2016-11-27

"Meteorit" (5c+, 225m, 7 pitches), Cheselenflue, Melchtal

Arne and I gambled on the weather forecast on Sunday. It was all wet, rainy and gray in Zürich. Webcams for our destination, Melchsee Frutt, weren't very encouraging either. We still decided to go and got rewarded with a great day of climbing!

Look at all that beautiful rock!
A long way to go yet... our route ends just below those big overhangs at the top.
The surroundings weren't too shabby.

We got a late start because it is very much out of season for the Stöckalp and there were no public transport connections. So I shuttled Anita and her gear to work before we could finally set off in our car. The hike on the approach took us about forty minutes so we were all set and ready to climb well past noon. This didn't leave a lot of time for the seven pitches of the "Meteorit".

Sören.
Arne.
The soup is boiling.

We got super lucky with the weather. The rock was dry and surprisingly warm - no gloves required, even at 1500 meters altitude in late November! The climbing was a joy. Great quality rock with very varied and well protected pitches. No particularly hard moves, but sustained and challenging enough to be interesting. We made for a good team and efficiently alternated leads. Almost too soon we topped out just below the giant roofs. They looked like they might be a formidable challenge even for the likes of Adam Ondra. Definitely the end of the route for us (and also the official end of the route).

Arne trying his most photogenic moves.
The last few moves on the final pitch just when the fog was coming in.
Rappelling back down.

Rappelling back over the route we descended into the fog that had crept up the valley in the meantime. It started getting dark just as we reached the base of the wall. Perfect timing ;-) A quick hike back to the car and we could enjoy the satisfaction of having bagged a beautiful route despite an initially grim weather outlook. Sweet!

Arne disappearing into the fog.
On the hike back out.

2016-11-20

Fulhorn (2529m) attempt, returned from 2340m

I got blown off a mountain on Sunday. Still a bit bummed about that. Listening to the radio on the Autobahn to Graubünden: "Severe weather warning, be careful when venturing outside". Apparently gusts of wind up to 70km/h down in the valleys were expected. I could feel it even in the car. Undeterred I parked in the little village of Feldis and donned my snow shoes. It was windy, yes, but not terribly so. I figured my goal for the day, the Fulhorn, should be safe even in adverse conditions. It's mostly a long slog, but not particularly steep or exposed.

The route does cross a little spot on the map called "Windegga" though. I guess you could translate this as "windy corner". And indeed it was. The wind carved beautiful formations into the snow and blasted me with ice crystals. All fun and games so I kept breaking trail, heading for the mountain. It became more and more severe until I was staggering and leaning into the wind with all my weight. On the final steep ascent to the summit I was actually blown over and landed on my knees. This was getting a bit too exciting. Turnaround time. Just 200 meters shy of the summit.

Lonely footsteps.
My face was hurting from being sanded down by ice.
Close to my high point.

When I took off my gloves my fingers instantly turned numb. Thus no video from my high point, only from the flat approach towards the mountain. I think they still serve to convey the general idea ;-) Once I was back below the tree line the inferno I just left behind seemed very far away and surreal. The sun was out and it was almost abnormally warm for November. Up to 15°C down in the valley. Ah well. No summit today but still a fun outing and good training of 17 kilometers and 900 meters altitude through fresh snow. And when does one get to experience weather like this?! I think I can count the storms I've been in that actually pushed me around like this, let alone knock over, on one hand.

Returning home against the wind.
Looking back. I circled all around the left to reach the mountain in the center of the image.

2016-11-05

Warther Horn (2256m) and wellness in Voralberg

Anita and I spent last week in the 180 souls village of Warth in Vorarlberg, Austria (skiing, not cangaroos). For the past three years we've made it a tradition to stay at a wellness hotel for a week. Originally this was borne out of me not having recovered enough to do anything else after my accident in 2013. The following year we combined it with skiing. This year Anita is a little bit handicapped, so we decided to take it easy again.

This is what it looked like when we arrived on Saturday.
And this is what we woke up to on Sunday!
Something is brewing!

It is very much out of season, so the hotel was nearly deserted. Just as well. We had half a dozen saunas, the fitness coaches, massage therapists, waiters and pools all to ourselves. Quite the luxury. I got several "Anwendungen" - even a pedicure. This was really about salvaging the wreckage of a climber's feet and a minor act of surgery. Turns out feet don't like being squeezed into tight climbing shoes and hiking boots all the time. Who would've thought?! On the bright side the massage therapist commended me for my "well developed and healthy" muscles while working on my thighs. Balm for the soul ;-)

On a stroll with the hotel owner.
Heading up the Warther Horn the next day.
See! I did work!
Lonely tracks.

Stuffing crazy amounts of food into yourself every day requires some getting used to. You start the morning with an all you can eat buffet, follow that up with the afternoon Jause consisting of various cooked meals, a selection of cakes, desserts and salads before you sit down for a five course dinner and finish with a selection of local cheeses. But humans adapt to all sorts of hardship, so we learned to cope.

Gaining the ridge.
Ridge leading up to the Karhorn. I refrained from climbing that - it's a via ferrata in summer and attempting that alone and without any gear seemed ill advised.
Summit cross!

The program of aqua fitness, stretching, yoga and guided "hikes" (small strolls really) wasn't really enough to offset all that lying around in saunas and feasting and I was itching to climb a proper mountain. So I headed up the local Hausberg, the Warther Horn. I was breaking trail as soon as I left the hotel. Once I gained the ridge I was plowing through hip deep snow. Served quite well as a proper workout.

I was following this vague hint of a trail.
Icing on the bridge.
Our living room.
I had to renew my snow angels every day - they disappeared so fast.
Still on summer tires. Oops. Most everybody else was chaining up.

2016-10-30

"Fair Hands Line" (6a+, 350m, 10 pitches), Handegg, Grimselpass

Mark and I took advantage of the great weather on Sunday to climb the ten pitches of "Fair Hands Line", one of the many classic routes bolted by the Remy brothers (A nice German article about them: "Hard Rock and Heavy Metal"). They are famous for naming all of their routes after 80s heavy metal bands. We listened to a Motörhead playlist in the car to celebrate this fact ;-) And before you ask - I have no idea why this particular route is called Fair Hands and what the corresponding song would be.

Me leading one of the easier steep pitches. Definitely my favourite compared to the slabs!
Haslital.
Trying, and failing, to keep my eyes open against the sun.

The weather was perfect: overcast, gray and cloudy in the valleys and bright blue skies and sun for us. The fog rolled over a ridge, presenting a dramatic spectacle. The route has been rebolted after a lot of the original gear fell prey to erosion. It is still only very sparsely protected with the potential of nasty falls on ledges and huge granite slabs. We followed the advice in the guide book and brought some cams and nuts.

Mark jamming himself into a chimney.
Beautifully structured rock.
Who said anything about fog?

I chose an unfortunate cam placement and the device walked itself deep into the crack. A "bomber" placement, but unfortunately it turned out to be impossible to extract, despite Mark giving it his best efforts for almost half an hour. Eventually we decided to abandon it there. It became a running joke for the rest of the route that just that little gray .4 cam would be perfect now and make the climbing so much safer ;-)

Hello mom!
Bushwhacking out to the train line.
The sun disappears early in a steep valley in late October!

The route features two crux pitches. Mark led the first one and I got the second one. I have to admit that we both cheated a bit. In my case I'm quite pissed that I did. The second but last pitch is an exposed granite slab with only very fine structures and tiny footholds. The difficulty is primarily psychological because you never quite trust your feet and are traversing far away from your last piece of gear. I successfully climbed all of it but resorted to holding onto the bolt for a few seconds while clipping. Completely unnecessary from a climbing point of view but I needed it to calm my nerves a bit. Urgh.

Rollercoaster?

We had perfect timing, topping out just when the sun met the peaks at the opposite side of the valley. A bit of bushwhacking brought us to the tracks of the Gelmerbahn - at 106% the world's steepest funicular. It wasn't running this late in the year, so we had to walk down the more than a thousand steps right next to it. Fun at first, but thigh-burning after a while.

Another great day out!

2016-10-16

Hardergrat

Oleg suggested hiking the Hardergrat on Sunday. It had been on his bucket list for a while and is sometimes referred to as the best hike in the world. The weather gods were friendly and so we agreed to meet on the Brienzer Rothorn in the morning. The logistics of getting there were a bit complicated: Alex would come up via cog wheel train from the South-West; Oleg, Shannon and Edu would join via cable car from the North; while I would hike up from the South-East.

Blindingly bright full moon in the morning.
Dawn.
Capricorns.

Surprisingly enough this complex setup worked out flawlessly and we all met within half an hour of the appointed time. Glorious blue skies over a sea of clouds down in the valley promised a beautiful day. Edu, a paraglider pilot, admired the thermals along the ridge and contemplated the possibility of a "Catholic launch" - a very committing launch with no opportunity to abort. This brought me a fit of laughter ;-)

Not just any cogwheel train - a genuine steam engine!
Switzerland is a butt ugly country.

The ridge has been described thusly:

On the Hard­er­grat, you are forced to sus­pend your belief about what you think grass can do, and at what angles soil can actu­ally stand. The Hard­er­grat is typ­i­cally graded Swiss Alpine Club T5, a num­ber usu­ally reserved for moun­taineer­ing ter­rain where an ice axe is manda­tory. The trail is often one foot wide on a two-foot-wide ridge top, and a slip off either side in many spots means a fall of thou­sands of feet. I wished sev­eral times for an ice axe and cram­pons, and we never once stepped on ice or snow.

And indeed it is extremely exposed and demands full concentration for almost the entire time of eight hours you spend on it. Slips and stumbles would have severe consequences. Or, as Oleg so eloquently phrased it: "I shat a few bricks along the way".

The famous triumvirate of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.
Edu.
Shannon & Oleg.

Even using the cable car it is quite a committing endeavor with few opportunities to bail. And long. You don't want to get caught in a thunderstorm or rain up there. Luckily conditions were nearly perfect. Except for a few muddy bits where the frozen ground thawed during the day it was dry.

Alex.
Edu.

I felt strong and was extremely motivated. After waiting on the first few summits it quickly became apparent that the group and I were going at a different pace. While I had already started out with the ambition of hiking the ridge from valley to valley instead of cable car to funicular, the idea had grown on me to extend it even further and do a full round trip. Thus we separated and I went ahead.

Long way ahead.
Steep way ahead.

I didn't stop anymore before reaching the restaurant at Harder Kulm several hours and about 15 kilometers later. I overtook quite a few people on the ridge, but a couple attached themselves to my heels and stayed a few paces behind me for a full two hours or so. When we reached the restaurant they high-fived and limped on to the funicular. I was barely more than half way done at that point...

Not every cross on the ridge marks a summit. RIP Thomas.

I descended towards the Brienzer lake and started my way back towards Brienz. Darkness had fallen and I had a long horizontal slog on asphalt ahead of me. When it became apparent that at this rate I wouldn't be home before 3 o'clock in the morning, I decided to shorten the boring bit by taking the train from Niederried. This cut about 9 kilometers out of the loop.

Lone hiker ;-)
Looking back.

From the train station I still had to ascend a full 1200 meters to get back to my car which I had parked half way up the mountain in the morning. This was the only way to meet the others in time as there had been no earlier train connections and even as it was I had to sprint up the mountain in two hours for a distance that was supposed to take three. Anyway. It was dark now. The bright full moon from the early morning was now shrouded in fog. Finding the way back to the car became a bit of an issue and I went up the wrong side of a steep gorge. Added some bonus altitude of 150 meters or so.

The observation deck at Harder Kulm.

I arrived back at the car just past eleven o'clock at night. A long day indeed. I had been going more or less continuously for 16 hours since seven in the morning. 20km and 1500m on the ridge and 35km and 1800m off, for a total of 55km and 3300m elevation gain and loss.

Where did I park the car again?
Somewhere around here maybe?
  • Brienzer Rothorn (2348m)
  • Schongütsch (2319m)
  • Briefehörnli (2164m)
  • Balmi (2141m)
  • Tannhorn (2220m)
  • Ällgäuwhoren (2047m)
  • Schnierenhireli (2070m)
  • Gummhoren (2040m)
  • Blasenhubel (1965m)
  • Wytlouwihoren (2106m)
  • Augstmatthorn (2136m)
  • Suggiture (2084m)
  • Schönbüel (1807m)
  • Roteflue (1730m)
  • Harderkulm (1321m)
Slightly disappointed that Fitbit's highest achievement for floors climbed in a single day stops at only 700 floors ;-(

Oleg & gang - thanks for inviting me and apologies for running off - it was just too tempting an opportunity to pass on... Thank you for sharing your photos too - all the good ones are not from me ;-)