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A Day of Reckoning

A Klättermusen NEW DECISION Diary

Let me just touch the initial data in brief, as they never reveal either a breakthrough information  or anything entertaining and they mostly convey just ordinary, and, in a way, boring portion of every expedition.

Not only they take time, money and nerves of all participants, but there is not even the smallest hint that somebody could invent a magic way to fly through time using a travel pass saying:
Direct line Prague – the Base Camp, next to a big rock. Please take the seat, close your eyes and in a few moments you arrive….

photo Jarousek

No matter what you think of it, finally you will agree with me anyway. From the very moment you are seated inside the aluminium tube of the aircraft which will carry you from the old good Europe to the „crazy planet OZ“, you will need the agonizing and painful fourteen days before you make the last step at the Base Camp (or BC) on the Abruzzi glacier.

I often note that considering the twenty first century the transport today is still kind of  prehistoric

Although it may be five or more-times faster with modern jet liners than at times of my great grandfather when horse wagons prevailed, still the use of beer or any other alcohol beverages is a required and necesary self-anaesthesia which I always take on such journeys. A prevention from getting mad…

Looking feebly AT the ice giant mountain face to face is a great reward for such an inhuman suffering while traveling between points „a“ and „x“

I am standing bellow the eight thousander Gasherbrum, physically ruined and mentally frustrated. And my endeavor on the mountain is just to get started now… Bullshit, I want to leave for home right away!

Zdeněk described this moment best. Unluckily for you it cannot be put in a softer way as I do not wish to change or leave a single letter that he had uttered.  You could not better describe a physical collapse of the individual. I am seeking defense from those who have undergone the same merciless fate as to cross the Baltoro glacier back nad forth more than once in a lifetime.

In both Zdeněk´s and my cases it is the fifth round of the trek allegedly among the world´s most beautiful treasures. I only add the only and most fitting attribute „A Torture…“

My backpack is falling on the rocks followed by a queer rattel as the trekking poles fly away with the body following down totally out of ontrol. Only a groan comes from my dried lips bellow the cap sheltering the head from the biting sun:
„Fuck off the Baltoro…“

The intro is over:
„Welcome at the Gasherbrum BC“

Two-kilometer monuments of the Great Trango will always paralyse my sight with their graceful and perfect granite beauty

July 21 - 30 2009 – The Intermezzo

Zdeněk and myself have gone through a few days´ acclimatization concluded with two days of idling at over 7000 meters in the col above the Japanese couloir. On our return down we are meeting our expedition pals Lišin, Tráva, Daw, Kuba, Kamílek and Jaroušek. They also take their share. Their progress is somewhat slower as they carry heavy loads to their high camps on this most frequent ascent line on G1 first climbed by the Japanese expedition twenty years ago.

Nonetheless we target the same aim at this initial phase – acquiring as much of erythrocytes as possible thanks to staying at high altitude.

Entering the Jap couloir
photo Jarousek

The six hundred-meter high Japanese couloir starts right above me…
photo Kamilek

Opposed to the longtime rituals we are very lucky with the weather. Yes, we are at the very end of the Karakoram climbing season. Most of the expeditions are already gone, or are leaving in just a few days. 

I managed to talk all seven expedition members of our team into this term by which they had confided their fates to my leadership.

If we do not succeed, it is likely that I will end up being cut and torn gradually into small pieces and then being fed to rooks who fly around the glacier with their hungry beaks ready. A disgusting idea. But I prefer to withstand the risk of being eaten up in such a way rather than reality of constant burying in deep snow, which may very easily happen in the midst of the Pakistan summer.

We have no excuses whatsoever and there is nothing left but to pack up our stuff.  We cannot go through this procedure without usual cursing and kicking into rising piles of our gear that are too large to fit into a 50-liter backpacks that we will carry. Just imagine our hopelessness.

More than a two-kilometer sheer SW face of Gasherbrum I towers to the sky above the eight hundred-meter high jagged glacier that starts right from the tents of our BC. Let us say that with this frightful picture in your mind you still feel like venturing to summit this monster slightly exceeding eight thousand meters. 

On the other side of this game it should be considered that you want to challenge an unknown route in just a couple. Not to mention that you will certainly not be able to find a suitable place to pitch up a tent in this mixed ice-rock wall. Not a great prospect for the next few days with freezing bivouacs.

Let us keep those threats in peace for now as we would never leave the ground otherwise.

There she is…
2100 meters high South West face

I pack up my rucksack and all excessive pieces of equipment are thrown away. First weight reduction represents a special hanging bivy bag made by my friend Pavlík, aka „Kořala“ (Hard Spirit). What will follow next…“

Day temperatures may easily reach some twenty centigrades while they can easily turn, like by a magic wand, into its negative scale.
It is clear to me, the heavy down jacket, or a girlfriend for cooler days, remains down here due to its big volume, then this piece, „fuck it“, and it flies away a big distance and I go on and on…

No matter how fast we will climb we need to consider our food supplies for a minimum of six days including cooking. No way may we forget a sleeping bag or climbing gear and various small items as a headtorch, camera etc…

There is considerably smaller number of things now… But there will still be the second round of reduction for sure. It goes on my nerves again:
„Won’t anybody tell me how the hell get all  these things  into such a fucking small bacpack?

Let us return to our main role that is awaiting us during the ascent. I keep the climbing line stored in detail in my memory from the time of our expedition with Honza Doudlebský three years ago on G3. At that time we spent a lot of time waiting for weather improvement and to look for the most prospective way upwards. A logical line goes from the left hand side from the valley through a very steep dihedral up to a distinctive col in the last third of the SW face.

Reaching the col will be the first big unknown point and the crux spot at the same time.
The next important question mark awaits us right bellow the summit where the S-shaped bottleneck of rock and snow make the gate to the summit.

In case of emergency the summit means, in both positive and negative senses, the only reasonable retreat from the mountain.

July 31, 2009 – Let´s roll…
We just get the latest weather check via a sat phone..
„A favorable weather window with no precipitation, high up at about eight and a half thousand, wind up to 30 meters“ says our small loudspeaker.
„Well, I was afraid of that, we have to get started, do you feel like that?“ I ask my next days´ partner.
Zdeněk pulls the string of his sleeping bag even tighter to leave just a narrow crack and says in a distinst and swift way:

We start at 1.00 AM and it is cold as hell. We find our way between gigantic crevasses and in two hours we are at the foot of the icy gully.
„God saves us, what a slide high above, hope they won´t send us anything from up there“
We synchro climb a sixty degree slope covered with a tiny snow layer. The best kind of conditions we could imagine.
First signs of dawn light the mountain tops one after another to come up from the night limbo. Dumb labor continues on and on till the afternoon.

I feel exhausted. Totally devastated. It takes some strenght off to keep hitting ice axes and kicking crampons into ice for thirteen hours. It is time to look for a bivy spot.
The steep angle does not offer much that would resemble a ledge or at least a less steeper part to anchor the bag. The only place we can get into is a hanging serac with its wide open hungry mouth.

„I don´t really wanna get in such a fuckin´ trap“

Unfortunately the icy hole is the only place to spend the night at.
„No way….“
I do not like the idea to rest being jammed and pressed underneath the tons of frozen blocks

The following morning the slope steepens up by a few degrees which makes the exposure of more than a thousand meters of void  bellow us even more breathtaking. Last year Valerij Babanov described this section as an 80-degree slope and then escaped through the left col to the Western summit pyramid to join the original Yugoslavian route. I keep on working with my ice axes the direct line bellow the rocky band reaching the col at 7400 m. Tiny ice gullies do not really slow our progress but while approaching the steep rocky step I sense bigger troubles.

Czech Mountaineering Union President in the field

„Zdeněk, I shall belay right here, we need to be very cautious and  it´s  gonna be really tough overthere.“

It is crystal clear, exactly according to what was expected, the rock is as loose as mud.
A few desperate moves with fast twists of my feet over loose rock resembling the cartoon´s Mickey Mouse.
Rock and ice shower rattles next to Zdeněk´s head. Some pieces had probably hit him, but there were no signs in his stoic countenance.
I finish up the remaining few meters  up to the ridge.
We managed to find a new direction upwards. It is beyond my recognition now  if it is a lucky moment for us but in any case we will sleep in the col tonight, that´s for sure.

„Zdeněk, I shall belay right here, we need to be very cautious and  it´s  gonna be really tough overthere.“

It is crystal clear, exactly according to what was expected, the rock is as loose as mud.
A few desperate moves with fast twists of my feet over loose rock resembling the cartoon´s Mickey Mouse.
Rock and ice shower rattles next to Zdeněk´s head. Some pieces had probably hit him, but there were no signs in his stoic countenance.
I finish up the remaining few meters  up to the ridge.
We managed to find a new direction upwards. It is beyond my recognition now  if it is a lucky moment for us but in any case we will sleep in the col tonight, that´s for sure.

Climbing in loose rock slightly powdered with snow. Fifty meters bellow the Col at 7400 meters.

After the last sunbeams disappear the instant freezing cold forces us to get in our nylon home in a dug snow hole without any delay.
I start a few hours´ long distance race of cooking to rinse through our dried bowels. Zdeněk starts to feel feeble.
I presume it is due to the altitude and the lack of fluids. I let him sleep and keep cooking on and on. Once I nearly triggered a disaster falling asleep while cooking. I stare in awe how the flame lights the backpack and the turned out pot fallen at my feet.

„Hell, fuck it all…“
Everytime the snow melts I wake up my buddy to take our feast of this situation consisting just of tea.
I take a nap finally towards the morning
Dawn has offered us an awesome view of the colored mountains all around us from seven and half thousand meters. It is the only salvation for my freezing hands to pack up the bivi bag in a tiny cover bag.
„It´s an outright malice of the producer“ I say cursing.
„He will pay for it! What a wretch…“ I mutter to myself with my mouth covered in the down jacket. Of course it serves as the closest object for all the morning´s inconveniencies. For I am here, that I am so cold and, just for everything…!

That is not a good start of the day sinking in knee-deep snow flood. The progress is not very hopeful either. Zdeněk begins to slow down, let me wait for him.
„What´s up?“ I ask.
Instead of answering he pukes in front of me with the second vomit right after that.
For a while he clears his mouth with his glove and adds:
„Maroušek I can´t go any further otherwise I´ll die here.“

OK, it is clear to me, that´s it. An eighty meters rope, four ice srews, five friends and the same number of pegs – well, it is not much to descend with…
We are facing the only decision of finding the way to leave this world together.
Either to sit back and wait for it, or jump in the valley, which is by far the fastest solution, or make an awkward attempt to downclimb 1700 meters to the glacier.

Last moves in 7500 metres, and we turn around…

„Let´s turn around and start descending“ I try to look decisive saying that.
„Zdenda, after you rappel each pitch on the ice screw I will undo it and downclimb after you. I have practised that for nearly a kilometer with Doudlebák last time on G III. And believe me, I am really good at that, if not the best one“ I try to calm myself down aloud.

After three days of fright and despair on the descent, again at the BC beside our friends  we try, with growing enthusiasm, to uplift our rather harmed self-confidence.
We may only feel sorry that the climbing history does not record in golden print all the moments when everything messes up.
At least for myself I can frankly note that I belong to the very elite among those who were kicked in the ass several times.
But we are alive, what else do we need…

August 6, 2009 – What next…?

After our successful- failed return there was nothing left on the glacier but the Czech tents and heaps of rubbish to remember the other expeditions that had already left. The mountain was here just for us.
Funny enough, despite the ideal conditions nobody wanted to climb up again.

At the same time when Zdeněk and myself endeavored to save our backsides, Honzík, Daw and Jaroušek managed to reach the summit the same day together with the Spaniards and Korean climbers. Honzík topped his first and greatest mountaineering achievement of a lifetime with a cheerful and lucky three-hundred-meter roll with a final stop at 7300 meters. There he concluded that would do for the day.
The others of milder nature stared admiringly with their eyes wide open at this example of the Czech mountaineering school and chose rather a cowardly way down, i.e. a regular descent.

Celebration of the successful..
In our mess tent smoked by a dense curtain of hash and with the air saturated by a golden Moravian plum brandy we held a dignified party relative to the importance of the event.

At dawn I looked up at world rather shakily. The sun above me takes its share and makes the headache even stronger. I rise my watch up closely to my face and try to read the dates in the calender. There is over ten days left before our deadline – the return date.
„Hey guys, don´t you have an idea what will the weather be like in the following days?“ I pose a question at cheerful faces of the others knowing I will receive no answer.

Wishing an official call today? No way, there was a party last night, we are closed today…

Aug 8, 2009 – A Day of Reckoning

A box with an aerial predicts again:
„Tomorrow and the day after tomorrow slight snowing, then fair weather for about three days, wind up to 50 meters and unfortunately no guarantees thereafter, sorry Mára.“
I calculate the chances immediately. The weather so far has been very patient with us and each day the mountains may fall into the winter hibernation.
It is just one day from the epic descent and I am not recovered yet, just opposite. If I am to start doing anything on the mountain I cannot afford to  miss a single day from now.
Again I start to push through the rotten glacier. I know what you have in mind – he never takes a lesson. If only there was the golden treasure high on the summit waiting for me, then OK, it could be excused, but the more accurate and correct answer is - „what a fool“ (and I fully agree with it)

Before reaching the plateau it starts to snow again. Hope there will not be too much fresh snow otherwise I can abandon the unsure attempt anyway.
Around noon I reach the two remaining tents at six thousand meters. My buddies will go get them right after I start climbing.
Everything is completely different after fifteen days from our last visit here. There were many other tents around accompanied with a variety of languages.

The following day I peacefully turn over in my sleeping bag from one side to the other. It snows again and when I peeped outside for the last time to get some snow for cooking, my estimate amounted to some 30 cm of wet snow.
„Well, that´s it, I will pack the tent and retreat to the valley“ as this really does not seem to be just an unimportant snow shower.
But what the devil happened…
The sky is clearing in the evening and the temperature drops radically which gives the hope of a better outlook.
„I will go completely mad out of it,“ I note when getting ready to leave for the valley I regain another hope.
I lost one day staying in the tent here, so I will try to make up the lost time.
I play with the idea to leave out the second camp and make a thousand-meter climb in a single push. There is the tiny single wall tent pitched up. Together with Zdeněk we let it get  prepared there for the descent in case we managed our SW face attempt.
My optimism was cooled down by a cruel reality. Two thousand meters of climb is ahead of me with lots of fresh snow without a chance that there will be anybody to help me make the tracks.
In reality, this way of climbing the mountain makes quite a challenge for me, but frankly said, it makes me pretty distressed.

August 9, 2009 – 4:30 AM

I take a light backpack and feeling lost in darkness disturbed only by the beam of my headtorch I start moving upwards to get an answer for the previous questions.
Getting through the knee-deep snow at the apron of the Japanese couloir the first streaks of sun reach me.
At the rocky bottleneck some four hundred meters above me there is a snow veil made by a devilish wind. I do not understand, but I it leaves me calm. I even feel as light as an angel.
I replace my sunglasses for goggles not to get blinded by rotating snow and try to recover the snow-covered fixed lines that lead all the way to the col. In this case I am glad they are in place. They help me a lot to get through a 50-degrees slope. Sometimes a smaller powder avalanche hits me- it is not dangerous, rather unpleasant as snow gets everywhere.
Round one o´clock I climb through a snow overhang and all of a sudden there is the small red tent. What a joy for such a small piece. A tiny house made of fabric, great!!!!

No coment...

A tiny red house at 7000…

August 10, 2009 – 0:30

Night, cold, fatigue, loathing, fear…
All around in the range of many kilometers there is not a living soul anywhere. Just my buddies somewhere down at the BC  slobber peacefully in their sleeping bag.
„Hey guys, keep your fingers crosses for me even asleep, the last thousand meters is just ahead of me.“

An unavoidable boredom to make tracks through the slope. On the East way down in the valley the lightning flashes through the dark sky trimmed with stars only. It would resemble a sort of soap romance if there was not for terrible cold and disgustingly hard work. I feel OK, difficult breathing is relative to the altitude and on the whole my body works well without big protests.

The slope gets steeper to some sixty degrees. Neither tracks after fifteen people nor the ropes from the last week remained in place. It is all virgin white again.
Shortly before dawn I start to worry a little that my direction could lead me into a big trouble. With rising sun it is confirmed that I really am in a big trouble. I stroll across the headwall towards northern edge of the mountain.
„Why? What the Hell…“ 
„How come…!“ I look for the right words and I feel like to throw away, or even destroy, anything.
„Am I such a dummy that I can´t find the right way even on an ordinary black ski slope?“
„Probably yes“
What can I do“
I need to cross two ribs to enter the main gully. This will take more than two hours of digging without gaining a single meter of an ascent.
I check my wrist computer for the altitude and there is still over five hundred meters to go. Hands are freezing and I hardly feel the feet. I sit down on the rocky edge.
„Hey dude, it´s probably your final stop“
„ You´ve used over half of your energy and the summit is still way up there.“

I eat the bar and drink up the rest of the tea from my thermos.
„No! Keep your ass moving and let´s go to the very edge!“
„OK, well, this is a step for my daddy, for my mom, a step by step – keep going up…“


„Hey guys, this is the croaky eagle, is there anybody out there?“ I roar down the strong wind in the walkie-talkie.
„Yes Maroušek, this is Jára.“

Smaller mountains are covered under clouds and only glittering summits may be seen from the highest ones.

„Jaroušek, I am calling you from the summit of Gash…!“

The last steps and that´s it, a pleasure or a despair… it is up to you to choose…

August 15, 2009  The end…

We are leaving the already abandoned glacier for the valley.

I will add only the interesting conclusion of Zdeněk´s  sickness. A day before the departure of the BC the nausea culminated in a bloody event in the form of burst gastric ulcers with ensuing transport by a helicopter.
„Zdenda is fully recovered again,“ mainly by foresight of doctors who have stated his condition as a very serious one with just a narrow escape…, but prescribed the prompt cure by a 12-grade Pilsener which was most welcomed by the recipient.

This is the last sentence left, indeed.
No more pathetic proclamations, but this is the truth:
Superb team, excellent weather and we all had great fun…

So long,

Gasherbrum 2009 team of hard workers

The leadear, or myself

The Members,  namely...











The ascent line in the NW face via the Japanese Couloir

The first ascent attempt in the SW face

Mara Holecek   [edit] 19:21 14.11.2009Print 


Commentaries commentsNew comment 

 Great!17:32:32 15.12.2009
Great description, thanks for the English version as my Czech is not good enough to get all the details...
Chrisreply je hlavním mediálním partnerem ČHS na internetu
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