2016-07-03

Graue Wand (3172m) via Niedermann (5c+, 11 pitches, 405m)

Alex, Ilona, Vladimir and I head out to the parking lot Tätsch at 2272m at the Furka pass on Saturday night. My preferred solution would have been to watch the Germany vs Italy soccer match and leave on Sunday morning instead, but for some reason the others weren't particularly excited about getting up at 4 in the morning. So instead we pitch our tents in the dark and nearly zero visibility because we are in the middle of a cloud. Everything is wet from dew and the air saturated with moisture.

Me paying a charity visit to Ilona and Vladimir in the ghetto tent.
Morning. Visibility still shit. Everything still wet. Unclear whether climbing will even be possible at all.
Crossing a creek.

We allow ourselves a relatively leisurely start at 7 in the morning. The world is still shrouded in a wet fog and we need the wall to dry off before we can climb. So giving the sun a bit of a head start makes sense. The hike to the base of the wall takes us roughly two hours. The last bit leads up a steep snow field of about 40 degrees. I'm the only one who brought crampons, but they turn out to be unnecessary because there are already good steps and the snow is soft anyways. Thus the others mock me for my excess baggage.

Approaching the objective: the tallest rock wall in the center of the image. Our route starts at the top of the snow field right of the buttress.
Looking back down the snow field.
Scrambling up to the start of the route. Still can't see very much.

There's a party of four in front of us at the start of the climb, so we have to queue and wait. They've camped at the same site we did and arrived a few minutes earlier. The first pitch is thirty meters long and protected by only two bolts. It's also still slightly wet. The first climber starts a bit gung-ho after having a loud mouth with his friends. A sudden scream and the next instant he falls eight meters, crashing into the wall just above the ground next to his belayer. A close call. That could have gone really bad, especially considering the fact that they forgot to clip the anchor and there would have been the possibility to fall past his belay and take him down too. As it stands the party is just shell shocked and the climber hurt his leg and his elbow, temporarily losing all feeling in his hand. The two of them are too shaken to continue and return back to base.

It's clearing up!
"Our" massive chunk of granite.
Vladimir following in the first pitch.

Their friends are arduously slow crawling up the first two pitches. We are becoming impatient - at this rate the entire climb is in jeopardy. Luckily for us they decide to bail after the second pitch. The follower just wasn't up to it. A game of rock-papers-scissors decides that Alex and I will go first. Alex quickly disposes of the first pitch. He drops his cell phone from the top, while trying to take a picture. By some miracle it survives the fall with just a cracked screen.

Vladimir fighting an off-width while leading the second pitch.
The easier pitches were extremely run-out...
...and not all gear was trustworthy.

The climb is fantastic. The weather has turned out great in the end and the South facing wall dried off quickly. The rock is of superb quality and the climbing varied and of sustained difficulty. The entire route would likely be climbable as a trad route, plenty of cracks for "bomber" placements. As a consequence some parts are only sparsely protected with bolts.

I got to lead the "Ziegenrücken" pitch: arguably the most beautiful and aesthetic line of the entire climb. Relatively easy climbing (5b) on huge flakes with dramatic exposure.
Alex following on the "Ziegenrücken".
Ilona hanging around.

There are only two grassy 4a/4b pitches in the entire route. We link them into one with the nice consequence that each of us gets to lead 5 pitches total, alternating the lead at every anchor. Without the other party blocking us we make good progress and top out after about five hours. I could feel the altitude towards the end. At above 3000 meters I had to catch my breath every couple of moves.

How's that for exposure?
View towards the other side: the Damma glacier.
Alex celebrating the summit.

Alex doesn't waste much time and starts rappelling even before Ilona and Vladimir join us on the summit. We miss the official rappel route and have to do some annoying diagonal rappels in order to end up back at the start of the climb. If you lose your feet while traversing sideways you risk painful pendulum swings. Meanwhile, Ilona and Vladimir are on the proper rappel route and overtake us.

Happy!
Vladimir.
First of many rappels back to the start.

I take a brief moment during the rappel to collect some crystals from a "Strahler" cave. Crystal hunters have put in fixed ropes in a few places and have dug out cracks in the rock. Nice souvenir ;-) It takes about 8 rappel maneuvers over 400 meters to get back down. We make it back to our tents and the car at around half past seven in the evening. A fantastic day in great company - thanks everyone!

A "Strahler" (crystal hunter) cave.
Hanging in the void.