Gross Bielenhorn (3210m) via "Niedermann-Anderrüthi", 6b, ~350m

A heatwave is rolling over Switzerland. Temperatures are expected to reach 37°C later this week. No better coping strategy than escaping to the high country. So that is what Mark, Luigi and I did. We met at six on Sunday morning and drove up to the Furkapass. Curiously there were lots of people camped out on the winding road up to the pass. Turns out we picked the exact day of the final stage of the Tour de Suisse that crosses the Furkapass among others.

We climb the red one on the left.
"Snow on the approach".
Hiking up.

The Sidelenhut has only been open for a week and mentions on its website that there was still "snow on the approach". No kidding. We were breaking trail straight from the parking lot. We reach the hut after about an hour, rope up and continue over the glacier to the base of the Gross Bielenhorn West face. A massive, and massively steep, hunk of granite. There's still so much snow that we skip half of the first pitch by climbing up over the Bergschrund.

Mark, still roped up for glacier travel.
The snow field is rather steep.
Later in the season this part would already be rock climbing.

We have set our eyes on the Niedermann-Anderrühti, a great classic route. Niedermann has bagged a lot of first ascents and this is considered one of his masterpieces. We had a personal recommendation for the route that said: "Don't trust the grades! I was crying on the route!". By a strong climber, no less. Thusly inspired I led the first pitch, linked it into the second and startup up the third. The latter by accident rather than intent. I simply missed the anchor. I run out of rope and steam and have to improvise an anchor in the middle of the pitch.

Mark demonstrating layback technique.
Good footholds...
The dihedral of pitch three. You just have to admire this thing! Beautiful!

Many granite routes are relatively low angle in the beginning, consisting of huge slabs polished by glacier ice. The primary skill for those types of routes is delicate footwork on tiny crystals. This route has quite a different character. It's steep and physical. The primary move required here are laybacks: hands and feet to the same side, with hands pulling on small cracks to keep pressure on the feet. Very pumpy. Very fun.

Fantastic belay ledge just before the crux pitch.
Balcony with a view. The Hannibalturm way down below my feet is a respectable multi pitch climbing destination on its own. From our vantage point it just looks insignificant and quaint.

All three of us struggle with the altitude. Going directly from a desk job in Zürich to hard physical exercise at 3000+ meters altitude is not the best acclimatization strategy. We have a few minor slips, but overall manage to climb the entire route in good style. Difficulties are very sustained with most of the ten pitches going as 6a, 6a+ and the crux at 6b. Three pitches in particular stand out to me: the endless dihedral of pitch three; the pumpy chimney with beautiful crystal formations half way up; and the final pitch. Most of the route is exposed to the west and we were getting roasted by the sun. For the final pitch you traverse around the corner to the North side and suddenly find yourself in an ice box. The difference is stark. The final pitch is also peculiar in that it is a sequence of very diverse and challenging boulder problems with comfortable rests in between. Es lebe die Abwechslung!

Luigi leading the crux. Pumpy laybacks at first, followed by a bit of dancing.
Only one more pitch to go.
Mark signing the route book for us.

The route has been re-bolted in 2005. They used the drill only very sparingly, so some pitches of 40+ meters only feature a small handful of bolts. This is exactly as it should be: solid bolted anchors for safe belaying and rappelling but otherwise you still need a full set of cams to protect the climb yourself and keep a sense of adventure. The abundance of cracks makes placing gear a joy too. Impressive how they managed to climb this in the 50s using wooden blocks and self made pitons for protection! It takes us about five and half hours to top out and another two to get back down to the snow. We finally reach the car by 8pm, tired, but happy and super satisfied with a great day out!

The book has been around since 2005 and there are many pages left. Not too many ascents...
Looong way down. We basically came straight up from where I'm pointing.
Obligatory summit selfie.
Luigi bouncing around.
Looking back. Towering granite.
Until next time!

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