Freeclimbing the Alps's Headless Children Route
Kilian Fischhuber is only the second person to successfully tackle the 820-foot vertical ascent.
The Headless Children route is nestled in the Rätikon mountain range near the border of Switzerland and Austria. But even though it's situated in a popular climbing region, not many people have managed to freeclimb this 820-foot multi-pitch route due to its extremely steep ledges.
Kilian Fischhuber, an Austrian freeclimber, 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. "The way it looks, the way these vertical stripes run down, it’s like a painting, a bit like a watercolor — you feel like you’re climbing through a painting. 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 watercolor — you feel like you’re climbing through a painting.
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. "Just because you can do all the pitches individually doesn't mean you can link them all," explains Fischhuber. "The seventh pitch has a steep roof that you have to climb. 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 center 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.
Just because you can do all the pitches individually doesn't mean you can link them all.
But a route like this one, 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 analyze 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 finally 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, of course, he regularly takes advantage of what his backyard playground, the Alps, have to offer.