My team at work has gained a few new members who are located in Beijing. We arranged for an all hands meeting for one week in June. So we all flew to China from New York, Mountain View and Zürich. At nearly 22 million people Beijing is by far the biggest city I've ever been to. It was also my first time to Asia. I'm still digesting, but a few observations jumped out at me:

Zack leading us down some dark back alleys to sell our kidneys.
All my ducks in a row. Photo by Matthias.

The air is incredibly bad. I don't deal well with heat and when we landed it was in the mid 30° degrees celsius. Add the smog to that and my eyes burned and I got nauseous and dizzy as soon as I went outside. Locals shrugged it off and suggested I come back in winter when it's really bad. Objectively the air quality index was at medium warning level, suggesting limiting strenuous outdoor activities but otherwise no restrictions. Lucky for me it rained halfway through the week, improving both the temperatures and air significantly.

The Forbidden City. Photo by Matthias.
Photo by Matthias.

Traffic is crazy. Our airport taxi spent the entire ride to the hotel on the emergency lane, honking and cutting through off-ramps and on-ramps. People would stop in the middle of the highway to drop off passengers. Scooters would go every which way - including straight into oncoming traffic. Whenever we had to cross a street as pedestrians we'd ignore the traffic lights (as most everybody else was doing) and simply wait for a critical mass of people to accumulate and then follow the throng into the intersection.

Photo by Matthias.

That said, Beijing has awesome bicycle lanes on nearly every road. They are the width of a full lane and separated from the cars by a knee high fence. They are also extremely well utilized with bikes and e-scooters zipping past. Every sidewalk is lined with thousands of rental bikes which you can get by simply scanning a QR code with your phone. There seemed to be hardly any personal bikes. We learned that these bike sharing companies have only been around for a few years and that they put ten thousands (!) of new bikes into circulation every week (!). The scale and speed at which things are happening here boggles the mind.

Smog? I don't know what you are talking about. Maybe that's why the locals wear masks?

Despite visiting all the super touristy places (Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Summer Palace) we saw few western tourists. I had a Chinese tourist ask me to take a selfie with him and two women chat me up for a beer because they wanted to brush up their English. Apparently even in the worldly capital my cowboy hat and white boy face was still enough of a novelty to be interesting. We even had the occasional kid staring or a random security guard walk up to us on the subway and take a picture (although, who knows, that might have been something else ;-)).

Never ending rows of rental bikes.

The entrance to the Forbidden city has 30 parallel kiosks for buying tickets and still you are queuing for half an hour and more. It's weird to stand taller than almost anybody and look across a sea of black shocks of hair. That seems to be the only hair color available. Size had consequences in other places too - some toilets seemed to be Kindergarden size and the sink in my hotel room barely reached my groin. On the older subway trains I'd bump my head in the door and had to duck under handrails on the ceiling.

The subway system is super efficient and fast. There's a train every few minutes. Every single person, from the kids to the elderly has a modern smartphone and apparently connectivity on the trains is perfect as everyone is dabbling all the time. Notable on the trains was the absence of something: from major cities like Berlin, San Francisco or Zürich I'm used to interesting train rides. There's always something going on - a street musician, a beggar, a drunk person sleeping in the corner, a student trying to get an Ikea couch home, a stag party or a bunch of nudists casually walking by. Not so here.

From an arrogant Westerner's point of view I was expecting the Chinese internet would be severely crippled and barely usable. This was true - almost none of my apps and only a handful of my frequented websites worked (crucially, Google doesn't work!). However, the Chinese equivalent of the services I was missing seemed to be quite sufficient indeed. And in fact, in many ways seemed to be superior. As I understand credit cards have already been surpassed by mobile payments for example. It seems it might be just as likely that WeChat will eat WhatsApp and Facebook than the other way around. Exciting.

The food was great. Google offices are famously known for their cafeterias, but we also explored the local cuisine from street food carts all the way up to high end restaurants with several waiters per table and everything in between. I sampled "Hutong explodes the lamb", "Pine nuts detonation santian", "Wok-seared lab chops" that were really fish, hot pots, authentic Peking duck, frogs and other exciting dishes. In the end I gained a kilo during my stay there.

Only in China: an entire city block of skyscrapers under construction. Growing by a few stories every day.
The iconic CCTV headquarters.

A big thank you to the Beijing crew for being great hosts and introducing us to this great city and culture!


Girenspitz (2253m) via Toblerone, 6a, 300m

Andrey had discovered this enticing picture of the Girenspitz, a near perfect summit pyramid, a few years ago. It had lingered on our todo list until we finally decided to climb it on Saturday. Mark, Andrey, Luigi and I drove to Wildhaus where we parked the car at the base of the cable car. We were still organizing our gear when a voice over speaker prompted us to please board the cable car as it was about to leave. We had no intention of cheating our way up the mountain. Thus I had an awkward discussion with the disembodied voice - feeling like a crazy person speaking into the air with no idea where the microphone might be hidden. With the threat of being towed away I parked the car a few hundred meters down the road and we finally started hiking up the mountain.

Flowery canyon on the way up.
More grass than rock!

It's a well maintained trail that climbs for about 900 meters of altitude. We met a few interesting folks on our way up. One guy was wearing nothing but his underpants and hiking boots while his partner carried a backpack and regular hiking attire. Another party of two had one guy going up the mountain in rubber boots. Both groups were fast and sped past us.

Mark leading the first proper pitch of the day.
Andrey and Sören.
Me leading the 6a crux pitch.

Despite a good weather forecast our peak was shrouded in clouds. The first six pitches are not really climbing at all but more scrambling in steep grassy terrain interspersed with a few low rock barriers. Andrey and Luigi made one rope team and Mark and I the second. Since the pitches were so easy and protected with only a single bolt each anyway we simul-climbed them and didn't bother with the anchors.

Artsy summit book.
Andrey coming up the summit ridge.
Mission accomplished.

After a huge low angle slab proper climbing starts. First following a crack up a steep slab and then along a corner into a system of cracks. The limestone is of very dubious quality with lots of loose choss. This led one person to leave a comment in the summit book: "Schöne Griffe, entweder zum mitnehmen oder grün und weich für den Salat..." (roughly translated as: "Nice holds. Either to take home or green and soft for the salad..."). There's a lot of truth to that. Especially the final few pitches were quite dicey. No protection and tufts of grass as holds. Maybe it's because of this that the summit book contains only about ten entries per year.

Looking back.
Hiking out. Churfirsten on the horizon.
The route.

From a climbing point of view the route is a mixed bag and not particularly rewarding. The unique shape of the mountain and the views from the summit are quite spectacular though and we had a great time. Rappelling less-than-vertical terrain is a bit annoying as managing the ropes becomes difficult. When Mark got lost trying to find the next rappel anchor Andrey commented drily: "Don't worry, it won't rain before Wednesday!", implying we'd abandon Mark on the wall ;-)

Nasty fuckers!

Once back down a nasty surprise awaited me. I had left my big backpack at the base and while we were climbing chamois must have gotten to it and nibbled away at all the salty bits, causing major damage.