Posted on

The Frozen Ephemera of Glens and Fjords

Having spent most of my previous winter seasons climbing in the mountains I call home, Chamonix Mont Blanc, the untouched and wild feel of these destinations left me feeling beaten yet satisfied. This winter I have been fortunate enough to travel to two of the harshest yet most captivating places for mixed climbing in Europe, Scotland and Norway.

The Fjords of Norway, from a boat . Photo by Jan Virt 

Climbing in such close proximity to water, especially in winter, feels surreal. There aren’t many mountains that offer this combination of elements which make being there even more special.

I found climbing in Scotland and Norway to be a great experience, unlike anything I’m used to. Here I talk about my 5 main reasons why it was such a great (though sometimes frustrating) experience. I hope you find these useful if you venture into these environments (I really suggest you do)!

1.  A slave to the skies 

The  climates of Scotland and Norway result in pretty variable weather patterns, particularly in winter. One day you can be climbing ice and the next it might have melted away. The skies can be blue when you begin your ascent but you find yourself in a white out at the top. You need to be flexible and able to react to the changing forecast and you certainly don’t plan further than 2 days ahead. Check the forecast the night before and then again in the morning, when looking out the window it might be somewhat different still.

For me being in Scotland and Norway was about having to make quick last minute decisions and being adaptable as a mountaineer. The mountains are lower which means that only one or two degrees change in temperature can make the difference of the first pitch being wet with rain or dry and dusted with snow. 

2. Shifting objectives in the lower mountains 

Over the years I have become accustomed to long alpine routes that require a high level of endurance – where it is more about conserving my energy and making sure I can get through every pitch, reach the summit and make it down safely afterwards. In Scotland and Norway the mountains are a lot lower with less height gain. 

I loved the challenge of trying much shorter yet harder climbs on these lower mountains. There is no battling the altitude, less concern about a long grueling descent nor the lingering fear of missing the last lift. I can afford to spend most of my energy on just 4 pitches, for example, and maybe I lead only half of these. I am not climbing my pitch worrying that if I get too pumped I won’t have enough energy to finish the route, I can climb full power with all my mental energy and push my limits to my full potential. 

Fay climbing in Scotland. Photo by Line van den Berg

3. Evolving one’s repertoire 

When climbing in the higher mountains, I can reliably either use cams or ice screws. But in Scotland for example, the cracks get wet and then freeze, riming up with ice. This is where static protection like peckers and hexes come in good use. Being able to place all kinds of gear makes me feel much more capable of going anywhere and trying to climb anything within my grade in winter. 

The terrain in Norway felt quite traditional, I found very few cracks and was mainly throwing slings around small rocks and boulders. At some points I was even using trees and branches for protection! It was good to have a range of cams which made me feel more comfortable to climb hard as I am more familiar with this type of protection. 

The Black Totem cam proved absolutely invaluable in Norway, it proved to be the perfect size for smaller parallel cracks hidden by powder snow.

4. Same planet yet otherworldly 

I still can’t get over the view when the mountains are situated right next to the ocean, “breathtaking” doesn’t do it justice and you really have to witness it yourself to understand what I can’t express in words. .

In Norway, you can be atop a mountain and gaze out over the fresh, crystal clear, bright blue water, punctuated only by the shimmering, glistening reflections of the mountains – the very mountain you’re clinging to. The brightness of the colours and the sight truly feels otherworldly.

There is a romanticism to Scotland’s lochs, nestling amongst rugged mountains and the glens carved out by ancient glaciers surrounded by craggy hills. When the weather is clear, you can see for miles and wonder at the uninterrupted beauty of the wilderness.

5. Good things come 

This winter has taught me a lot about patience. Nothing comes easily when dealing with such changeable weather.

In the Alps, I am accustomed to winters with day after day of clear blue skies and sunshine. Norway and Scotland, by contrast, have days of perpetual drizzle, not even rain. Instead of procrastinating on my inability to climb, I would venture into the towns and experience the culture they have to offer..

I take for granted that in the Alps I can most likely get a lift up high and climb in a light snowfall without getting soaking wet on an approach. There isn’t that luxury in Scotland and Norway, there are essentially no lifts and the ascents start from the ocean, fjords or lochs.

But the climbing Gods are good and rewarded my patience with regular breaks in the weather that allowed for truly spectacular climbing experiences.

Fay climbing in Norway. Photo by Jan Virt 

So I have concluded 

The anticipation of the climb, constant weather watching and checking gear over… and over… and over…  in readiness are far outweighed once that break in the weather comes.

The fact that it isn’t easy and that you have to play the waiting game ultimately make climbing Scotland and Norway a completely different experience – one that I will cherish and repeat many times to come.

Text: Fay Manners

#totemmt #totemcamspeople #totemcam

Posted on

Salathe Wall, by Max Didier

A story of our Chilean ambassador, Max Didier, who last year for these dates, embarked on the adventure of trying to free climb the Salathe Wall, in the Yosemite Valley.

Text: Max Didier

Photos: Nicolas Gantz

Max Didier Offwidth

Last September, my colleagues Nicolas Gantz, Carlos Lastra, Diego Diaz and I embarked on the adventure of trying the free ascent of the Salathe Wall.

Shortly after starting the project, an unfortunate incidental ended with Diego back to Chile. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do anything to avoid their departure.

“Diego left for home and with him my hopes of climbing Salathe in free”

I understood that the project was finished at that time and take it immediately to the train station. Diego left for home and with him also my hopes of climbing Salathe in free.

When returning to Camp 4 I did not know if this trip made sense, without my partner it was impossible to make the ascent. Luckily, a friend named Austin quickly joined us in the project, which I put into action again.

On the day of the try we got up at 4 am and started to climb the Freeblast. At 11 am we were in the pitch 12 (Heart Ledges), there we ate something and continue until the pitch 20. We came to rest to “The Alcove” at about 4 pm. A long day but we already had the 20 first pitches liberated.

The next morning we continue early towards the first crux of the route; the famous Boulder Problem, which I was able to sent at the second try. At about 1 pm we were already eating and resting before the pitch 26.

Max Didier Rest

Max Didier Totem Cam

The third day we woke up early in “The Block”. We prepare everything and continue towards the second crux of the route: the Enduro Corner. I was able to sent at the first try. Very happy we continue to the roof where Freerider and Salathe Wall are divided.

I was able to send the roof onsigth and the joy was very high. We were already on the edge of the Headwall and I decided to climb them artificial to save energy and arrive to the “Long Ledge” (our camp for the next days). During the climb in artificial take advantage to read well the lengths. At 3 pm on the third day we were already installed in Long Ledge. We decided to take the fourth day of rest to recover the body and the hands.

That day was wonderful, we woke without alarm on a terrace 800 meters from the ground without worries, just eat and rest. We could contemplate the valley and see from above other teams climbing different routes of the captain.

Bivouac Salathe Wall

The next morning we had breakfast and go down until the next three pitches to begin working. The first is an open dihedral length, slightly overhanging, with broad cracks and slab output with small feet. It took me all the morning to learn the correct sequence.

The sixth day on the wall was incredible. Early in the morning we wait for the light of the sun and went to the first pitch of the Headwall. I heated in a first try and felt that the next try I could chain. I memorized the sequence again and done it without expectations, I passed the dihedral and I could stop on the slab, finally I reached the anchor.

The second pitch is a crack of 40 meters with two small roofs that varies its width from fingers to tight hand. I wanted to give it all in the first try and I started climbing through the hard sections at the edge of falling. I was advancing slowly, becoming more tired, until I found a handshake before the final crux.

Finally, exhausted and without knowing the sequence, I tried to solve twice the exit and in the third attempt I flew. The try lasted 45 minutes.

Max Didier Boulder Problem

I felt the days on the wall and needed to recover my hands to give back to the crack of the second pitch so, after two days of climbing we decided to take rest.

We wake up early on the 8th, have a light breakfast and go down to the anchor of the second pitch. I started climbing with a little bit of anxiety and feeling tired of the days on the wall. The arms and legs did not yield what I had expected and I flew before I even reached the first crux. I understood that I was exhausted but tried the length twice more, without success. Exhausted I felt the impotence of not being able to climb the route. I also felt the mental tiredness of thinking about climb the route for so many days and seeing how my possibilities ran out.

“We had done everything according to the plan. The logistics and the team worked perfectly. My companions supported me a lot and that gave me much joy and tranquility”

When we came to rest we saw that we had food left to try another day. We decided not to surrender and try the crack one last time. We had done everything according to the plan. The logistics and the team worked perfectly. My companions supported me to a lot and that gave me much joy and tranquility. We went to sleep without putting the alarm for the next day. We plan to climb the crack in the afternoon so we have more rest time.

On the ninth day I woke up and looked at the crack, it was strange because I no longer felt that desire to climb it. We have lunch and prepared to go down to try it for the last time. When I was going down the rope, I looked at the route and felt pain in my hands and feet. The body seemed not to recover during the night and the head was filled with thoughts outside the climb. Finally, I decided not to try again. I released the strings and continued the 5 pitches to the summit. The route had won this battle.

Max Didier Fighting on Salathe

We went to summit with the last lights, we ate, celebrated the try and went to sleep. We woke up in the majestic top of the captain after 9 days on the wall, with many feelings. On the one hand a bit frustrated and disappointed of my performance. On the other hand I felt the happiness of having a great learning of humility and tolerance.

Now I just look forward to reviving this beautiful experience with Nicolas and Agustine, and I hope to be better prepared and be able to climb the Salathe Wall.

“Climbing is a sport where progress is linked to experience and that cannot be accelerated”

Today I am training full of motivation, to continue pushing my limits and achieve more ambitious goals. I have seen that little by little everything is possible, you only have to be patient. Climbing is a sport where progress is linked to the experience and that can not be accelerated.

#totemmt #totemcamspeople #totemcam

Posted on

Traditional Climbing Meeting, Roca Nua Montserrat 2019

Traditional Climbing, fanatism and good people. The three “ingredients” used by our friends of Roca Nua during last year’s meeting in San Benet (Montserrat)

Text: Jordi Esteve (President of Roca Nua Asociation)
Photos: Liqen Studio

Many days have passed since a small group of climbers met in the charismatic shelter of Sant Benet, in the massif of Montserrat.

The peculiar morphology of the montserratine rock needs a lot of experience and expertise to protect itself with recoverable gear. But getting to dominate the art of traditional climbing in this place offers a level of incomparable satisfaction, and this was what the organizers of the Roca Nua meeting intended, that the participants knew the rock and faced it face to face, only with a handful of carabiners and tapes and their set of Totem Cams.

The objectives, which were to show the possibilities and techniques of protect in the stone of Montserrat, were reached. All participants climbed accompanied by a local climber who showed them where the routes were going and advised them on the different possibilities to protect. The level of satisfaction was very high for both attendees and organizers.

Soon we will have the opportunity to attend another meeting of traditional climbing to enjoy the unique feeling of ascending the rock without leaving traces, without leaving marks of our inability, without leaving remains, only naked rock, ROCA NUA…

#totemmt #totemcams #totemcamspeople

Posted on

Trailer of “NON EXPANSION” A6

Ethics and commitment by the hand of Genis Hernandez, Jan Casas and Marcel Millet. Experienced climbers with more than 1000 openings behind them, almost all of extreme difficulty (Non Expansion), (A5+, A6…) where the head and the Totem Cam play an essential role.

“Totem gives us the security that do not give us other friend-es, since it works with independent lobes. For extreme aid climbing this is ideal due to the placements are usually irregular and another type of friends would not give us that security”. Genis Hernandez

Words: Jan Casas

Climbing is a strange activity in which the relationship of the partners is very intense. First is friendship. Then it is the partner. Affinity is essential. This is how almost without realizing it we have formed a very cohesive team Marcel Millet, Genís Hernández and Jan Casas.

Marcel Millet belongs to a climber profile already in extinction. Marcel is more recognized than known. Their name will not say anything to most new generations. For the rest, Marcel Millet is a benchmark in climbing. In his long and outstanding career, Marcel has stood out for being always on the crest of the wave.

We stood for the 81 of the last century when Marcel already advocated for the rotpunkt and for minimizing the use of expansions. A long history of respected openings in any of the modalities of what we understand by rock climbing, from the iconic Brown Sugar of La Mómia, through Alternative 3 of the Banana of Devils or La Sant Josep Fuster -Agulla of Centenar-. We will not quote difficulties. Not for not being relevant, since they are always notorious, but we will emphasize the impeccable ethics in its execution. Now sexagenary, the brightness of the illusion has not ceased, sharing capital adventures to broaden his extensive repertoire of anecdotes that turn any bivac into a festival of laughter and unforgettable memories.

Genís Hernández was formed as a climber in Montserrat and in Can Tobella -Esparreguera-. Son of the golden age when the tribes colonized Sant Benet as their home. He drank of the most exacerbated purism. Represented by young people who found refuge in the walls of Montserrat sharing a passion for the difficulty that made them feel free. They tried to forget the rules of a perverse system. Its extensive history of openness is only comparable to the unwavering desire to respect the rock. Tireless in his endeavour to push the limits, he has become a symbol of a craft that is only reached after years of a long and strenuous learning.

Jan Casas collaborates in balancing madness and extreme madness with a bit of necessary sanity. Renowned route opener, it has a less extensive history, result of prioritizing the quality above the quantity. The scrupulous ethics poured in its lines have managed to impregnate a seal of quality and difficulty in equal parts in its itineraries. The veteranity has not prevented him from ascending the Captain -Yosemite recently with his son Miquel of 17 years, elevating to the category of challenge the verb to share.

Last but not least, Joaquín Tarrafeta Gónzforkis our link to the mainland. Unconditional and essential support for logistical, photographic and whatever need be.

The three climbers have common characteristics, but there is a common denominator that stands out above the rest: respect for the rock. In recent years, both Marcel and Genís already had a good history of push the limit of difficulty in artificial. Good example of this are “La histérica” -A6- and “El noi del sucre” -A6-. It is in this new adventure of 2019 that Jan Casas joins the NON EXPANSION team. Adventure that is interrupted by this pandemic that has forced us to postpone the culmination of the summit.

“Humans have become accustomed to adapting the medium to their needs. Climbers are nothing more than a sample of this practice.”

The NON EXPANSION team aims to provide a generous vision of climbing: to allow the repeater to climb as the opener did. It is nothing new. The new is to abuse the technical means to reduce the difficulty in the name of security and turn greed into a flagship.

Humans have become accustomed to adapting the medium to their needs. Climbers are nothing more than a sample of this practice.

Technical advances facilitate the difficulty. Totem with its cam devices offer unique features for the performance of the NON EXPANSION. Lightness, versatility, polyvalence, safety, resistance. A long list of features that make them indispensable companions for a clean climb and without using permanent gear. The conscientious and experienced use of the Totems make them ideal candidates to be used in this type of climbing.

They are the only cam devices that can withstand loads using two lobes. This gives them a versatility difficult to explain when the magnitude of the tragedy is unknown. When very little, it means a lot.

SELECCiÓN NATURAL is the name that receives the project that will soon give birth and that its name intends to be a cover letter. The difficulties reached are proposals of cotation that challenge the limits of this modality. It is intended with this brief article, to value the project and offer an appetizer of what is about to happen and of which we will inform extensively.

#totemmt #totemcam #totemcamspeople

Posted on

Story about a very long journey, by Fabian Buhl (FFA of Déjà)

Déjá (8c+) FFA

Story about a very long journey tells the story of commitment and dedication to face the first free climb of one of the most difficult multipitch routes in the world: Déjà, 8c+ (Rätikon)

Words: Fabian Buhl

Déjá (8c+) FFA
Déjá (8c+)

A totally new adventure started when Beat Kammerlander told me 5 years ago that I should check out Déjà. It has never seen a free ascent until then, although he has worked on it intensively between 1995 until 97. On my first glance onto the topo I found out it has been first ascended by my friends Michi Wyser and Andres Lietha (at that time I knew Michi, only).

I met Andres first during the winter 2018/spring of 2019 in Ticino. We spoke about Déjà and he directly offered to support me.

Andres Lietha Déjá
Andres Lietha belaying during the FFA of Déjá

In the spring of 2015, I finally accepted the challenge and decided to analyze the crux sections of the route. After a time of dedication, I can finally find a method that allowed me to imagine for the first time the possibility of “redpoint” the route. The truth is that I have never had to work as hard as with Déjà to get to decipher all the movements of a route of these characteristics.

I went one season after another to Rätikon, often only to play and optimize the movements of the route. Shortly after starting to analyze it, I realized that I needed extraordinary conditions, since the type of climbing did not allow to climb on very hot days, because I would end up slipping.

Fabian during the FFA of Déjà
Fabian during the ascent

In autumn 2018 I decided to dedicate enough time on my agenda to face the challenge with full commitment. I needed to plan in advance the training to take my physical level to the ideal conditions to face climbing.

It took me a lot to acquire the physical conditions I wanted, but finally on October 6 I was back in Rätikon. The truth is that even though the physical conditions helped me during the climbing, the type of route required a precision and such a technique, that I had to memorize all the movements again in order not to make any mistakes. The disadvantage was that I could never try more than 3 or 4 times the movements of the crux, since the crimps are so small that just break your skin.

I knew from previous years that the main priority was to have no any cut. Therefore, I always invested the first try in the hard pitch. After a couple of attempts I was going to concentrate on the rest, which also required a technical and expecial dedication.

“I decided that the ideal conditions for releasing the pitch were one day without sun and a temperature of -2 to 5 °C.”

Having worked all the pitchs I called a couple of friends to come with me to try to redpoint the route, but the truth is that the crux remained a difficult problem to solve. I studied the movements intensely and discovered exactly what time of day and at what temperature I should try. So I decided that the ideal conditions to release the pitch were one day without sun and a temperature of -2 to 5 °C.

The disadvantage of the last season was that it snowed quite a bit, which complicated the approach with my car. I will remember the day before the redpoint for the rest of my life.

We drove through heavy snow until my old car was completely stuck. Not worried about the situation, we made the backpack and went to climb. This would have been a perfect day to free climb Déjà. Unfortunately, the clouds entered and the wind increased considerably.

In the ninth pitch, wind began to stick strongly, which made it impossible for us to keep warm. I tried the pitch a couple of times, but I always ended up falling to the edge of hypothermia. We decided it was time to leave.

I ended up quite discouraged that day, but Andrés told me: “Don’t worry, we’ll come back! Today it is not worth trying.” He was right. While I was doing the rapel, I reflected his words in my mind and relaxed thinking I had all winter ahead.

On the day of the redpoint we made the appointment as usual at 7:42 at the Landquart/Graubünden/Switzerland train station. I got up at 6:00 am and headed to pick it up. That day I did not sleep well and got up with a lot of sleep. Fortunately, at the time I picked up Andrés my motivation increased.

“After four pitches without effort I reached the crux and I could climb it at the first try.”

I have never climbed as much in automatic pilot mode as in that day. After four pitches without effort I reached the crux and I could climb it at the first try. I was surprised that something in which I had worked so long could come out so easy.

Free ascent Deja

I got to the last long and I knew that I only had a 6b+ to reach the top. I knew my story that was already 4 years old would soon end. I climbed the last long and dragged myself to the small rock cave. Andrés got into the cave and I realized that for me it was a story of four years, but for Andrés it was already 27.

I climbed the last easy pitch and crawled into a little rock cave. Andres jugged up into the cave and I realized it was a four year long story for me, but for Andres it was a 27 year long story which got finally finished.

Suddenly, Andrés pulled out a bottle of champagne. Apparently, He had more hope than I did on that day. It was a surreal moment to share the glass of champagne in this unique place. But it was even more the fact that Andrés was in that place 27 years ago to make the first ascesion of Déjà and now he was here after the first free ascent.

Thanks to all my friends for their support, without you it wouldn’t have been possible. 6a+,6c+,6b+,7c,8c+,7c+,6b+,6b+,7c+,7a,8a+,6b+

Celebration FFA déjá
Fabian and Andres celebrating the FFA of Déjà

#totemmt #totemcams #totemcamspeople

Posted on

“Sense Retorn” (No return)

Totem Cam

Recently realeased at Mendifilm, (international mountain film festival), “Sense Retorn” tells the story of the Totem MT athlete Siebe Vanhee and his the project of opening and FFA of a new route on “Catalunya Wall” in Montrebei (Catalunya).

The film tells how the team, composed by our partner Siebe Vanhee and their friends Roger Molina and Jorge Solorzano, embarked on the adventure of opening a new route on a place where predominates the respect for the #tradclimbing and where the Totem Cam plays an important role due to the peculiarities of this incredible wall.

All of this supported on values like team work and the ethical vision of the mountains which are also the values that orient our activity.


The moments

#totemmt #totemcams #totemcamspeople

Posted on

Fiordland climbing expedition. Much more than climbing

Text: Olivia Page

Almost one year to the day I was overlooking Wanaka lake applying for a women’s adventure film grant: “The Travel Play Live Women’s Adventure Grant is not about ‘Insta-worthy’ pictures of smiling women with perfect hair or pink washing the adventure / outdoor space” – TPL. I was submitting an idea for an all-female first peaks traverse and accompanying first rock climbing ascent in Fiordland, New Zealand. The fact that it was all-female was not really the hook, as very few people venture into this region – man or woman – but it would increase the visual presence of females following bold and exciting ideas in the outdoors.

Today mens sports receive over 90% of traditional media coverage. This has crippled the gender balance in the outdoor world by skewing females perception of where they fit into it. It has created what might be considered a self fulfilling prophecy. Exposure to athletes and mentors through the media creates an environment that encourages, inspires and pushes people to achieve bigger and bolder objectives. Females need mentors they can relate to.

Now one year on the same view fills my vision. A storm is rolling over the mountains and I’m wondering if in seven days Fiordland will open her gates to us. Our three peaks ridge line traverse of Terror Peak, Mount Danger and Lady of the Snows looks possible, if the weather plays nice. It rains up to 8 metres a year there. To our knowledge no one has attempted parts of the traverse due to the exposure and complicated terrain. In saying, a possible first climbing ascent up a canine tooth shaped peak in between Terror and Danger, unofficially named The Tusk, is well on the cards. The only other person known to attempt it tragically fell from its precipitous features – it is unknown if he’d made it.

Climbing in the mountains is a challenge. Filming in them is double that. We cannot go as light and fast as we’d like. Things take longer. Heavy packs hinder movement, ropes will probably come out more often than if we went light. Camera gear doesn’t like rivers, cold temperatures or rain. The list goes on. 

The film will hopefully be a story about four female climbers brought together by the spirit of adventure, a love of nature and the lust for climbing untouched aesthetic granite lines in rarely explored regions. United in their desire to push their limits, they dream to achieve something that can inspire the next generation of females to be explorers, adventurers, thinkers and eco-warriors – in a time when urbanisation and industry is threatening the natural environment, and humanity’s connection to it. 

The Totem Team:

Liz Oh AUS: Climber, scientific diver, nurse.

Rosie Hohnen AUS: Climber, outdoor guide, ecologist.

Ana Richards NZ: Climber, conservationist, explorer.

Olivia Page AUS: Climber, photographer, writer.

Additional film crew:

Simon Bischoff AUS: Drone pilot.

The team



#totemcamspeople #genderequality #allfemaleclimbingexpedition #fiordlandclimbingexpedition #ecowarriors

Posted on

Sharks of Königssee (8a, 250m. Berchtesgaden / Germany) By Luka Lindic

Text: Luka Lindic
Photos: Stefan Wiebel / Luka Lindic

Luka sending the route

I am still new to Berchtesgaden Area and after a long time following the winter around the globe I was psyched to explore the area that is offering incredible rock climbing potential. Together with my girlfriend Ines Papert, who is Living in the area for more than 20 years we spotted a good looking line on “Alpltalkopf” north face. We opened the route ground up mostly using cams and pitons with bolts being the last option. I was super happy to have Totem Cams on my harness as they are simply the best in limestone, where the cracks are often full of uneven features.

Working on the route

We needed five days to open nine pitches of the route to the flat top. After a day cleaning it was time for a fun part with free climbing the route. I managed to grab a red-point ascent quickly but the crux boulder in the most difficult pitch was causing problems for Ines. She managed to stay psyched and patient. It was a nice experience to be a support when someone you care about the most is trying to realize something close to the limit. After a short rainy period we walked up there together again and Ines managed to send the route as well.

Luka and his partner Ines after sending the route

It was a nice come back for us after a thought experience on our last expedition. Two year ago love brought me to Berchtesgaden area. I immediately noticed how proud the locals are of this truly spectacular place full of mountains and lakes with Watzmann being the highest mountain and Königssee the biggest lake. At the beginning our relationship was a bit of a target for the “sharks teeth” of some local people and after some time I started calling them Sharks of Königssee. I knew a name of the a new route we might climb one day was born. Now its there as a funny memory of our beginning. I am very grateful so many of the local climbers welcomed me so nicely and look forward to share climbing days in this magic place.




Posted on

“The Big Easy” By Fabian Buhl

In the summer of 2018, our Totem MT team member, Fabian Buhl, went to Pakistan with the goal of exploring new rock climbing routes on the Karakoram Ridge. “The Big Easy” was the consequence of this trip, but this story is not only about alpinism. Fabian defines this trip like an inflexion point on his career, for sure, his words will help you to set new challenges!

Beginning of the headwall

Small, complex and very difficult was my universe when my climbing career as a Boulderer started. Nonetheless the last years I have dedicated a lot of time and energy into expanding my climbing universe into unknown and larger playgrounds of more and more alpine terrain.

I got totally absorbed in solo climbing and my goal for the winter and summer 2016 was trying to push the limits in this rarely played game. Like in bouldering failure did not put me down. It was only a source of energy to improve, because it showed me the weakness of my solo system. Exactly the rope handling and all the little details of the alpine trickery got me really involved, it fits perfectly to my methodical way of thinking.

Personally, I experience in alpine climbing additional things that keep me motivated to expand and try to improve this for my new universe, the physical demand can fully push you into a deep and satisfying exhaustion. In Contradiction to our world where we try to insure ourselves against everything and everyone, in alpine climbing you are absolutely responsible for your own action and have to deal with the results of it, most of the time very soon or you will feel it to your disadvantage. This leads to the most important and most satisfying part which I found in alpine climbing, absolute trust into your climbing partner. It is the only insurance you have during these long and strenuous days spend up on the mountains.

The logical consequence of my search to experience and learn more and more of the alpine world was the dream to go to the greater ranges. On one of our trips Alexander Huber and me came up with the idea to make a proper but small expedition in the summer of 2018. We just needed to define a goal, which fits both of our ideals. As we are climbers, we were searching a challenging goal which offers mostly good rock climbing. Alexander has been in Pakistan the year before and saw an amazing and elegant arete, located just above the Choktoi glacier.

Approaching to the wall

The arete we declared our target with a length of 2200m and shines from first to the last daylight. It is one of the most prominent and obvious lines in the Choktoi valley.

In Skardu the outdoor adventure really began by driving with a classic vintage Toyota Jeep, along the spectacular gorge of the River Braldo to Askole. Quite impressed by the rough road 100m above the gorge, which is not a road to western standards, and the exceptional skills of our driver, we arrived in the beautiful village of Askole with the fading light. It is the last village up the valley, which is year round inhabited and surrounded by an incredible mountain scenery. Askole is the perfect Balti villages and shines in most picturesque nuances of green I can imagine and are in big contrast to the surrounding brownish sand and rock landscape with white majestic glaciers on top of the mountains.

Early morning of the next day we started our 4 days march to basecamp. I felt a bit weird, strolling leisurely with my day bag upstream the River Braldo, while the porters overtook me with 25kg backpacks. Soon I realized that already the altitude of 3500m takes it´s toll and it is better to take it easy and acclimatize proper and gradually.

The next days we hiked each day for about 6-7 hours and spending the nights in one of the camps alongside the way. We gained approximately 500m of height each day.

From day 3 on the march we saw our line and were fascinated by the elegance of it, it has shined all day long in the sun. After a short walk of day four we reached the place where we searched for basecamp, quickly we found a perfect place.

We established our spartantic but very comfortable basecamp and it offered all we needed. Luckily the weather stayed good, so there was enough time to rest and get a better acclimatized to BC level. The first gear transport was as scheduled to set up ABC at 5000m.


We knew that the weather will stay good for the next days we directly conducted one more material transport with the purpose of staying 2 days in ABC to get further acclimatized. Within this stay at ABC we climbed the first of the 3 big waves of our chosen line. Already after the first pitches we realized that the route will take much more commitment and energy as we thought.

After the bad weather, we had fully recovered and were super keen to go up the mountain and started to work on the main part. We ascended our previously fixed rope and climbed the whole middle part a quite flat arete until we established our Camp. The Camp was a jackpot, as it was the only flat spot on the entire ridge line and it is located perfectly for camping with an incredible panorama in 5500m with the Latoks and Ogres range just across. Even more excited we were about the perfect splitter cracks that we saw just above us. They are as impressive as in Yosemite and it is a gift finding this perfect rock and beautiful line in the heart of our route at 5500m.

Moments of exposure

The next day, as the terrain is flatter, waking up to the sound of snow falling on our tent, we knew it will not be a walk in the park and even thought about bailing. In the end we tried it anyways, because we knew it will be essential for our summit push. It snowed all day long a little bit but as the rock was anyway snow covered and we where on quite flat but tricky terrain, it was ok. Actually I liked the little alpine weather and constantly changing from crampons to rock shoes, it was the perfect contrast to the previous Yosemite-style day. It showed us once more how complex the route will be. Arriving below the headwall, it was clear it will be the crux of the route and is way steeper as we expected it to be, totally snow covered it looked frightening.

Unfortunately the weather got bad for nearly a week, we spend the days relaxing, reading and playing chess, but always being concerned about the head wall, because with this much snow and ice it will be really difficult.

The good weather came and we went up the mountain again, for its final push. Arriving in camp we made a little brew and went straight to bed, because already four hours later we where having breakfast on our terrace with an incredible sunrise. What a beautiful start of the day!

Camp during the morninglight

Soon we arrived at the headwall in order to climb the first 200m of it this day, as we expected the cracks where still totally iced up and the terrain way steeper as we imagined.

As we found no other bivi spot we needed to go all the way down to camp again. Anyway we knew that if everything works out we will make our summit push tomorrow, that is why we did not really care. The next day we climbed up to our highpoint again, from here we wanted to follow a corner system. The only downside, it was totally iced up, but it still looked liked the easiest option and so I got some really nice mixed pitches, before standing on the pre summit.

Working on the mixed gully

From the pre summit we needed to rappel to the col, which leads via long snow arete with some climbing to the main summit of Choktoi Ri. I wanted to belay Alexander directly, sitting on the summit, when I realized the summit is a big cornice. A little unsure about my stupid behavior, I went down and made belay that we both can safely go on the small main summit and have a little break and just enjoy the great view towards China and over viewing the Karakoram. As Choktoi Ri is the highest peak of the range we where really freestanding. Reflecting the line on the summit, we realized how fortunate we are, with being able to first ascent this prominent line, which took a lot of energy but the 2200m of climbing rewarded us with a great variety and always kept on giving new challenges. In the end we needed all our skills to complete “The Big Easy”. The most important is, that we have had an amazing time, with a lot of laughs and without any bad mood, in the peaceful and calm Karakoram, because we just did what we like and for what we live for. It clearly showed me the smaller the expedition the richer the experience!

Summit of “The Big Easy” (Summa Brakk)


Posted on

Angel Salamanca and Jao Garcia, opening a new route in Nepal

Nameless and virgin peak of about 6080 meters

Our mate Angel Luis Salamanca left at the end of April of this year together with his mate Jao Garcia to Nepal aiming at opening a new route in an unclimbed 6000-meter close to Lobuche.

On his return, Angel tell us about his experience:

Nameless and virgin peak of about 6080 meters
Nameless and virgin peak of about 6080 meters

By the end of April we headed to Nepal having in mind the idea of ascending the imposing northern face of Lobuche West, however a landslide from its wall, made us change plans and focused in a nameless virgin peak, of about 6080 meters high and 900 meters drop. Such a peak is located in the Changri Nup Glacier, very near the Everest. It is a nearly unclimbed valley and hardly visited.

We set off from the town of Lobuche, at 4900 meters high. We carried in two days, the material so as to be able to mount the base camp in a non rock area at about 5100 meters. It was very hard, a 10-hour trekking every day, snowing, with weather forecast against us, weight on our backs and a hellish moraine found is this valley. However, we have already settled down and are ready for the adventure.

Angel checking the gear
Angel checking the gear

We started trekking at 3 o’clock in the morning using front lights. Our steps and the song of snow partridges inhabiting the area were the only sound. The first shape glanced at sunrise is the Everest. The way starts with good snow, but when the sun comes up, it starts to soften. We began with 55 to 60 degrees gradient so as to reach – as we go forward – the average 70 degrees and 80 degrees at the end, with a very hard ice and our backpacks on our backs to make a vivac. The weight of the backpack with the equipment for the vivac (which was not used eventually) and the 6000 meters were taking their toll. We gave up roping at a full length and started roping by for 15 meters. We put two or three screws and hung to rest. Protection was mainly by ice screws but also with some rock coming up on the spot, with some crevasse where to be able to place our Totem Cams or some Basic, which fitted perfectly.

The Totem Cam 0.50 in the crack
The Totem Cam 0.50 in the crack

On reaching the top edge, it started snowing heavily – thick flakes which covered rapidly the crevasses on the floor what made me fall into one of them, holding on open arms so as not to get to the bottom. We didn’t work out the route well and came up at about 30 meters left-away of the top. So close and so far, with recently dropped snow and not seeing properly. We decided to come down carrying the same weight which had bothered us so much on the way up. I was about to kick it away to find it down later, on second thoughts I gave up nonsense.

Our partner in action
Our partner in action

At 6 o’clock, shriveled as a prune, since we had nearly had no water, we reached the base camp. We left our backpacks leaning on a stone leaving them to be covered by falling snow. We got into the sleeping bags to relax till the next day, but the pain in my toes because of knocking with the crampons against the ice was such, that it prevented me from sleeping at all.

In the morning, everything was recently-fallen snow-covered, the sun came up embracing us and Morpheus let us sleep for a little while.

In spite of not reaching the summit – nearly reached, this mountain, Nepal and its people left us a very pleasant taste in the mouth. We will return…