2019-06-01

Gelmerfluh, "Sagittarius", 6b, ~400m

An entire weekend of glorious weather. Arne, Luigi, Mark, Piotr and I decide to take advantage of this and climb at the Gelmerfluh. The Grimselpass hasn't opened for the season yet, but it is passable up until the hydro electric dam. This is all we need and we figure the fact that it's still early season for the high country means there'll be fewer climbers on the wall.

On the approach. We traverse the snow band into the wall and start climbing roughly where there's a gap in the snow.
The stoke is high at the start of the route!
Piotr on the sharp end.

Mark, Piotr and I rope up to climb Sagittarius. A great classic on the wall. Luigi and Arne have already climbed this one and go for the neighboring Savoir Vivre instead. The routes share both the start and the top, which makes them a perfect pair to climb simultaneously. Our strategy is to lead in blocks and Piotr does the first few warmup pitches. He's recovering from tennis/climbers elbow and doesn't feel fit to lead the harder pitches. His foot slips early on the first pitch and he takes a fall. Harmless, and he recovers quickly and leads the rest of his block without issues.

Luigi, crawling upwards in a sea of slabs.
Spiderman Mark.
Our entire rope team of Piotr, Sören and Mark visible in this picture.

After that Mark and I take turns on the sharp end of the rope. It works out that I get to lead the famous seventh pitch: a 6a+ 30m splinter crack. Absolutely gorgeous. Climbing doesn't get any better than this. Definitely one of the top three pitches I have ever climbed. The pitch leading into that was already quite a spectacle. "The black corner" 6a+ requires powerful athletic moves and a super delicate traverse on a blank slab. Unfortunately I screwed up my lead on that one. I was led astray by the way the route is bolted and was looking for a solution too high up. I climbed up and down a few times, trying to find purchase on the smooth slab. Eventually I gave up and loaded the rope just a tiny bit to make it across. Super annoying as it spoiled a clean red-point. Turns out there was a much better solution just a meter further down. C'est la vie.

Piotr sneaking up on a tiny ledge.
Arne and Luigi.
Blank slabs and nice flakes in "Savoir Vivre".

Mark gets to lead the crux 6b pitch. A short traverse under a roof. No footholds at all, you can only smear your feet on the granite. The handholds are pretty marginal too, so you need good balance for a reachy move around the corner where it continues with a mantle move onto a slab. A short, but intense, pitch. Mark leads the next pitch too, the final 6a "slab dance" on delicate footholds and tiny crimpers before the terrain gets steeper and more structured.

Gaining height. The final few moves of the fantastic splinter crack of pitch 7. Climbing doesn't get any better than that.
Oooooh yeah!
Arne above the giant hollow flake.

The final batch of pitches all feel easy compared to what came before them, even if some of them are nominally still graded 6a. We speed through them, topping out a little over five hours after starting the climb. A pretty good time, given that we're a party of three and the guidebook suggests 5 to 7 hours of climbing. We have a well deserved break for snacks while waiting for Arne and Luigi to catch up to us. They are not far behind and before long we start the long descent, rappelling back down the way we came.

Mark and Piotr following up towards the crux pitch.
Mark leading the 6b crux traverse.
Some footholds are worse than others.
The handholds to go with those feet. The right hand is pretty good, but the left is a tiny crimp and you have to let go of the right to make progress...

We rappel as a group of five, sending two people at a time on a single strand each. To make this safe we fix the ropes at the anchor. The last person to rappel, the odd fifth, undoes that and performs a regular rappel on both strands at the same time. The technique is fast and efficient and barely slows us down compared to rappelling as just a regular party of two. We do learn that Mark's fancy new 7.7mm ropes, which we affectionately call "shoelaces", make it very difficult to tie a prusik that actually bites. Combined with the fact that most belay/rappel devices are designed for thicker ropes makes it so that you have to be extra careful on the way down.

Cruising terrain. Plaisir climbing at its best.
After finally leaving the slabs behind us the terrain gets steeper but much more structured.
Mark having a good time. As witnessed by Arne in the neighboring route.

On my commute back from work on Friday I crashed my bike when a jogger forced me to reduce my turn radius a little too much. This meant I was climbing with a bruised right hand, elbow and shoulder and an injured heel. By the time we started rappelling my foot hurt so much that I prefered to go barefoot. Five+ hours in tight climbing shoes had a similar effect on the others, so before long most of us were barefoot. Somewhat ironically, considering we were at 2000 meters altitude surrounded by glaciers and snow, the rock was almost painfully hot from the sun. I don't have my summer feet yet, not having spent a lot of time barefoot this year ;-)

Hanging around on a comfy belay spot.
Mark negotiating an overhanging block.
Piotr.
Sagittarius:
5a, 5c+, 6a, 5c+, 5c+, 6a+, 6a+, 6b, 6a, 6a, 5c+, 6a, 5b
Savoir Vivre:
6a+, 5b, 6a, 6b, 6a, 6a+ (6c), 6a, 5c, 5c, 5c+, 5c, 5b+, 5a

I think Mark was the only one in the entire group who pulled off a perfectly clean red point ascent. Congratulations! Overall this was another perfect day out in the mountains. Fantastic route, beautiful weather and fun company. What more could you ask for? Thanks everyone!

Summit!
View from the top.
Action photographer.
A sofa with vertigo inducing views.
Mark and Luigi waiting their turn to rappel.
It's a long way down...
Many rappels later on the final slabs.
Reaching the snow fields.
Arne, demonstrating proper alpine ice tool technique.
Mission accomplished!

2019-05-18

Cragging at the Gallerie Amden

I had the strongest day of climbing in a long time at the gym on Friday. I onsighted a 7a and a bunch of 6c and 6c+ routes. Even at my best I have not been able to climb much better than that. Considering that my climbing time has been reduced significantly since we became parents this made me feel pretty good about my climbing.

Lake Walen and the village of Weesen.
Luigi and Christian.
Me.

The next morning Christian, Luigi and I went to the Gallerie near Amden above lake Walen. The weather forecast predicted thunderstorms later in the day, so we chose this convenient and non-committing crag. It's very well frequented which means the limestone tends to be a bit polished from all the wear. It's also steep and the climbing on small ledges with few big features. Whatever ego boost I got from climbing in the gym the night before was quickly eradicated by climbing on the rock. I only had enough energy to try three (long) routes and the hardest one, a 6b, rejected all my attempts at progress. Quite humbling. One soothing factor was that Christian, who'd been at the gym with me, wasn't faring much better. Only Luigi had a strong showing and burned through a bunch of routes.

Luigi.
Luigi attempting the optional 7b extension of a route. It's a boulder problem of just two moves, but none of us could figure it out.
Luigi in cruising mode.
This is a weird crag as it is literally on top of a road. You are standing on the avalanche/rockfall protection for the road.

2019-04-18

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.