Skiing Laax & Climbing Gallerie Amden

Our project manager from the New York office was visiting for a few days so the team had to give him the full Swiss experience. Cheese fondue on Thursday followed by a day of skiing in Laax on Friday (what a harsh workday!). Dense clouds made for bad visibility at some altitudes but provided beautifully dramatic vistas higher up. We even had some fresh powder from the night before and did a little bit of off-piste skiing. I believe the Swiss technical term for a day like this is "Huregeil!" ;-)

On Sunday Luigi, Silvia and I headed for the Gallerie Amden for some rock climbing. It started out well enough with us climbing Kurzprogramm 6a, Bonsai 6a+ and Djebel Amilah 6b+. The latter one made interesting by the fact that my 50 meter rope is just barely long enough and the belayer must stretch a bit to be able to lower the climber all the way to the ground. Good idea to tie off the end of the rope! We then migrated to the forest sector and I started up Opus I 6b+. The route completely kicked my ass. I fumbled my way most of the way up with lots of cheating and resting before finally giving up. Luigi managed to climb it cleanly with just a bit of cursing so I gave it another go on top rope. This time I figured out a sequence that might work for me, but still failed to send.

Luigi and Silvia on the top of the ladder leading to the gallerie.
Lowering from Djebel Amilah.
More overhanging than it seemed...

The route is quite technical and varied with three distinct cruxes. The first one requires a high foot placement to reach past an overhang. The tricky bit here is that once you pull yourself past the overhang you no longer see your feet and finding purchase is correspondingly difficult. The next difficulty is a move where you get a sharp crimpy undercling for your left hand and need to reach up with your right to a vertical pinch. This completely shut me down. My crippled right hand (I can't move the first joint of my middle finger at all, thanks to an accident) simply isn't strong enough to squeeze hard enough. My first workaround was trying to use it as a sidepull instead, but the foot placements aren't good enough for that. I finally found a solution involving a tiny knob that I could squeeze my thumb onto. Finally, the last crux section is a big slopery low undercling you need to use to keep pressure on a polished slippery foothold while reaching high around a bulgy protrusion. Really fun to execute once you've figured it out - the difficulty is mostly in your head because it's such an unusual move and the overhang feels like it's pushing you out. All in all a very interesting route, but that day it just crushed me.

Lake Walen.
Luigi in Djebel Amilah.
The final mini-roof before the last few vertical meters to the anchor.


Skiing Flumserberg

Ice falls are collapsing left and right and people are dying trying to climb what's left. All my regular climbing partners are travelling or otherwise unavailable. So I figured - When life gives you lemons, ... go skiing!

One of the closest resorts to Zürich is Flumserberg. I've only ever been there once and at the time it was so windy that only the lower slopes were open. Today however was a perfect Blue Jay Day and I got to ski almost every single run at least once. I even tried a bit of off-piste skiing. Snow conditions were good, although a few more days like this and the season will be over. And that despite the fact that today was my first day on skis this winter. Great day out - a few more like this and I'll have my ski legs back ;-)


Climbing Roter Punkt (6b+), Cheselenflue

After a week of warm, rainy and generally miserable weather most icefalls were no longer in good condition. Arne, Mark, Tereza and I were still eager to climb something, so we went to the Cheselenflue. A huge limestone face with lots of hard routes. I have already climbed the highlight, the Dr Blau Chäfer. Late last year Arne and I returned and ticked off Meteorit. This time we were going for the route Roter Punkt, the most difficult of the three.

Ascending from the fog in the valley.
The wall. Remember that icefall in the gully on the right...

We chose a South facing wall, thinking we'd have the best chances that it would be mostly dry this early in the year. The weather was gorgeous. Freezing air, but so much sun that we could mostly climb without wearing our jackets. Our theory was mostly correct and the sun melted the snow on the wall. What we didn't account for was all the falling ice this implied. Every couple of minutes we'd have a meteor shower of ice rushing down the wall. Big chunks would make a helicopter like whop-whop-whop sound before exploding with a cannon boom on impact. Scary.

The approach.
Mark dropped his helmet and had to climb an exciting rescue mission. The orange dot on the right.

Luckily our route was steep enough that the bombardements passed us without causing harm. Arne had a super strong day and onsighted the first 6b+ pitch. This featured an early crux only a few meters from the start before it traversed into a small roof requiring powerful moves. Great warmup. I got to lead the second, much easier 5c+ pitch. This was made more difficult by the fact that anything less than vertical was wet and icy. I had to scrape out a lot of snow and ice before I could find any purchase on the rock.

Picture perfect weather.
Me in the crux of the first pitch.

The third pitch is one of the best I've ever climbed. It's the namesake of the route Roter Punkt (red dot), referring to a single artificial hold that has been placed on a blank section of rock. It was Arne's lead again and he showed "Grosses Kino" (great performance). The pitch starts out with a long traverse to the actual start of the climb. In normal conditions this would be a complete non-issue and walking terrain. In wintery conditions it's a different matter altogether. You can't walk in wet slippery snow in climbing shoes so we balanced on a small ledge of crumbling rock instead. The last protection so far away that a fall would lead to a nasty 10 meter pendulum swing. Not nice.

Mark following through the overhanging finale of the first pitch.
Arne at the end of the traverse on the true start of the third pitch.

Once that had been overcome the real climbing starts. A sequence of powerful moves on small crimpers through an overhanging section before you reach a long flake affording fantastic lean back moves. This is followed by a short chimney and a traverse to the anchor. The traverse is on a downward sloping ledge. You need to keep pressure on your feet by pulling on low underclings. Again something you usually wouldn't think twice about, made terrifying by wintery conditions. Friction foot placements on wet downward sloping rock are scary! This pitch is more than 30 meters long, requiring 16 quickdraws and a lot of endurance.

Arne fighting his way up. Not even halfway yet.
Just a beautiful pitch.

The whole route is 7 pitches long, but we decided to bail from where we were. The next pitch would have been an easy 5a which meant that we'd have to dig through snow while being exposed to rock and ice fall from above. We had also spent way more time than we should have getting to this point, so it was getting late. Lastly, the 6b+ pitches required everything we had and the route still held an even harder 6c pitch in store. Thus we rappelled.

Me following on the third pitch.
Tereza hanging around on one of the few good rests you get.

Tereza and Mark made up the second rope team and Tereza put us all to shame by calmly leading all three pitches. Where we had been cursing and panting and calling for a rest she just cruised past. I guess that's what you get for training with the national climbing team all week long... Impressive performance.

Arne enjoying the rappel back to the ground.
That ice fall I told you to remember? This is what was left of it at the end of the day. Lots of loud booms from that direction.

Mark and Tereza stayed in the valley for the night. They brought their ski touring equipment and wanted to enjoy the beautiful full moon from their tent in the snow. Arne was headed for a day of skiing with friends from Germany while I went back to Zürich for a Dinner Krimi (theater performance during a four course dinner). Great weekend all around! I'll definitely return for a clean lead of the entire route ;-)

Mission (almost) accomplished.