2017-07-15

Sewenstock (2818m) via Amarone (6a+, ~400m)

My original plan was to climb a North facing wall. The weather forecast was mixed with a chance of rain and cold temperatures so Arne and I changed plans and headed for Amarone instead. A South facing route leading up to the summit of the Sewenstock (2818m) at the Sustenpass. Unfortunately for us it was the start of the holiday season and the road leading up to the Gotthard had 13 kilometers and several hours of traffic jam. Now we didn't actually want to go through the tunnel, but we still needed to go close enough that the traffic affected us. We avoided it on winding minor roads, but it still cost us some time.

Dramatic clouds.
Straight up the prominent peak in the center is where we're going.
Hard to miss.

We parked the car at 1600 meters altitude where the thermometer read 11°C. Chilly already and we were still more than a kilometer below our high point. The approach follows a nice trail that serves as the primary access to the Sewen-hut. We proceeded right past that and eventually scrambled through loose scree towards our destination. The Sewenstock visually dominates the end of the steep valley. I exclaimed "Damn, what a beauty!" to which Arne replied "Let's hope she's not too wet." Think of it what you will ;-) It took us just two hours to reach the well marked base of the route.

Did I mention the pitches were long? Arne getting ready to follow the first one.
Arne on the sharp end.
Sören on the sharp end.

Right off the bat the route starts with a long 6a+ pitch. The bomber solid gneiss is an absolute joy to climb on. I led the first pitch and was already thrilled with the route. Despite my freezing cold hands the difficulty felt on the easier side, more like a gym 6a+ than an outdoors one. Fine with me.

This is fun!
Arne negotiating a small roof.
Comfy belay.

It continued just like it started: steep; superb quality rock; homogenous difficulties, hard enough to be challenging but never truly difficult; very interesting and varied technical climbing offering everything from perfect splitter cracks over slabs and dihedrals to juggy overhangs. The pitches are bolted such that a pair of 50m ropes is just barely long enough which makes rope management at the anchors very easy. Hats off and thanks to Heinz Müller and Röbi Ruckstuhl for leaving a masterpiece of a route. It ranks among the top three I've ever climbed and deserves its inclusion as an instant classic in the selection guidebook "Dreams of Switzerland". The Sewen Hut also distributes a free topo.

We topped out at half past three after 5 hours of climbing. We alternated leads all the way and both cleanly red-pointed all of our pitches. Since it was windy and quite cold we didn't spend too much time on the summit. The rappel route, with few exceptions, follows the climb. You downclimb the summit ridge but after that a full 9 rappel maneuvers are necessary to get back down to the base. This is indicative of how long and steep the pitches are.

If you squint you can see a yellow-ish scar in the flank of the peak on the left. That's where the chamois started and headed first through the couloir, into the diagonal grass band and then onto the green "pasture" in the lower middle of the image. Crazy!
Arne in one of the coolest sequences of the entire route - a perfect razor sharp finger crack.

I heard rockfall on the opposing ridge and turned to look just in time to see a bunch of chamois run out of a cave in an impossibly steep wall and proceed to gallop straight down the face. Frickin' impossible. Why is that species even still alive?! The entire family of adult animals and young headed head first down the wall and proceeded to graze calmly on the grass band below. And we were clumsily setting up another rappel. Wow.

Final belay of the day - no more climbing past this point, only a bit of scrambling on the summit ridge.
The last few meters on the ridge.
Summit selfie!

At one point Arne disappeared out of sight over a lip of rock below me. I waited for the ropes to become slack so I could follow rappelling down after him. And waited. And waited some more. And shouted into the wind without a response. And waited some more. After almost 30 minutes I became quite cold and quite worried. Usually when the first one down misses the next anchor and starts looking around you'll notice the ropes moving and alternating between taut and slack. This time the ropes were taut all the time and my imagination had Arne dangling unconscious in space below me. I started playing through the options in my mind. How long should I wait before I had to become active? I texted him.

Rappelling...
...and more rappelling.

After what seemed like an eternity to me the ropes finally moved and I faintly heard Arne's voice over the wind. He had missed the next anchor and had to jug back up the ropes. Setting up prusiks and ascending thin climbing ropes is what took him so long. So while I froze to a block he worked up a sweat pulling himself up ;-) Anyway, all good and we proceeded to the base of the climb without further trouble. We made it back to the car shortly after 7 pm. Tired, but tremendously satisfied by a beautiful day in the mountains!

Surfing down the snow fields is much faster and more enjoyable than hiking through the scree.