2024-06-18

1. Chrüzberg (1884m) via "Flugroute", 6a-

We've had the first really hot day in Zürich with temperatures reaching 30°C. Good time to go climb a North facing wall! On my reconnaissance hike through the Alpstein the previous week I had scouted out tons of inviting limestone towers. Some research in the guidebooks revealed that one of the routes up the first Kreuzberg has been opened by none other than Swiss climbing legend Max Niedermann. I've climbed two of his routes (Gross Bielenhorn and Graue Wand) and found them both to be outstanding. Thus it was an easy decision to follow in his footsteps again and climb the "Flugroute" on the North face of the first Kreuzberg.

I'm officially a Max Niedermann fan boy now. I think I'll keep seeking out his routes and try and repeat them.

Mad respect for this dude. I mean, look at that gear! With that kind of protection you might as well free solo.
Tourist trail on the approach from the cable car.
The Saxerlücke. We'll be climbing the tower flanking it.
Mark on the final approach to the wall.

Niedermann started opening routes in the 50s and continued for more than thirty years, amassing an impressive list of first ascents. He has a keen eye for good rock and beautiful natural lines. At the time people were still following the natural weak spots of a wall instead of intentionally / artificially seeking out difficult moves. They were also climbing "a muerte" with protection that is barely deserving of the name. 70 years later, modern equipment, gym training, re-bolted routes, knowledge of the route and reliable weather forecasts allow mere mortal weekend warriors like myself to follow in the footsteps of the greats. In Niedermann's time, grade VI and maybe VII were the absolute limit of what was considered humanly possible. Today the world elite is approaching grade XII and everyday Joes like me can climb VI and VII without too much effort.

Me leading the first pitch towards the "weisse Chöpfli".
Björn following in the first pitch.
Mark testing his mental fortitude on the downclimb / traverse pitch.

The Flugroute got its name because of the dramatic falls, "flights", of the first two parties that tried to repeat Niedermann's feat. Björn, Mark and I fared better and managed a clean ascent from the bottom up ;-P We started the day relatively late because on the one hand I had to drop off the kids and on another we wanted to give the route some time to dry and warm up in the morning. We also allowed ourselves the luxury of shortening the approach via the Staubern cable car, the world's first fully solar powered cableway.

Me following the traverse.
Mark coming up my favorite pitch of the entire route. Glorious!
Björn making his way towards the sun.

Even with the cable car, getting to the base of the climb requires a bit of a hike and some searching for the correct approach and start. I set out to lead the first pitch shortly before noon. It is nominally the hardest one of the entire route, graded at 6a-. We brought several different topos with somewhat conflicting information. The claim was that one would need trad gear, so I'm hauling a full rack on my harness. However, it turned out that over the years the route got re-bolted several times and the protection is now good enough that one doesn't need and mobile protection at all. Ah well, extra weight training for us and some exercise in placing additional gear.

Warmth!
Me leading the steep crack pitch. Once more extremely satisfying moves.
Björn and Mark coming up.

Mark led the second pitch. A short downclimb followed by an exposed traverse. Required strong nerves and good balance. Then it was my turn again for pitch three. In my opinion the most beautiful of the entire route. Steep, but with big jugs and extremely satisfying climbing moves. Björn got a long diagonal pitch leading him up and into the sun. Very welcome, as he suffers from bad circulation in his hands and his hands were going numb in the shade of this North facing wall. Then it was my turn again for a steep crack. Another fantastic pitch that ended in a cave where the route book was supposed to be. Instead, we just found a water filled container. Looks like the wall mount did not work as intended. Björn led the final pitch to the summit where we top out with great panoramic views over the Rhine valley.

In front of the cave that was supposed to contain the route book.
Björn setting out to lead the final pitch.
Cheers!

Some exposed scrambling and three very steep rappels through a gully got us back to the base. From there we hiked back up a bit to find a trail less travelled for a long and knee breaking descent back to the car. All told, we descended roughly 1800 meters that day. And a great day it was!

Summit.
Waiting my turn to rappel.
Flying down the wall.
Overhanging rappel.
Björn. A speck on the wall.
Mark.
Nice trail!
The trail less travelled. Steep and often barely visible.
Endless switchbacks through the forest.
Björn shot a video of me puzzling around on the crux pitch.

2024-06-13

Schöllenen via (partial) "Amatörwäg", 330m, 6a

Good weather! Time for action. Björn, Arne and I headed up to Schöllenen once more. This time with the objective of climbing "Amatörwäg", a ten pitch 6a. We arrived relatively late because I first had to drop off the kids in the morning. But we still managed to find the start of the route and start climbing by 10 am. The very first pitch is a 6a slab that nobody was super keen on leading. I volunteered as the ice breaker and gingerly made my way up. Unfortunately I lost my nerve on one move and spoiled a clean climb by stepping on a bolt. Slabs are often not physically demanding as much as they are mentally draining. Friction climbing by sticking to the rock with the rubber of your shoes and skin of your palms never feels quite solid and as if you could slip at any second from the slightest imbalance. And indeed, all three of us would proceed to prove this intuition correct by taking a fall each on subsequent slab pitches.

Chamois in the morning.
Me leading the first pitch. Not steep, but frequently smooth.
Welcome ledges!

The route continues in a very similar style for most of its pitches. While some are nominally easier, there are multiple 6a's and even the easier ones are either also 5c+'s or, for the 5b's, made more challenging by wet streaks and vegetation. Luckily Björn and Arne found their rhythm and their granite feet and both stepped up to lead subsequent hard pitches. Quite remarkable how different this route is compared to the neighboring "Diagnoale" that I had climbed the week prior. Amatörwäg is almost entirely friction climbing on slabs while Diagonale follows a dihedral and is more about crack / layback climbing.

Arne venturing out on pitch two.
Not much to hold onto...
Family photo.

We had agreed to turn around no later than 2pm. This was necessary because Anita was travelling on a work assignment and thus I was responsible for getting the kids by 5pm. This gave us a fairly narrow time window for a ten pitch route and indeed we did not manage to finish all of the pitches but turned around after the seventh. On the one hand, this was not a terrible loss, as at that point we had already done all the cruxes and were left with only three easy bonus pitches. On the other hand, the weather was great and we had all gotten into the groove dancing on the slabs and had energy to spare. I guess this might be a motivation to return and finish the climb cleanly top to bottom?

Björn starting on one of the easier (but wet!) pitches.
Arne coming up.

The rappel went quickly and smoothly and we made it back to Langnau in time to pick up the kids with 5 minutes to spare. Great timing, great company, great climb, great mood. We finished the day on our terrace with beers and pizza.

Arne leading the final 6a pitch and the last one we climbed.
Zoom. From below, we expected the small overhang to be the crux. Far from it. That roof was entirely trivial and super fun to climb. The slab that Arne is on right now proved to be "mental" though! The smoothest of the entire climb, requiring extremely delicate footwork and balance. At this point we had six pitches of experience with that style and all three of us managed successfully. Chapeau Arne!
Sticking to the wall mostly by hope.
Björn demonstrating the technique.
Just like on Diagonale, this wall completely messed with my sense of scale again. Check out the toy cars on the highway below us!
Waiting my turn to rappel at our high point. Too bad we didn't get to finish it...
Two more rappels to go. At least on this particular wall there's no risk of rockfall or having the ropes catch anywhere ;-P

2024-06-12

Ruchbüel (2106m) to Saxerlücke

Finally a mostly dry weather forecast. But I found myself without a climbing partner. Why do people have jobs? What a nuisance! So I decided to go on a bit of a recovery and reconnaissance hike to the Alpstein. Parked the car at the village of Wildhaus and proceeded at a quick pace up the Flüretobel gorge. I was feeling strong and kept going straight up after exiting the gorge. After only a few minutes it occured to me that I was heading up the wrong mountain and towards passes that my prior research indicated would be too high still be covered in snow. Me being me, I continued regardless, hoping against hope that I might find a way to cross even in snow.

The Flüretobel Gorge.
Water straight from the rock?
Nice, but wrong, trail. Notice the artificial wall supporting it on the left. What an effort! That's almost a dam.

I passed a whole bunch of farmers preparing the alp for their sheep. Setting fences and collecting rocks from the meadows. Hard work, but it also looked satisfying. Not soon after it became very obvious that indeed, the higher trails were still inaccessible. Covered in deep snow and hidden in low hanging clouds. Not only would it be risky to try and proceeed, but it would also slow me down too much. So I paid for my stubbornness by turning around way too late and climbing an additional unnecessary 500 meters of elevation.

Optimistic footsteps.
These views eventually made me turn arouns. This is at roughly 2000m altitude and the trails I'd have to reach were a full 300 meters higher still. And hugging steep cliffs.
Switzerland. A farmer offering drinks to anyone passing by. Pay by feeding the piggy bank.

I retraced my steps back to the Teselalp and this time hiked up the correct trail. By the time I reached the Zwingli-Pass hut I had already climbed 1500 meters of elevation and descended 500. Yet despite my little detour I still made the par time signposted for reaching the hut from the valley ;-P The hut itself was supposedly already open but seemed completely deserted. Only few footsteps in the snow indicated that people had indeed visited it before. This season everything feels delayed by a month or so. We have had uncharacteristically bad weather and there's still a ton of snow in the mountains.

The Gierenspitz pyramid. I've climbed that one.
Altmann in the back. The snow needs to clear out some more, but there are some nice cliffs on it!
Kreuzberge. I wonder what my guidebooks have to say about them ;-P

It had been chilly and windy even in the village. Up on the mountain my t-shirt and windbreaker jacket were barely sufficient to preserve my body heat. Thus I stayed active and quickly continued on to the ridge, hiking towards the famous Saxerlücke. No other human around. But lots of marmots, chamois and some plump birds.

The ridge turned out to be a great observation post for all the beautiful limestone walls of the Alpstein range. So much to climb! I earmarked lots of mountains to look up in the guidebooks back home. Only once I reached the Saxerlücke did I stop for a rest and some food for the first time that day. I figured after almost 6 hours of non-stop hiking I had earned it ;-P

The trail was quite steep in places! Descending over rocks like here was actually pretty comfortable. The steep mud was much worse.
Saxerlücke.
One of the shit producers.

Descending from the mountain turned out to be long and a bit annoying. The first few hundred meters of trail crossed active sheep pastures and I had to wade through a slippery mixture of mud and sheep shit. Even after the pastures, the mud stayed with me and the trails required careful walking. The first village I reached was sufficiently tiny that it only gets a bus every hour. Not willing to wait I hiked along the road for a few kilometers until the next larger town. I arrived on the exact minute as a bus back to my car in Wildhaus. Made it back home in time to read the kids' bedtime story. Great day out that provided a lot of inspiration for future endeavors.

Muddy.
Wrong country? A sign on a shed next to the ruins of an old castle I passed.

26km, 1700m, 8h