2017-03-25

Climbing Haldenstein

Our newborn daughter, Leonie, is a week old and we've had our first two nights in a row where I could get more than two hours of sleep at a time. This leaves enough energy to go climbing! And so we did. Arne, Luigi and I were looking for a multi pitch route, that is close by; at low altitude (so it'll be climbable this early in the season); with a short approach; South facing; and climbable within a time window of three baby feeding cycles (roughly 8-9 hours). A tough set of constraints to satisfy. Yet Haldenstein near Chur delivered in spades. A beautiful crag right next to a parking lot off the Chur highway exit. Perfect.

The wall.
Luigi and Arne.
Luigi in action.

We chose the classic "Plattenwand" line. Five pitches of steep slabs graded 6b. I got to lead the first easy warm up pitch and the final two crux pitches at the exit which we linked into a single one. As the name implies the route is mostly about delicate footwork on steep slabs using small crimps for your hands. The crux traverse is sparsely protected and any fall here would lead to a nasty grating pendulum swing. Better watch your feet! I gave away a clean on-sight when I failed to find the crucial hold past an overhanging step in time and took a lead fall. Annoying.

Great weather!
Blurry Arne.

Arne and Luigi had their own little adventure while following when a hold broke in Arnes hand and he fell in a way that nearly castrated Luigi with the rope. Good times! This crag was a great new discovery and I'll definitely return to climb more routes here. The only drawback of the line we climbed is that it was zigzagging a bit too much for my tastes and crossed a few too many other routes. I prefer routes that follow the logical line up the wall, always sticking to the path of least resistance and ideally going straight up.

If this had been a first ascent and I were to name the new route I'd call it "Who needs sleep anyway?!". I nearly fell asleep at the steering wheel on the way back - great day that we ended with pizza and beer on our terrace! ;-)

Weird dance across the slabby traverse.
Luigi running up the final slab.
Topping out after an easy finger crack that is pure joy to climb.
Comfortable descend.

2017-03-12

Climbing Gallerie Amden

Switzerland was enjoying a good weather spell of a week of sunshine and clear skies. I was itching to go climbing. At the same time I was somewhat constrained by the fact that this was the calculated due date of Anita's pregnancy and we were expecting our first child real soon now. This ruled out long approaches or multi pitches. To maintain a 1 hour back-to-home, on-call SLA (service level agreement) with Anita we decided to head for the classic crag at the Gallerie Amden. Nicola, John, Luigi and I had a pretty good outing. Luigi and I climbed Brillätidi 5c, Zigerchrapfe 6a and 6a+ and Glanerriss 6a+. We proceeded to try Goldmarie 7a. Luigi had a pretty good go at it and managed to work the rope all the way up by breaking the route down into a sequence of boulder problems with a lot of rests at the bolts. I attempted it on top rope, but didn't get very far.

Our kid didn't even think about coming out yet ;-)

John and Nicola.
Lake Walen.
Luigi coming up...
...in style.
Crowded crag!

2017-02-24

Skiing Laax & Climbing Gallerie Amden

Our project manager from the New York office was visiting for a few days so the team had to give him the full Swiss experience. Cheese fondue on Thursday followed by a day of skiing in Laax on Friday (what a harsh workday!). Dense clouds made for bad visibility at some altitudes but provided beautifully dramatic vistas higher up. We even had some fresh powder from the night before and did a little bit of off-piste skiing. I believe the Swiss technical term for a day like this is "Huregeil!" ;-)

On Sunday Luigi, Silvia and I headed for the Gallerie Amden for some rock climbing. It started out well enough with us climbing Kurzprogramm 6a, Bonsai 6a+ and Djebel Amilah 6b+. The latter one made interesting by the fact that my 50 meter rope is just barely long enough and the belayer must stretch a bit to be able to lower the climber all the way to the ground. Good idea to tie off the end of the rope! We then migrated to the forest sector and I started up Opus I 6b+. The route completely kicked my ass. I fumbled my way most of the way up with lots of cheating and resting before finally giving up. Luigi managed to climb it cleanly with just a bit of cursing so I gave it another go on top rope. This time I figured out a sequence that might work for me, but still failed to send.

Luigi and Silvia on the top of the ladder leading to the gallerie.
Lowering from Djebel Amilah.
More overhanging than it seemed...

The route is quite technical and varied with three distinct cruxes. The first one requires a high foot placement to reach past an overhang. The tricky bit here is that once you pull yourself past the overhang you no longer see your feet and finding purchase is correspondingly difficult. The next difficulty is a move where you get a sharp crimpy undercling for your left hand and need to reach up with your right to a vertical pinch. This completely shut me down. My crippled right hand (I can't move the first joint of my middle finger at all, thanks to an accident) simply isn't strong enough to squeeze hard enough. My first workaround was trying to use it as a sidepull instead, but the foot placements aren't good enough for that. I finally found a solution involving a tiny knob that I could squeeze my thumb onto. Finally, the last crux section is a big slopery low undercling you need to use to keep pressure on a polished slippery foothold while reaching high around a bulgy protrusion. Really fun to execute once you've figured it out - the difficulty is mostly in your head because it's such an unusual move and the overhang feels like it's pushing you out. All in all a very interesting route, but that day it just crushed me.

Lake Walen.
Luigi in Djebel Amilah.
The final mini-roof before the last few vertical meters to the anchor.

2017-02-19

Skiing Flumserberg

Ice falls are collapsing left and right and people are dying trying to climb what's left. All my regular climbing partners are travelling or otherwise unavailable. So I figured - When life gives you lemons, ... go skiing!

One of the closest resorts to Zürich is Flumserberg. I've only ever been there once and at the time it was so windy that only the lower slopes were open. Today however was a perfect Blue Jay Day and I got to ski almost every single run at least once. I even tried a bit of off-piste skiing. Snow conditions were good, although a few more days like this and the season will be over. And that despite the fact that today was my first day on skis this winter. Great day out - a few more like this and I'll have my ski legs back ;-)

2017-02-11

Climbing Roter Punkt (6b+), Cheselenflue

After a week of warm, rainy and generally miserable weather most icefalls were no longer in good condition. Arne, Mark, Tereza and I were still eager to climb something, so we went to the Cheselenflue. A huge limestone face with lots of hard routes. I have already climbed the highlight, the Dr Blau Chäfer. Late last year Arne and I returned and ticked off Meteorit. This time we were going for the route Roter Punkt, the most difficult of the three.

Ascending from the fog in the valley.
The wall. Remember that icefall in the gully on the right...

We chose a South facing wall, thinking we'd have the best chances that it would be mostly dry this early in the year. The weather was gorgeous. Freezing air, but so much sun that we could mostly climb without wearing our jackets. Our theory was mostly correct and the sun melted the snow on the wall. What we didn't account for was all the falling ice this implied. Every couple of minutes we'd have a meteor shower of ice rushing down the wall. Big chunks would make a helicopter like whop-whop-whop sound before exploding with a cannon boom on impact. Scary.

The approach.
Mark dropped his helmet and had to climb an exciting rescue mission. The orange dot on the right.

Luckily our route was steep enough that the bombardements passed us without causing harm. Arne had a super strong day and onsighted the first 6b+ pitch. This featured an early crux only a few meters from the start before it traversed into a small roof requiring powerful moves. Great warmup. I got to lead the second, much easier 5c+ pitch. This was made more difficult by the fact that anything less than vertical was wet and icy. I had to scrape out a lot of snow and ice before I could find any purchase on the rock.

Picture perfect weather.
Me in the crux of the first pitch.

The third pitch is one of the best I've ever climbed. It's the namesake of the route Roter Punkt (red dot), referring to a single artificial hold that has been placed on a blank section of rock. It was Arne's lead again and he showed "Grosses Kino" (great performance). The pitch starts out with a long traverse to the actual start of the climb. In normal conditions this would be a complete non-issue and walking terrain. In wintery conditions it's a different matter altogether. You can't walk in wet slippery snow in climbing shoes so we balanced on a small ledge of crumbling rock instead. The last protection so far away that a fall would lead to a nasty 10 meter pendulum swing. Not nice.

Mark following through the overhanging finale of the first pitch.
Arne at the end of the traverse on the true start of the third pitch.

Once that had been overcome the real climbing starts. A sequence of powerful moves on small crimpers through an overhanging section before you reach a long flake affording fantastic lean back moves. This is followed by a short chimney and a traverse to the anchor. The traverse is on a downward sloping ledge. You need to keep pressure on your feet by pulling on low underclings. Again something you usually wouldn't think twice about, made terrifying by wintery conditions. Friction foot placements on wet downward sloping rock are scary! This pitch is more than 30 meters long, requiring 16 quickdraws and a lot of endurance.

Arne fighting his way up. Not even halfway yet.
Just a beautiful pitch.

The whole route is 7 pitches long, but we decided to bail from where we were. The next pitch would have been an easy 5a which meant that we'd have to dig through snow while being exposed to rock and ice fall from above. We had also spent way more time than we should have getting to this point, so it was getting late. Lastly, the 6b+ pitches required everything we had and the route still held an even harder 6c pitch in store. Thus we rappelled.

Me following on the third pitch.
Tereza hanging around on one of the few good rests you get.

Tereza and Mark made up the second rope team and Tereza put us all to shame by calmly leading all three pitches. Where we had been cursing and panting and calling for a rest she just cruised past. I guess that's what you get for training with the national climbing team all week long... Impressive performance.

Arne enjoying the rappel back to the ground.
That ice fall I told you to remember? This is what was left of it at the end of the day. Lots of loud booms from that direction.

Mark and Tereza stayed in the valley for the night. They brought their ski touring equipment and wanted to enjoy the beautiful full moon from their tent in the snow. Arne was headed for a day of skiing with friends from Germany while I went back to Zürich for a Dinner Krimi (theater performance during a four course dinner). Great weekend all around! I'll definitely return for a clean lead of the entire route ;-)

Mission (almost) accomplished.

2017-01-28

Ice Climbing Jetzloch (near Elm)

We returned to the Elm valley on Sunday to take advantage of the last few cold days before the weather forecast predicted a rainy and miserable week. So Tereza, Vladimir, Arne, Luigi and I snowshoed to the same icefall as last week. This time we climbed the left section that the Swiss party occupied the previous weekend. Luigi, stoked to the max as usual, headed straight for the steepest ice he could find and got properly pumped on the first lead. Impressive work!

You've arrived at your destination.
So much ice! So many choices!
There were hardly any rocks visible last time.

I teamed up with Arne and led the first pitch. Warmer temperatures improved the ice significantly so that instead of the shattering glass we encountered before, we enjoyed perfectly plastic ice instead. On the other hand you could also hear the water rushing beneath it which was new ;-) Halfway up my line I had to mantle up a ledge and smacked loose a dinner plate sized chunk of ice. It hit Arne straight on the head with a frightening *thud*. He switched belay with Vladimir to be on the safe side, but luckily he turned out to be OK. Always wear your helmets kids! Arne's now features a fracture from front to back and it was hit hard enough that we had trouble extracting the fabric of his hood which got stuck in the crack.

Digging steps for belay spots.
Luigi shaking out.
Sören, Luigi.

While Vladimir, Luigi and Tereza decided to continue with the second pitch and walk back down after topping out, Arne and my side of the icefall was more boring on the upper half, significantly less steep and with a lot of snow. So we decided to set up an Abalakov anchor and top rope and climbed a few variations of our initial line. Once the sun hit the slopes above the ice fall in the early afternoon rocks started zipping past us and we decided to bail.

Our Abalakov.
Vladimir on the exit pillar.
Arne.

We mostly had the valley to ourselves again except for one Swiss party and two figures on the other side of the valley who tried to climb a free standing pillar, but eventually gave up on it. We learned the next day that they were none other than our friends Iza and Rafal - the world is small ;-) On the way out we saw a big pillar of ice collapse, so it seems that conditions are indeed rapidly deteriorating.

This could have been your skull...
Sorting gear on the way out.