"Sandi in the Moon" (6b+, 160m, 6 pitches), attempt

We went on a bit of a jinxed mission on Sunday. Anita had to work in the morning so I was babysitting Leonie. I handed her off to Anita shortly before 11 in front of Anita's colleagues. I earned curious glances and a question: "Why are you not in the mountains?!". Pointing out the obvious that someone had to take care of the little one led to a bit of a "doh!" moment. Anyway, kinda funny that I have to justify myself for not going climbing on a weekend ;-)

Winter storms have wreaked havoc in the forests and cleanup is just getting started. Fallen trees everywhere.
Even the approach is no joke for this wall.

The long preamble is meant to explain why Mark, Andrey and I only made it to the base of our chosen crag, the Wildhuser Schafberg, around 2pm. Ordinarily much too late to start on a multi pitch route, but we figured at this time of year we'd have daylight till 9pm... But first there was a steep patch of snow to overcome in extremely exposed terrain. The approach to this particular crag is not to be taken lightly even in good conditions and I have retreated because of too much snow before. This time Andrey decides to bail. The weather forecast was anything but certain and he really didn't fancy the idea of having to negotiate the snow again in the rain, in the dark.

The snow patch. I've cut steps for Mark to follow...
...while Andrey is trying to find his own way around the patch.

After some scrambling around Mark and I find the start of our route, "Sandi in the Moon". I lead the first pitch. A beautifully steep and at 50 meters super long 6a+. The rock is just structured enough that you can find good holds with a bit of careful planning and I find it a joy to climb. Mark gets the second pitch, which is really just an easy scramble to bridge a wide ledge before the wall gets steep again. Thus he gets to lead the third pitch as well.

Still going strong on the third pitch.

It's another 6a+. Mark makes good progress on the first few meters before he gets stuck. Standing a bit above his last bolt he's too intimidated to trust his feet and commit to the tiny imperfections in the rock that count as footholds. He tries a few variations and takes a few controlled falls before finally deciding to give up. We reconvene at the anchor before I give it a shot.

Top of the third pitch after switching lead with Mark.

I like this kind of limestone climbing and have been on this wall for two previous routes (Sandührliweg and Langstrasse). So I struggle less with the crux section and make it to the next anchor without too much trouble. This pitch is less homogenous than the first one and has a few sparsely protected traverses. It makes sense to take advantage of the natural cracks and hourglasses in the rock to place some extra protection.

The remnants of winter and an ominous sky.

Mark follows me up and we decide to treat this as our high point and bail. We have climbed slightly more than half of the route but the hardest pitch is yet to come. With a menacing sky, a very uncertain weather forecast (rain either any minute now or in the early evening, depending on which forecast you choose to trust), one person already retreated, and Mark's struggle on the previous pitch, we just aren't in the right headspace to continue.

My rope didn't like the rock treatment.

Being one of the first parties on a wall after winter means there's still a lot of loose rock lying around. So it happens that we swipe a big head sized boulder off the ledge while pulling our rappel ropes. The rocks whizz past us but smash into one of our ropes, nearly severing it. Luckily we just need one more rappel and that's doable on a single rope. This could have gotten annoying...


"Alhambra" (6b+, 600m, 18 pitches)

It's early season for rock climbing - the high country is still covered in deep snow. The perfect time to go to Ticino. Switzerland's southernmost canton is frequently too hot for climbing in Summer but perfect right now. Arne and I picked "Alhambra" as our route of choice. Lauded as the longest and most beautiful route in all of Ticino it features a whopping 18 pitches of climbing over more than 600 meters of gneiss. At difficulties of up to 6b+ this is nothing to sneeze at and quite an endurance challenge even when you are fit. Which I am not. A long winter spent mostly sick and little time for training due to the kid left me weak.

Well marked trail turn-off.
Name scratched into the rock at the start of the route.
Starting into the sea of slabs.

We took the car to Locarno late Saturday afternoon and enjoyed good Italian food right at the shore of the Lago Maggiore. Originally we planned to spend the night at the Delta campground where the river Maggia empties into the lake. We couldn't find anyone to register with though and they told us we could only check-in past 8 o'clock the next morning. Too late for us. So we stayed at a nice campground in Ponte Brolla instead where the owner re-opened the reception just for us and we even got served an evening beer ;-)

Maggia valley. Not ugly.
My shoes are not in perfect shape for precise smearing.
Arne cruising up more easy terrain.

We started early on Sunday and after a minor route finding confusion started climbing around 8:30. Conditions were perfect with hazy skies blocking the harsh Italian sun and dry rock to lay our hands on. The route is split into two distinct parts: the lower section is an endless sea of low angle slabs. These require delicate foot placements and a good balance, but are not very demanding in terms of strength. The headwall on the other hand is steep and requires athletic moves to get past a series of small roofs.

Lago Maggiore.
Arne leading one of the 6b+ pitches.
The "Fingerlochplatte" (finger pocket slab) 6a+. My lead. Reach that bolt!

I started and linked the first two easy pitches into a single lead. We could see a single other party in the wall, several pitches ahead of us. It looked like at this pace we'd quickly catch up to them. Turned out this was just an easy warmup and the difficulties would ramp up significantly and slow us down. We kept alternating leads all the way to the top. Luckily for me this worked out so that I got all the tricky slabs while Arne got to lead the most sustained endurance pitches towards the end. At that point we had been climbing for nearly eight hours with hardly a break and my lack of training really showed. Both of us took a few falls but while Arne managed to figure out and execute all the required sequences cleanly I had to resort to cheating and pulled on the occasional quickdraw. Bad style and a sign of desperation.

The last 6b, long and sustained with a tough little roof right at the start.
Arne heading up the final 6a.
Me exiting the same 6a - lots of small downward sloping ledges.

The pitches went as:

  • 5a, Sören
  • 5b, Sören
  • 5c+, Arne
  • 6a+, Sören
  • 5c+, Arne
  • 6a, Sören
  • 5c, Arne
  • 6a+, Sören
  • 6a, Arne
  • 6b+, Sören
  • 6b+, Arne
  • 6a+, Sören
  • 6b, Arne
  • 5a, Sören
  • 6b, Arne
  • 5b, Sören
  • 6a, Arne
  • 3c, Sören

My happy face when confronted with more exposed scrambling while already being dead tired.

You can't rappel over the route, once you've gained the headwall a retreat would be very difficult and dangerous. Thus the only way out is forward. Very committing and only recommended in very stable weather conditions. The descent is a faint trail over steep dead grass following the maintenance route for the local power lines. You follow that all the way to a little rock outcrop and then do a handful of rappels to make it back down to the valley floor.

Looong day. Major kudos to Arne for powering through the final crux pitches!