Ice Climbing Campsut

Another weekend, another trip to the Avers valley for ice-climbing. This time we chose Campsut as our destination. The waterfall is conveniently located only a few hundred meters away from the parking spot next to the road. The topography makes this safe from avalanches. However, there is a giant icicle forming on the overhanging rock above the waterfall. Lots giant blocks of ice at the base of the fall are a reminder that you definitely want to watch out for that one.

Early morning with beautiful clear skies.
On the short approach.
Getting ready in a sheltered spot.

We started in groups of two, Luigi and me on one side and Arne and Mark on the other. Luigi started on the harder part with a lot of enthusiasm. And then got shut down by the brittleness of the ice. When we started to climb it was -17°C. Cold enough to make the ice hard and shatter like glass. A lot of work making progress in these conditions and many of our ice screws for protection were of sub par quality. Luigi got pumped and retreated halfway up the line. We kept at it for a few more attempts, establishing a veritable highway of hookable holes and steps on the lower part. Eventually Arne came over and gave it a shot. He led the final few meters to the anchor and we finally established a complete line to the top.

Me, before we managed to drive the rope all the way up. This would eventually be a 60 meter pitch that required both ropes tied together.
Mark wasn't feeling super well and sat out some attempts.
An old Abalakov anchor frozen into the ice.

Another party showed up later and we swapped top ropes for a bit. It was a day were nobody seemed super keen on leading (I was a top rope hero all day...) and instead we just practiced running laps on top ropes. Including some games like climbing the rock, climbing super thin, delicate sheets of ice or trying to ascend the easier lines without ice axes. In the end I totalled maybe 220 meters or so.

Curtain of icicles.
We climbed this pillar on the left.
Arne driving the ropes up. The weird flakes in the foreground were quite an experience to climb. You can't really protect them using screws, but on top rope you can try carefully hooking your way up without breaking the delicate structure.
Me and Luigi.
Caveman Sören.
Arne. Spindrift on the right. Giant icicles of Doom on the left. Knot in the rope proving a long pitch.
Thron. Not in great condition. In fact, we got worried about a party of two we saw start up in the morning. Their car was still parked at the side of the road, their backpacks clearly visible at the base of the fall but the climbers nowhere to be seen. This is strange on a climb where you can see the entire line of ascent and descent from the road. We informed the local climbing hostel to keep an eye out for them.


Ice Climbing near Cresta

Luigi is obsessed with ice climbing, it's all he's been talking about the past few weeks. He's monitoring temperatures obsessively, reads all the forums where people discuss conditions and organizes his family outings to locations that allow him to observe the ice forming. Thus, as soon as it looked at all feasible, we went to sample the conditions for real. Arne, Luigi and I drove up to the Avers valley and scrambled down the steep snowy slope into the canyon of the Ferrera creek. The ice was already nicely formed, if a little thin and brittle in places. Luigi led the easiest looking line and installed a top rope so we could all get a few practice runs in. I climbed five variations for a total of maybe 150 meters of climbing. Including the pillar in the middle of the image. Amazing, the kind of confidence a top rope inspires ;-)

On the approach.
The crag. Sören on ice.
View from above.
Arne hacking his way up.
Winter wonderland.
Summit selfie.
Curtain of icicles. We climbed the pillar on the left.
Arne on the pillar.
Not everyone makes it through the winter. It's a very remote and wild valley.
Thron forming. The crown jewel in terms of ice climbing in this valley. Not yet fattened up enough.


Clariden (3,267m) via West Ridge

I had an intense couple of work weeks. On top of that, Lukas was teething or unwell for other reasons. None of us had gotten more than a few hours of sleep per night in days. So at first I declined when Luigi asked me to join him, Mark and Arne for climbing a North face on Friday. He kept nagging me, trying to convince me by portraying the Clariden North face as an "old men's climb" and a walk in the park. I didn't really believe him, but in the end my fear of missing out got the better of me and I agreed to join.

Fun driving up the Klausenpass. It was closed past Jägerbalm (1,538m), but the road was iced over even here. Crossing it on foot to take a leak turned out to be an exciting expedition.
Dinner is ready!
Morning mood.

Preparation was a mad rush. I threw together my gear during the short lunch break between meetings on Friday. Leonie and Lukas "helped" me enthusiastically. It was chaos and I could only hope that I hadn't forgotten, or the kids carried away, anything essential. I endured the last few meetings for the day and headed straight from the video call into the car.

Our camp right at the pass. On the terrace of the (closed) restaurant in fact. It was the most level spot ;-)
Getting light.
First steep section.

Luigi drove us up the Klausenpass for as far as that was still possible. The pass is closed, but you are still allowed to drive it at your own risk up to the boom at Jägerbalm (1,538m). That's where we parked the car and sorted our gear. The idea was to hike up to the pass at nearly 2,000 meters altitude and set up camp there. Sleep for a few hours, climb in the morning.

Beautiful blue skies.
Our original route. The North face. Go up on the right of this image, traverse across all the way to the left and climb the snowy couloir straight towards the summit. Next time.
Arne needed good footwork - having forgotten his crampons.

We set up camp directly on the terrace of the closed restaurant at the pass. This offered the best protection from the wind, a perfectly level spot to pitch the tents and even a sheltered and mostly snow free "kitchen". It was here that Arne to his horror discovered that he had forgotten his crampons at home. This completely ruled out climbing the North face for him. We discussed for a bit and agreed to stay as a group and attempt the normal route up the West ridge instead. Wile this would ordinarily also require crampons, it at least seemed possible without them.

Flatlanders must endure below the clouds while we get to enjoy the sunshine.
Onwards to the ridge!

I had another miserable night. This time not because of the kids, but because my old gear, with a down sleeping bag that had seen a few too many washing cycles, turned out to be insufficient for sleeping at altitude in winter. I donned most of my clothes but still froze because my thin mat didn't insulate me sufficiently from the ground. Luigi complained about a cold bum after sitting on my mat for even just a minute while donning his boots. At least with our change of plans we didn't have to start in the middle of the night anymore and could have a proper breakfast before heading up towards the West ridge.

Arne gaining the fake summit.
Balancing down the ridge from the fake summit towards the real one.
Some scrambling on rocks. Protected by heavy chains.

I was stuggling pretty badly. Arne's mistake of forgetting his crampons might very well have saved this expedition from disaster. The North face would have been *much* more committing and more challenging than the normal route. We stood for a while, admiring the originally planned route. It does seem within our abilities from a technical point of view, but we were uncertain if there was sufficient snow in the route and if the snow wasn't too powdery. And of course chronic lack of sleep and months of an almost completely sedentary lifestyle doesn't help. Isolating at home and spending your days going from bed to desk to couch to bed helps avoid Corona, but it destroys your fitness. Who could've known?!

"Freshly fucked is half the summit victory." The group before us, two men, two women. Must have had a good time...
Coming down the steep summit face. Without crampons, Arne opted to scramble on the rocky ridge instead.

By the time we gained the ridge I was so tired and exhausted that I even accepted Arne's offer to carry some of my water and gear. This was a first for me. For a trip like this you definitely need more reserves to maintain enough of a safety margin. Anyway. I managed to haul my sorry ass up to the summit. We had a bit of a picnick but I didn't want to spend too much time. I wanted to get out of the no-mistakes zone as soon as possible. This was just as well with Arne. He managed mostly OK on this route even without crampons, but he needed the snow to remain somewhat soft and not freeze solid.

Backtracking our steps towards the fake summit.
Windswept snow.
Found a spot to lie down and rest. I was glad to be out of the risky terrain again.

I felt better the more altitude we lost. Once we left the ridge behind us the descent even became fun. We found quite a few spots that allowed glissading and we slid down some distance on our butts. We past a party of two who came up the mountain via the glacier on the other side. They had an even better way to get down: they were just about to launch their paragliders and fly off the mountain. Nice.

Envious of these two. They launched a minute later and floated past us towards the valley. Such a cool way to get down.
Then again. We also had our fun. Found lots of spots that allowed for fast glissading.

After packing our tents it was just a long slog back to the car. At this point I was feeling mostly OK again while Luigi and Mark were suffering a bit from painful knees. In the end I think we all agreed that we got lucky this time and *didn't* attempt the North face. I can usually take a certain, relatively high, base level of fitness for granted. But this year has been very unusual to put it mildly. Dramatically reduced training and two young kids at home did have an effect. I'm still glad we went - it turned out to be a nice break from work and sitting at home. But we need a more gentle ramp up next time ;-)

My energy levels recovered somewhat on the way down.
Full moon. It was framed between the two summits earlier. Too far away for my meek cell phone camera, but fantastically beautiful in real life. It shone bright enough during the nights that we hardly needed our head torches.
The way back was exciting again. Especially when we crossed the layer of clouds down into the valley. No visibility...