Professional mountaineer Michael Wohlleben finds goals in the Alps

They got in at two o’clock in the morning. Climbed up the south ridge in the dark. A day in mid-February, no one on the mountain, especially not at the summit at almost 3,000 meters, which they reached at eight in the morning. They rappelled down, then tackled the long west ridge. After two thirds of the route they bivouacked and continued in the morning. By midday they were on the summit for the second time. Then down to the east ridge and a third, final time up to the highest point. At eight o’clock in the evening it was done: the first winter trilogy on Salbitschijen (2985 meters), in 45 hours.

Bernd Steinle

Editor in the “Germany and the World” department.

The Salbitschijen is a classic climbing mountain in central Switzerland. Its ridges are heavily used in summer, and the West Ridge is considered an extreme classic. They are orphaned in winter. That’s exactly what drew Michael Wohlleben here, who conceived and executed the trilogy with the Swiss Lukas Hinterberger. “You can only experience the fact that it suddenly becomes so quiet in the mountains in winter,” he says in the film “Triple Edge”, which will be shown in cinemas from October 12th as part of the European Outdoor Film Tour.

Rest has its price

But the peace and quiet comes at a price. “There is a world of difference between mountaineering in winter and summer,” says Wohlleben. There is less daylight, a lot of snowy or icy terrain, belays hidden under the snow. There is a risk of avalanches and additional equipment is required, including a sleeping bag and a stove for bivouac in the backpack and down clothing and heavy mountain boots on your body. This means that difficult ice or rock rope lengths have to be overcome. Winter mountaineering on challenging routes, that’s alpinism the way Wohlleben loves it. “It’s no longer easy to be alone in the mountains these days,” he says. “As mountaineers, we are looking for exposure, we want to be exposed to the forces of nature.” That’s why some people fly to Patagonia or the Himalayas to find this feeling, says Wohlleben. “But there is often more going on there today than in winter at Salbitschijen.”

Michael Wohlleben and Lukas Hinterberger came up with the idea for the trilogy two years ago. : Image: Alpsolut

The idea for the trilogy came about in the fall two years ago, during a coffee break while sport climbing. It was a project that Wohlleben was immediately enthusiastic about. Alpinistically demanding, geographically close. “Luke and I don’t really care about flying abroad to go mountain climbing because of family and climate change,” he says. That’s why they often travel in the Alps. “You can’t be away for two months straight away.” Their first attempt at a trilogy last year failed due to poorer preparation and more difficult conditions. In addition, one of Wohlleben’s colleagues had recently had a fatal accident. “You don’t feel like pushing yourself to the limit,” he says. “It just didn’t fit. You do things like that from your heart.”

Michael Wohlleben, 32 years old, has been a professional mountaineer for many years. At 14 he stood on Mont Blanc (4,810 meters), at 17 he climbed the north face of the Eiger, at 21 he was one of the youngest state-certified mountain guides. Over the years he has achieved many first ascents, and in 2014 he caused a stir with another winter trilogy, on the north faces of the Three Peaks in northern Italy, with Ueli Steck. Wohlleben says he took a lot with him from the Swiss extreme climber, who had a fatal accident on Nuptse (7,861 meters) in Nepal in 2017, especially during his Sturm und Drang period. As was later the case by a lesser-known mountaineer who had a strong influence on him: the Swiss Walter Hungerbühler, the first solo climber of the west face of Cerro Torre (3,128 meters) in Patagonia in 2008. “He taught me what mountaineering is actually about: about honesty, about style, about your experiences. And not: How fast was I, what do the others think, am I better or worse?”


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