13 months after his life-threatening accident at Sottoguda in the Dolomites, Austrian mountaineer Thomas Bubendorfer has established a new mixed climb up on the South Face of Grossglockner (3798 m) in Austria. The new route is called Das dritte Leben, The Third life, and Bubendorfer established the line with Max Sparber and Hans Zlöbl.
The life story of Thomas Bubendorfer is somewhat particular. Just over a year ago the Austrian mountain guide, one of the best and most famous alpinists of the ’80s, had a terrible, life-threatening accident while ice climbing the Dolomites, yet he now celebrates a return to his “third life” by climbing a new alpine route up Grossglockner in Austria.
In the ’80s Bubendorfer became famous for his daring and spectacular free solos. He began his “career” aged a mere 18, when he shot onto the scene in the summer of 1980 by soloing the famous Philipp – Flamm route up the NW Face of Mount Civetta in the Dolomites in a mere 4 hours. Aged 20 he soloed the North Face of Les Droites, then doubled his takings by soloing the Walker Spur on Grandes Jorasses. He achieved his masterstroke on 27 July 1983 when he soloed the classic Heckmair route up the North Face of the Eiger in just 4 hours 50 minutes; an astonishing time that stood for 20 years before it was bettered by Christoph Hainz. In 1986 Patagonia granted him only four days of good weather but all he needed was a 23-hour weather window to ascend and descend from Fitz Roy on his own. These ground-breaking ascents were followed by numerous other spectacular climbs often in front of rolling cameras, as for example his 1988 Dolomites five big faces enchainment project. In a single day he made free solo ascents of Via Cassin up Cima Ovest di Lavaredo, Via Comici – Dimai up Cima Grande, the Innerkofler route up Cima Piccola, Schwalbenschwanz plus its Don Quixote variation up the South Face of Marmolada and Via Niagara up Sasso Pordoi. The helicopter used to travel from one mountain to the next and the film crews undoubtedly did their part in fuelling the purists’ criticisms, but there could be no doubt as to Bubendorfer’s outstanding ability as a climber and alpinist.
Everything seemed to be going smoothly for Bubendorfer, but a few months later all this suddenly ground to a halt when, while filming for a TV commercial at his local Liechtenstein Klamm crag, he took a 20 meter ground-fall. Bubendorfer, however, was indescribably lucky, he broke only his wrist, 9 vertebrae and the back of an ankle. And although doctors declared him 35% disabled and told him he would never climb a mountain again, he proved the exact opposite in 1991 with his amazing first solo ascent of the South Face of Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America, via the Messner Direttissima in just 16 hours …
What followed therefore was a phase that Bubendorfer defined as his “second life” which, unsurprisingly, revolved around mountain climbing but above all around a new awareness of the value of life itself. Then, on 1 March 2017, out of the blue came another tremendous stop: at Serrai di Sottoguda in the Dolomites he climbed an icefall, the famous Cattedrale, but during the rappel something went wrong and he fell 10 meters to the ground. His climbing partner rushed down to him, pulled him out of the river and when the rescuers arrived he was still conscious, but it was immediately clear that his condition was very serious indeed. Before being rescued Bubendorfer had inhaled water and due to the pulmonary complications he was transferred from Belluno hospital to Padua, for 6 long days he was placed in medically-induced coma. His life was at risk, his relatives even asked for a media blackout. But miraculously the 54-year-old survived, a short while later he was transferred from Italy to a hospital in Salzburg, from where he was eventually discharged.
Now, 13 months after that terrible day below the Marmolada, there’s the news of this hitherto unclimbed line up the South Face of Austria’s highest mountain. Bubendorfer teamed up with Max Sparber on 14 April, as well as his habitual climbing partner Hans Zlöbl. The route offers “good mixed climbing via a logical line” and the trio breached difficulties up to M8, but this is nothing more than a minor detail. The new route is called, for obvious reasons, Das dritte Leben, The Third Life.
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