2018-05-09

Rigi Marsch 2018

"Endurance is the struggle to continue against a mounting desire to stop"

My seventh annual Rigi Marsch was also the one with the worst weather yet. It started raining at 3 in the morning and never stopped again until we finally reached the furnicular from the summit of Mt Rigi 6 hours later. At that point everyone was soaking wet and shivering in the wind. According to the organizers this was the worst weather since the beginning of the tradition in 1991. The only Rigi hike that was more challenging for me was the one after I fell off a mountain and participated while still recovering from surgery. But it was fun! Right?!

Good mood on the way in. Me after a regular work day, the others after travelling through the better part of Germany.
Queuing for our wristbands.
One of our starting groups.
Now with me in the picture.

This was also the Rigi Marsch with the highest turnout for my recruitment efforts. I'm particularly fond of the gang from Germany: my brothers Torsten and Richard travelled from Cologne and Dortmund respectively, Helmut and Ronny arrived from Stuttgart and my best man Thomas even flew in all the way from Hamburg! Then there were a whole bunch of colleagues from Google, so many in fact, that I lost track of who's who. A core group of people from my immediate team and the climbing community at Google, but also a bunch of first timers and people I only know from past Rigi Marsches. Thanks everyone for joining! So much easier to struggle in good company.

Second checkpoint. Conversation still going strong.
Third checkpoint...
...showing some signs of fatigue. Just before the rain started.

We didn't manage to stay together as a single group all the way. A nearly impossible goal anyways as everyone needs to find their own pace over the entire distance of 50 kilometers and 1500 meters elevation gain. So people split into smaller and smaller groups during the course of the night. Quite a few dropped out, some reached the summit alone and some in small groups. Conversations tend to die along the way as you run out of topics and energy (with the notable exception of Helmut who I believe is impossible to shut up). The group I stuck with for the night started at 8pm and boarded the train on the summit at 9am. The final tally is that of 2000 people 1024 made it all the way. A significantly higher dropout rate than on previous years.

There were a few type II fun moments in the pouring rain.
Fourth checkpoint. Torsten and Richard decided to bail from here, just at the base of the mountain.
Morning coffee at 5am.
Iron-willed Thomas at the final checkpoint, halfway up the mountain.

The German gang stayed at our place for the rest of the long weekend for some nice hygge time with the kids. We recuperated with traditional Swiss raclette, BBQ, a visit to the Park im Grüne and lots of board games. Good times and a chance to forget the suffering and make plans for returning next year! ;-)

Summit selfie!
On the train back down.

2018-04-22

Climbing Balzers

After I've spent the better part of Saturday on the wall, Sunday was a family day. This doesn't mean no climbing though. We recruited Leonie's favorite playdate: Luigi and Silvia with their daughter Marzia. Andrey joined too and we all went to the crag at Balzers. A village just across the border to Liechtenstein. The crag is right next to the river Rhine and one can park a mere stone throw away from the wall. The spot is so popular with families that there were a whole bunch of strollers other than our own. In fact, one of them belonged to Kornelius. It's funny how we keep bumping into one another at climbing spots. The last time we were both dangling from a rope, him going down, me going up.

Climbing is a very exhausting sport that requires extensive rest ;-)

Andrey was a bit disorganized and showed up with a single climbing shoe. This is not very helpful when trying hard routes, so instead we stuck to some 5c's and 5a's that he could climb barefoot. Suited me just fine, as climbing with a toddler in tow means more time spent on the ground than on the wall anyways. Fun day in the sun and the kids enjoyed eating pebbles and testing themselves on a few vertical moves too.

Andrey freestyling barefoot while Marzia and Leonie spectate.
That boulder in the river was fully exposed with a nice beach surrounding it the last time we've been here.

2018-04-21

"Transsibiria" (6a, 180m, 6 pitches)

Saturday had gorgeous weather so we headed for a quick multi-pitch mission. "Transsibiria" near the village of Hasliberg is a comfortably easy plaisir route with a quick approach from the road. We were a group of five, Andrey and Luigi making up the first rope team while Arne, Mark and I brought up the rear. Since we allowed ourselves a leisurely late start there was another party ahead of us and we had to wait around at the base for a bit.

Luigi was riding his motorbike to the crag while the rest of us were in my car. We stopped for coffee and Luigi couldn't resist a ride on this extreme racing bike.
The wall.
The approach involves scaling some avalanche/rockfall barrier.
The gang at the base of the climb.

Luigi, always one to bring terrible music that'll stick with you for the entire climb, was singing Baile de Favela. We couldn't let this stand, so someone else (name redacted to protect the guilty) played Pussy, Pussy, Pussy, Marijuana instead. This song served as our rope commands for the remainder of the climb. You'd shout up "Pussy Pussy Pussy?!" and receive a "La la la" acknowledgement in response. Maybe not the safest climbing handshake taught by the mountaineering association, but it worked for us.

Andrey following Luigi's lead on the first pitch.
Mark leading our party up the first pitch. At 6a- nominally not the hardest, we all thought it was the crux of the route.
Me following on the first pitch.
Butt-ugly Switzerland. Really, someone should pour concrete all over the place.

The climbing itself was a blast too. The route is steep with the harder pitches demanding athletic moves over small roofs. At the same time, they are of the one hit wonder category, meaning that usually only a handful of short sequences are a bit tricky, while the rest of the pitch allows for good rests and cruising. Thus I'd consider the entire affair more of a party climb than a proper sport outing ;-)

Mark negotiating the roof in the fourth pitch. A pretty wild overhang with big jugs that make it a joy to climb.
Me following through the roof.

The easiest way to descent is to walk down through the forest. We encountered a door in a telephone booth sized concrete structure in the middle of the forest. I joked this must be the elevator to the hidden underground lair of a James Bond style super villain. Next thing we know is that we turn a corner around the mountain and are faced with a military base tugged into the hillside.

Arne's hand.
Arne's feet.
The rest of Arne.
Mark pulling up over the roof in the final pitch. Super cool move: you start from an undercling and do a long move up over the edge of the roof.
View from the top.
Mission accomplished.
Reminds me of the bases in Far Cry 4.

2018-04-15

"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...

2018-04-08

"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

Top!
Descent.
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!