2017-05-28

"Mummery", 6c, 350m, Handegg, Grimselpass

Famously disorganized I knew that I wanted to go climbing on Sunday but come Saturday night I still had no idea where or with whom. So I pinged a bunch of people and, never one to disappoint, Luigi was up for it. This left the question of where to go. I knew Arne and Pia were at the Grimselpass, intending to climb Fair Hands Line. We could piggyback on their preparation and choose a route right next to them. And so we did.

On the approach.
Sören.

Arne and Pia were camped out at the pass while Luigi and I only drove up there in the morning. We hiked the short distance from the parking lot together and started climbing around 10am. Luigi led the first pitch which already packed quite a punch with its 6b+ rating and strenuous layback sequence on a narrow fingercrack. I took a fall trying to follow through that sequence.

Luigi.
Luigi.

It continued almost as hard as it started. We kept alternating leads and the pitches went as 6b+, 6b, 6b+, 6b, 6a+, 6a, 6c, 5c, 6b+, 5b. The Remy brothers are famous for sparsely protected routes on blank granite slabs. Mummery is no exception. This particular route was rebolted in 2010 and the crux sections are protected a little better than usual, but on the easier pitches you have to squint to find the next bolt.

A rare dihedral - welcome!
Luigi. As seen from Arne in the other route.

I was about ready to shit my pants and call for mommy halfway up the wall. Slabs are nerve-wrecking to climb. At these difficulties if the rock isn't vertical it means it will be blank instead. Sheer granite. No cracks, no protrusions. Just unblemished rock. The last bolt some distance below your feet, the next one still a long way out of reach. And the only technique available to you is friction climbing: hands flat against the wall and feet smearing on the rock. Extremely delicate - the slightest imbalance will throw you off into a painful tumble.

Spectacular surroundings.
Bolts?! We don't need no stinkin' bolts. Who needs protection anyways?

Luckily Luigi found his granite mojo and led us through the crux. Impressive feat. In the end both of us cheated on a few moves, mostly for calming our nerves. Stepping on a bolt after sneaking up blank rock for meters on end is good for a big mental boost! But other than that it was a pretty smooth and fast ascent. We topped out at the shared exit of our routes way ahead of Pia and Arne.

Happy at the top.
Arne still climbing Fair Hands Line.

The descent is on stairs along the world's steepest funicular. It's still too early in the season for it to be running, so it's a good exercise regime for your thighs.

Pia.
Lots of steps to go...

Some guidebooks give the overall difficulty of the route as "only" 6b+, but I chose to stick to the 6c grade the Remy brothers originally assigned to it and later confirmed in their guidebook Dreams of Switzerland. Whatever grade you choose to trust - it's hard!

Arne and Pia still two pitches from the top. And a monster butterfly ;-)
Cooling our feet after getting roasted on the granite frying pan.

2017-05-24

Rigi Marsch 2017

They say a good mountaineer needs good short term memory but terrible long term memory. By this measure I'm superbly qualified. If I remembered how challenging it was the previous years, I'd probably not have signed up for my sixth consecutive Rigi Marsch ;-) Alas, I did. And not only that, but I also managed to recruit a whole bunch of first timers to this organized 50km and 1500m hike through the night from the village of Bremgarten up Mt Rigi.

Levan, Alexandru, Ben, Ronny, Helmut, Sören, Christian.
Levan, Alexandru, Ben, Kristoffer, Ronny, Helmut, Christian.

After two months of baby induced lack of sleep I didn't know whether hiking for 12 hours from 8 in the evening to 8 in the morning would be easier (because I'm used to not sleeping much) or harder (because I'm not sleeping much). It turned out to be harder. Who would've thought? It was a real challenge staying awake at times.

The dark shadow looming at the horizon is our destination.

We started as a group of eight: Alexandru, Christian, Kristoffer, Levan, Helmut, Ronny, Ben and me. We lost Christian at the second checkpoint. We somehow failed to communicate properly and he went ahead without us while we waited around looking for him. So he soldiered on alone through the night and made it to the summit a full hour before the rest of us - congratulations!

Another one down.
Lake Zug.

Ben dropped out at the third checkpoint at two in the morning. The rest of us stuck together and reached the summit at 8 in the morning. It stayed so warm throughout the night that many people wore shorts and t-shirt all the way. As usual the organizing committee did a fantastic job, the route was prepared perfectly and shuttling everybody back via cogwheel train and busses worked flawlessly. Thank you very much!

Mission accomplished.

Congratulations to the gang! It was an honour suffering with you. Now let's forget all about it and do it again next year!

Hardcore Helmut chilled at our place for a few nights and is biking (!) back home to Stuttgart as I write this. Speaking of hardcore: every year I'm impressed by the fitness of the Swiss. I understand there's self selection and survivorship bias at play here, but still. 2000 people, of which 1650 reached the summit. Including guys like this 80+ year old grandpa who wasn't just hiking the thing but running. I wanna grow old like that guy.

Thanks to Kristoffer for allowing me to use the photos he took with his Pixel phone. I want one now!

After recovering for a bit Anita, Helmut, Leonie and I hiked up the Albis mountain behind our house on Friday. It was a test whether Leonie would be happy in a baby sling for hours on end. She was! Like a total champ she slept most of the time and gawked at the trees for the rest. Well done girl - the foundation has been poured ;-)

2017-05-21

Wildhuser Schafberg, "Langstrasse" 6a+

Luigi and I had to bail from the Wildhuser Schafberg wall because there was too much fresh snow on the approach only a few weeks ago. This time it was free of snow and in great condition. Björn, Arne and I hiked up the steep slopes in order to climb the Langstrasse. 220 meters and 6 long pitches of beautiful limestone.

Blue skies? Yes, above the clouds ;-/
Björn on the approach.

We had to wait a bit at the base because Ilona and a friend were just working their way up the first pitch. They had set out a full one and half hours ahead of us, but they had to wait for the party ahead of them to clear the route and it took them a while to find the approach - it is quite a maze. I got to lead the first pitch and it proved to be a challenging warm-up indeed. It is a long 45 meters of leanback moves up a wide off-width crack with feet on blank slabs. Mentally taxing. More so because the bolts are spaced four and more meters apart. You really don't want to fall here.

Arne.
Slabby McSlab.

I made it to the anchor and started belaying Björn and Arne as followers. Björn was struggling and took a few falls before he decided to bail. His fingers had gone all numb and blue from the cold rock, making climbing difficult. He has issues with circulation in his hands to begin with, and unfortunately the weather forecast turned out to be only mostly correct: instead of blue skies it was overcast, windy and chilly. He returned to the car and waited most of the day for Arne and me to finish our ascent. Thanks for your patience Björn!

Crabbing up the slab.
Selfie.

The second pitch is another nice long crack before the route turns to classical limestone slab climbing. Super fun moves on bomb solid rock. Two thirds up the route another party rappelled down past us. The guy stops and greets me with "Hey Sören!". Turns out it was Kornelius who I've shared a rope with on a few occasions in the past. "Die Welt ist ein Dorf" as the German saying goes.

The final pitch is the crux of the route, graded 6a+. It is a steep slab with parallel vertical grooves cut into the rock by running water. The appropriate technique for climbing this is "spread your legs and trust the rubber". Spread both your legs and arms outwards and keep enough pressure on your feet so they'll stick to the vertical structure. An unusual way of climbing and very intense on your calfs. Fun ;-)

Spread your legs and trust the rubber.
Springtime.

2017-04-23

Roche des Nants, "Mustapha", 200m, 6b

We were eager to follow up Saturday's cragging with a longer multi pitch route. The weather forecast predicted rain for most of our usual stomping grounds in the high mountains, so we looked North-West to the Jura instead. Since this mostly consists of hills and low mountains there are few choices for long routes, the most famous one I've already climbed. We settled on the "Mustapha", 200m of consistently hard limestone.

The lower section of the wall.
Luigi in the second pitch.

Mark and Andrey made up one rope team while Luigi and I were the other. Since Mark and I were involved in the outing we of course had to get lost trying to find the route. We parked the car in the wrong spot and headed up a trail that fit the description in the route book pretty well. We explored a T-junction to the right for a few minutes before heading up the other direction for another 20. Both turned out to be wrong and we retreated back down to the car, driving back where we came from for a few hundred meters before finally setting out on the right path.

Nice belay cave.
Luigi dangling off the final needle.

Rock-paper-scissors determined that Luigi and I would go first and that I would get the first lead. It was quite chilly in the morning and touching the cold rock made our fingers go numb right away. This improved once the sun hit the West facing wall around pitch 4 or so. The start of the route features a tricky move to get off the ground at the very start but then continues very easy, hardly warranting a 6a+ grade. Luckily it got harder and more consistent in the later pitches.

Cruising to the top.
Proof that it's steeper than it looks in the previous pictures...

We decided to climb the harder 6b variant for the final exit pitch instead of the normal 5c. The needle of rock ahead looked too beautiful not to climb it. It was Luigi's lead and he had a total blast in that pitch. It's vertical with crimpy side pulls on superb rock. It features a giant jug halfway up which Luigi used to dangle off with just one hand, enjoying the views monkey style. Climbing hardly gets better than this ;-)

All smiles...
...standing on the top.

The descent proved a tricky affair of scrambling down steep slopes with loose gravel and pine cones. Very slippery and oftentimes quite exposed over vertical drops. The guide books can't really make up their mind on whether to suggest rappelling down the route or walking off, with some editions recommending one and some the other. Now we know why. When we make it back to our car we see the only other car that shared the parking lot with us in the morning has its window smashed in. Supposedly to get to the stuff left on the back seat. Driving back we pass another such car. Switzerland is usually very safe and people generally trust one another. Disappointing to see counter examples like this ;-/

Mark.
Andrey contemplating the climbing potential of a wall on the descent.

I make it back home in time at half past 4 to meet Mel and Christian and stroll through the wildlife park together. Mel had promised to take family pictures of Anita, Leonie and I as a birthday present to Leonie and we took advantage of the beautiful weather to do just that. Thank you!

Luigi and I are psyched and try to turn Saturday and Sunday's successful outings into a hat trick by going again on Monday. Unfortunately there's been so much fresh snow in the mountains that we had to bail. Can't win every time.

2017-04-22

Climbing Brochne Burg

We explored a new crag on Saturday. The Brochne Burg is an old castle ruin sitting on top of an outcrop overlooking Liechtenstein. You can climb all around the castle in the old defensive moat. Short routes, but lots of them. You can choose the best wall to climb on based on the position of the sun, which is very convenient as a cold wind was blowing.

The main canyon. The castle used to sit on the top right.
Oscar.
Catherine.

Andrey and I teamed up and Oscar and Catherine. We climbed a whole bunch of easy routes before setting up a top rope for Nachtshiisser, 7a. It features a bouldery sequence through a small roof right from the start. Once you've mastered that it becomes easy. It took a few tries, but we eventually figured out the correct sequence. There is a surprisingly large number of overhanging routes in a very reasonable difficulty range (6a-ish). This is rare, and leads to some very satisfying and fun climbing moves. Usually overhangs are much harder.

Oscar.
Another (the same?) castle on the neighboring ridge.
Nice picnic spot on the old walls.

The place is just over an hour of driving away from home and features an approach of a leisurely 10 minute stroll. Definitely worth returning to.

I climbed:

  • Nachtschiisser, 7a
  • Finale, 5c+
  • Briefkastendächli, 6a+
  • Buuch, 6a
  • Eggli, 5c+
  • Lotti kneift, 5b
  • Dagoberts $, 4c
  • Beim Teutates, 6a+
  • Foxi, 6b
  • Wissä Sunntig, 5c+
Andrey in the roof of Nachtschiisser.
Me, climbing out of the same roof.