First Ascent of Schwarze Madonna
World-class ice, rock, and alpine climber, Arc'athlete Ines Papert recently successfully completed a first ascent of a new route on the Untersberg in Germany, called "Schwarze Madonna". Here's her account of the climb.
This story begins in 2008 when I continued a line with Stefan Rass that had been started by Michael Grassl, "Gschlossei", on the south-west face of the Untersberg in the Hochthron, Berchtesgadener Alps, Germany. I was thankful for Gschlossei's permission since I had studied the line several times. Stefan and I bolted the route in a direct line from the bottom. After technically climbing the route it became clear that a free ascent could be rather difficult. I didn't know at that time that it would take four whole years before I could redpoint the route.
Throughout my attempts at the route, I had doubts that I could send the project at all, due to my height. The crux move at the slab section of the route was a length problem for me. I never gave up hope however that one day, despite my stretched-out position, my left foot wouldn't slip from the sloppy foothold. Grip would be the decisive factor. Constant doubts plagued me. Should I make room for a stronger climber? I'm not a big fan of occupying a route.
Over the years, the only season that promised success due to cooler temperatures was late autumn. But I had either already planned expeditions, or early snowfall foiled my chance. Another reason why I probably didn't set aside the time was surely because the route was right in front of my doorstep and "waiting" for me.
After several tries with climber friends, I had to accept that it would take some effort to free the six pitches. This autumn, after my Baffin Island expedition, I was more motivated than ever before.
A call to my friend Lisi Steurer was all it took. The East Tyrolean mountain guide was at my place in September. We took advantage of every good day, getting used to the long approach, and thanks to our similar builds, my solutions were right for her and the other way around. Thanks to Lisi, I started believing in a free ascent.
On October sixth, we stood at the base of the climb, perfect autumn conditions. Convinced that we would be successful today, I was able to climb the first pitch for the first time. It was damn close – absolutely no strength left in my forearm – as I exultantly reached the first belay without falling. Lisi let me down immediately. Now she was leading. I really wished she could send the pitch. But her foot slipped from the slab – as mine did many times before – and she fell into the rope just before the belay. Lisi's second try also failed. We decide to continue with the route. I sent all other pitches that beautiful autumn day – with great effort – at first go. Even the last pitch, a 7c-.
In the late afternoon, Lisi and I reached the top. To be able to share this very special day with my friend meant a lot to me. We agreed on me coming along with Lisi until she sends it, too. Korbinian Rieser, a real climbing veteran in Berchtesgaden, called to say: "Great line you did there, Ines. Absolutely sensational climbing on compact limestone. Congratulations, really!!"
The name of the route, "Schwarze Madonna" (Black Madonna), needs some explanation. My son, who was 8 at the time, had a favourite song with the same title and he knew the lyrics by heart. Bata Ilic's Schwarze Madonna earworm was my constant companion, not only during the first ascent, but also at many family celebrations. The biblical substantiation of "I am dark but beautiful" also fits perfectly to the dark streak that makes its way up the south face of the Untersberg. She is the hardest of all routes on the Untersberg, and with that the "mother" of the local mountain where I learned to climb.
- – 180m face height
- – Route name: Schwarze Madonna (Black Madonna)
- – Suggested grade: 10- (8a+)
- – 6 pitches (8a+, 7a, 6c, 7b+, 7c, 6a)
Photo Credit: Franz Walter