2015-05-17

Climbing Romys Traum

Vladimir and I set out to Braunwald on Sunday to climb Romys Traum, an alpine route up the Leiteregg (2310m). It's still early in the season so the cable car wasn't running yet. We had just started to hike up when a tractor stopped next to us. At first I thought the farmer would tell us the via ferrata was still closed (which it was) and advise us to turn around. Instead he offered us a ride. Awesome. Sitting in the flatboard he saved us 300 meters of elevation gain, so we only had to climb the remaining ~500m up to the ridge.

The views that could have been.
Vladimir. Perfectly dressed for the Alpine.
Intimidating? Not at all!

We shuffled around at the base of the face for a bit, trying to find the start of the route. It's about 170m and 5 pitches long. Since we had been climbing on the day before I thought I was very clever to just leave my backpack packed with all the gear. That way I couldn't forget anything. Unfortunately I failed to realize that today's route was meant for 60m half ropes. So there we were, standing at the base of the first 40m pitch with a 50m single rope. If we decided to start climbing that would make a retreat very difficult indeed. The only way out would be up. The rope would be too short for rappels. To make matters worse the weather was anything but good, with a forecast of rain a few hours out.

Onward into the cloud!
I challenged Vladimir to reenact that famous Climbing Magazine cover from the seventies and free solo dangle off the roof. He declined. Can't imagine why?

Of course we committed ;-) I led the first 6a crux pitch. Once that was done we got into the rhythm of things and had a great time taking turns on lead and cruising up this beautiful route. Very different from last week's Balmflue this route is continuously steep and offers very sustained and difficult climbing. A few places are peppered with loose rocks and we have some close calls with stones whizzing by.

So much potential!
The mood...
...is good!
The final belay. You can't tell, but that ravine between my feet goes straight down for more than 200 meters.

We got really lucky with the weather and once we topped out the clouds broke to reveal beautiful views down to the valley. Since our rope wasn't suitable for rappelling we climbed down the via ferrata instead.

The first proper alpine route this season! Awesome! According to the route book the route has seen only 4 ascents in all of 2014 and we were the first this year.

Romys Traum:
  • Pitch 1: 40m 6a
  • Pitch 2: 30m 5c
  • Pitch 3: 30m 5c+
  • Pitch 4: 40m 5c
  • Pitch 5: 30m 5c+
Fuck Putin? Pussy Riot? Is that you Andrey?
Coiling rope in style. There was a cold wind blowing up from below all day, hence the attempt at staying warm with fancy socks ;-)
This bird materialized out of the fog the second we took our food out of our backpacks.
Downclimbing the via ferrata.

2015-05-16

Climbing Sunneplättli

Good weather on Saturday, so Vladimir, Nicola, Ania and I returned to the Sunneplättli on Lake Lucerne. I have ticked off the last few routes that were "missing" in my collection. And tried an unmarked one. That was quite the bummer. It starts trivially easy up to a small roof. After some trial and error I managed to pull myself up over that using two small underclings. But then there was nothing. Literally. Just a blank slab. Even when cheating by pulling on quickdraws I had no idea how one would solve that sequence. That is rare. Usually you can figure out what to do and just lack the strength, technique, endurance or flexibility to execute it. This time I simply had no idea.

We spent the evening eating pizza and watching a weird Czech movie at Vladimir's place. Even with English subtitles the plot was hard to follow. Too artsy for my poor little Hollywood conditioned brain ;-)

  • Rutschbahn 6a
  • Briefkasten 5c
  • J. Mutzenbacher 6a+
  • Wassermann 6a+
  • Electronic 6a+
  • Löchliweg 6b
  • Unnamed (impossible)

2015-05-13

Rigi Marsch 2015

As has become a tradition I signed up for this year's Rigi Marsch again. The annual hike through the night starts in the village of Bremgarten and finishes 50km and 1500m elevation gain later on Mt Rigi.

Bruno, Ramona, Christian, Birgit, Ronny, Michal

This was the most successful Rigi Marsch yet by number of sign ups - more than 2100 people participated. The queues at the start were even longer than usual so our start was delayed by an hour until half past eight. I managed to recruit a whole bunch of people to join me this time around. Ronny and Birgit from Stuttgart, Christian, Bruno, Ramona, Michal and I formed the core group. Tim, Ilya and Sergey followed my invitation but we failed to meet until the finish line. Pawel easily won the trophy for most hardcore of our group. He ran (!) the entire thing. You can picture this as running a marathon (through the night) as warm up and then climbing a mountain. He started later than the rest of us, stopped briefly along the trail for a chat with me, and then proceeded to reach the summit a full three hours before everybody else. Impressive performance!

Pawel. He was too fast for a non-blurry photo ;-)
Ronny...
...and Christian at the Rotkreuz supply stop early in the morning.

This had already been a very intense week for me so far, with 19 pitches of climbing on Sunday, 3 hours in the climbing gym on Monday (a 6c on sight and 7a on top rope, yeah!), 1 hour "advanced physiotherapy" in the Google gym on Tuesday, 70km of biking in between and now the Rigi Marsch on Wednesday. I mention this because I got a Fitbit tracker recently. It monitors your heart rate, number of steps in a day and number of floors climbed. It also has a social component that is meant to motivate you by comparing your steps to those of your friends. I managed to trick everyone into signing up for the "workweek hustle" where the person with the highest number of steps in a week wins a badge. When they realized this was the week of the Rigi Marsch it was already too late... muahahaha! Easy win ;-)

Lake Lucerne and Mt Pilatus.
So close! And already daylight again.

We had a severe weather warning but got extremely lucky. You could see lightning in billowing clouds all around us, but no rain or bad weather ever reached us. Instead we got an impressive natural light show and warm gusts of wind. In fact, it stayed freakishly warm enough that you were comfortable in a t-shirt all night long.

Our ride back down.

Except for endurance monster Pawel, who got there at 6, and Bruno and Ramona, who had to bail because of a bad hip, everyone reached the summit around 9 in the morning. Good times in great company! Congratulations especially to the first timers who didn't know what to expect and still put up a good fight. I hope we'll meet again next year!

Summit shot.

2015-05-10

Climbing Balmflue

Andrey had the idea of climbing the longest multi-pitch route in the Jura: the Balmflue South ridge. 19 pitches of lime stone with difficulties up to 5c+. Weather for Sunday looked good, so we decided to go. Unfortunately he unexpectedly got caught up in work and couldn't join after all. Which meant it was down to Vinay and me - sorry Andrey!

The objective.
Queuing at the start.
Noisy motocross below.

We arrived at the base of the mountain at around 8 o'clock in the morning. The guide book only offers very rough sketches of how to find the start of the route and warns that it is a somewhat tricky approach. It proved correct. We wandered around for about an hour before we finally managed to find the spot. By that time we actually had to wait in a queue of climbers for our turn to climb. Two rope teams were preparing in line before us. When we finally started up it was almost 10.

Vinay on the first traverse.
Where do we go again?

The team in front of us was very inexperienced and agonizingly slow. We had to idle around at every anchor, waiting for them clear the route. Especially annoying since this was typical Jura climbing with steeper pitches interspersed by ledges covered in lose scree and gravel. Having people fumble around above you is actually dangerous. We eventually managed to pass them and continue on our own.

Scale reference: how many climbers can you spot?
Nearly there. Lunch break before attacking the final few pitches.

In the valley below us a motocross race was in full swing. We could see the tiny motorbikes race around the winding track, taking long jumps over a ramp. Unfortunately we could also hear them. It's the first time I actually wished for earplugs while climbing. The constant hyperactive beehive buzz echoing up the mountain was really annoying. And made communicating with your rope partner much harder. We started simply trusting signals conveyed via the rope without being able to see or hear one another.

The climbing was a mixed bag. A lot of the pitches were very short and very easy. More like scrambling than climbing. We linked, simul-climbed or free soloed quite a few of them so in the end we didn't have anywhere near the 19 belays given in the guide book. Even the harder 5c+ pitches didn't feel like they warranted that grade. The higher we got the more steep, sustained and interesting the climbing became. The final few pitches were a real joy with a lot of air below you and beautiful vistas all the way to the snow covered mountains of the main ridge of the Alps, dominated by Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. We topped out at 16 o'clock in the afternoon at 1290m, about 600m higher than our car and 400m of climbing.

The descent is an easy hike along the ridge to the West and then through a beautiful forest back down to the village. Very satisfying day.