Are you a face climber? Tend to choose the techy vert?
You may not enjoy climbing from one cave to another with a lot of overhanging handjam action involved.
Are cracks your forte?
You might take a proper whipper on a sling through a threader when a crack narrows and endurance is required.
If you want to climb Big Wall on the right bank of the Elbe valley, you have to know a bit of everything.
At the same time, you need to get your head in the game before you begin. There are only two rings on the 70-meter pitch. When you find yourself under the President Massif for the first time, you’ll understand immediately why this route is so prolific. This noticeable overhanging crack stretches high up off a sandy start; it’s a real generator of stories. The article contains the memories of legends Bernd Arnold and Karel Bělina, among others. Míra “Zrzek” Turek and Jáchym Srb gave it a shot for eMontana.
– Míra “Zrzek” Turek (sitting on the left) and Jáchym Srb climb and describe the route –
It’s difficult to check whether or not a story is true when the climbers involved don’t like to brag about it. Like a story of a fall when the leader falls gently in the air while the belayer flies up through a cave and gets cut up pretty badly. According to another “undoubtedly true“ story, Karel Bělina drilled seven rings in the route.
Then you have stories that definitely happened but some of the protagonists would rather not have their names mentioned.
In 2010, two climbers from Adršpach got scared near today’s second ring, where the crack disappears and they decided to rappel (which is tricky to do with the high overhanging wall, Ed.) Along the way, they realized that their 80 meter long rope couldn’t reach the ground. The best idea they could think of was to jump down – from eight meters above! The last climber to land did not manage to catch the rope so it shot back up and got stuck. They returned to the valley with their heels injured and no one in the pub believed what had happened. Eventually Jarda Cach rescued the rope and they gave him 500 CZK for it.
Another incredible accomplishment belongs to Jarda Maršík for his free solo ascent of the route on August 9th, 2003. “I did it for myself. Not for or against magnesium, not for or against belaying on sandstone. Not that I would not have an opinion about it, I just did not care at that time.“ says Jarda in an article for the printed version of Montana 5/2003.
Not people know, but the route has been free soloed several times. “The guys refuse to even talk about it, let alone have someone write about it. Their wives would give them a hell of a hard time,” says Jeník Pleticha, the keeper of the left bank of the Elbe valley.
The greatest stories of all are the ones recalling the circumstances of the first ascent. Bolting rings, Czech-German provocation, motif of revenge…
So what actually happened? We asked two climbing legends to share their memories. Their names come up more often than any others when talking about the Big Wall – Bernd Arnold (sandstone master who kept pushing the grade until the 80’s) and Karel Bělina (the most productive sandstone first ascentionist of all time, almost 5000 routes, Ed.)
“I was there for the first time in 1971 with Weigle and I saw the line. I was thrilled, there were old slings, wooden wedges. I heard that Bělina had started on it. I climbed up the Kastenturm and the Skin Tearing route VIIc. I came back several times later on, I kept in touch with Zdeněk Weingartl who gave me the green light. I didn’t even know the details and the history or who else was considering the ascent. There was a ring (on the way to the cave) but we pulled it out and didn’t use it. There was another one in the cave and then we found a few wedges in the roof. I bolted only one ring on top, mainly for belaying. I could also see the crack narrowed and I was afraid of a crux.”
Musings from Saxon climber Alesak Prochazka:: You have to realize that the rules in Žleb were really strict at the time. You could only install a ring from a free climbing position and the wooden wedges in the roof were against the rules which is why they forbade him from finishing the route. Supposedly, the Weingartl brothers pulled Bělina’s rings out and planned to finish the climb. They were fit enough to do it – it would have been a piece of cake for them if they wanted to do it. But, it had stayed unsent for several years until Arnold came and finished it.
“I didn’t start the Big Wall, Jaroslav Budín did. He bolted the first ring in 1961 – under the cave, lower then it is today. Then Venca Širl got involved years later, first with Zdeněk Hubka in 1963 and then I helped him with it. I bolted the second ring up there, third overall. Someone else got on it later as well, but didn’t get far from the ring. I put in the second ring from a wedge and the committee didn’t like that so they removed it. To have a route approved you had to have your hand in the crack and drill for an hour. They were staring at us from behind the bush while Širl and I did our thing and they immediately came to tell us they would reject it. And reject it they did. It ended up being Zuzana Hoffmanová who mounted the rings. Someone – I think it was the Weingartl brothers hung in the rope for her, pulled her close to the face and the woman mounted it in.
Our guys then climbed one of Arnold’s routes – I think it was in Polenztalwächter, Germany – and so as a result, Arnold went to the Big Wall which was ringless again by that point (“Karel, Arnold climbed it first, then the rings got removed!” Karel’s wife steps in the conversation). Arnold got mad and he put up just one ring at the top. So, he got his revenge and stole it from us. I am not sure whether he climbed it with Günther Lamme or someone else, but that’s what happened.
Other than that, it’s a crack but not too difficult. It would be a piece of cake for the guys from Adršpach. Like Jarda Houser, he could still climb it today at age 70. There are a lot of people who can do it. Like when Standa Lukavský or Petr Mocek stop by.”
A few facts:
As you can see, the memories of the two first ascenders don’t match. Did Arnold finish it as a revenge or did he really not know who else was interested? He said himself he did know Bělina was working on it… (?)
Maybe the dates of both first ascents could help us here:
Big Wall (VIIIc) on President – 19/6/1980.
Angenehme Stürze (“Pleasant Falls“ in English IXb, RP Xa) on Polenztalwächtera – 26/10/1980.
Obviously, Arnold couldn’t have climbed the Big Wall to take revenge for a route that the Czech guys had not even finished until four months later. What seems more likely is that the Angenehme Stürze was a result of a revenge of Standa Šilhán, Honza Ďoubal, and Vašek Vodička for Arnold’s finishing of several routes – including the Big Wall. So, they took care of an unfinished route located just behind Arnold’s apartment, one that had teased the champion from Saxony for years.
“When I saw the Elbe canyon for the first time, I felt humbled. I still held on near Želva, I stopped talking when we got to Tyršovy towers and from the moment I saw Big Wall, I just kept my mouth shut.“ Jeník Pleticha
From the memory of Danka Kadlecová:
“When I stand below the Big Wall now I feel humbleness and respect.“
When I was fooling around with the route some 30 years ago, I was cocky and I lacked experience. I clearly remember the moment I stopped in the crack for a second, between the first ring and the cave… I realized I got pretty far up and that it might be a good idea to place a sling.
But my “common sense” logic suggested that placing a sling would cost me a lot of energy and I might even fall!
So I dug deeper in the crack with my torn up hands and didn’t take another breath until I was down on all fours in the cave.
When I got out of the cave I was surprised how sturdy the crack seemed and I even placed some slings. But I kept breathing heavily and didn’t take a break until I clipped another ring.
The spectacular view of the Elbe Valley is a wonderful reward. The Big Wall is still a challenge for me and I would love to climb the route again.”
If you’re interested in learning more information about climbing in the sandstone region, feel free to contact us. We can tell you which seasons or months are the best, which routes are a must-do, which are not dangerous, where to stay, where to park, where the best beer is tapped, and so on… Our enthusiastic editorial board is based in the north of the Czech Republic – where the sandstones shape the landscape. Write us at: [email protected] . . .
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