Roger Schäli visiting Exped headquarters in Zurich.
Six spectacular north faces, three countries and a lot of pasta - the North6 project will certainly remain in Roger Schäli's and Simon Gietl's memories for a long time. Two weeks after the last summit attempt, Roger talked to us about challenges, highlights and his friendship with Simon, among other things.
How did you feel when you reached the final summit?
It was really a very special summit experience. I think it was even more emotional than usual. I had tears in my eyes for the first time. I think it was mainly because we had been preparing for it for so long and there was such a big team behind it. At some point we were at the point where we incredibly wanted to finish this project successfully for the team. Our most important people were all on site in Chamonix. So, it was kind of a gift to the team. It was just an incredible feeling for us to be able to finish the project while everyone was still on site and to experience this special moment almost 1 to 1. For me, the Grand Jorasses was actually the most emotional summit moment.
You mentioned the intensive preparation; how long does it take to plan such a project?
In my head, the project has existed for four to five years. I started talking about it with Simon about two and a half years ago. For a good year we have been on the phone together constantly, as well as with partners and sponsors. We actually wanted to start last winter or spring. But the weather didn't allow it.
And then it had to happen quickly in autumn?
Yes, we looked at the weather forecasts and then it suddenly happened very quickly. The whole team was also very surprised and of course still totally scattered [laughs]. But at the start, everyone was at the car park in the Dolomites at 5:30 a.m. on the dot.
How did the "rope team" with Simon come about?
Simon is my best climbing partner. We met about 15 years ago. The first tour we did together was the Zinnen north face in winter. Simon is more than just a climbing partner, he's actually almost become part of my family. This connection between us is simply brilliant. It's always great to be out and about with him. Even when things get stressful, Simon is never at a loss for words. You could almost say that we understand each other without words. Simon is South Tyrolean and I understand him very well, but he doesn't understand my Swiss German very well [laughs]. But we don't really need words. This connection is unique for me.
Besides Simon, there were other people involved. How was your team set up?
Our main partner for this project was my friend and colleague Frank Kretschmann. He had the lead in terms of organisation and filming. The film and photo team always consisted of three to four people during these 18 days. Then there was also a masseur and a cook. Many colleagues and friends also accompanied us by racing bike, so that we could ride in the slipstream. This team was plus or minus ten people.
So, is there a film about the North6 project?
Yes, we have a lot of material. One idea would be to produce a festival film from it. There have already been enquiries. But there have also been enquiries from a television station. We just have to see which is the best way to use this material.
What was the biggest challenge during the project?
It was definitely the conditions on the Matterhorn. The situation was totally unreal for me and it was really difficult to reach the summit. In addition, it was certainly also necessary to complete this project in a useful period of time with such a large team. That everything works, that it's always fun, the logistics and that the whole thing works out financially. As far as the social aspects are concerned, it was not clear to the team at the beginning whether it would really work smoothly. But fortunately, that developed into a positive thing and we had a super team spirit. Everyone took care of everyone else. That's what I expected and hoped for.
Was there a critical moment?
A very critical moment was certainly on the Matterhorn. There it was very difficult with the protection. Also, on the lower part of the Petit Dru in this couloir without ice. That was very tricky in terms of climbing and belaying. That can happen in mountaineering.
From the critical to the beautiful, which was the most beautiful north face for you?
I would say we had a really good run on Piz Badile. We both had a lot of energy there and many locals from the Engadine came by. At the hut we were really spoiled with pizokel. The weather was also a dream and we were on our way very quickly. It was really fun. In addition, we were able to fly back down with the paraglider at the end.
Which north face had the best snow and ice conditions?
We didn't have really good ice conditions on any of the north faces. The whole thing was therefore very strenuous. The ice conditions were okay on the Grand Jorasses. At least there was ice there.
With a project like this, you always need food and drink. The community wanted to know what your favourite snack was?
Ou, that's difficult [laughs]. At some point we couldn't actually see most of it. I'm lucky with my food sponsors, the products are really good. Simon also had his products with him. But at some point, you can't see even those bars anymore. We also often had classic bread and cheese with us. That's what we liked best at the end. We also had pasta almost every evening and at some point, even that became very monotonous, even if it was made with a lot of love.
The Whiteout was a faithful companion for Roger.
What does a packing list for such a project look like?
We made a separate packing list for each wall in advance. For example, it was clear from the beginning that we didn't need any ice material like crampons on the Grosse Zinne. Besides, you have a certain amount of experience if you have climbed the route before. If you haven't, you can easily read up on the whole thing. We certainly had all the material with us twice. Things can get broken or lost. Before we started, we spent one or two hours meticulously packing and checking everything.
How do you find the right compromise between speed and safety on the wall?
That's a very good question. It is mainly a matter of experience. If the conditions are very good and there is a lot of ice and snow, you can leave the rope out sometimes, for example. Then you can move quickly and rhythmically. As soon as the ice is bad or completely gone, you have to start belaying, then you automatically make pitches and are a bit slower. But that really depends on experience. Of course, you always try to move quickly. You can climb simultaneously to some extent. But sometimes it's also more energy-saving to climb lead than to fight your way up several hundred metres simultaneously.
Another question from the community: Which route did you climb on the Grand Jorasses?
The route is called direct shroud.
Would you do the North6 project again, maybe in the other direction?
Yes, actually, why not. I think you could still optimize a lot and also take away and learn a lot each time. Not now this year, but it's not out of the question that I'll do it again.
In terms of learning, is there anything you take away for yourself from this experience?
When you plan a project for so long, you have a lot of people involved, you train and you have a budget, there is always more pressure than when you just go on a tour more spontaneously where the conditions are just good. Experience shows that if you plan something meticulously for so long, it always turns out very well, even if you are almost overwhelmed with the situation before the start. If something is well planned, it almost always works out. You just have to have the calmness and confidence that it will work out eventually. That's exactly the kind of thing you learn with such a complex project.
Are you already on pins and needles, so anything new planned?
Yes, I'm going to Patagonia this winter. I would love to climb the Fitz Roy traverse there. That's a big wish of mine. It's just very difficult in terms of conditions. In November and December, I will go on holiday with my girlfriend. Next spring, I would like to climb in the Himalayas. In any case, I'm not running out of ideas.