In the High Alpine, You Need to Trust Your Team—And Your Gear

© ORTOVOX/Max Draeger

For some, climbing success is all about conquering a particular peak or snapping the perfect shot of a once-in-a-lifetime view.

But for three women who worked together to climb the iconic east pillar of Piz Palü in Switzerland, the biggest reward was the sense of accomplishment in reaching a goal none of them were sure they could achieve.

© ORTOVOX/Max Draeger

Lena Koller, Marlies Czerny and Tanja Gutheil were not an obvious team for the rugged climb up an icy granite pillar jutting to an elevation of 3,900 metres above the Engadine Valley. Lena, a mountain guide in-training, and Marlies, an alpine-focused freelance writer, had experience in the mountains. Tanja, while fully comfortable in the climbing gym, was new to the untamed world of glaciers and ridges. As the communications manager for ORTOVOX, an alpine gear brand with origins in avalanche safety and technical climbing wear, she knew it was time to tackle her first high alpine peak.

© ORTOVOX/Max Draeger

None of these women had climbed this ascent in Piz Palü before. But when they started to plan their mountain trek, the summit of the east pillar called.

Heading to the Ice

After a night at Berghaus Diavolezz, perched 3,000 metres above sea level in the icy white landscape of the Swiss Alps, the women headed to the Pers Glacier at dawn.

© ORTOVOX/Max Draeger

As they worked their way through an eerie labyrinth of crevasses to reach the base of the east pillar, the vastness of their task was already clear. Though it was August, Piz Palü was shrouded in clouds, and the wind blew bitterly cold from the northwest.

Tanja, the high alpine rookie, already wondered if she’d made a terrible mistake. Crossing the randkluft onto the rocks and taking the first vertical step onto ice-cold granite, she felt full of doubt.  

“I felt so awful,” Tanja said. “I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes for the cold and didn’t know what was still to come.”

The Power of Trust

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On a narrow ridge, tackling a high alpine climb for the first time, Tanja had to trust in much more than just the rope. She trusted in her more experienced companions, and they in turn had to trust in her ability to push through the cold and uncertainty.

“You’re all a kind of role model for each other, and that’s encouraging and inspiring,” said Lena.

With every step, Tanja gained confidence in herself while Lena and Marlies gained confidence in her. Lena and Marlies took turns leading the way, working from a few lines of text in a high alpine touring guidebook and relying heavily on their own instincts. 

© ORTOVOX/Max Draeger

“The cool thing about tours like this is that you have to take responsibility for the big and small decisions,” Lena said. “The belay methods also require a good eye and a great deal of creativity. But on these types of tours, none of the rope team members are allowed to switch off.”

That shared responsibility for the group’s success and the power of positive team spirit is a critical lesson of the climb.

“It feels all the more enriching when you take the rope into your own hands,” said Marlies. “This can also be metaphorically applied to life.”

Reaching the Top

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As the team climbed farther onto the alpine ridge, the wind became more intense and visibility dropped significantly. As the women checked the weather report, a group of male climbers passed them on the way back down the peak, having decided to cut their own climb short.

The women were struggling, but they decided together to press on past the hanging glaciers to the steep rock finale, where they needed ice screws to complete the ascent.

“I gulped at that moment,” Tanja admitted.

The near-zero visibility meant the team found no view to reward them at the top. But they still celebrated with candy, homemade banana bread—and each other.

© ORTOVOX/Max Draeger

“I’m very happy that we pushed through it,” Lena said. “It shows me that alpine tours don’t always need ideal conditions to be perfect.”

Team Gear

The team wear ORTOVOX gear while adventuring and making ascents, including the super lightweight, minimalistic waterproof hardshell CIVETTA jacket. The athletes also recommend the MTN Cap, a lightweight hat for sun protection and all-mountain comfort. To carry their gear, the women use the multifunctional, durable, comfortable PEAK 35, designed for all-season outdoor activities.