The North-East Face of the Langkofel in the Gröden Valley – 2000

A fascinating climbing tour for summer and winter

Written by Professor F Malik for the magazine “Löffler Sport Zeit” 1/99, p. 26/27

Langkofel is one of the most impressive mountains in the Dolomites from every perspective – high, massive and wild. The sides facing the Gröden Valley and the Sella Pass are especially impressive: north, north-east and east walls each rising over a thousand meters. From an early date they belonged to my declared and secret tour destinations. The Pichl Route, first attempted in 1918, crosses the north-east face. It is a classic in every respect and often taken. It offers highly varied climbing with shelves, cross-passages and crevices on a good cliff face throughout and above all within an impressive cliff landscape. The difficulties of the upper fourth grade are still within in the category “fun climbing.” That is to say, nothing extreme – but the tour demands endurance and safety in Alpine terrain.

One needs more experience than one can acquire in a rock-climbing school. When I took it for the first time in 1988, guided by the Wolkenstein mountain guide Hermann Comploi, I was proud as seldom before. On an almost cloudless day before sunrise at the end of July we ascended the first rocky slope, still dotted with clumps of grass. We needed over five hours for the 1000 m in ascent and about 1500 m of climbing – five glorious hours of concentrated walking and climbing with light equipment in a primeval rock landscape. In the meantime I have stood at the top of many Dolomite peaks, including after extreme tours. But in my recollection the Langkofel peak following this long tour remains one of the best.

As every Alpinist admittedly knows, but still as to learn over time and again, tours are not over on the peak, but only when one is once more at the bottom – on the Langkofel not an easy matter, but another approximately 1000 climbing meters after all through an adventurous labyrinth of towers, gorges, crevices and ledges. I have seldom been as exhausted as I was after the over seven hours we needed for this tour before we were standing at the Langkofel col, from where the funicular railway ran down to the Sella Pass. Exhausted, but fulfilled and satisfied with my performance. This is the very thing that so many people are unable to grasp – it is not satisfaction that leads to performance, as some psychologists would have it, but instead precisely the opposite – performance leads to satisfaction.

It was just the same when we repeated the exactly the same tour ten years later – this time in winter, on March 2 and 3, 1998. When one goes mountaineering together for ten years, the role division remains unchanged: one person is guide and professional and leads and even if one has succeeded in accomplishing some difficult tours, one remains an amateur and second. But over and above the marriage of convenience of the rope team, a friendship had arisen. The start was at six o’clock in the morning, in complete darkness, minus ten degrees, snow crunching; heavy rucksacks, bivouac equipment. We needed much more time than we originally expected. I was slow; I was not so accustomed to climbing with crampons. As long as one was on the move, one was warm; but when we were standing I noticed the cold. It was my first big winter tour – and I was overjoyed. The many Alpine books I had read in the course of time went through my mind – Heinrich Harrer on the Eiger, Messner, Kammerlander; Cassin at Badile after a sudden turn in the weather; Bonatti and Zappelli – six days at minus thirty at Walker’s Point.

Here we were “just” at Langkofel, “just” at the fourth grade, with nice weather; more than one bivouac ought not to be necessary. Someone was in the lead who knew what he was doing. Plus we had modern high tech clothing and equipment… Comfort almost like in the Grand Hotel.

The performance of the pioneers, including the first to take this north-east route on the Langkofel in winter, Ludwig Moroder and Renzo Bernardi, cannot be assessed highly enough. After twelve hours of climbing on the first day, a tolerable bivouac and ten hours on the second day, we had reached the peak. We thought that it was the fifth winter tour. A few days later it turned out we had been the sixth – also good and no reason to be less pleased.

The long-standing association of Gröden mountain guides boasts a history of over one hundred years. They include many who were the first to climb certain mountains and were pioneers in mountain-climbing. An office was created in Wolkenstein called the “The Gröden Mountain Guide Association.” A permanent companion on every mountain tour: Löffler Transtex.

Pictures of the tour: