Eggstock (2449m) via “Sött mögli si” (5c+, 12 pitches, ~450m)

Andrey, Eduard and I want to take advantage of what is predicted to be the only good weather day this weekend and head out to Braunwald early on Saturday. It was a very spontaneous decision for me, only coming across Andrey by chance at Google's weekly TGIF celebration. Anita's friend Anne is staying with us for a couple of days and I had just given them the tour of the office and we were having our second round of beers. So the ladies decided to go sight seeing and window shopping in the city while we went climbing - I think we got the better deal ;-)

Comfortable approach. Ortstock (2717m) in the background.
Climbing is good for your neck.
Andrey following Eduard's lead on the first hard pitch of the route.

Andrey chose the route "Sött mögli si", ("Should be possible"), a 12-13 pitch 5c+/6a climb up the Vorder Eggstock (2449m) near the car free mountain village of Braunwald. The combination of train, funicular and cable car offers a very comfortable approach so that we are on the route around 10 in the morning.

Almost there...
Andrey leading a tricky traverse, moments before he fell.

The gneiss/limestone rock is of very mixed quality. The first two pitches are an easy, but annoying and annoyingly dangerous scramble up steep scree slopes. We cannot avoid dropping some rocks, swiped off by our ropes or feet. They come whizzing past the followers. It gradually gets steeper and better though. You only have to watch out on the grassy bands in between pitches.

Eduard enjoying the view.
The route book might need a replacement.

The climbing is very inhomogeneous, some pitches are almost trivially easy with walking sections while others are steep and tricky. Andrey takes a lead fall while traversing a steep slab. Luckily he's not far away from the last bolt and above an overhanging section, so no damage done. He continues on for a couple of meters but gives up and retreats back down. I finish the pitch - a steep slab that requires jamming your hands in a crack for holds.

Soloing up the final pitches to the summit.

We solo through the final 120 or so meters towards the summit. I feel a bit uncomfortable about this at first. The climbing is very easy and mistakes unlikely. However, in the beginning exposure is still great and falling would likely have fatal consequences. This makes you climb very deliberately on the brittle rock, careful not to break off any holds or drop stuff on your comrades.

On the way down, taking advantage of the Braunwald Via Ferrata.

From the summit we follow the Braunwald Via Ferrata back down. While I initially thought it would add to the experience it turns out to be mostly boring. We have our first beers and the first hot meal (or any meal really) of the day on the train back to Zürich. Great day, successful and fun climb. Now I'm sitting at my desk writing this on a rainy Sunday ;-)

Massive ladder.
Looking back: mission accomplished.


Wiwannihorn (3001m) via Steinadler (5b, 530m)

After the previous days epic on the Gross Öugstchummuhorn we get up at 7 o'clock in the morning to climb our main objective for the weekend: 13 pitches up the Wiwannihorn (3001m). Since this route faces south we are hoping for an easier time with less snow and ice than yesterday. The weather forecast isn't optimal, predicting rain and snow later in the day. The guide book explicitly warns against entering the route in unsure weather conditions as a retreat isn't always possible. Thus we decide to climb fast ;-)

Outhouse with a view. The only toilet available as the water supply for the other one was frozen.

First we need to get into our boots however. Andrey could literally pour water out of his when we came back yesterday. Both climbing shoes and mountaineering boots are still soaking wet, not even the snow stuck to them melted in the night. Sticking your feet in the shoes makes wet sucking noises like a pump. Curiously enough we experienced this as a relief and warm compared to our climbing shoes when we came down yesterday. All a matter of perspective/reference I guess.

Start of Steinadler.
Find the bolts!

We start up the route proper at 9:00 in the morning. The rock is mostly dry and this time we use our climbing shoes from the very beginning, making very good progress. The actual climbing is more sustained than yesterday and a lot of fun. Mostly slabby, with some very exposed sections and some nice cracks. We get into a very efficient rhythm and advance quickly. Having passed the crux pitch and all pitches rated 5+ we believe to only have easy cruising ahead of us. Very wrong. Again the ridge turns out to be more tricky than the actual climbing. It is very long, very exposed, very unprotected and very icy and snowy.

Yesterday's ridge. We climbed that fucker in the dark!

I have bloody ankles from breaking through deep snow in climbing shoes. Annoyed by the treacherous snow I try to avoid it and balance/jump from rocky island to rocky island instead. Takes some time and leads to an erroneous course. We reach the summit at 14:00, just when it starts snowing lightly. The last entry in the summit book is weeks old and celebrates being the last ascent of the season - not quite ;-)

Andrey admiring the exposure on the ridge.

From the summit it is a T5-T6 scramble down a well marked ridge to a rappel piste. By the time we are setting up the first rappel it starts snowing in earnest and the mountain above us disappears in leaden clouds. We only need three rappels this time, stretching the last one a little bit by (intentionally!) sliding off the end of our ropes and scrambling the last few meters.

Chrütighorn (3020m).

Back at the hut we learn from Felicitas that she had last seen the other climbing couple through her binoculars, still going up and still 2 pitches away from the summit ridge. They must have a hell of a time now, climbing in a white out with hours still to go ahead of them. Speed is safety! We organize our gear, warm up a bit and hike back down into the valley. I'm back at home, soaking in my bath tub at 23:00 in the night. Still glowing with pride at a very long, very adventurous and very successful weekend. Thanks Andrey for being such a good sport and partner!

The scramble down from the summit, well marked.
Last rappel for the weekend.
Beautiful dusk.


Gross Öugstchummuhorn (2924m) via Silbermantel (5b+, 250m)

Andrey and I take an early train to Ausserberg on Saturday. We want to spend a night in the Wiwanni hut and climb in the area. The 1500m of elevation gain and about 10km of distance should take 4:50h according to the sign at the train station. We make it in 2:50h, beating the time posted for the descent, impressing even the hut's steward, Felicitas. Since the weather is perfect and it's still early in the day we take a quick look around and decide to climb the Gross Öugstchummuhorn. A glance at the topo and we decide to go for Silbermantel, the longest route on the mountain and at the same time the most direct line to the summit.

Wiwannihorn (3001m) - the objective for Sunday.

The approach from the hut should normally take 55 minutes. We spent almost two hours on it, breaking trail through deep snow, often breaking in up to our waists. We reach the base of the climb at 15:00. This means it'll be very tight making it before sundown, as the climb supposedly takes 3+ hours in good conditions and conditions look everything but good. It is icy, wet and snowy. I dig away the layer of snow on the first couple of moves with bare hands only to uncover the rock underneath it sheathed in blank ice. Doesn't make for particularly easy climbing.

Wiwannihut on the ridge.

We decide to climb in mountaineering boots. Climbing shoes are simply too uncomfortable and cold. Finding bolts is an issue as they are often covered in snow. I lead one particularly exposed 30m pitch where I clip two bolts in the very beginning and then accept a huge runout before reaching the next anchor. All the while the couloir next to our route is very active, sending down a constant shower of rocks, ice and snow.

Gross Öugstchummuhorn (2924m) - our route starts right of the couloir with the traces of rockfall on the snow just left of the image center and heads straight for the summit.
A lot of toil even getting there.

Leading through a narrow chimney I take off my backpack and leave it for Andrey to retrieve. This turns out to be a mistake, as following while carrying two backpacks is pretty much impossible. Andrey manages to drag it half way up the pitch as a kind of haul bag hanging from slings, but then has to give up. So he lowers me down and I climb half the pitch again, retrieving my pack. In general, climbing at almost 3000m altitude, with a backpack weighing 15-20% of your body weight, in mountaineering boots and on exposed snowy, wet and icy rock does make quite a difference to climbing the same grade in the gym. Who would have thought?!

The first bolt - barely visible with all the snow.

The second but last pitch is the crux. It's wet and we finally decide to switch to climbing shoes. It would have been seriously tricky without. We top out at 18:00, half an hour of daylight left. The summit is a narrow ridge with a lot of snow. According to the summit book ours is the first ascent in a month. We cannot go back down the route we came up and thus start climbing along the ridge. This is the diciest and scariest part of the entire climb. We are climbing on a short rope, slinging it around flakes for protection where possible, but often having nothing solid between the two of us. It is getting dark rapidly and we use our head torches for scrambling through lose snow hanging on near vertical walls.

Andrey on the lead.
The crux pitch. Bolts leading through the wet/icy streak.

When we finally reach the rappel piste Andrey's head torch is nearly dead and only gives off a slight glimmer. Doesn't really matter as he drops it down the wall anyways. As luck would have it we find it two rappels later, caught on a small ledge and still glowing. Once we reach the base of the wall and the steep snow slope Andrey loses his backpack and we watch it merrily slide down almost a hundred meters into the dark. To make matters even worse it was open and spilled its contents. Luck is on our side again though and we manage to find and collect everything but his drinking bottles.

Andrey hanging around.
Andrey just below the summit.

We arrive back at the hut at 22:00 in the evening - long past dinner time. Felicitas is awesome though and re-heats the food, providing us with a full three course meal. Very much appreciated! By now we've climbed 2000m and hiked 15km, hardly eating anything. We are the only guests in the hut except for a French speaking couple from Montreux. They are studying from books. Andrey gets the price for most hardcore of the day because he actually carried up a giant hardcover book on machine learning and about ten thousand pages of German course material, intending to study in the evening (he dropped that plan though ;-)).

Rappelling in the dark is so much fun!
A full moon lighting the way home.
Four people in a dormitory for 50 - luxury!


Engelberger Rotstock (2818m)

Linus and Gintare flew in from Sweden for a couple of days. They invited a bunch of people for a hike to the Sustli mountain hut. First however, we went for our traditional Friday night climbing at the gym followed by beers and pizza at the Pimp Palazzo. The weather forecast was giving us mixed signals talking about snow and rain so the mood was a bit indecisive. Hanna showed up sick and thus began our game of "Ten Little Indians". Early next morning the remaining crew of Linus, Gintare, Sandra, Björn, Sasa, Andrey, Ben, Håvard and I met at the train station. About to drive off we received a call from the hut informing us that the pass was closed because of too much snow and the hut unmanned.

Håvard & Gintare
Björn & Sasa

Seeing our enthusiasm and motivation for the weekend dwindle quickly I called the Rugghubel hut. I have been there before and knew it should be accessible. They could only give me a very non-committal answer, saying the hut was manned but the trail possibly inaccessible because of avalanche risk. So we sat in a café waiting for the promised call back. When this didn't come I again called, again with the same non-information in response. We decided to go anyway.

Håvard was the only one who brought (and used!) skis. Walenstöcke in the background.

Sandra turned out to be the next Little Indian to fall by the wayside. She got severely nauseous, developing a fever and shivering. She returned from Engelberg by train. The remaining crew of eight hiked up to the hut. There were patches of snow all the way down to the village, but the trail was in good condition. We witnessed some minor snow slides but nothing to be concerned about.

The sun was shining, proving the forecast wrong. We still got a little wet from the melting snow dripping off leafs while hiking through the forested parts. When we arrived at the hut we got a room all to ourselves, a rare luxury in SAC type dormitories. We also got beautiful "sea of clouds" vistas over the Engelberg valley. We spent the evening playing board games and drinking "Saft vom Fass".

The Engelberger Rotstock is the pyramid on the far left.

Enjoying a beautiful sunrise during our breakfast at 7 we head out to climb the Engelberger Rotstock (2818m) around 8 in the morning. A peak I have tried, and failed, to climb twice before (once, twice). An hour or so into the approach Linus and Gintare decide to call it quits and turn around, leaving us with six people.

At the Engelberger Lücke.

The weather is picture perfect - deep blue skies. The last week brought about 20cm of fresh snow with the last night adding another 2-3cm. Yet we still don't have to use our snow shoes since another group of hikers from the hut has broken trail for us. Very convenient! We reach the Engelberger Lücke, a pass at 2686m altitude. This is where our next three Little Indians, Sasa, Björn and Håvard decide to turn around. The idea of scrambling up the steep summit ridge without crampons didn't sit well with them.

Andrey coming up the summit ridge.
Ben, Andrey and me on the summit.

So it is that only Andrey, Ben and me gather around the summit cross in pristine, untouched snow at 11 in the morning. We are rewarded with gorgeous views and an enjoyable scramble.


For the way down everyone chooses a different mode. Linus and Gintare hiked all the way down with a big head start. The group of three that turned from the pass take a cable car for half of the distance and so does Ben. Andrey and I try not to make the others wait for too long and run down the mountain. We manage to arrive at about the same time as Ben and the entire expedition meets in the park to return home. A very international crew too, in the original gang of 10 we had Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Lithuania, Germany, Croatia, Poland, the USA and Canada represented with only one dual citizenship ;-)

Andrey having fun in the snow.

For an expedition that nearly didn't happen at all and was "planned" in two minutes on a parking lot I think the weekend turned out rather well! As Ben said: "Sometimes you just can't let a little snow get in your way". Thanks to the gang for indulging my crazy ideas and unwavering enthusiasm about climbing things no matter what.

~25km, ~1850m up and down

The same spot on Saturday...
...and Sunday. Notice the difference?
Reunion - chilling in the sun.