From the first 6a...
...through Güllich... Adam's 9c
How were the
revolutionary routes?


There is a remarkable thing about the revolutionary routes – they are all bound to a certain period. Thanks to this fact, all the ordinary mortal climbers can try their “hardest route of the world”. Which ones to pick then?


TEXT: MATEJ POHORSKY, STANDA “SANY” MITAC, PHOTO: Uwe Daniel, archiv Bena Moona, archiv Bernda Arnolda, Herbert Voll, Gerd Heidorn, Standa Mitáč, Frank Richter, Pavel Blažek, Vojtěch Vrzba, Petr Pavlíček, Harvey Arnold, Thomas Ballenberger, TRANSLATION: TOMAS ROZTOCIL, PROOFREADING: DANIEL RABER
| november 2017

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It doesn’t matter if we are talking about Wolfgang Güllich, Adam Ondra or Oliver Perry-Smith…
To push the grade in their period of time one step further, each of these climbers first had to climb the routes that were considered to be the hardest of their time. Then they had to impress the climbing community and show them something original, something extraordinary. After that was done, they only needed to hope that nobody else would manage to repeat the route for a while. This is the only way to the top. The struggle of various climbers to create the hardest routes often led them to create quite wild visionary lines, and that is the topic of this article.

We have made a list of revolutionary sport routes for you. However, at first we have to put the word “sport” into quotation marks – the history of climbing begins with the Elbe Sandstones, Germany. The climbing there gets so specific that calling these bold routes “sport” would rather be an overstatement. Climbers got scared there back in the day and most climbers would be frightened by the routes as well today; nevertheless, the Saxony climbing was a basis for difficulty grades in the whole world. Later, the hotspot of the best climbers moved to Italy for a short time, in the 80’s climbing burned in the US. With Wolfgang Güllich, Germany came into focus once again, as the only climber in history, he managed to venture into a new grade four times.

Where can you find the revolutionary routes that can be attempted one day?
And who are the people that created the grading system?
Start reading.

(Note: Grading of a route difficulty is highly subjective phenomenon and people tend to have different views on various routes. We have tried to be as honest as possible but please take the list with a pinch of salt. Also, if you climb routes below 6a, don’t take it as discrimination but rather as motivation.)


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Perrykante (VIIb of a local grade), Spannagelturm, Bielatal – Elbe Sandstones, Germany, 1906, Oliver Perry-Smith

The oldest 6+ in the world begins with an unpleasant, 6 meter long corner, where you might tell yourself “What am I doing here?” and continues with an overhang starting from a big ledge. Here, Perry and his friends used some “human pyramid” techniques to get over the hard moves. If you want to redpoint it, it’s a bit harder (VIIc / 6a+). Then you continue along “a pretty crack” – as the guide truthfully states all the way to the big hourglass on the edge. In this place, the first ascent team used the human pyramid again – however, today it’s not so fashionable and it wouldn’t even help you. From the hourglass, there is a massive 10-meter-long runout along a smooth edge.

The world’s first 6+? It will scare you a bit. “Perrykante” (photo: Standa Mitáč)

“Perrykante” is a beautiful, 35-meter-long line, however, it is quite forgotten today. Most of the sources describe it as the first 6a of the world. “Old Route” VIIb – first ascent on Teufelsturm. Again in Saxony, again in 1906, again by Perry-Smith. This route got famous mainly thanks to its psychological difficulty – it is 40 metres from the valley up to the summit book without a single bolt on the way.

And thus, climbers often prefer VIIIb edge “Talseite” with three bolts to get to the top of the tower. Perry was good at finding ways to climb without any bolts (we should be fair and add that he used “schwebe” tactics for belaying where the rope is attached to another rock. In this way, he managed to climb at least half of the route relatively protected.). Anyway, today, people climb it in a clean style – if you are at least three grades stronger and if you are good at placing large knots, it should be doable.

Oliver Perry-Smith a Emanuel Strubich (photo: archive of Gert Tschunko)

When you start shaking, imagine Oliver Perry-Smith in his cap, mountaineer shoes, and with a hemp rope attached right to his body. This American coming from a rich family moved into this backwater area at the end of 19th century to enjoy life. He was an adrenaline junkie and got to be quite successful, he was present at every major first ascent of his times. Teufelsturm is considered to be his masterpiece.



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Rudolf Fehrmann was also a part of the first ascent team on “The Devil’s Tower”, he was the first climber to publish a climbing guide in continental Europe (the very first one was published in the UK. In the guide, he marked ascents which were first made with help of ladders or chipping rock for holds and designated them as morally inappropriate. In this way, he set the basics of Saxon climbing ethics.

Südriss (VIIc of the local grade), Kreuzturm, Affensteine – Elbe Sandstones, Germany, 1910, Max Mattheus

On the 18th of Semptember 1910, Max Matthäus climbed a crack route “Südriss” on Kreutzturm tower and graded it as VIIc. The same difficulty in wall climbing was set as late as in 1916 by Arno Sieber who made a bold first ascent “Sieberkante” on the north-west edge of Vorderer Torstein tower near Schmilka, which would be today seen as protected in very peculiar way; each bolt is directly above a ledge so any fall would be directly onto a ledge. 

Westkante (VIIIa of the local grade), Wilder Kopf, Affensteine – Elbe Sandstones, Germany, 1918, Emanuel Strubich

Emanuel Strubich from Teplice was the first climber who couldn’t resist the calling of this amazing, bold, rounded edge. The lower part of the route is protected only by knots and slings and after you clip the first bolt, you traverse back to the edge. There is a sketchy smearing move in the slab, then you clip the second ring and the second hardest move on the route follows soon after. Why do we describe it in so much detail? We just want to stress how courageous Strubich was – both of these bolts were added much later! Unfortunately, this climbing genius died in an avalanche in the Alps when he was 35 years old.



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Kuniskante (VIIIa/VIIIb of local grade), Rauschentörwächter, Schmilka – Elbe Sandstones, Germany, 1921, Oswald Kunis

Moves theat you have to make on this edge are rather VIIIa but this route is especially psychically demanding – it’s the same as with Teufelsturm, don’t expect a single bolt. You will experience the route the same way as those who made the first ascent – if you fail on the crux moves, you will hit the rock down below the route. Surprisingly enough, this route is not so popular, it was climbed by about 40 people during its almost 100 years of existence.

Should the psychical toughness of the route be reflected in the grading system? In the guide there is a exclamation mark next to the grade and in some versions it is graded VIIIa whereas in another it is VIIIb. This infamous route is probably the first “grade seven” in the world – back then, the climbing in Saxony was way more advanced than in the Alps and the US was still a sleeper. Grade seven climbing in Europe begun as late as in 1977 thanks to Reinhard Karl and Helmut Kiene and their route “Pumprisse” on Fleischbankpfeiler. In the same year Kurt Albert started his project “Die Gelbe”, today graded as 7+.

Rostkante (VIIIb of local grade.), Hauptwiesenstein, Bielatal – Elbe Sandstones, Germany, 1922, Hans Rost

This is a real grade seven. Modern, slightly overhanging wall, where you are getting constantly pumped on good holds and the rock is high quality. Only the protection is not so sportish, but do not get angry with the guy who did the first ascent – there are definitely better things than to spend hours ramming bolts into a rock without an electric drill. Furthermore, back then you were only allowed to do so from a free climbing position. So after all, we might be happy that there are at least some bolts. So next time you visit Bielatal you can try this magnificent edge. Do not forget, though, that the first ascent team was toproping the first part of the route using a tree nearby, so be careful on your way to the first bolt. The combination of a star (for the quality of the route) and the exclamation mark (for the danger) looks funny but tells clearly what this route is about. “It’s great but be careful!”

A helmet could come in handy. “Rostkante.”(photo: Uwe Daniel)

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Königshangel (IXa of a local grade), Frienstein, Affensteine – Elbe Sandstones, Germany, 1965, Fritz Eske

(The routes written in grey color with an asterisk were made chronologically later than the hardest route of the current period.)

There is a funny story attached to this legendary overhanging corner crack. When Fritz Eske arrived to Saxony in the 60’s, he asked local climbers: “What’s the hardest route here?” They recommended a route called “Rüberzahlsteige” VIIIc on Frienstein tower. But Saxony is Saxony, and Fritz started completely different route than he wanted to. Probably, he was tempted by a piton that he saw high in an overhanging corner crack. However, the piton was not placed there by climbers but from some mysterious reason by a group of gymnasts who were practicing a human pyramid. Of course, Fritz had no idea and when he got to the piton, he found out that it was placed badly and that it wiggled. Hanging carefully on the piton, he placed a bolt and abseiled down. Later he came back and fought his way up, occasionally resting on slings and he graded the route IXa AF. Today, this demanding and slippery route contains an added bolt on the lower part. It was added by Bernd Arnold and its RP difficulty is IXb (7a fr.).

TIP: If you’d like to try some of the Elbe Sandstone routes on your own, let us know. Editorial board lives nearby and we can show you the routes. Contact: [email protected]

Via Carlesso-Sandri (8- of local grading system), Torre Trieste – Dolomites, Italy, 1934, Raffaele Carlesso (barefoot)

Climbing started spreading from sandstone to other parts of the world and new climbers got bolder and bolder. For example Raffaele Carlesso climbed a 24 pitch, 700 meter route to Trieste mountain free-solo and barefoot, the grade was 8- and it was 1934!

There are many questions about this first 6c+. Raffaele Carlessco was a relatively unknown climber and most of his harder routes were around VI+ UIAA. Thus, the multipitch “Carlesso-Sandri” today still remains obscure and is a topic of many discussions. Sometimes you just have to rely on a climber’s ethics and honesty. Maybe one day we will find out how it really was.

Did he climb it or not? Raffaele Carlesso (photo: Creative Commons)





Pilastro di Mezzo, Messner Slab, 1968, Sass dla Crusc – Dolomites, Italy, Reinhold Messner

While the climbing was spreading throughout the world and the grading system was getting larger, the young Reinhold Messner remained unnoticed when he climbed his project in the Dolomites which was the first 7a/8 UIAA ever. Because the project wasn’t repeated 42 years, an Italian climber Nicola Tondini set out to explore often-discussed, seemingly unclimbable spot in the route, which is 4 meters long. In 2010, he finally succeeded. The climbing world then found that the achievement of Messner back then was a massive one.

Perrhaps the most famous climber ever left his name in the history of sport climbing was Reinhold Messner. (photo: Standa Mitáč)


The first sandstone 7a was climbed by Bernd Arnold – it was the “Nordwand” route on Schwager rock tower. The route has 6 bolts, however, the authors didn’t give it a star for its beauty and thus it is a bit forgotten today.

Text 7a+

Thimble, Needles – South Dakota, USA, 1961, John Gill

The first route that is considered to be a 7a+ is a 9-meter high block of rock climbed without a rope by John Gill. In fact, it is a bouldering problem from the age of climbing when no bouldering existed yet. By climbing this huge boulder by a path (video), John got really famous and this highball is a challenge both for the skill and mental endurance of climbers today. (We have not found any information about the first roped 7a+ route.)

English Hanging Gardens, Big Rock – California, USA, 1970, John Gosling

Climbing for connoisseurs of technical climbing, and is still highly respected today. Slab climbing with the first hard move below the first bolt. John Gosling was one of the first climbers who showed world that climbing is not only about strength but also about ability to control yourself completely, precision in movement technique and inner peace.

Macabre Roof, Ogden – Utah, USA, 1967, Greg Lowe

Author Greg Lowe, co-founder of a outdoor equipment brand Lowe Alpine named this multipitch route after its hardest pitch, “The Macabre Roof”. The total number of pitches is five.

Psycho Roof, Eldorado – Colorado, USA, 1975, Steve Wunsch

The next grade was after a 7-year pause, introduced by Steve Wunsch with his three-pitch project and the main crux was again as with the last grade in the roof bouldering problem. br /> .

Steve Wunsch (left), Kevin Bein, Barbara Devine a Mark-Robinson in 1978 (photo: Harvey Arnold)


Steve Wunsch climbing, 1978 (photo: Harvey Arnold)


The Phoenix, Yosemite – California, USA, 1977, Ray Jardine

This famous route was in 2011 free-soloed by another famous climber; Alex Honnold. If you want to climb it as well, you should know that it is a curved, narrow finger crack, which is, especially in its second half, significantly overhanging. You will probably get quite pumped while trying to put the protection in. This line was first climbed by Ray Jardine in 1977 and it was first onsighted in 1984 by British climber Jerry Moffat.


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Grand Illusion, Sugarloaf – California, USA, 1979, Tony Yaniro

This 12 meter long fingercrack with almost 40 degrees overhang looks like a perfect, highball challenge at the first glance. Tony Yaniro thought the same but after many attempts, he had to give up because the skin on his fingers got completely worn out. After he returned several times and even built a training crack back at home, he figured that this is the hardest route he ever climbed and thus he added one more grade – the French eight. When he finally sent the route, he managed to put three pieces of protection into the crack.


The Face, Frankenjura – Germany, 1983, Jerry Moffatt

Profile of “the Face” is slightly overhanging in the lower part and slowly changes to vertical (video). The only holds on the route are tiny pocket holds and it looks quite unclimbable at first glance. At least Norbert Fietz and Norbert Bätz, who were attempting the route thought so. However, when the British power climbing team of Jerry Moffat and Chrise Gore came, the route finally went.

It became the first route of this difficulty grade even though the rest of world’s climbing community had no idea about it and officially, the grade was shifted a year later with a route “Maniac” by Dan Goodwin. Dan was mostly known for his show-off attitude to climbing, he liked to show-off with a flag and to hang on one hand while he was free-soloing his projects. He also liked to climb skyscrapers.

Kanal im Rücken, Altmuehltal – Frankenjura, Germany, 1984, Wolfgang Güllich

World’s first grade ten of the UIAA grading system. The route that started Wolfgang’s great series. After the glorious age of sandstone climbing in Elbe Sandstones and then climbing in the US, Wolfgang Güllich shifted his focus back to the German climbing community.


– Wolfgang Güllich climbing “Ghettoblaster” 8b+ / 10+, Frankenjura (photo: archive of Bernd Arnold) –

Galerie Gullich

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Punks in the Gym, Mt. Arapiles – Australia, 1985, Wolfgang Güllich

The ironic name of this route refers to the fact that this route requires a precise technique that you can learn only by climbing on a real rock and not in the gym. Definitely it is not a route for wall-lovers that grew up in a gym.
It became the most famous route of Australia after it was first attempted by Martin Scheel. In that age it was quite common to chip new holds into the rock and he tried to use such tactics on the rock but it made no difference.

This attempt drew the attention of Wolfgang, who flew to Australia and sent the route with elegance. However, the chipped hold got some “classic climbers” angry, thus a guy named Andy Pollit decided to glue back the chipped hold. Later, after many years and many attempts on the route by various climbers, the glue partly crumbled out and today, the route stands as a reminder of climbing tactics of past that today seem completely unethical.


La Ravage, Chuenisberg – Switzerland, 1986, Antoine Le Menestrel

“La Ravage” is a small exception. In this case, the grade shifted only by half-grade-slash. The funny fact is that this route was bolted by a legendary Czech climber Vašek “Voďár” Vodička. For some time however, he thought that he wouldn’t be able to climb the route and thus he left it for Menestrel. When Menestrel sent the route, “Voďár” got so motivated again that he climbed it only a month later. This young Czech guy managed in 1986 to climb the hardest route in the world.

Adam Ondra climbed “La Ravage” on-sight and he noted that he really appreciates the route and his successful attempt. It is the only on-sighted route above 8b+ that was made in the 80’s. In that period of time, it was common to make vertical routes and those are quite hard to read.


“If climbing is an art, then creativity is its main component.” Wolfgang Güllich

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Wallstreet, Frankenjura – Germany, 1987, Wolfgang Güllich

Originally, this route had an easier variant graded 8b, however, local climbers broke the original pocket-holds one by one and paradoxically, the route got easier. Later, Wolfgang glued the holds back into their original place and thus created the hardest route of that period graded 8c.

Hubble, Raven Tor, England, 1990, Ben Moon

This route was finished by Ben Moon on the day of his birthday. The ascent named “Hubble” broke the series of Wolfgang’s routes. It is a 15-meter long route with rather boulderish style, the route is especially hard to climb because of the local weather which is continually wet. Adam Ondra tried climbing the line in 2010 but was unsuccessful. According to him the route is as hard as “Action Directe”, which was created a year later. “Maybe it would be more accurate to label the route as an 8B+ bouldering problem; that would make it the first 8B+ in the world – 10 years before the one that we consider to be the first today,” said Adam. He probably considers it to be a bouldering problem due to the fact that the route is short and that the hardest moves are in its first part. If it had flat landing, one could climb it with a bouldering pad. “The 7c+ free solo finish wouldn’t add to the difficulty,” says Adam. Today, most of the people start the route top-rope, clipped into the first bolt, which is quite high. “Personally, I would like to see the impressive Action Directe as the first 9a, nevertheless, when I consider it objectively, the first one is in fact Hubble, that’s a pity because it’s quite short and slimy,” thinks Adam.

Alex Megos, however, has quite an opposite view on the matter. He climbed “Action Directe” in a single afternoon but he spent two days practicing “Hubble”. Despite that, he claims that “Hubble” seems easier to him because it’s so short.


Ben Moon in his route, 1990 (photo: archive of Ben Moon,

Ben Moon

– Ben Moon climbing “Hubble“, 1990 (photo: archive of Ben Moon, –

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Action Directe, Frankenjura, Germany, 1991, Wolfgang Güllich

The most commonly noted first 9a is a project originally started in 80’s by a Czech climber Milan Sýkora (the son of Bohumil Sýkora from Adršpach who wrote the book Pískaři. Milan later moved to Germany and became a famous climber in the Frankenjura area. Nevertheles, he didn’t forget about his Czech roots and made a famous first ascent “Návrat ke kořenům” / “Return to the Roots” grade Xa on a tower Chobotnice).

Let’s get back to “Action Directe” – this route awaited its send until 1991. Again, this route is only 15 meters long. (topo) However, it is one of the most famous rotes in Frankenjura and it became the ultimate challenge for 9a climbers – there are only 22 climbers from all over the world who have sent it to date. Wolfgang even invented his famous “campus board,” which you probably have somewhere above your door, when he was practicing for this route. You can find a video of Adam Ondra sending the route in 2008 below:


Wolfgang Güllich climbing “Action Directe” (photo: Thomas Ballenberger)

Weisse Rose, 1994, Schleier Wasserfal, Austria, 9a+, Alexander Huber

Repeating this famous, overhanging, 50 meters long route by a German climber Alex Huber was quite a challenge for Adam Ondra. He claims that if “La Rambla” is 9a+, then “Weisse Rose” must be the same grade. Nobody other than Alex and Adam repeated the routes “Weisse Rose” and “Open Air”, which made in 1996 also goes at 9a+.

Why do none the best world’s climbers go to try these routes? Schleier Wasserfal is a very specific area and most of the climbers avoid it for that reason. Even though it is only 50 minutes by car from Innsbruck. There is a kind of myth surrounding the routes there and even Austrian climbers avoid it – the area just isn’t “sexy” enough for them. However, Adam Ondra likes these cliffs, especially the route “Weisse Rose” is a perfect route according to him. The grade suggested by Alex Huber for both of these routes – “Weisse Rose” and “Open Air”is 9a.

Until Adam’s intervention, “Realization” by Chris Sharma from 2001 was considered to be the world’s first 9a+. It is a longer variant of a famous route “Biographie” 8c+. On his final attempt to climb it, Chris Sharma spent 20 tries to redpoint the route. The name of the route is still a matter of discussion, the French tradition says that the climber who bolted the route gives it its name – that would be Jean-Christophe Lafaille in 1989. However, Chris follows American ethics, according to which the one who first free-climbs the route has a right to give it a name.

Alexander Huber climbing “Open Air” (photo: archive of A. Huber)

Jumbo Love, Clark Mountain, California/Nevada, 2008, Chris Sharma

Amazing 75 meters of climbing in a dry desert environment begins with 20 meters to a ledge where you can sit and rest. After that it is 35 meters of overhanging climbing with a boulder problem in the middle, you certainly need Chris’ massive endurance to be able to do it. The American climber had to design a special rope for this route because the available ones were not long enough for the lowering. The route was repeated by Eathan Pringle, Adam Ondra hasn’t tried it yet.

Chris Sharma around 2008 (photo: Creative commons)

Citat Chris

“The best climbers have the will to hold on. They won’t give up and keep trying over and over.“ Chris Sharma

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Change, Flatanger, Norway, 2012, Adam Ondra (not repeated)

Adam’s first project in Hanshelleren cave – this route is 55 meters long and can be divided into two pitches. The first pitch is graded 9a+/b and has a bouldering character. When you reach the second half, you can expect a bit easier climbing, which is nevertheless demanding on endurance. With this first ascent, Adam got ahead of Chris Sharma with his many-year project “La Dura Dura”, which they both climbed in 2014 and thus the second route in the world of this difficulty got created. Third and the last route graded as 12 UIAA is “Vasil Vasil” in Moravský Kras area – again, it was made by Adam. As with “Change”, it hasn’t been repeated yet.

Adam climbing “Change” (photo: Petr Pavlíček)

Silence, Flatanger, Norway, 2017, Adam Ondra (not repeated)

Nowadays, the top of the list is occupied by a 45 meters long roof line in “Adam’s cave.” in Flatanger with circa 60 degrees of inclination. According to adam, it consists of 25 meters of 8b climbing, a kneebar restpoint, then 8C bouldering section, another not really comfortable resting position, and then another 8B boulder.

Some of the moves are so specific that that Adam had to build a special training regime to be able to do them – several months he spent just practicing the individual moves of separate body parts, for example he had to work on his calves. You can find an interview with Adam about this route on: this page.

Is anybody else able to repeat the route? We cannot really come up with specific names in our office; maybe it would be Alex Megos. Will the grading system shift once more? If we look back on history, it is quite probable. Adam is in the best shape yet and he keeps working on himself. But what about us, ordinary mortals? At least we can watch if he would be able to hold the baton and keep ascending as Wolfgang Güllich once did, or if he would get outrun by the new generation.

Adam Ondra after he sent the route “Silence” (photo: Pavel Blažek,


The shifting of grades remains to be a men’s job, however,
climbing history was very much influenced by the fingers with polished nails as well. And it would be unfair not to mention these climbers.

Sport climber Lynn Hill won the world’s championship and several times held the title of champion in Rock Masters. The place, where she left the deepest mark in climbing history, however, was the Yosemite granite. In 1993, she became the first human in history to free-climb ”The Nose“ on the famous El Capitan. By this ascent, she has shocked many from the Stonemasters generation, who led the tempo of Yosemite climbing before.

Of course, there are many more women climbers who are definitely not behind her.

In September 2017, a sport climber from the Belgian national team Anak Verhoeven announced that she has sent her project “Sweet Neuf” and suggested the 9a+ grade for it. And girls are pushing it further this year. In November 2017, Austrian climber Angela Eiter became the first female to climb 9b: “La planta de shiva” at Villanueva del Rosario in Spain.

Up to date, the only woman who had ever climbed 9a+ was Margo Hayes, who at 19 climbed two 9a+ routes. The first one was in February 2017 – “La Rambla” in Siruana, originally put up by Alex Huber. And few weeks ago, she added Chris’ “Realization/Biographie”.

Few steps behind her is only 16-yers-oldAshima Shirashi, who wins one junior climbing competition after another since she appeared on the scene. She even got fourth place, in the world climbing championship for adults. The hardest route she climbed is “Redpoint” graded 9a/9a+, first ascended again by Alex Huber. Furthermore, she is the only woman ever to climb a V15 boulder.


Matej Pohorsky


Climber, hedonist, enthusiast in observing people’s endeavor. Climbing is a liberating way of pushing his limits. He’s interested in stories of people who push their life to the limits. He’s afraid of heights and he’s never on time.

Standa “Sany” Mitac

Editor in chief

“Climbing is not about the grades and life is not about the money.”
He loves to write about inspiring people.
Addicted to situations when he does not care about the time – in the mountains or sandstone crags.

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