2019-07-06

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.

Luigi.
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.
Mark.

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...