Piz de Ciavazes (2828m) via "Micheluzzi & Buhl", VI, ~250m

We spent our summer vacation in in the Dolomites in South Tyrol. The idea was to escape the oppressive heat in Zürich to higher altitude. The plan worked out perfectly. Anita found us a beautiful place to stay, the Agitura Agua Biencia, a small family run wellness hotel and active farm in the Fassa valley. They produce their own cheese and thus have a bunch of cows. They also have pigs, chickens, donkeys, turkeys and free roaming ponies and alpacas/llamas. The valley also features the most spectacular and biggest children's playgrounds I have ever seen. Combined with a hotel pool and hot tub Leonie didn't know where to start. Which was of course the plan. Keep the kid busy so daddy can go climbing ;-P

Leonie improved her own climbing tremendously on this trip. In fact, the playgrounds are often surrounded by high rope parks and we had to constantly be vigilant so that she wouldn't just sprint up one of the obstacles. Unfortunately they were only allowed for kids above 120cm in size and 6 years of age.
"But daddy! That mountain is even bigger!". Oh yes! And we are very much gonna climb it together! ;-)
Playdates of a different kind.
Ponies would share the playgrounds with the kids.

Luigi, Silvia and Marzia stayed in the same valley at Luigi's parents' vacation home. Which provided me with a climbing partner, Anita with company and Leonie with a playdate. As the closest thing to a local, Luigi was in charge of picking the routes. For our "warm-up" climb he chose the Micheluzzi & Buhl route: 250 meters of grade VI trad-climbing up the Piz de Ciavazes (2828m). The fact that the route carries climbing legend's Hermann Buhl's name should have tipped us off to the fact that this would not be a walk in the park. Before the day was over we started swearing "fuck the ghost of Hermann fucking Buhl!". This became somewhat of a meme throughout the rest of the vacation - whenever the going got rough and we felt overwhelmed it was "fuck Buhl" and "fucking Buhl would have just walked up here". Conversely, whenever we felt strong we'd commend each other with "Buhl would be proud of you!".

The wall and route.
Luigi negotiating a small overhang.
Gaining height.

The first few pitches of the route went pretty much according to plan. We had to get used to the Dolomites style limestone and protecting the climb ourselves. One aspect of which, that I initially underestimated, is actually finding the route! Usually you can just follow the line of bolts up the wall. But what do you do if there are only very few bolts? You have to study the topo carefully and read the rock for the "natural" line. The path of least resistance that simultaneously offers options for placing gear. Takes some getting used to, but I really enjoy this type of climbing and wish for there to be more of it near our home in Zürich.

Still on the first half of the route. Good weather, good progress, good mood.
Luigi leading the crux traverse. Harder than it looks. There were lots of slings on the wall where you could tell people used them as holds.

Our choice of route stitches two different routes together. Only the second half joins the Buhl route and finishes with the famous Buhl dihedral. While we had the first half of the route to ourselves we got stuck behind a slow party of three for the second half. This was super annoying and even dangerous as we were racing the afternoon thunderstorm and dark clouds were already looming above us. Getting stuck on this wall in the rain would at minimum be severely uncomfortable. The party of three was led by an old guy who climbed with confidence and the elegance of long decades of experience. Turns out that he opened a few of the routes on this wall some 40 years ago. His climbing partners were an entirely different breed however. They were in way over their heads and struggled on every single move. Pulling on all the gear they could reach and taking every shortcut and cheat available to them they'd still struggle up the wall at a snail's pace. Super frustrating for us.

The road leading up to the Sella pass.
In the Buhl dihedral.
Yes, this is steep.

We finally topped out just in the nick of time when it started raining. Some twenty minutes later and the wall would have been unclimbable. The final few pitches up the dihedral were proper survival climbing where we were just going for speed and ignored elegance (still climbing in good style though and not cheating!). As is typical for the area the trouble doesn't stop at the top though. Getting down the mountain requires negotiating a long, exposed, via ferrata style trail and a few rappels. As I'd learn later, this was already as comfortable as descents get around here. I'd come to hate Dolomite style descents on later climbs - they are frequently by far the most dangerous and risky part of the entire climb.

Weather moving in. Afternoon thunderstorms are a very typical weather pattern here. They never last long, but are still enough to ruin a climb.
Getting wet on the hike out.
Mission accomplished.


Graue Wand (3172m) via "Conquest", 7a, ~395m (attempt)

We were planning something big for the weekend. Unfortunately the weather forecast was too uncertain and predicted severe thunderstorms in the afternoon for both Saturday and Sunday. So we tabled our epic for a later time and looked for alternatives. My suggestion was a super mellow climb at high altitude. The idea was to at least get acclimatized a bit. This was deemed too boring by the others and we set our eyes on "Conquest" on the Graue Wand instead. Graded 7a (VIII) it is anything but mellow.

Our sleeping arrangements: Mark, Sören, Luigi.
The small peak in the center is our objective. The sun is illuminating a triangular patch of the giant face with the crack.
Getting closer.

We drove up to the Furka pass on Friday after I had a comfortable dinner at home and put the kid to bed. We camped right at the Tätsch parking lot. A funny sight: Luigi enjoyed the full comfort of his car camper, including a therapeutic pillow, mattresses and down duvets. I brought my tent and thermarest. Mark slept on the ground outside. Mind you, that was his choice, he could also have joined either Luigi or me. In a way he might have had the best spot as we had a beautifully clear starry night. After a few hot and stuffy weeks in Zürich it was a real relief to finally have cold temperatures at night.

Lots of granite looming over Mark.
The first pitch. Harder than it looks!
The crux at the exit of pitch one.

We got up at 6 in the morning and were all packed and on the move an hour later. Our objective came into view fairly early on, but we still had quite a ways to hike. Past the Albert-Heim hut towards the graue Wand. Once we got there we saw another party getting ready to climb. Dang! So we waited around for them to proceed. A couple from Austria on their first climb of the season. He led the first pitch. After joking that the first pitch of a long route always felt at least two grades harder than it is, he cruised up with confidence. Super solid and smooth moves.

Mark and Luigi.
Vertigo. We're gaining height...

Then it was Mark's turn to lead the pitch for us. It turned into quite a fight and took the better part of an hour. Even as followers Luigi and I were huffing, cuffing and swearing. Definitely a stiff start! At nearly 3000 meters altitude everything feels just that crucial little bit harder. And the signature move for this pitch are laybacks which require full body tension and are generally quite pumpy.

Luigi complaining his way up our crux pitch.
Luigi and birds.
Mark and I following on the 6c pitch.

After that are a few easy slabby pitches before you reach a steep 6c. I had been struggling with a stomach bug and diarrhea even on the walk in. Now I felt super weak. Should have noticed that many of my desk neighbors at work had come down with something and so had Anita. I thought I had gotten lucky, but apparently not so much. This meant that I was basically a dead weight on the rope and only led one of the easy pitches. All the work was on Mark and Luigi.

Mark warned me that this would be a butt shot. I had no idea how bad though!
Strolling up the wall.

Luigi started up the 6c pitch. As is his custom he was talking to himself, complaining, whining, bitching and swearing all the way up. Mark and I just looked at one another and nodded: as long as Luigi is crying about how hard it is; how he's shitting his pants; and how he's about to fall any second now - he's fine. It's when he shuts up that you need to worry. And so he made a clean on-sight of the pitch. It's nearly 50 meters long, vertical and follows a system of beautiful flakes. Fantastic climbing. I could enjoy it even in my sickish state.

Luigi on a super comfortable belay ledge just below the headwall.
Mark leading the first half of the signature crack.
Just look at this fucker! That is steep!

The next two pitches are the "super-fessura" - the signature pitches of the entire route and wall. A nearly perfectly straight crack running straight up a vertical and even slightly overhanging 50 meter wall. It looks beautiful. And intimidating. After some hesitation and struggle Mark leads the first half. Very pumpy layback moves that you have to protect yourself. Luigi and I catch up to him.

Mark reaching our high point. The belay just below the 7a pitch.
How the route would have continued: a slightly overhanging crack that widens into a v-shaped off-width.
Rappelling back down.

At this point we are all physically tired, mentally drained and intimidated by the 7a pitch ahead. It's also 2pm and clouds are forming. It doesn't take much deliberation before we unanimously agree to bail at this point. Conquest kicked our asses ;-) We still climbed about 250 meters and 6 out of 9 pitches which makes for a respectable day of climbing even without gaining the summit.

Last rappel over the deep Bergschrund.
Thunderstorm over the Albert-Heim hut.

Just when we rappelled back to the glacier the thunderstorm hits us, confirming that we've made the right call. We get back to the car and drive back to Luigi's place where Silvia and Anita are waiting with the kids. We have a joint dinner and give the kids a thorough workout by romping around and thrashing the apartment. A great finale for a good day out. If it wasn't for the fact that Leonie vomited all over the place later that night. The stomach bug travels on...