Climbing Brüggler: "Glückspilz Heavy" 6a+

Last Sunday Mark, Arek, Andrey and I took advantage of the outstanding weather and rented a mobility car to head for Brüggler. I figured it might soon be the end of the abnormally good weather spell and wanted to introduce Mark to the joys of multi pitch climbing before the season is over. The two hundred meter tall Brüggler South face is well bolted limestone and served this purpose before. The rock is of superb quality and the wall well cleaned, eliminating most objective dangers.

The approach.
Mark navigating the crux pitch. A delicate slab just before you have to work your way over a small roof.

We had a leisurely late start and headed up the first pitch of Glückspilz Heavy 6a+ around noon. Mark and I made one rope team while Andrey and Arek were off to an entirely different section of the wall. We wouldn't see them again for the entire day. The sun was scorching hot (mid November at more than 1500 meters altitude!) and we were climbing in t-shirts. Lots of people had the same idea as us and the wall was quite crowded. Luckily it's easily big enough to accommodate dozens of rope teams at once, so it didn't matter much. In fact, it created quite an enjoyable atmosphere. Pleasant conversations all around us. That's how the Swiss roll: Sunday stroll and tea on a vertical wall ;-)

Diving through the tree marking the exit to the summit ridge.
Lake Zürich.

I led the entire climb and Mark handled the climbing and the half ropes really well. We linked a few pitches so that we topped out about three and a half hours after we started. A few obligatory summit pics and we started rappelling back down. This is not strictly necessary, there is a hiking trail one can use for walking off, but I figured a bit or rappelling practice wouldn't hurt. Mark led one rappel, missed the next anchor and ended up reaching the end of the ropes. Instead of ascending the rope back to the anchor he attached himself to the wall and waited for "rescue". By now we were racing the daylight and we figured it would be faster if I rappelled to the anchor just above him and set up the next rappel to pick him up on the way. We made it back to base just as it got dark.

Hanging around, waiting for the taxi.

Andrey and Arek were nowhere to be seen, but some of their gear was still at the foot of the wall. We waited a while and were just starting to worry about them when they appeared from the hiking trail. They had topped out a little later than us and decided to walk down. Great day!


Climbing Gallerie Weesen

We have unnaturally good weather at the moment. 18°C and sun. Vladimir, Nicola, Laura and I took advantage of it by going climbing at the Gallerie Weesen/Amden. A crag right above a road and thus easy to get to. It features lots of very hard routes and is listed in the "extreme" guide book. And indeed there were quite a few people working on what looked like challenging projects. We stuck to the easier stuff. I'm still recovering from a cold and haven't been climbing in weeks. Laura hadn't climbed for a year or so. Vladimir had pulled a muscle in his neck while bouldering a few days earlier. Still he put up an impressive fight all the way to the top of Halloween, 6c+. I was a little less daring and only followed it instead of attempting a clean lead. I managed the entire thing without cheating. I'll definitely return for a proper lead. It was a very satisfying climb in any case. 6c+ is right at the very limit of what I ever managed to climb outdoors.

Anyway, great afternoon - thanks gang! Special credit to Laura for bringing a good camera and taking pictures!

  • Kurzprogramm, 6a
  • Bonsai 6a+
  • Halloween 6c+
  • Brillätidi 6a
Vladimir in Bonsai.
Lake Waalen and the village of Weesen. Switzerland is a butt-ugly country.
Nicola in Bonsai.
Me in Brillätidi. No shirt in November!
Laura in Brillätidi.
Nicola. Apparently everything is cool at the belay ;-)
Vladimir. Pissed about his neck. Sitting in the shade because it was too hot in the sun!
We are such extreeeeeeme climbers!
Fun on the rope swing.
Proof that Halloween is overhanging quite a bit.


Schwalmis (2246m), Risetenstock (2290m), Brisen (2404m)

Zürich has been gray and overcast the last week. So I went beyond the clouds on Sunday. Perfect blue sky all around. It was actually warmer at 2000 meters altitude than in the valleys, classic temperature inversion. Winter is coming though - the Northern slopes are frozen and covered in snow.

I have a slight cold, so I started at a leisurely late 10 o'clock in the morning, intending to climb just one modest peak. Gained the first summit much faster than expected and was still feeling strong, so I kept going along the ridge. In the end I climbed the Schwalmis (2246m), the Risetenstock (2290m) and the Brisen (2404m). I met lots of people along the way who had the same idea as me, took the cable car up and were enjoying the sunshine above the clouds. Great day!

  • +-1900m
  • 22km
A cat chilling in the sun.
The ridge ahead. Risetenstock on the left, Hoh Brisen and Brisen to the back and right.
Final approach to the Schwalmis summit.
Klewenalp, Rigi ridge and Lake Lucerne hidden beneath the sea of clouds.
Niederbauen Chulm and Oberbauenstock.
Lake Lucerne under the clouds, Stanserhorn and Pilatus in the center.
Risetenstock summit pyramid.
Risetenstock summit.
The Glattegrat.
Brisen summit.
Looking back whence I came.
Ridgeline to the Hoh Brisen. It is ten meters taller than the Brisen and seldom climbed. The ridge seemed a bit dicey to attempt alone and late in the day...
I took the direct way down.
Last bit of the Isenthal access road. Quite spectacular and steep even by Swiss standards.



Mountain climbing is dangerous. It requires suffering through pain, cold and exhaustion. It serves no purpose. Why do it then?

Many people more qualified than me have tried to answer this question. This is my rambling attempt at a more personal answer. Why do I go to the mountains?

I love being outdoors. I love the connection to nature, the rawness and wildness of it. I love throwing myself into the wind and shouting of joy. The mountains and the sea are two of the few places left in our civilized and tamed world that are still mostly wild. Mountains are raw energy. Inconceivable amounts of energy created them. You need to be strong to climb them. Everything there is charged with energy. Everything there has the potential to kill you if the energy is discharged too quickly.

Mountains allow me to grow and learn things about myself. It is tremendously satisfying to experience getting stronger. You start with small strolls. They get longer and longer until you can comfortably hike the entire day without thinking much of it. There is a natural progression ramping up the challenge and climbing harder and harder routes. Learning the exact boundaries of ones physical limits and extending them gradually.

I know things about myself that few people know about themselves. I know, don't imagine, how I react to extreme stress and fear of death. I know that I won't panic and that I'm still able to control myself and act rationally and constructively. Knowing where my limits are gives me a lot of power and self assurance in everyday situations. The coping mechanisms and mental strength you train while climbing are applicable elsewhere.

Mountains offer a well defined, unambiguous goal. Either you reach the summit or you don't. This is in refreshing contrast to the ambiguities of our modern world. Everyday life rarely offers such easy black and white goals, everything is muddy. At the same time the pay-off is proportional to your investment. The more effort you expend to reach a goal the more gratifying the reward. Give it all your strength, invest all your smarts. The ultimate stake is your life. You can't put more on the line than that.

Taking risks is freedom. I choose to do it. The default choice in our modern world is to always minimize risk. But if you accept that, then there is no choice. You are not free. You don't decide. It gets exciting once you make a conscious decision: how much risk am I willing to accept for the experience? I crave the independence of it. Nobody tells me what to do, I am the master of my own decisions and carry the weight of the responsibility.

I love the feeling of being self-sufficient, autonomous. I carry everything I need in my pack. If I want, I can stop right here and bivvy for the night. This was an eye opening experience on my bicycle trip of half a year. You don't need much, you can be self reliant and make a comfortable home almost anywhere. That is a powerful realization.

Climbing requires full concentration. A day of scrambling on a ridge is not only physically exhausting but also mentally draining. Staying one hundred percent focused in the here and now requires discipline. You cannot afford a single lapse. As a consequence you train an iron will. It has meditative qualities. You don't think of anything else. Nothing clears my mind of work like climbing a steep wall.

I like the exclusiveness of it. I like being part of an elite club. The group of people that don't need to read an article like this, because they know. Because they are driven by the same passion. Who don't shake their heads at the "crazy risks", because they are already scheming their own next epic.

I'm a fiercely competitive person if I set my mind to it. I enjoy being stronger and faster than the average guy, the next guy. I enjoy the tension this creates. Mountaineering is an intensely shared experience. You need a rope partner. You literally trust your partner with your life and rely on her for your safety. So climbing is also fundamentally cooperative. You reach the summit together or not at all. An epic struggle shared with a partner creates a strong bond.

Whenever I'm in wild places I imagine what it must have been like to be the first human to stand there. To lay eyes on this landscape. To explore and discover. Being in the mountains where few people can go allows me to live this fantasy at least a little bit. White spots on our maps have become very rare, so I go looking for them in the vertical world. True adventures have almost become extinct.

At the same time I like ticking off places on my own, personal map. It is tremendously satisfying to see a map of the entire country and have it covered in a spiderweb of GPS tracks of my own hikes. Experience that you can explore so much solely under your own power. I can walk across an entire country in a few days - imagine that!

Mountaineering has beautiful toys. I like playing with the highly specialized, high quality gear. Maybe childish, but then again, most hobbies have equipment fetishists. Becoming proficient in, and eventually mastering, its use is a reward all by itself. Like a carpenter with her tools.

Climbing, and even hiking, is intellectually satisfying. You marvel at a particularly beautiful line, elegant route or an efficient move. Something as seemingly trivial as a foot placement on a downhill run can be quite stimulating. Split second decisions. Either you need to waste a lot of energy or you smoothly float over the rocks.

You are playing in magnificent surroundings. I'm an atheist, but if I ever thought there was something more to our existence it has been in the majestic arena of nature. I've had some very emotional moments in the mountains. Taking it all in has caused me to well up and my voice to break. I have shouted of joy against the wind when there was no one to hear. I have run pirouettes down a glacier to celebrate existence. Life is great!

Mountaineering then is fun because it satisfies deeply human urges as few other endeavors can.

Probably my favorite mountaineering photo: Vince Anderson, photographed by Steve House, after climbing the 4100 meter Rupal Face to the summit of the 8126 meter Nanga Parbat, a superhuman effort.


Montalin (2266m)

I had a small good weather window on Saturday. My plan was to hike the entire Schanfigg ridge in Grisons near Chur. This would have made it an extreme endurance tour of about 3000 meters elevation gain. At this time of year it's hard to judge the weather situation correctly so I kept checking local webcams, trying to figure out how much snow there was in the mountains. Turns out I underestimated that drastically ;-)


I started at sunrise in the tiny village of Maladers at 1000m altitude. It only took a few hundred meters and I was already walking on snow. I discovered lots of ibex tracks in the snow near the Fürhörnli at 1888m. It seemed to be one of their resting places, at least it looked like they had made camp there. Ten minutes later I met two hunters in white camouflage suits. We had a brief chat and they were indeed going after an ibex. I didn't see it, but I heard a shot echo out through the mountains a little while later, so apparently I didn't scare away all of their prey.

The faint diagonal line across the face is the trail. It's every bit as intimidating as it looks. And then some.
Google Earth summer rendering of my GPS track through the face.

After I left the hunters behind me I was breaking trail in virgin snow. Up to knee deep and fresh, not properly settled yet. I crossed lots of small snow slides and avalanche debris. The Montalin South bluff loomed menacingly in front of me. The trail cutting across it is a white-blue-white, difficult, one. Up to 45 degrees steep with an exposure of a few hundred meters it was covered in a brittle layer of slippery snow. Dicey.

Treacherous terrain.
Looking a bit stressed out after scrambling up the slope behind me.

Despite taking full advantage of my GPS I often lost the faint trail beneath the snow. This left me scrambling up the face directly, cutting through switch backs. Progress was slow and tedious. I had to cut individual steps and carefully balance my weight between my feet and the hiking poles. Any misstep here would have dire consequences. As would trusting the wrong lump of snow. In summer or on solid snow using crampons this would be a complete non-issue. As it was it was nerve wracking. Downclimbing in such conditions is even more difficult and dangerous, so I figured my best escape was over the summit. No turning back now.

Summit panorama.

It was a relief when I finally topped out. Inspecting my intended route ahead I quickly abandoned the idea of continuing along the ridge and decided to go down instead. In these conditions the ridge would have been suicidal. Not to mention exhausting. An icy wind was blowing on the summit and leaden clouds were looming above. It looked like it might start snowing any minute. I signed the summit book and started on my descent towards the East. Much easier terrain. In fact, a gentle slope and knee deep fresh powder made it a joy to just run down the mountain in a straight line. Looks like a perfect area for ski touring. A lone hiker passed me on the way up. A local on his eightieth ascent of the mountain. Rock on dude!

The ridge line ahead. Project for another time.
Frozen lake.
Fresh avalanche path. Not much weight yet, but easily enough to swipe you off the mountain.

Once I regained a good dirt track I met another hunter and his young dog in training. This guy carried a shotgun and was going for hares. However, he was quite old and mostly seemed interested in a good hike outdoors with his dog rather than actually shooting anything. Just when I arrived back at my car the surrounding mountain tops disappeared in clouds and it started raining. Good timing!

  • ~+-1300m
  • ~15km