Valle del Sarca, "Via Romantica", 300m, 6c+

For our second climb in the Sarca valley we split into three parties: Luigi and I went for a 5 star classic 12 pitch route "Via Romantica" (6c+); Tereza teamed up with her mom to climb the 13 pitches of "Zanzara" (7a+) and Mark and Laurence went cragging. I had tried this particular route before but had to bail from only the second pitch because my climbing partner at the time brought the wrong pair of climbing shoes. This time Luigi and I got to top out.

Sitting at the anchor.
Luigi figuring out one of the roofs halfway up the wall.

The route fully deserves the five out of five star rating in the guide book. It is beautifully varied; exceptionally well protected; on perfect rock and a very aesthetic line up a giant cliff. The very first moves are already on slightly overhanging rock before continuing up a slab. The second pitch is the 6c+ crux and a traverse on tiny drip holes in the rock. I tried to lead it cleanly but had to give up and resort to pulling on gear. I just didn't have the strength to remain attached to the wall long enough to find the next hold. Luigi didn't fare much better and the party following us didn't even seem to care, cheating most moves even on the first 6b+ pitch.

Exposure in one of the corners.

The route continues over ramps, through caves (weirdly athletic lean back moves), over a series of small roofs, out on a very exposed ledge and bracing up corners. Difficulties mostly in the 6a/6b range and just super beautiful climbing. We mastered all of this cleanly until we arrived at the second but last pitch, rated 6c. It was my lead again and at this point we were quite tired after nearly 5 hours of climbing. Still I gave it my best and came within an inch of a clean redpoint. Alas, I had to rest once ;-( While graded similarly to the first crux of the route the difficulties here are much different: The face looks nearly blank except for a few small slots big enough to accept a few fingers and a sloper half way up. So the sequence is obvious to read, it's just a matter of executing the long, powerful moves required to get to the top. Super fun.

Likely the best multi pitch I've ever climbed - thank you Luigi for a great day out!

Hanging around in the final crux. It's steeper and harder than it looks from here!
Proper way to use a baby buggy: transport your newly purchased climbing gear!
Arco's city center is one climbing shop next to the other. One even specializes exclusively on gear for kids.


Valle del Sarca, "Moonbears", 250m, 5c

It is a tradition among many climbers to travel to Arco in Italy around the Easter holidays. Tereza and gang introduced me to the idea last year and this time we joined as a family. Anita and Leonie spent a few nice days in Riva del Garda at the shores of the beautiful Lago di Garda while I spent two days scrambling up steep limestone, rejoining them in the evenings for proper Italian gelato and dinner.

The village of Arco is 100% dedicated to climbing.
Leave it to climbers to interpret a fence as just another obstacle to be scaled.
Label at the base of the route.

As a warm-up we chose a route called Moonbears. It starts by climbing over a fence of the local dam and then follows a series of corners for 250 meters and 9 pitches of easy and well protected climbing. Luigi and I made up the lead team while Tereza, Mark and his brother Laurence followed as second party. Weather was great and the climbing pure joy. Just difficult enough to be interesting but never truly challenging so it was pleasant cruise to the top. Of course Tereza didn't even bother putting on her climbing shoes and just floated up the route in approach shoes ;-)

The village of Sarche.
Luigi leading the way.
We even had a video conference in the middle of the wall ;-)

Luigi and I topped out after just over two hours of climbing and then hung around for another 1.5 hours waiting for the others to catch up. Just as well as we had a nice little outcrop with good views of the valley to spend the time on. I lay down and quickly dozed off - nights with an infant are short and you learn to catch up on sleep whenever and wherever you can...

My lead. Looking at the route from below I was afraid it would turn into a giant bushwhacking action. Luckily that turned out not to be the case - the line elegantly avoids all of the vegetation.
The final pitch.
Crazy climbers on the descent.
Nice trail on the way down.
Mark aid climbing a weird dam (?), avalanche barricade (?).


Climbing Balzers

Our baby gave us one hell of a night. We couldn't sleep more than two hours at a time. Still we were determined to take advantage of the still gorgeous weather outside and go climbing. Arne suggested the crag at Balzers which turned out to be a perfect choice. It's just across the border in Liechtenstein right at the river Rhine. A beautiful spot, sheltered from the sun by trees. Hard as it is to believe, this was an advantage, because it was very hot (in April!).

Crowded crag but very relaxed atmosphere with open fire barbecues and good mood all around.
Luigi negotiating the roof of Bananäschalä.
Arne in Bananäschalä.

You can park right at the crag, making it very accessible and kids friendly. As a consequence there were lots of people hanging out and climbing. Including families with small kids who demonstrated impressive climbing ability. Our own baby slept through all of it, just to spite us. After keeping us up all night she now slept five and four hours at a time and only woke up briefly for some food. Of course she'd later demand entertainment once we were back home. Her dull and boring parents never do anything with her. Grmbl.

Sören on the start of Blitzidee.
Anita and Leonie, youngest at the crag today.
Silvia and Luigi brought a veritable sofa to the crag.

We climbed:

  • Bananäschalä, 35m, 6a
  • Blitzidee, 20m, 6a
  • Café de Brasil, 35m, 5c

We also set up a top rope for a 6c+ and mostly figured out the sequence for that. Still a bit out of reach for a clean red-point, but not impossible. A very relaxed day in a beautiful location. More of this please ;-)

Luigi about to pull up onto the 6c+ slab.
Sören about to top out on a pitch featuring fantastic hand pockets and overall super fun climbing.
Studying the topo.
Anita, Leonie, Silvia.
We could have sent her floating down the river and she would have just slept on.


Wildhuser Schafberg, "Sandührliweg" 6b

Leave it to Luigi to come up with the soundtrack for a climb. If I thought "Summer Jam" was a low point when we climbed "Durststrecke" he proved me very wrong with Saturday's inspiration: He kept humming Samwell's "What What In The Butt" (click it! I dare you!). A terrible earworm and stupidly prolific setup for all kinds of terrible puns when you are climbing on cracks and holes... Anyway, from the beginning.

Von den blauen Bergen kommen wir...
The approach.
Gearing up for the wrong climb.

With a stable high pressure system, Arne, Luigi and I decided to go for another multi pitch climb. Our choice fell on the "Sandührliweg" (hourglass route) on the Wildhuser Schafberg. 7 pitches and 200 meters of climbing on a steep limestone slab of perfect quality rock. None of us had been to the area before, but the SAC guidebook praised the route thusly: "Grossartige, genussreiche Plattenkletterei. Sehr beliebter, oft besuchter Extrem-Klassiker." (Awesome, highly enjoyable slab climb. Very popular and often frequented extreme-classic).

Scrambling up the ramp to the proper start of the route.
See? It's even marked!
What What In The Butt!

The guidebook also warns about an exposed and alpine approach. We hiked up to the massive wall (so much potential!) in 1.5 hours and scrambled along the base. We passed a bunch of routes and eventually settled to climb one of them, thinking it was the extension of our desired "Sandührliweg". There was even another party of two climbers who also consulted their topo and agreed with us on the location. They started climbing to our right. Arne was on the sharp end of the rope and promptly got stuck at the very first bolt. He gave it his best and barely made it to the second bolt. Now this was supposed to be a 6a+ pitch, a grade that doesn't usually cause us much trouble. The other party didn't fare much better, hangdogging from one quickdraw to the next. We eventually decided to bail and abandon one of Arne's carabiners. A tradition by now: on each one of our outings one piece of Arne's gear needs to be destroyed, lost or abandoned.

Cruising up the beautifully structured limestone.
Slab-Dancing on the traverse.
The traverse pitch as seen from above.

So we scrambled up the steep ramp to the regular start of the route and Arne again led the first pitch. This time without much trouble. Whatever route we've been on before must have been way harder. We continued to make good progress. Luigi wasn't in the right headspace for climbing that day and felt insecure and clumsy. He abandoned his leads after the first so we ended up with the following sequence:

  • 45m, 6a+, Arne
  • 15m, 6a-, Luigi
  • 35m, 6a-, Sören
  • 15m, 6a-, Arne
  • 25m, 6b, Sören
  • 40m, 5c+, Arne
  • 40m, 6b, Sören

Look Ma - no hands!
Luigi on the final stretch of the last pitch.
Mission accomplished.

The two crux pitches of the route were a traverse on very delicate foot placements and the exit pitch which also required smearing feet into the smallest depressions with tiny holds to match. My favorite pitch of the route was the second but last one and supposedly easiest. A diagonal following a natural fault line in the rock, with lots of beautiful and interesting features. In particular, lots of hour glasses that allow for natural protection using slings. Taking advantage of this was a good idea, as the pitch is sparsely bolted.

We topped out just before five'o'clock in the afternoon. A clean on-sight and a great day out!

Rappelling back down.
Look at that beauty! So many more routes to return to.


Bockmattli, "Höhlenweg" 6a+

Don't trust Mark and me with paying attention to where we're going. We've again proven our incompetence on Sunday when we defied a mixed weather forecast and headed for lake Wägital to climb the "Höhlenweg" up the nameless tower at Bockmattli. We parked the car and headed up a trail. We had both hiked this particular trail before and thus didn't really think twice about the fact that we were headed for a different destination this time. Half way up the mountain we realized our mistake. We were on the correct mountain, but wrong side of it. We tried to traverse but headed into steeper and steeper terrain on muddy and slippery wet grass. Eventually we decided to give up and retraced our steps back down to the car.

Bushwhacking before finally giving up and turning around.

Our second attempt was successful and we arrived at the base of the climb at around noon. Wasted one and a half hours and a few hundred meters of elevation gain. Chalk it up as training ;-) The "Höhlenweg" (cave trail?) follows a series of prominent caves for 11 pitches and 370 meters of climbing in great limestone. The line weaves into and out of the caves and crosses diagonally through a huge overhanging rock formation. As such it is extremely committing: bailing anywhere would be extremely difficult or impossible - the route is not setup for rappelling. You top out or you're in trouble.

The mighty walls of the Bockmattli.
Lots of great rock to return to. Just a 40 minute drive away from home!

Thus we were watching the clouds rolling into and out of the valley with some trepidation. Rain could really screw us over. The climbing itself was a ton of fun. Very inhomogeneous with some easy grassy pitches with hardly any protection and some pumpy overhanging moves on the steeper pitches. While the first pitch required a full 60 meter rope, many of the later ones were quite short to avoid excessive rope drag around the corners of the caves.

Mark in the first cave.
Me leading the first crux pitch out of the cave.
Mark doing his thing.

The hardest pitch was the final exit pitch. Thus you should be very confident in your ability to climb 6a+ and have enough reserves up to the very end. It's a bad spot to get stuck in. At the same time the final 4 pitches were really the most fun of the entire route. We were following a natural fault line in the rock. Very exposed in an overhanging wall. Each pitch progressively harder than the previous one but all following the same general idea: lean backs from nice juggy holds that become progressively more rare.

On one of the final traverse pitches - fun!
Me leading the exit pitch.
Hiking off the tower. This can easily become dicey if there is still too much snow.

Protection was a bit weird. On easy pitches you'd go for 20 meters without any gear while the first crux getting out of the cave had a bolt every half meter or so. This was clearly set up so you could aid climb it by dangling from one quickdraw to the next. Some topos marked quite a few pitches of this route as A0. I'm pleased to say that we did not take advantage of this and free climbed the entire thing in good style.

Mission accomplished.
A very satisfyingly large number of switchbacks are required to get us back to the start ;-)
Caves? What caves are you talking about? I don't see any.
Sweet location for a climbing hut.