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.

2017-01-21

Ice Climbing Jetzloch (near Elm)

Mark, Luigi and I went ice climbing on Sunday. As the first climb of the season we chose the easy Anfängerverschneidung WI3+ at the Jetzloch near Elm. Luigi did all the heavy lifting of planning the trip (figuring out if we'd actually find ice!), driving us there and leading the climb itself - thank you! While there was enough ice, the first lead was still an intimidating endeavor as there were lots of pockets of air in the ice and it didn't take screws very well. You'd often have glass-like plates that shattered on contact.

Parking right next to a tank.
Approaching the main falls. We climbed the line on the right.
Digging our way up to a belay stance.

We'd left the gray mist in the valley and enjoyed beautiful blue skies in the mountains. It was very windy and we stayed in the shade all day which made it quite chilly. We set up a top rope and climbed a few variations of the original line. My first attempt was clumsy and awkward but the motions quickly returned and already my second climb felt much better and more confident. Mark and I tried a dry tooling line next to the ice and managed to fumble our way up, getting very pumped in the process. Fun!

Luigi doing his thing.
Mark.
Ice, ice, baby.
Swiss party getting blasted by spindrift. They showed up later in the day and were the only other group in the entire valley.

2016-12-31

Gross Spitzen (2399m) and New Year's Eve

Mel and Christian joined our merry band for New Year's Eve. We combined the Swiss tradition of cheese raclette with the German tradition of Feuerzangenbowle (fire tongs punch), watching the cult classic movie of the same title. Went to bed around 4:30 in the morning after DJ Sarah incited a crazy dance performance.

Torsten couldn't resist jamming in Anita's church while Richard, Anke and I went climbing at our local gym.
Crowded table.
The only person not allowed to drink alcohol is preparing it for the rest of us - cheers Anita! ;-)

While the others had to leave back for the real world (and work) one by one, Richard and Torsten stayed on a bit longer so we could climb another mountain. We had our eyes set on the Gross Spitzen with the intention of continuing along the ridge. The guy running the cable car warned us that the last party that tried it had to give up and turn around, despite showing up in full mountaineering gear and crampons. We just had our regular hiking attire. The Gross Spitzen proved to be no trouble at all, but the ridge was a treacherous combination of a thin layer of snow on a sheet of blank ice. So we decided to just take a detour through the valley instead of risking it on the ridge.

Me testing the (frozen) waters and deciding it to be turnaround time.