves rock that is sometimes rather brittle.
The West Face of the Sass dia Crusc or Heiligkreuzkofel is probably best known for the historic first ascent of the Middle Pillar in 1968 by Gunter and Reinhold Messner.
The latter, boldly committed on a smooth slab with no way back, eventually made desperate moves to finish the pitch. All subsequent attempts to repeat this slab failed, but in 1978, after snapping a hold, Hans Mariacher managed to traverse well right and complete a variant at VII-/VII.
Until the mid 1990s Messner's original line had only been repeated on a top rope, with the grade variously estimated from VII through to VIII-. It seems possible that in 1968 Messner not only broke existing barriers with this ‘Seventh Grade’, but also may have climbed the first 'Grade Eight' in Europe's high mountains.
Auer had 'warmed up' for Silberschrei with a brief trip to UK grit in the company of Much Mayr. Both Austrians repeated Jonny Dawes's 1986 testpiece Gaia (E8 6c) at Black Rocks, and Mayr flashed Neil Foster's 1995 Balance it Is (E7 6c) at Burbage.
In late July the same two climbers travelled to one of Auer's favourite haunts, the South Face of the Marmolada. It was here in 2007 that Auer made the widely acclaimed, free solo ascent of The Fish, climbing all 33 pitches of this 930m route (7b+) in just two hours and 55 minutes.
On their agenda was the third free ascent of Via della Cattedrale, a route put up in two stages during 1983 and '85 by the legendary Graziano Maffei, who used no bolts but climbed predominantly on aid at A4 and UIAA VI+.
One of the highlights in the Dolomites during 2004 was the first free ascent of this route by Pietro dal Pra, who after working it during the summer, finally made the redpoint over two days in August. All 19 pitches of this sustained and wonderful climb are protected by trad gear and in-situ pegs, with the crux at 8a+ and two other pitches of 7c.
Leading through, Auer and Mayr on-sighted the route in just 10½ hours. Mayr led the crux (which the pair feels to be more like 8a), then lowered so Auer could also lead it.
Not long prior to their climb the route had gained its second free ascent from the prodigious Dolomite activist, Florian Riegler. With Rebecca Finch, Riegler climbed the route in 12 hours with no falls, having made several previous attempts this year. He echoed the sentiments of dal Pra when he said it was the finest route he'd ever climbed in the Dolomites.
Auer and Mayr concur: 'superb, with reasonably good protection and perfect Marmolada limestone'.