Simon Gietl: “Being able to climb something like that at the beginning of November is like a birthday and Christmas together.”

On November 9th and 16th, Simon Gietl and Vittorio Messini made the first ascent of Eywa (570m, WI6, M6), a mixed and ice line with the potential to become a classic, on Sass Pordoi. A conversation about unexpected surprises on the first ascent, public style discussions and early ice gifts in the Dolomites.

Congratulations on your new tour Simon. Is it normal to see such ice formations in the Dolomites at this time of year?

Simon Gietl: The fact that such lines are already in place at the beginning of November is an exception, almost unimaginable. But due to the heavy rainfall in autumn and the cold temperatures, one could sense that something was emerging at altitude.

Have you been planning this line for a while?

What I had in mind was the exit to the right of Avatar. Last year we saw ice forming, but not enough to try with crampons and ice axes. Of course I hadn't forgotten that.

And the probability of encountering more ice this year was quite high.

Simon Gietl

The lower part from the base of the wall up to the band was an open project. Ice has often been seen in this area. But usually it only stands for a very short time and then everything comes crashing down again.

When you could see on the webcam that the water had flowed far down, I called Vito and said: I don't think it's just ice in the upper part. And then we quickly drove there.

Eywa Topo
Eywa: Route of the new line by Simon Gietl and Vittorio Messino at Sass Pordoi.

What went through your mind when you first saw the line in front of you?

When we came around the corner and saw the heart of the line, we had to smile. It's a gift to be able to climb something like that. We almost felt a little wistful. And the following week we felt the same way when we crossed the belt to do the upper part. There was also a mega waterfall here.

It was cool that we were so motivated to try it. It could have been nothing. But the first time we saw it we knew that we had the right nose this time.

The climbing is exactly as you would hope: never really difficult and never really easy. Really classic Dolomite ice climbing.

Simon Gietl

Why didn't you get in the lower part in a direct line?

Our idea was definitely to climb the direct line. However, since it snowed for two days before November 9th - not much, but enough to make the climbing very unpleasant - it didn't seem sensible to us to go straight in, as we also knew that an old summer tour was going up here.

We didn't want to have to make adjustments where none were actually necessary and thus change the old tour.

Simon Gietl
Simon Gietl Eywa
Simon Gietl: “When we first saw the line, we knew that we had the right nose.”

A small hourglass on the third stand led to bigger discussions than expected, right?

Yes, that was pretty special. There was this hole, a crack with a lot of dirt in it, but too small for a sling. I had two options: 1. I put a hook in the hole. 2. I hit it two or three times with the hammer and then the hole is big and I have a decent hourglass.

Either way the hole would be changed! 

Simon Gietl

I decided on the second option. This didn't sit well with an Italian climber who also wanted to make the first ascent of the tour, as it was the first sign that someone had been here before him.

The big but subtle difference was that he claimed we had drilled an hourglass, even though it was clear that this was not true and all the other repeaters just had to smile at this statement.

borehole
The supposed drill hole (left in the picture) at the third stand.

In the second section above you also had to endure criticism. What exactly had happened?

After doing the lower part on November 9th, we came back on November 16th to climb the upper part of Eywa. At the same time, we wanted to use this day for a shoot in the last steep section before the band.

So we crossed in from the conveyor belt and, after making sure that no one was at the entrance, started abseiling.

Of course, on a first ascent you don't spend half an hour looking down to the start, the route wasn't a classic.

Simon Gietl

One or two pieces of ice will have come loose during the abseiling and flown down. When the Italians shouted at us at the direct entrance, we of course immediately stopped the action and decided to concentrate on the upper part.

New ice line from Simon Gietl
Simon Gietl and Vittorio Messini on the first ascent of Eywa.

And how did it all end?

The trio later tried to badmouth us as they thought we were setting up the tour from above. But the lower part was already finished. We just hadn't published the inspection at this point to avoid crowds. As the saying goes: we meant well and did it badly.

Of course, we apologized to them and take all the responsibility on ourselves. Still, I felt it was unfair that they reacted like that.

I hope that in the future we will all continue to treat each other with respect and understanding and inform ourselves in advance before loudly criticizing someone.

Simon Gietl

I learned a lot from this story: that even on first ascents, for example, you have to expect someone to be hidden at the entrance. We had expected a lot, but not this. But of course other alpinists also have eyes in their heads and a computer at home.

What was it like to continue climbing after the ice fell and to climb the upper part for the first time?

We climbed like we were on eggshells. It wasn't so funny anymore knowing that they were down there and you still had to climb up. No climber will throw anything down if they know that someone is down there.

Eywa has developed into a classic within a very short time. What does that do to you?

It was already clear to us during the inspection that such a homogeneous tour would be repeated quickly and often. That's why we left the slings in at every stand so that you can abseil the entire tour and just have to hang yourself up.

There isn't much ice at the moment. If there is such a line, then it is clear that people will go there.

Simon Gietl
A well-rehearsed climbing team: Vittorio Messini and Simon Gietl.
A well-rehearsed climbing team: Vittorio Messini and Simon Gietl.

Did you also receive feedback from those who repeated?

Yes, they had a lot of fun. It's nice to hear that we weren't the only ones having a great day. People really like it.

It's crazy that the Dolomites can always produce such fantastic lines. Like the one on Monte Agnèr by Nicola Bertoldo and Diego Dellai, for example, that such a pearl suddenly emerges.

How do you explain the high density of incredible ice lines in the Dolomites?

I can imagine that it has to do with the fact that the Dolomites are so rugged and there are lots of cracks where water can flow in and out again.

I am sure that these were not the last lines that Mother Nature gave us.

Simon Gietl

I don't even want to know how many lines there are that are inaccessible, hidden deep in the undeveloped and wild part of the Dolomites.

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