Professional climber Stefan Glowacz is passionate about scaling every summit. He knows his way around the most extreme climbing terrain, from the Arctic to the tropics, and simply loves breaking new ground. So far, however, the Black Wall in his local mountain range has defied him.
All passionate mountaineers look up to them: vertical, craggy cliffs that slice through the sky and at first glance seem insurmountable. Stefan Glowacz, professional mountaineer and expedition climber, got this feeling for the first time when his parents took him on a tour through the Dolomites. The famous Three Peaks kept him mesmerized all night long. Stefan Glowacz recalls: “Everyone was asleep in the cabin, it was just me out on the panorama terrace with a telescope, my eyes pressed into the eyecup, gazing steadily at the professional climbers in their bivouacs.” He probably knew then that he would soon be going down those same routes, learning those movements and often pitching his tent on the edge of the abyss. And so it was that at 15, he completed his first climbing course – the first steps on the road to adventure.
Always pushing the limits
He has never managed to shake off his love of the thrill. Thanks to his talent and unwavering motivation, back in the 1980s he attained the pinnacle of climbing. One of the highlights of his many expeditions was the “Behind the Rainbow” route at Roraima-Tepui, the tabletop mountain that straddles Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana. The first seven cable lengths were no match for him and his climbing buddies Kurt Albert and Holger Heuber, but the pros nevertheless had to put their expedition on hold and repeat it at a later date. Sadly, their plan didn’t quite work out. That’s because the expedition trio actually lost Kurt Albert, who perished while climbing in the Franconian Jura, Germany. So it was that Stefan Glowacz and Holger Heuber attempted to scale La Proa without their friend, but with an emotional weight and a peculiar emptiness and sorrow in tow. Stefan Glowacz recalls the time: “This route was by no means easy for us – Kurt Albert was still with us in spirit, but sometimes we couldn’t sense him at all.” Together, the climbing duo completed the tour – all the while thinking of their friend.
Without adequate preparation, the expeditions would have been unthinkable
No matter what challenges you face, each tour has to be planned right down to the very last detail in order to factor in every eventuality. “Each climb is an emotionally strenuous experience. Any slight change in the weather can cause problems you hadn’t even fathomed. And it’s nothing short of a challenge when the only dry spot far and wide is the cliff itself.” But before Glowacz can even think about becoming one with the mountain and climb up to the highest heights, he starts every expedition by observing, just like he did with the Three Peaks all those years ago.
“Sometimes we can sit around for hours – days, even – beneath a wall that we want to climb and just look at it through a telescope. We determine the various stages of our climb and attempt to map the precise route. We analyze the cracks in the rock, check what stabilizing bolts we can use for our first attempt, and try to identify the shaded sections. To do this, we need an exceptional binoculars. This approach has often helped us avoid any nasty surprises.” His latest, lengthy Black Wall project is proof of how long it takes to prepare for something like this. Even though Glowacz is Germany’s most successful competitive climber and has faced the most extreme climbs our planet has to offer, he has yet to conquer the Wetterstein mountain range in his native town of Garmisch. He would even go so far as to call the Black Wall his “fateful mountain.” He put his first safety hook in place over ten years ago – in 2015 alone, he climbed up to the Höllentalanger Hut around 20 times and attempted to scale the Black Wall, only to fail time and again at the same point. You can actually only say you’ve conquered a route when there was no stress on the safety cable.
The make-or-break point
To prepare for the tour, Glowacz even went to the trouble of recreating the tricky point, where every millimeter counts, in the climbing hall in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Glowacz: “If you can only use the very end of your fingertips to grip the rock and pull yourself up, then it wouldn’t take much to fall right back down.” The challenge is to move forwards at chest height to even get to the next hold. “This has proven to be quite a feat.”
Still unwilling to abandon his goal, Glowacz and his climbing partner Markus Dorfleiter attempted their expedition to scale the “fateful mountain” once again this year. While the climbing duo could not be spied with the naked eye from the foot of the cliff, their distraught cries of “Noooo!” sounded throughout the valley when Stefan Glowacz once again lost his footing at the decisive point in the climb. “It was just too slippery!,” says Glowacz. Ideally, the climb would have been preceded by a long spell of good weather and moderate temperatures. And a windy day’s no good either.
All in a day’s work
Every gram counts on his expeditions, which is why Glowacz’s pack now weighs five kilos less than it did – five kilos that he’s managed to burn off. Any more would have been difficult. Even his constant companion, the ZEISS Terra ED Pocket binocular, has no business weighing him down. But at a mere 320 grams, that’s not likely.
Stefan Glowacz, however, has certainly not given up – and the mountains have certainly not lost their appeal. After all: “The worst part of an adventure is having to come home,” Stefan Glowacz said once – but even he knows that he’ll have to renounce his crown – even if that means the Black Wall remains his “fateful mountain.” But he certainly won’t be conquering it this year. The owner of the Höllentalanger Hut has even reserved a room for Glowacz until the autumn; it looks directly out onto the Black Wall. Good weather, a sufficiently dry cliff and a bit of luck could make it all possible – even if he has to attempt this climb another 20 times.