2015-05-10

Climbing Balmflue

Andrey had the idea of climbing the longest multi-pitch route in the Jura: the Balmflue South ridge. 19 pitches of lime stone with difficulties up to 5c+. Weather for Sunday looked good, so we decided to go. Unfortunately he unexpectedly got caught up in work and couldn't join after all. Which meant it was down to Vinay and me - sorry Andrey!

The objective.
Queuing at the start.
Noisy motocross below.

We arrived at the base of the mountain at around 8 o'clock in the morning. The guide book only offers very rough sketches of how to find the start of the route and warns that it is a somewhat tricky approach. It proved correct. We wandered around for about an hour before we finally managed to find the spot. By that time we actually had to wait in a queue of climbers for our turn to climb. Two rope teams were preparing in line before us. When we finally started up it was almost 10.

Vinay on the first traverse.
Where do we go again?

The team in front of us was very inexperienced and agonizingly slow. We had to idle around at every anchor, waiting for them clear the route. Especially annoying since this was typical Jura climbing with steeper pitches interspersed by ledges covered in lose scree and gravel. Having people fumble around above you is actually dangerous. We eventually managed to pass them and continue on our own.

Scale reference: how many climbers can you spot?
Nearly there. Lunch break before attacking the final few pitches.

In the valley below us a motocross race was in full swing. We could see the tiny motorbikes race around the winding track, taking long jumps over a ramp. Unfortunately we could also hear them. It's the first time I actually wished for earplugs while climbing. The constant hyperactive beehive buzz echoing up the mountain was really annoying. And made communicating with your rope partner much harder. We started simply trusting signals conveyed via the rope without being able to see or hear one another.

The climbing was a mixed bag. A lot of the pitches were very short and very easy. More like scrambling than climbing. We linked, simul-climbed or free soloed quite a few of them so in the end we didn't have anywhere near the 19 belays given in the guide book. Even the harder 5c+ pitches didn't feel like they warranted that grade. The higher we got the more steep, sustained and interesting the climbing became. The final few pitches were a real joy with a lot of air below you and beautiful vistas all the way to the snow covered mountains of the main ridge of the Alps, dominated by Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. We topped out at 16 o'clock in the afternoon at 1290m, about 600m higher than our car and 400m of climbing.

The descent is an easy hike along the ridge to the West and then through a beautiful forest back down to the village. Very satisfying day.