Mark, Christian and I set out to Amden at lake Walen to climb the slabs of the Mattstock Southeast face. It's an extremely comfortable approach on a chair lift followed by about an hour of hiking and scrambling. We choose the hardest route on the face, "Variante", consisting of 5 pitches: 5b, 6a, 5c, 5c+, 5a, so it's still relatively easy. I get to lead the first two pitches, followed by Mark and then Christian for the finale. The climbing is on a low angle limestone slab. The difficulty level is quite homogenous and the technique mostly consists of accurate friction foot placements on smooth rock. It's fun, but leaves us slightly dissatisfied at the end. Kinda similar to a McDonald's fast food meal: easy to gulp down but you are not quite full afterwards. The route is too short for a proper workout, yet too long to invite a second run up. Anyway, we hike back to the lift and rent trottinettes for the way down - huge fun!
There's a chance for thunderstorms for most of Switzerland all weekend. Lightning in the mountains is no joke when you are attached to metal pieces and sticking out as the highest point on the ridge. Thus Florian, Alex, Mark and I decide to cross the main ridge of the alps to sunny Ticino on the Italian side. We are met with perfect weather at the Nufenen pass and hike for about 1.5 hours to reach the start of our objective for the day: the route Piccadilly Bedretto, 420 meters of climbing over 10 pitches of beautiful granite. Mark and I make up one rope team while Florian and Alex constitute the second.
There's another group of climbers at the base, three Italian speaking folks who take an eternity to get started and shout a lot. We are slightly worried this might slow us down and get everyone in danger because of rockfall from the leading party. However, it works itself out perfectly. The trio starts up the Grüen Nils route, Mark and I get the Piccadilly Bedretto as planned and Alex and Florian spontaneously decide to climb the Herbstwind in between the two other routes.
The wall is separated into two very distinct sections: The lower half is slabby, low angle terrain, while the upper half rises up until it is vertical. I enjoyed the steep pitches much more. They were more sustained and more interesting climbing. The crux however, was in the lower half: a very blank slab that could only be climbed with very precise footwork and still felt extremely slippery. The guidebook marks this as an A0 section, implying many people aid through it by pulling on gear. I tried to avoid that, but still needed to rest on the rope to get my psyche up. Oh well.
The routes are perfectly bolted in the sense that whenever it is not possible to place gear, you'll find a bolt in just the right spot. Conversely, whenever there is a nice crack you are expected to use your own friends and nuts. Unfortunately Alex and Florian didn't bring any trad gear, so Alex performs some daring leads with long runouts of 10, 15 meters and more. Scary to watch even at a distance.
We don't linger around the "summit" (really just the ridge) for long, but start rappelling right away. The rappels are set up for 50 meter ropes while we are using 60 meter ropes. That, and the fact that I didn't study the topo very thoroughly, makes me go down the wrong side of a big buttress and miss the next rappel anchor. I try to improvise something, but the nice flake I eyed from above as a good opportunity turns out to be a man sized loose block that moves as soon as I pull on it. So I climb back up a bit and wait for Mark to rescue me by rappelling to the right side of the buttress and finding the correct anchor. Wasted quite some time on this mistake...
We make it back to the car just in time with the goats going home too ;-) The Gotthard tunnel is blocked by the customary traffic jam. We think we are very clever because the Nufenen pass comes in from the side, skipping the entire queue. Unfortunately the onramp is blocked by the police who only let a handful of people in every half hour or so. Still a much shorter wait than the full jam, where people are having picnics on the highway next to their cars. The tunnel delivers its usual magic: nice and warm on one side, torrential rain on the other. It's so bad that even with wipers at full speed visibility is still shit and traffic slows down to 70km/h.
Anyway, fantastic day with great climbing in great company. We can do that again!
"Mt. Shuksan epitomizes the jagged alpine peak like no other massif in the North Cascades... it has no equal in the range when one considers the structural beauty of its four major faces and five ridges... There is no other sample in the American West of a peak with great icefall glaciers derived from a high plateau, and in the Pacific Northwest it is the only non-volcanic peak whose summit exceeds timberline by more than 3000 feet... Shuksan is one of the finest mountaineering objectives in the North Cascades and its reputation is certainly deserved; a wide variety of challenges can be encountered on this quite complex mountain. The climber has a choice of rock walls, moderate firnfields, steep ice, and easy scrambling. Despite a sometimes-forbidding appearance, Shuksan has yielded 14 routes, numerous variations, and impressive subsidiary climbs, including some directly up dangerous ice cliffs."
- Fred Becky (Cascade Alpine Guide : Rainy Pass to Fraser River)
I invited my cousin Anton along for the trip. Here's what he had to say about it:
Mountaineering for dummies: wait for one of your cousins to email you a climbing invitation; accept invitation; print off gear checklist and purchase all items you do not currently own; try on new boots and crampons, walk around yard and climb up steep piles of dirt to test;
put gear in truck and drive across border into USA; sleep; wake up early, meet said cousin + backup Googlers + guides; walk for a long time through a beautiful national forest (note: it appears preferable to pick a very foggy and/or rainy day to set out); when trail becomes extremely steep, deploy climbing harness and fasten yourself to someone nearby; keep climbing; if you find a small flat spot, call it a ‘camp’ and leave half your important stuff there;
apply crampons and deploy ice axe; climb and/or walk around on a glacier for a long time; when you reach a steep pile of rocks, remove crampons; climb steep pile of rocks until you reach the top; take photograph;
it will now likely be very late and the sun will be going down, so deploy headlamp; start rappelling down off the steep pile of rocks, and half way down, for added excitement, rappel down a rope that is attached to a sling that is about to break – for maximum enjoyability, land in a small patch of snow; remind yourself how important it was that you reached the top of this particular pile of rocks while waiting for the second rope team to rescue you; keep rappelling until at bottom of steep pile of rocks;
climb and/or walk around on a glacier for a long time until you reach your ‘camp’; it will now likely be 3AM, but don’t worry, it won’t take very long to set up your tents, because you don’t have any – instead, set up a small tarp that is pretending to be a tent; eat dinner; put on everything warm that you have packed and go into your sleeping bag for no more than 3.5 hours (it appears to be very important to minimize sleep while mountaineering); enjoy fantastic view of Mt. Baker on waking (bonus: because you’re not actually in a tent, you can just lay there in your sleeping bag to enjoy said view);
Optional activity: shit into a plastic bag and then pack this into your backpack (note: I am still very confused by this bit of mountaineering);
down-climb and/or rappel until the trail is no longer extremely steep; walk for a long time through a beautiful national forest (note: it appears preferable to schedule a thundershower for at least the last hour of this final walking part); if you have followed these steps properly,
congratulations, you will have just spent 31 hours going up to the top of a large pile of rocks and coming down again!