2018-06-16

Chöpfenberg (1896m) East Ridge

Paweł and I both had family commitments in the afternoon. This left half a day for a "quicky" in the mountains. Paweł suggested the east ridge of the Chöpfenberg. A T5 scramble (note to self: remember that "hikes" with Paweł typically involve hands as much as they do feet) in the Schwändi valley. An area I know quite well because it's home to the Brüggler - one of the most convenient multi pitch climbing areas close to Zürich. In fact, the ridge is a direct continuation of the Brüggler itself.

It was a great morning and hiking the ridge was over way too soon. We were back in Zürich in time for lunch. I spent the afternoon swimming in the lake with Leonie. Good times all around.

Self serve beer from an animal trough. Switzerland is awesome!
The approach is shared with the descent route from Brüggler.
The scrambling starts.
Never hard, but always exposed. Mistakes anywhere along the ridge would have dire consequences.
A bit of bushwhacking.
The famous climbing butt-shot.
Tiny version of the Thank God Ledge?
Chöpfenberg summit cross visible in the distance.
Ants colonized the ridge everywhere.
The Bockmattli towers Andrey and I climbed two weeks ago. We saw the Rega helicopter fly another rescue mission into the face from our vantage point.
Summit.
Looking back over the ridge.
Wägitalersee
This may look idyllic but it was the most annoying part of the entire hike. Descending steep meadows with slippery muddy steps.

2018-06-09

Kayaking at the "Parc des eaux vives" in Huningue, France

Sandra and Björn invited us to a day of kayaking in the waterpark in Huningue in the Alsace, just across the border in France. This was for our wedding in 2016 but we only managed to find a date now. Andrey and Arne joined us and we split into two groups so that Sandra and Björn could be the experienced guides for the rest of us noobs, most of whom had never been in a kayak before. This also meant that we could always have a group on shore to take care of Leonie. Luckily the surrounding area of the park is super nice and kids friendly with adventurous playgrounds. While Leonie did have a lot of fun on those she was also mesmerized by the action on the water and watched the boats with fascination. Doubly so if she recognized one of us in a boat.

Sandra.
Arne.
Anita.
Andrey.

Each crew had two hours in the water so we'd start with a bit of an introductory course to learn the basics on the dammed up calm lake section before the actual run. Followed by a wild ride through the whitewater and then some more practice going upstream through the rapids before a final run down. It was a super hot day so the water was really nice and refreshing. Of course this also meant that it was quite crowded with many parties on the water.

Leonie being her usual fearless self. If we had let her she'd have jumped right into the water too.
How's this for a playground attraction?! I approve!
Leonie watching the action on the water.
Paddling back the return channel to go for another round.

My understanding is that a good strategy for surviving the waves is to hit them straight on while maintaining speed and momentum. Basically my default strategy when the going gets rough: "Flucht nach vorne" (literally "flight forwards"). This got me through the first run alright, but it also meant that I was a bit of a rowdy, playing bumper cars with the other boats. No harm intended ;-) Climbing the learning curve was satisfying. Already on the second run I felt much more in control and managed to hit the eddy after each rapid to meet up again with the others.

Why don't they have boat elevators? Sad. Losers.
Sandra waiting for me to bounce out of the entrance waves.
This is a bit of an embarrassing picture: I'm in the lower yellow kayak. A few minutes later we were looking for Andrey's paddle which is drifting right past me in this picture. I didn't notice it...

Unfortunately I screwed up one exercise where Sandra instructed me to hit a rock by drifting into it sideways. She told me the right thing to do was to "embrace the obstacle as your friend" and lean in to it. She demonstrated this by giving the rock an exaggerated embrace. On an intellectual level this makes perfect sense because this way you keep the underside of your boat up and into the current. The alternative is to have the wave roll over you and tip you over. And of course this is exactly what happened to me. It's a bit annoying that my lizard brain took over so quickly and easily after just having been told the right thing to do. But it feels counter intuitive to lean into the thing you are about to crash into rather than away from it. Anyway, I got this right on my second attempt. Lizard brain override successfully engaged.

I like how in-sync we are...
...in these two pictures.

I somehow managed to squeeze and bruise my thumb when I went swimming at that rock though. This sucks as I was meant to go climbing today and am now sitting at home with a swollen, hurting and barely mobile thumb. Apparently old men are not allowed to go kayaking and climbing in a single weekend ;-/
We still had a total blast. It's an exhilarating rush to speed through the waves. Anita loved it, Leonie got a thorough workout (she basically collapsed once we got back home) - I'm pretty sure our little family will be back. Thanks to Sandra and Björn for patiently coaching us and enabling this experience! Now please take me on the Vorderrhein ;-P

Oh yeah!
All smiles.

2018-05-26

Bockmattli, Grosser Turm, "Direkte Nordwand" (6a+, 450m, 12+ pitches)

Scorching hot weather. A good opportunity to climb a wall with a northerly aspect. Andrey and I chose the "Direkte Nordwand" up the large Bockmattli tower. A classic route in the bomb proof limestone that is typical for the area. We park the car at the shore of Wägitalersee. Even though it's still early in the morning most parking spots on the narrow road are already taken. Our guess is that half of the early risers will be climbers while the others are anglers, boating around on the lake.

Scrambling to the start of the route.
Rega helicopter flying around below us.
Rega landed on the gentle ridge below.

It takes us not even 50 minutes to hike up the first 600 meters and start scrambling around the base of the huge face in search of the start of our route. We rope up and start climbing around 9 in the morning. The first pitch is short and a bit weird: It starts off with a somewhat powerful bouldering move (5c+) before traversing a bit towards a rappel/lowering down section. The following two pitches are similar - easy climbing and mostly moving sideways rather than up. We're basically still moving into position at the base of the face. It's obvious why you'd want to do this here instead of walking on the grass below - the face is overhanging between us and the ground.

One of the easy traverse pitches in the beginning.
Andrey pulling his way through the 6a power-pitch.
Cruising terrain on 5c pitches.

Just when we are finally about to start the route proper, a helicopter circles into view and proceeds to land close by. It's Rega, the Swiss rescue service, picking someone up. Luckily this time not us. Still makes me feel a bit queasy whenever I see that chopper.

Comfortable belay stand on a pillar.
Summit!
Andrey managing our rope.

We can see another party of two a few pitches ahead of us. We seem to be moving much faster than they are, so we expect to catch up with them. This should turn out to be a misconception. While we are indeed moving fast and efficiently we grind to a halt when Andrey sets out to lead the crux pitch. A long and sustained 6a+ that takes him nearly 50 minutes to conquer. I get to lead a short but super powerful 6a pitch after that. It traverses under a roof and requires pulling hard on underclings to keep enough pressure on your feet. Neither one of us manages a perfectly clean on-sight and we need to rest on the rope and step on a bolt. Oh well.

Scrambling over the many smaller towers on the way down.
Looking back to the summit over the descent route.
Surfing down the remnants of winter.
Snaky trail.

Once through the crux pitches it's cruising time all the way up to the summit which we gain at 3pm after just shy of 6 hours of climbing. We don't waste much time as we've been warned that the descent is not to be underestimated. And indeed it turns out that it involves a bunch of rappels and exposed scrambling over a series of small towers before climbing another two (easy) pitches up to the grassy slopes of the Bockmattli. We finally arrive back at the car at around 7pm.

Picturesque climbing hut. Well frequented on that day.
Andrey with the Bockmattli towers as backdrop.
Our route.