Stefan Glowacz and Markus Dorfleitner take on the “black wall”

On the Höllental path to Zugspitze mountain is a northward-facing cliff that is 400 meters higher than the Höllentalanger Hut. This “black wall” is not in the same league as the famous north faces of the Alps, but it is a real feat for climbers in the lower 11th degree and thus offers what is probably the most demanding in the Wetterstein mountain range, where they already have climbing experience. But what Stefan Glowacz, one of German’s foremost climbers, and his friend Markus Dorfleitner from the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen have been planning for years but haven’t quite managed, goes far beyond that. Their dream route for this face is vertical, the line of the “falling water droplet!”

Alpinists call it a direttissima, the straightest route, which is unadorned and highly treacherous. This is known as redpoint climbing, a style in which people climb freely and the cable and bolt are only there to keep you safe. The two climbers have used binoculars and photos to study the structures of the cliff face in different lights and map their route. Unfortunately, the original date for the first ascent had to be called off on account of the weather – but on 4 July 2017 it was time to get climbing. A beautiful sunrise, blue skies, and a dry cliff with plenty of grip were a great way to start the day.

Glowacz and Dorfleitner began their climb early in the morning, with their experienced alpine photographer in tow. Meanwhile, journalists and representatives of the sponsors BMW and Carl Zeiss Sports Optics gathered at the lower parking lot in Hammers­bach. I hand out the ZEISS binoculars, spotting scopes and stands to those assembled, and then we hike 600 meters up to the Höllentalanger Hut. After a rest stop and a snack, there’s excitement in the air as we continue to the nearby viewpoint that looks out onto the “black wall.”

We arrive just in time. Glowacz and Dorfleitner quickly got to grips with the first three cable lengths and are now getting ready to tackle the fourth. A smooth, overhanging passage is the decisive crux of their project. The journalists have no chance of spotting the climbers just by looking up. All they can see are two tiny dots on the dark, textured cliff face. Suddenly, the spectators gasp. Glowacz has let go of the cliff and he falls backwards.

The audience is amazed and calls out as the guests look through their binoculars, and especially when they look through the spotting scope. Now they’re really getting into it and seeing what they came to see: the suspense at the top, the calculated movements, the rife tension, and even the expressions on the climbers’ faces.

The cable brings him back to safety, but there’s now no doubt this is much more than a fun demo! The cable will have its work cut out over the next few hours. Neither Glowacz nor Dorfleitner quite manage it, and their groans of disappointment can be heard right through the valley. This means going back to the beginning of this stage and trying again. Eventually, they decide to throw in the towel. Today, 4 July, just wasn’t the duo’s lucky day. Late in the afternoon, the climbers and their cameraman Moritz unhook the cables that have been attached to their belts for hours.

Despite their frustration, there’s a great atmosphere. They seem happy and relaxed but are probably already thinking about their next attempt. At 52, Stefan Glowacz knows that he doesn’t have that much time left to achieve his ambitious goal. In the evening at the cabin, the pair talk about how, at the crux, protrusions of 1–2 cm were all they had to hook their fingers into and climb up. They have to make every little irregularly in the rock work for them. And all of it in an overhanging rock face where you can either move forwards, staying close to the rock, or you call fall off.

Even though they abandoned their first climb on this tough route, the journalists are very impressed by Stefan Glowacz and Markus Dorfleitner and enjoy talking to them. This is where the ZEISS observation devices come in; after all, only a handful of them have already experienced the drama of high-performance climbing firsthand.

Find out more about digiscoping with the ZEISS Conquest Gavia.

We can appreciate their efforts by taking a look through the binoculars. While they take a break on a secure board, they close their eyes and review the climbing processes, shake out their bodies and give each other tips. And it can all be experienced live thanks to ZEISS magnifying optics. It was above all the spotting scope able to take photos and record videos with smartphones that received high praise, including from Stefan Glowacz.

Walter Schwab

Walter Schwab has been in Marketing for many years. He runs seminars and training courses on optics and photography. Walter Schwab is also Chairman of FotoFreunde Wetzlar e.V., one of Germany’s most traditional photo clubs. Today, he works at Carl Zeiss Sports Optics GmbH in Wetzlar.