The Headless Children route can be found in the Rätikon mountain range near the border of Switzerland and Austria. But even though it's located in a popular climbing region, not many people have dared to even try the climb and only one so far managed to freeclimb this 250m multi-pitch route with nine demanding and exposed pitches.
Step forward Kilian Fischhuber, an Austrian freeclimber who set his sights on becoming only the second person to tackle the route that's named after the fourth studio album by heavy metal band, W.A.S.P.
“My friend has a picture of the route, and when I saw the picture, I asked him about the route – the grade, etc,” says Fischhuber. “At that time I didn’t even think of trying it – but it was just a few years after that when I started looking into it again.”
The way it looks, the way these vertical stripes run down, it’s like a painting, a bit like a watercolour – you feel like you’re climbing through a painting.Kilian Fischhuber
The Headless Children route is a bit of Femme Fatale: while its beauty may lure you into attempting it, there’s no guarantee you’ll make it through. Its technical level will make pretty much anyone swear out loud on the first attempt, especially around the seventh pitch. “The seventh pitch has a steep roof that you have to climb,” explains Fischhuber. “Once over it, you have to stand up on your feet on the mantle without any handholds. It is the signature move of this route.“
He spent one hour just on the challenging roof pitch during his bottom-to-top climb, but managed to preserve enough energy to make it all the way to the top. This part of the climb is particularly well depicted in the video. You can clearly see how much effort it takes Fischhuber to get over the roof and keep his centre of gravity as close to the wall as possible as he manages to keep his balance with very, very little options to use his hands.
It’s not because you can do all the pitches individually that you can link them all.Kilian Fischhuber
But a route like this one, rated 8b (X, UIAA), isn’t necessarily completed in a single attempt. It took Fischhuber two days to complete the whole route, from bottom to top, without ever falling into the rope. The first day was more of an exploration day, where he didn’t freeclimb but he went to analyse the route and try the best sequences that would allow him to link all the sections. Two weeks later, he came back for a second attempt, and that's when he succeeded.
Fischhuber may have retired from competition in 2014, but that doesn’t mean his climbing career is over – far from it. Despite a full-time job as a teacher, he still finds plenty of time to keep traveling the world for more climbing adventures and taking advantage of what his home playground, the Alps, have to offer.