Fünffingerstöck (2993m), via SouthWest ridge, 5c, ~14 pitches

There was a bit of a discusson whether we wanted to up the difficulty level or do something completely different for our next climb. We settled on doing something different and going for a long alpine ridge climb. So we drove up the Sustenpass on Tuesday night and camped right next to the road. As before, Luigi and I shared the 5 star luxury comfort of the roof tent, while Mark just bivvied on the ground. It was a beautiful night to do so too. We only encountered a few other human souls, but one of them set up a tripod to take long exposure shots of the moon hanging over the Sustenhorn and Steigletscher.

How's that for a view to wake up to?

Mark on the approach.

Final few meters of the approach to the ridge.

We started the approach by 6:45 in the morning and headed up the Obertal, following the namesake creek. Wild and serene surroundings. We donned crampons to traverse the frozen patches of snow and arrived at the saddle that marks the start of the climb at around 8. This was the first of many surprises and discrepancies compared to our rough topo which claimed a time of two and a half hours for the approach. I supposes this is just as well as the guidebook is "steil & wild" ("steep and wild") and focuses on lesser known climbs that require mostly manual protection and route finding.

Breakfast in the first rays of the sun on the saddle before roping up.

Mark leading the way.

My lead.

The first few pitches were easy and we climbed them on a running belay with Mark responsible for finding the route. You'd think that following a ridge makes it fairly obvious where to go. Not so. The ridge is wild with many towers and gendarmes and there are frequently many potential routes to follow. We kept leading in blocks, where the current leader would keep going until he ran out of gear. When it was my turn we had completely lost track of where we were relative to the route description.

Luigi. Terrain becoming more exposed.

Mark and Luigi digging out an old anchor. We also replaced the ancient rotting sling.

Dynamic traverse.

At that point a party of two Dutch guys had cauht up to us. We were mutually surprised to encounter anyone on such a remote route (the summit book had only a few entries for 2019). They had just finished university and were taking adavantage of their newfound freedom to romp through Switzerland. Well met! Unfortunately they also had no clue where we were and where we should be ;-)

Into the unknown.

Another random anchor we found.

Luigi and Mark coming up.

I just set off in the rough direction of "up" and "east" which seemed appropriate on a west ridge. It was a blast finding and protecting the route entirely without any guidance. I'd say the climbing was roughly in the 5c difficulty range, making it interesting but leaving enough safety margin that I felt completely comfortable. I improvised an anchor when I ran out of rope. By the time the others caught up to me I had discovered an old, half burried anchor made of pitons a few meters to my right. So we were on some kind of route, just not sure which one. We kept following traces of abandoned gear and the occasional rusty piton until we regained the ridge proper. There we found the route book in a military soup container. But that too, was not in the place it should have been - it was detached from its original mount point and at least a tower too early.

Walk the plank!


Plenty of nice granite.

We had mentally prepared for a long alpine epic, half expecting to be on the mountain until dusk. So we were quite surprised to find ourselves on the summit by only 2pm. The guidbook suggested a climbing time of 9 hours, so it was quite suspicious that it only took us 5, despite the route finding, improvisation and fixing anchors along the way. This left time for a leisurely lunch on the summit with original Italian sausages and fantastic views all around. Two rappels brought us down to the Obertalgletscher and we were on the road back home by 4pm. Great day out! And I think we succeeded the original test we set for ourselves: namely that as a group we could go on this kind of wild alpine route. More to come ;-)




Summit selfie.

Mark eating cookies. Luigi eating... a sock?!

Mark made a proper mess of the ropes on the first rappel, so Luigi and I had a great time sitting in the sun, commenting on his performance and mocking him.

The thinking man. Trying to understand what Mark is doing to the ropes.

Overhanging rappel onto the glacier.

The Obertalglacier was surprisingly steep.

On the descent.

Final bits of glacier.

Chaos while organizing, drying and packing gear for the way back.

Totally trustworthy slings we cut off the mountain.


Climbing Schöllenen Gorge, "Geburtstagsweg", 330m, 6a+

Good weather, but not enough time or energy for something big. So we elected to go to the Schöllenen Gorge on the pass up to Andermatt. We've driven through this gorge many times and admired the granite walls from the comfort of our car seats. But we had never climbed a route there. Some research revealed that it has plenty of bolted routes in relevant difficulty grades. "Geburtstagsweg" is supposed to be one of the nicer ones, with a comfortable 15 minutes approach from the car park. And barely a 1:15h drive from our doorstep. It's amazing to live in a country where all the great playgrounds are this close!

The most verbose sign for a route I've ever seen. Note how somebody scribbled "bollocks" next to the grade. We also thought the route was quite sandbagged.

Getting ready at the base.


Despite the nominally short approach, we of course manage to miss the route and scramble around the sheep meadows for a bit before we finally find it. This is doubly ridiculous, as you could actually see the giant sign marking the start of the route right from our parking lot. Ah well. Mark and I have a reputation to maintain. If we screw up a climb, it's usually by getting lost on the approach ;-)



Luigi and Mark following up the first slab.

The route is a bit of a mixed bag. It follows an artificially difficult line, intentionally electing to go up smooth rock where more structured options would have been readily available just off to the sides. There's also quite a bit of vegetation. And finally the traffic noise from the pass. The downside of a short approach. The road leads up to the Gotthard pass and since the Gotthard tunnel is notoriously backed up for many kilometers, quite a few motorists decide to take the road across the mountain rather than through it.

Luigi starting up the 6a+. Still easy at this point...

Mark demonstrating friction climbing technique in the 6a+ crux. Note that he has exactly nothing to hold onto or stand on. So even a successful attempt will always be precarious.

Mark's lead into steeper terrain.

The two crux pitches of the route are smooth slabs. The guidebook describes them as requiring some "engagement". In other words you'll be terrifyingly far above your last piece of protection. The route has been rebolted in 98, but the original rings from the first ascent in 85 are still present. Even in it's current state it's definitely not over bolted, but the first ascensionists must have had nerves of steel (or been high on drugs). 2 bolts on a 45 meter slab with no way of placing any additional gear...

Finally some climbing! Not this sneaking around on slabs.

Mark topping out.

Luigi topping out.

I lead the first 6a slab, but screw up the crux move twice, loosing my feet and taking a long fall. No damage done and I eventually manage to sneak my way up in good style. Mark slips and falls in the same spot, redeeming me somewhat. Next up was Luigi to lead a 6a+ slab, the crux of the entire route. He made a valiant effort but in the end resorted to pulling himself up on the nearby bushes. The rock was just too smooth. Neither Mark nor I manage to climb that section cleanly, even on top rope.

Summit selfie.

Simultaneous rappelling. The safe variant: we fixed the rope at the anchor and only the third person down would undo that and rappel normally.

On the way down.

Past the slab difficulties the route gets steeper, more exposed and more enjoyable to climb. Luigi was breaking in new shoes and struggled with painful toes. So I end up leading 4 of 8 pitches while the others got two each. Everyone of the eight pitches was 40 meters or more, so we had to perform a full eight rappels to get back down to the ground. We sped this up somewhat by simul-rapelling on one strand each for the first two to go down. In the end we started at a leisurely 10:30 in the morning and got back down to the baseby 15:30. We all agree it was a nice day out, but a rather mediocre route, especially considering how spoiled we were recently by highlights like "Mangolyto" and "Enfer Doux".