The Ortler: like a fortress armored in ice, its summit rises from the magnificent mountain landscape in western South Tyrol - a harbinger of the four thousand meter-high peaks in the Western Alps.
“Der Ortler - Südtirols König der Berge” (“The Ortler - South Tyrol’s King of Mountains”), the film by Gerald Salmina (producer) and Jochen Hemmleb (director), portrays the rich and very different facets of the gigantic mountain.
Ortler - this is a playground for those who push their limits to the extreme. South Tyrolean mountain guide and professional mountaineer Christoph Hainz, Kitzbühel extreme skier Axel Naglich and the Val Gardena (Gröden) speed riding pilots Armin Senoner and Guido Senoner set off for the north wall of the Ortler at the start of the film. While Hainz and Naglich climb through the shimmering blue ice wall, which to this day has lost little of its wild ambience and threatening appearance, the two speed riders fly down with skis and paragliders for the first time through the funnel of the wall bristling with ice and complete the speed riding trilogy through the north walls of the mountain triumvirate Königspitze-Monte Zebrù-Ortler. But that’s not all: after reaching the summit, Naglich and Heinz ski down the vertigo-inducing Minnigerode-Rinne couloir in the south wall of the Ortler. Three walls, three extreme sports - one day!
Ortler - this is history replete with bright and dark moments. At his museum in Sulden, mountaineering legend Reinhold Messner reviews the mountaineering exploitation of the Ortler: from the first ascent in 1804 via his own investigative search for traces of the mysterious route of the first ascent up to the heroic climb through the great north walls in the 1930s.
Olaf Reinstadler – mountain guide from Sulden and one of the best authorities on the Ortler – and history teacher Melanie Platzer examine the darkest chapter in the history of the mountain: the alpine warfare in 1917-18. An old notebook that Reinstadler recovered from old military barracks connects both. Platzer evaluated it. It shows that back then the war was more of a struggle against nature than against the enemy. The joint ascent by Reinstadler and Platzer to old warfare positions at the Eissee Pass and to the spot known as “Drei Kanonen” (“Three Cannons”) allows the viewer to experience the folly of a war in a region of eternal ice.
Today the Ortler group is a peaceful site, and the Stilfser Joch (Stelvio Pass) in the west of the massif is the name giver of one of the largest nature reserves (Stelvio National Park) in the Alps. In some places, the unspoiled landscape in the national park is still as original as during the middle of the 19th century, when Austrian military geographer Julius Payer surveyed and mapped the Ortler group for the first time. Reenactments tell the story of Payer’s pioneering achievement, which nearly cost him and his companion – local mountain guide Johannes Pinggera – their lives…
Ortler - this is also the relationship between man and nature: a contradictory interaction between domination and exploitation on the one hand, and a life in harmony on the other hand.
Both aspects can be found in the Martell Valley in the eastern Ortler group, which Olaf Reinstadler – accompanied by skiing legend Gustav Thöni – hikes through for the film: the ghostly ruins of Hotel Paradies (“Hotel Paradise”) become a symbol for misguided tourism that sees itself faced with new challenges, particularly in the present time of climate change. The story of the Zufritt Reservoir with the flood disaster of 1987 shows how close benefit and damage sometimes are during the taming of water, and that in the final analysis, nature is never fully controllable. In contrast to this is the gentle exploitation of water through the ingenious systems of the irrigation channels which have been providing fields and farmsteads with precious water for hundreds of years.
Mountaineering also frequently concerns the question regarding how it depicts a conquering of the mountain or a harmony with the mountain. Christoph Hainz is a modern protagonist of mountaineering “by fair means”, which Reinhold Messner has promoted since the end of the 1960s. Hainz plans to set off in Messner’s footsteps on the Ortler. With his life companion Gerda Schwienbacher he sets off towards the less well-known and remote southwest side of the mountain in order to explore the route which Messner first ascended there in 1976 and which has never been repeated since then. Yet after the exploration it turns out that the pillar inspected by Hainz does not involve the Messner route at all.
As the culmination and conclusion of the film, Christoph Hainz rises to the challenge of making a first ascent of a 700 meter-high pillar in the southwest wall of the Ortler – in a rope-free solo effort and “on sight”, without prior knowledge of the route…