Bold Ascents in High Tatras

Kopold’s makeshift ice tool, fashioned from a pick taped and lashed to a piton hammer, which he used for his solo new route on the Gallery. Photo by Dodo Kopold.

Kopold’s makeshift ice tool, fashioned from a pick taped and lashed to a piton hammer, which he used for his solo new route on the Gallery. Photo by Dodo Kopold.

The rugged High Tatras mountains are east of the Alps, on the border between Poland and Slovakia. Though the Tatras’ high point is only 2,655 meters (8,711'), and though many North Americans have never even heard of the range, top eastern European climbers trained on these rugged peaks for decades while their travel was restricted. Slovakian Dodo Kopold has no such problems, but he still loves the High Tatras.

This fall and early winter, Kopold has been putting his stamp on his native mountains in a big way. In September, during a single 12-hour day, Kopold and Andrej Soltys free-climbed four classic routes established by Arno Puskas, one of the pioneers of Czechoslovakian alpinism, each on a different major face. The next day, the two men returned to the serious, 280-meter Gallery of Ganek peak, the steepest north face in the Tatras, and onsighted the Central Pillar (UIAA VII/5.11).

Kopold returned alone a week later and soloed Stanislawski (V+), despite a layer of thin ice coating the rock. Finally, hoping to solo a new route, Kopold made the five-hour approach to Ganek’s Gallery once again in late October, only to discover he’d forgotten an ice tool. Inside his pack, he discovered a spare pick, which he managed to lash and tape to a piton hammer and thus fashion a tool good enough for the 100 meters of steep, frozen grass at the bottom. Continuing up on new icy rock and snow for 50 meters he encoutered a very difficult hooking aid section. Because it was in difficult conditions he opted for a traverse in to Studnickova (V+), which he soloed to the top.

In late November, Kopold returned to the Tatras for a long weekend, during which he climbed several big routes. The first was Diagonala on the massive Rohovy Hreben face. Kopold rope-soloed the crux second pitch at (VII/5.10+) and then continued up mixed ground to the 2,300-meter summit in just 2.5 hours, completing the first solo, first free ascent, and fastest climb of the route.

That same day, Kopold soloed a 400-meter mixed route on the left side of the face and descended the other side of the peak to a bivy in another valley. Here he planned to link two routes to reach the summit of Veza Zeleznej Brany. On the first, Kominom (“Chimney”), he free-climbed up to 5.11-, bare-handing some of the moves. From the top, he traversed and down-climbed to the start of the second route, where he found steep, thin ice and climbing up to M6. He reached the summit, which he’d never climbed before, after seven hours, and then carefully down-climbed the unfamiliar descent route.

In the morning, his friend Andrej Soltys joined him again, and the two men began the northeast ridge of Ganek, one of the longest routes in the Tatras, with more than 800 meters of climbing. They completed the route over two days, the second in a blizzard.

In recent years, Kopold, 29, has used the skills he gained in the Tatras and the Alps to complete some remarkable routes in Asia, including a new route on Great Trango Tower and the first ascents of the north face of Uli Biaho Tower and the southeast face of Annapurna South.

Dates of Ascents: September–November 2009

Sources: Dodo Kopold, Black Diamond, American Alpine Journal

See a photo gallery from Kopold's ascents in the High Tatras Mountains here.