Climbing Brüggler (s'Zigerträumli, 5c & Highway, 5b)

My brothers, their partners and baby were visiting us for a week before easter. It was planned as a hygge week of hanging out and chilling. In fact, my loving siblings went so far as to wish for me to be sick that week so I wouldn't drag them up too many mountains. So we enjoyed good food, an open fire BBQ, a cruise on lake Zürich, small walks with the kids and jointly worked on finishing one of our bigger puzzles. We also took the kids to the local swimming pool. It was Merle's first time ever and after some initial scepticism she quickly got into it and had a great time in the water. Leonie watched a bunch of older kids jump off the diving platforms and after a while walked out on it herself. She jumped off without hesitation - nevermind that she cannot swim. Torsten and I also started construction on a bunk bed for Leonie. A fun woodworking project that grew in ambition while we were talking about it. And of course I dragged him up a mountain ;-P

Torsten on the approach.
Mark scouting for the start of the route.

Torsten is not a climber. He is fit though and up for a challenge. So we recruited Mark as another experienced climber to make a three person rope team and headed for the 200 meter limestone wall of Brüggler. We've tried this particular climb before in 2013 but got rained off the mountain by a thunderstorm before we managed to reach the top. This time the weather turned out beautiful. It's pre-season and there's still a lot of snow at the base of the mountain.

Mark gearing up.
Torsten gearing up.
Discussing our route options.

We aimed for Meister Franz, a route that's graded mostly 5b and lower. Luck would have it that the only other person on the entire wall that day had picked exactly that route out of the dozens available. He was rope soloing, meaning he would basically have to climb every pitch twice. We didn't want to get stuck behind him so we chose a route further to the west. The five pitches of the s'Zigerträumli are consistently graded 5c and thus pose a significantly harder challenge for Torsten. It is also bolted as a trad route, meaning that only the belay anchors are well bolted. Mark and I only shared 4 tri-cams between us as mobile protection. We packed for the sports route we originally planned for, not a trad climb. This made the leads pretty dicey with long run outs. Brüggler features lots of natural hour glasses that you can protect using slings, so we improvised some semblance of safety.

Spread your legs and trust the rubber. Torsten learning technique ;-)
Crawling up the wall like ants. In fact we avoided one anchor because it was completely taken over by real ants.

I led the first pitch, Mark the second. After that we decided that it might be a tad too hard for a complete beginner and that we were taking too many risks with our meagre trad kit. So we traversed over into the route Highway. Graded at 5b and protected as a sports route this one was much more comfortable. Torsten was a champ and made it to the top with little issue and in good style. I tend to go on such outings packing two snickers bars and returning home with one still left. Torsten on the other hand brought a proper big lunch pack and was indulging at every anchor. This difference in approach led to a lot of mockery before and after the climb ;-)

A steep bit.
On the summit ridge.
Hanging around on the rappel. Walking off, while theoretically possible, would have been super uncomfortable and dangerous in climbing shoes as the steep and exposed trail is still covered in snow.
Hey mom!
Mark has accidentally discovered the Bergschrund. He nearly disappeared into it, but luckily didn't hurt himself.
Surfing down the slope.
Brüggler main wall in the background.
Working on a bed for Leonie and "v2.0".
The gang.
Most of the week was spent on activities like this.


Climbing Albbruck

We went cragging with the kids on Saturday. Anita was struggling with a bad cold, so I took Leonie to give mommy some time to recover. Andrey suggested Albbruck, just across the border in Germany. A new area for me. Usually I don't like gneiss very much because it tends to feel grimy and slippery. Not so here. The rock is beautifully structured and fun to climb. The crag is 5 minutes away from the village supermarket and a popular picnic destination. As such there were quite a few people around. Our own group was comprised of Björn, Andrey, Iljya, Nicole, Luigi, Silvia and the kids Marzia and Leonie. Between all of us adults, taking care of the kids was quite easy (thank you Silvia in particular!). I got to climb "Hassliweg" VI, "Dürligieger" VI and "Sapperlot" VII+.

Leonie exploring the place.
There's a nice fireplace right at the creek.
The place even features a (tiny) sandy beach!

Leonie was a champ for the entire trip. On the car ride in she was singing to herself. Once there she enthusiastically explored our rocky picnic spot and learned to negotiate the rough terrain. She even went barefoot into the bitterly cold creek. She and Marzia had a great time running around, throwing rocks into the water and just generally being outside. Luigi and Silvia brought a harness for kids and we set up a rope swing for them. Leonie enjoyed it tremendously. Later in the afternoon, when we did it again, she let all her limbs hang down limply, closed her eyes and swayed back and forth, her face to the sky. It looked very relaxed and very zen. We stayed for a total of four hours and by the end Leonie was so tired she fell asleep before we even left the parking lot. Success!

Luigi on "Dürligieger", Andrey getting ready.
My groupies. Leonie and Marzia would get all excited when they saw Luigi or me climb. "Daddy! Daddy!"
To quote Björn: "You've got the pack mule look down to a pat!"


Climbing Holzegg

My original plans for Saturday fell through because my climbing partner had to cancel at the last minute. Luck would have it that I had just met Christian at the climbing gym the night before. We got along well and he made a competent impression. So we improvised a new plan on the spot: Christian and I would team up and tag along Andrey and Iljya who were headed for Holzegg - an area I had never been to, but which sounded good on paper.

First impressions of the wall. A few other parties around.
I wonder if there's a route up that needle?

I picked everyone up in the morning and we drove to the cable car base station at Brunni, thinking we'd take that up to the ridge and start climbing 10 minutes later. Turns out it's between seasons, not quite ski season anymore and not quite summer yet, and thus the cable car was closed for maintenance. Serves me right I guess. I am usually the annoying person in the group who demands everyone hike up the mountain because a summit only "counts" if it was a valley to valley trip under one's own power. I was about to make an exception because we were headed for sports climbing at a crag, not aiming for a summit. Alas, we still ended up hiking up the mountain ;-)

Christian working out the moves through the roof.
Hanging around at the final anchor after a job well done!
Ugly Switzerland is ugly.

The crag exceeded my expectations. Top notch limestone; spectacular views; well protected and much longer routes than expected. Christian and I climbed the first pitch of "Häxäschuss" 5c for warm-up and for syncing on outdoors climbing technique and commands. Then we started up "Hoppla". Three pitches, graded 5b, 6a+, 6b+. We didn't have a real topo, only the names and grades for the routes. So when it was Christian's turn to lead the third and hardest pitch we contemplated the route ahead. Eyeballing a big roof above us, we figured the route had to traverse sideways out from under it. Turns out we had to climb straight through and over the roof instead.

End of March and it's almost too warm at 1500 meters altitude!
Lowering from the anchor below the roof.

Christian did an impressive job leading that crux and continued out of sight. I brought only a 50 meter rope, which turned out to be too short for this crag. He passed the halfway mark of the rope long before getting even close to the next anchor. No bailing now - he made it to the top without issue. Rappelling on this short rope turned into another puzzle. We had to "steal" an anchor from a neighboring route and improvise a halfway stop. In the end it took us three and a half maneuvers to reach the ground again. Meanwhile Andrey and Iljya had been climbing single pitches at the other end of the crag. We met up again and had an exhilarating time slipping and sliding down the mountain on shoes that were intended for a gondola ride and not a snowshoe hike. Overall a fantastic experience and I hope I have gained a new climbing partner in Christian.

Andrey in action.
Happy faces after a great day out.
Running down the slopes like two year olds. Leonie would approve.


Climbing Matlusch

We took advantage of the fantastic weather last weekend to meet up with Luigi and Silvia and take the kids climbing in Liechtenstein. Luigi chose Matlusch, an area neither of us had been to be before. It turned out be a great crag with bomber quality limestone rock and a nice selection of routes. Unfortunately the area was a bit too steep to have the kids run around. So we established a basecamp at a little creek in the valley before Luigi and I went off to climb. We did a bunch of warm up 5b/5c routes and before I headed up an unknown and pieced together route that felt to be in the 6a/lower 6b difficulty range. My 50m rope turned out to be too short, so Luigi traversed onto a ledge and we pieced together a way to lower to the ground.

Anita and Silvia hanging out.
Leonie exploring the creek. Training to negotiate rough terrain.
Luigi getting ready.

We returned to base where the kids had enjoyed playing in the rocky riverbed. Leonie insisted on holding her bare feet into the melt water and only backed off after a few minutes when it started hurting from the cold. We roped the kids up and had them "rappel" a boulder. Wide smiles from ear to ear when they felt like queens of the world. In the evening Ben came over to our place and we ordered pizza and watched Free Solo. Great times all around.

Nice views.
Leonie learning to keep her feet against the wall. "Leonie stark!" - you go girl!
Building cairns.


Skiing and Wellness in Zillertal, Austria

We spent the last week of February in the Zillertal in Austria. We stayed at the wellness hotel Theresa. Super nice. Fattening us up with five course meals every evening and an all-you-can-eat buffet during the day. Five pools, four of which allowed small kids. Leonie was in paradise and spent hours in the water every day. The hotel also offered free child care. Unfortunately the lady taking care of the kids botched the first meeting with Leonie and they never really got along well enough for us to leave them alone for the rest of the week. The play rooms were still super nice and Leonie enjoyed playing with the other kids and toys.

Our balcony. Not too shabby.
Live music for dinner. When the guy made a break, Leonie demanded I play. And was severely disappointed when I couldn't. What do you mean, daddy ain't omnipotent?!
Ohhh yeah!

We enjoyed "Kaiserwetter" for the entire week. Nothing but blue skies and sunshine. Only on the very last day did it fog in a bit and start snowing. That served to make saying goodbye easier for us ;-) The Zillertal is absolutely ridiculous in terms of skiing. I went to a different resort within 20 minutes of driving of our hotel every single day and still didn't cover all of them. Since this was my first serious ski outing for the season I thought I'd take it slow on the first day and go to one of the smaller resorts to warm up. I ended up covering 100 horizontal and 13 (!) vertical kilometers. Any I still didn't cover all of the runs.

Hard to decide...
...on a backdrop for selfies. So many options!

Leonie and Anita visited me on the slopes on two days and we took sleds down the mountain. Leonie was a bit sceptical at first. Her first experience ever on a sled was in Switzerland and she got so cold her face hurt. This time the sun was shining and we had better gear and a special creme for her face. She had a total blast and went "Hui!" around the corners.

One of the saunas. This one with a nice view.
Swim in the snow.

On my last day of skiing, while trying to cover every run in Mayrhofen, I stumbled across the Harakiri slope. At 78% it claims to be the steepest prepared run in the alps, steeper even than an Olympic ski jump. To drive that point home a guy came sliding and tumbling past me when I reached about the halfway point. He fell right at the beginning of the steep section and only stopped at the base, some 200 meters further down. Apparently no serious injuries, but seriously spooked. He was still calming his nerves in a group of friends when I was passing them again on my way up on the chair lift.

This was one of the smaller resorts. As a consequence I only shared it with a few ski schools and basically had all the red and black runs entirely to myself. No idea how they make that kind of utilization economically viable, but I had a total blast!
Sledging wears out little kids ;-)

Leonie made friends with one of the waiters who referred to himself as "der böse Mann". Now she keeps repeating how she wants to go on vacation with the evil man again. I hope the day care folks don't get this the wrong way and send child protective services our way ;-) Good times!

Lunch break at a ski hut. Leonie immediately took a liking to the apres ski music. Trivial lyrics and simple rhythms make it indistinguishable from children's songs. To wit, exhibit A.
Ritual suicide? No sign of that for me. Fun!
Snow and fog on the very last day.