"Sandi in the Moon" (6b+, 160m, 6 pitches), attempt

We went on a bit of a jinxed mission on Sunday. Anita had to work in the morning so I was babysitting Leonie. I handed her off to Anita shortly before 11 in front of Anita's colleagues. I earned curious glances and a question: "Why are you not in the mountains?!". Pointing out the obvious that someone had to take care of the little one led to a bit of a "doh!" moment. Anyway, kinda funny that I have to justify myself for not going climbing on a weekend ;-)

Winter storms have wreaked havoc in the forests and cleanup is just getting started. Fallen trees everywhere.
Even the approach is no joke for this wall.

The long preamble is meant to explain why Mark, Andrey and I only made it to the base of our chosen crag, the Wildhuser Schafberg, around 2pm. Ordinarily much too late to start on a multi pitch route, but we figured at this time of year we'd have daylight till 9pm... But first there was a steep patch of snow to overcome in extremely exposed terrain. The approach to this particular crag is not to be taken lightly even in good conditions and I have retreated because of too much snow before. This time Andrey decides to bail. The weather forecast was anything but certain and he really didn't fancy the idea of having to negotiate the snow again in the rain, in the dark.

The snow patch. I've cut steps for Mark to follow...
...while Andrey is trying to find his own way around the patch.

After some scrambling around Mark and I find the start of our route, "Sandi in the Moon". I lead the first pitch. A beautifully steep and at 50 meters super long 6a+. The rock is just structured enough that you can find good holds with a bit of careful planning and I find it a joy to climb. Mark gets the second pitch, which is really just an easy scramble to bridge a wide ledge before the wall gets steep again. Thus he gets to lead the third pitch as well.

Still going strong on the third pitch.

It's another 6a+. Mark makes good progress on the first few meters before he gets stuck. Standing a bit above his last bolt he's too intimidated to trust his feet and commit to the tiny imperfections in the rock that count as footholds. He tries a few variations and takes a few controlled falls before finally deciding to give up. We reconvene at the anchor before I give it a shot.

Top of the third pitch after switching lead with Mark.

I like this kind of limestone climbing and have been on this wall for two previous routes (Sandührliweg and Langstrasse). So I struggle less with the crux section and make it to the next anchor without too much trouble. This pitch is less homogenous than the first one and has a few sparsely protected traverses. It makes sense to take advantage of the natural cracks and hourglasses in the rock to place some extra protection.

The remnants of winter and an ominous sky.

Mark follows me up and we decide to treat this as our high point and bail. We have climbed slightly more than half of the route but the hardest pitch is yet to come. With a menacing sky, a very uncertain weather forecast (rain either any minute now or in the early evening, depending on which forecast you choose to trust), one person already retreated, and Mark's struggle on the previous pitch, we just aren't in the right headspace to continue.

My rope didn't like the rock treatment.

Being one of the first parties on a wall after winter means there's still a lot of loose rock lying around. So it happens that we swipe a big head sized boulder off the ledge while pulling our rappel ropes. The rocks whizz past us but smash into one of our ropes, nearly severing it. Luckily we just need one more rappel and that's doable on a single rope. This could have gotten annoying...


"Alhambra" (6b+, 600m, 18 pitches)

It's early season for rock climbing - the high country is still covered in deep snow. The perfect time to go to Ticino. Switzerland's southernmost canton is frequently too hot for climbing in Summer but perfect right now. Arne and I picked "Alhambra" as our route of choice. Lauded as the longest and most beautiful route in all of Ticino it features a whopping 18 pitches of climbing over more than 600 meters of gneiss. At difficulties of up to 6b+ this is nothing to sneeze at and quite an endurance challenge even when you are fit. Which I am not. A long winter spent mostly sick and little time for training due to the kid left me weak.

Well marked trail turn-off.
Name scratched into the rock at the start of the route.
Starting into the sea of slabs.

We took the car to Locarno late Saturday afternoon and enjoyed good Italian food right at the shore of the Lago Maggiore. Originally we planned to spend the night at the Delta campground where the river Maggia empties into the lake. We couldn't find anyone to register with though and they told us we could only check-in past 8 o'clock the next morning. Too late for us. So we stayed at a nice campground in Ponte Brolla instead where the owner re-opened the reception just for us and we even got served an evening beer ;-)

Maggia valley. Not ugly.
My shoes are not in perfect shape for precise smearing.
Arne cruising up more easy terrain.

We started early on Sunday and after a minor route finding confusion started climbing around 8:30. Conditions were perfect with hazy skies blocking the harsh Italian sun and dry rock to lay our hands on. The route is split into two distinct parts: the lower section is an endless sea of low angle slabs. These require delicate foot placements and a good balance, but are not very demanding in terms of strength. The headwall on the other hand is steep and requires athletic moves to get past a series of small roofs.

Lago Maggiore.
Arne leading one of the 6b+ pitches.
The "Fingerlochplatte" (finger pocket slab) 6a+. My lead. Reach that bolt!

I started and linked the first two easy pitches into a single lead. We could see a single other party in the wall, several pitches ahead of us. It looked like at this pace we'd quickly catch up to them. Turned out this was just an easy warmup and the difficulties would ramp up significantly and slow us down. We kept alternating leads all the way to the top. Luckily for me this worked out so that I got all the tricky slabs while Arne got to lead the most sustained endurance pitches towards the end. At that point we had been climbing for nearly eight hours with hardly a break and my lack of training really showed. Both of us took a few falls but while Arne managed to figure out and execute all the required sequences cleanly I had to resort to cheating and pulled on the occasional quickdraw. Bad style and a sign of desperation.

The last 6b, long and sustained with a tough little roof right at the start.
Arne heading up the final 6a.
Me exiting the same 6a - lots of small downward sloping ledges.

The pitches went as:

  • 5a, Sören
  • 5b, Sören
  • 5c+, Arne
  • 6a+, Sören
  • 5c+, Arne
  • 6a, Sören
  • 5c, Arne
  • 6a+, Sören
  • 6a, Arne
  • 6b+, Sören
  • 6b+, Arne
  • 6a+, Sören
  • 6b, Arne
  • 5a, Sören
  • 6b, Arne
  • 5b, Sören
  • 6a, Arne
  • 3c, Sören

My happy face when confronted with more exposed scrambling while already being dead tired.

You can't rappel over the route, once you've gained the headwall a retreat would be very difficult and dangerous. Thus the only way out is forward. Very committing and only recommended in very stable weather conditions. The descent is a faint trail over steep dead grass following the maintenance route for the local power lines. You follow that all the way to a little rock outcrop and then do a handful of rappels to make it back down to the valley floor.

Looong day. Major kudos to Arne for powering through the final crux pitches!


Hüenerchopf (2170m)

The weather forecast predicted rain and snow in the afternoon. The avalanche situation was uncertain. Mark and I still wanted to do something outside, so we decided to snowshoe up the Hüenerchopf. It's not super steep and most of the approach is on a gentle ridge, meaning there's not much above us that could drop on our heads.

The few houses that make up Vermol.
Don't get caught in one of those fuckers.

We parked at Vermol at the end of a steep mountain road. Luckily free of snow this time. What we didn't expect, but should have, is that this route is also super popular with ski tourers. The slopes were scraped clean to the point that it almost looked like a resort with prepared runs. The upside of course was a nice and easy track for us to follow. No breaking trail this time around.

We made quick progress and overtook a few parties of ski touring people. When we passed a hut we met a local standing neck deep in a hole in the snow he dug for getting water from the creek below. He strongly suggested we head up a specific direction because the slope we were aiming for was "about to go". We followed his advice and indeed we could see a huge old slab avalanche on the approach he had warned us about. The snow was of the wet and heavy kind that would crush you before it'd suffocate you. Thanks dude.

Dramatic clouds and menacing colors in the sky. Loved it!

We gained the summit and met two guys on skis who brought their dogs up. We had vaguely hoped to be able to continue along the ridge to the nearby Madchopf. After a few tentative steps we decided it was too dicey. Windswept untracked snow and exposed terrain followed by a descent into a very avalanche prone face didn't really seem like a good idea. So we headed back down the way we came, racing the two men with their dogs and arriving at our car at the same time with them.

The entire roundtrip of 1150m and 12km took us less than 4 hours so we were already heading home at 1pm. Enough day left to enjoy some nice family time with Leonie and Anita in the afternoon ;-)

Looking back. The summit cross is just visible in the top right corner.
Luckily the ice was next to the road instead of on it...


Ijental (1545m)

Paweł and I went on another snowshoe trip on Saturday. This time the weather forecast was pretty gloomy with snow/rain and significant avalanche danger. Paweł also needed to be back home by 6 to pick up his family from the airport. Thus we decided to play it safe and stay low and chose a route with many opportunities for bailing. We went to the Ijental.

Still in civilization.
Paweł. Säntis in the far distance.

The adventure started with trying to find a spot to park the car. We went up a few of the small roads servicing individual farms on the mountain. These were mostly cleared of snow. The operative term being "mostly". Once I stopped so we could get our bearings and decide where to go, we got stuck. My winter tires were not finding enough purchase to get us going uphill again. So I had to roll back down the single lane road in reverse. We only learned our lesson after this happened for a second time and finally gave up and parked at the church down in the village.

I like these solitaire trees. They seem to be telling a story of a long and proud life.
Sören coming up. Check out the high-heel mode on my snowshoes. Very convenient on steep ascents.

We followed a nice trail through the forest up to the ridge that we had picked as our route for the day. Along the way we met a young ski touring couple coming towards us. She was on skis, he on some kind of snowboard. The curious thing about it was that it didn't seem to have any bindings so he was essentially using it as a surfboard, riding it down the mountain by just balancing on it. Looked very difficult.

We skirted a small ski resort (a single drag lift) where some kind of special event was going on. Lots of hollering and shouting from a small crowd of spectators and a bunch of people dressed up in ancient (military?) uniforms, skiing old wooden skis. No idea what it was, but it looked fun and involved lots of tumbling down the slopes.

Past that we had the mountain to ourselves and were breaking trail along the ridge. We were both not feeling super strong and the snow was extremely sticky, making progress laborious. Thus we decided to forgo the final 100 meters of elevation gain and the only named summit on the ridge (Bremacher Höchi 1641m) and returned via the Ijental valley instead.

Despite the depressing forecast the weather held and we even had a few extremely hot moments when the sun broke through the clouds. I was actually looking forwards to some shade beneath the trees - rare on a snowshoe trip! We covered about 15 kilometers and 900 meters of elevation gain. Another nice day out. But then, you can never go wrong by going to the mountains ;-)