Brüggler (1777m) via "Meister Franz", 200m, 5b

Krzysztof graciously agreed to write this blog post from his perspective. Here goes:

Brüggler - my first multi-pitch climb

  • Let's go rock climbing! Oh, you haven't done it before? No problem! I'll lead the climb and explain everything to you, it's perfectly safe! We can climb Brüggler, I've been there many times - it's a technically easy crag, totally beginner friendly!
  • Sounds awesome! I have always wanted to try rock climbing but mainly done via ferrata so far - and enjoyed it.
  • Climbing is safer than via ferrata because you are properly belayed, you won't be hurt when you fall off the wall.
  • Yeah, let's do it!

We had this conversation with Sören about a year ago. I had known Sören's climbing adventures even before I met him because I read his blog and used it as an inspiration for some hikes in the Alps. I had little experience with rock climbing but I was determined to try it, so I was very happy with the proposal from Sören.

Scheduling the outing took quite some time. In the meantime I fractured my leg in a ski touring accident but now the bone is healed and stronger than ever because it is reinforced with a lot of titanium. Finally we set out on the Brüggler on 17 September in a group of 5: Klára and I were the beginners whom Sören was supposed to introduce to the climbing world, Christian and Björn formed an independent climbing party to assist us when Sören was belying us from above.

The route which we planned to take that day was "Meister Franz": 6 pitches long, with difficulty of 5a except for one pitch rated as 5c+ (5b/A0, meaning that one could cheat by pulling on a quickdraw). Those numbers didn't tell me much - I had no comparison to other routes because it was my first real rock climb. But how hard can it be?

Approach to the bottom of the Brüggler wall.

Very soon it turned out that it can be hard (at least for me). The exposure on a vertical 200 m high wall, combined with some non-trivial climbing moves was a bit overwhelming… I had just recovered from a broken leg and again I found myself in a situation which did not feel secure. Obviously, I was completely safe - I was belayed from above and if I fell off the wall, I would be stopped immediately. I knew that but I really preferred not to verify it.

I was wearing lightweight knee protectors. I must say that they worked pretty well for climbing, protecting my knees from scratches from frequent contact with the rock. Well, my climbing technique probably needs some refining ;)

On one of the pitches, I belayed Sören. When he reached the anchor and attached himself to a bolt, I dismounted the belay device and was putting it away - then I dropped it. It fell far, far away… "Ok, that's it. This is a sign - I guess I'm not meant to be a climber, I won't do it ever again", I thought. But the lost ATC wasn't a problem, we had enough reserve ones.

Klára takes a little break. She looks quite relaxed, doesn't she?

    - "I'm not sure if we are on the correct route. Can you verify it on a map?" - shouted Sören at some point. Björn checked the plan and responded:
    - "Yeah, it must be it. The other one goes to the right, we are on Meister Franz." "Interesting…"
    That conversation raised some doubts in my mind. Before I said anything, Klára verbalised her thoughts:
    - "If an experienced climber says it's interesting I think that's a bad sign for me."

The difficult pitch was the second one, which we have already passed - the rest of the climb was supposed to be very easy… What did Sören see?

Sören simultaneously belying Klára and me.
Klára is belying Sören, I'm resting and Björn is waiting for us to make them some space at the anchor.
The climb is over, the final part to the top leads on a hiking path on the ridge. It took us 4.5 hours to get to this place from the bottom of the wall! But the time passed very quickly. I recently spent a similar amount of time moving furniture between 2 apartments and it felt infinitely longer than climbing Brüggler.
We all made it to the top! In a retrospect, the climb wasn't that difficult. I am sure that if I did it again, I would find it effortless.
Beer/Apfelmost on the way back to the car - we deserved it! As usual in the Swiss Alps, the bottles with drinks were cooling down in a cow water reservoir at some farm.

After we went down to the base of the climb (there is no need to rappel, there is a hiking path), we searched for my lost ATC device. We found it quickly, it was right in the middle of the path under the Brüggler wall! "I can't wait when I will go rock climbing again!", I thought to myself.
Thank you Sören for introducing us to the world of climbing! It was wildly satisfying!


Tristelhorn (3114m)

Paweł and Ralf asked to go hiking. You always have to be careful with Paweł - he has a penchant for crazy exposed risky T6 scrambles. Luckily Ralf is a veritable lexicon of potential routes. And in any case, he is an SAC tour guide and has basically covered the entire alps already. So of course he had just the right trip for us ready to execute on: The Tristelhorn (3114m) on the border between Grisons and St Gallen. It's trailless terrain in wild and remote valleys. We planned for 2000 meters of elevation gain and a distance of 25 kilometers. For a short while we were tempted to extend it even further and include more of the ridge and neighboring mountains. But reason prevailed ;-)

Val Lavadignas.
Paweł and Ralf.
Nice views. Our first proper rest for the day.

The area is very remote and very wild. We didn't encounter another human being the entire day. And when we gained the summit, the summit book only had a handful of entries for the entire year. The hike itself was a bit of a mixed bag: the mountain is a proper choss-pile, involving lots of scrambling and balancing up shifting loose scree. Not particularly beautiful, but different from what I usually do and interesting because of that. We also don't get to meet very often in this group, so the company and conversations already made it a fun trip.

That's where we'll have to scramble up.
More scree.

I had become the tail end of many a joke with my mountain buddies because of the sad state of my gear. I was using stuff I bought seven years ago and it showed: my clothes were patched in many places and still had many visible holes and tears. My shoes worn through, my helmet loosing random bits and pieces, ropes frayed. My carabiners had deep groves from all the rappels. When my shirts literally started disintegrating in our washing machine Anita finally had enough of it and sent me shopping. I loathe shopping so much I put it off for as long as I possibly can. But I finally went and spent 1500 bucks in Transa to replace all my gear. The reason this is relevant for this story is that I was breaking in brand new shows. Which luckily was not an issue for my feet, but with all the scree surfing these new shoes already look like shit again with a whole collection of cuts. So there you go. No point in ever buying new stuff ;-P

A patch of snow. We'll climb the ridge.
On the ridge.
The summit block.
Summit selfie.
The ridge to the other side.
Grimaces from "Team Defrag Grumpiness". We all work for Google and used to be on the same team: Google Maps. Then the company restructured, or "defragged" in Google parlance, and moved the maps effort to another office. We had to find new projects and are still somewhat pissed about that.
Scrambling down from the summit ridge.
Scree surfing. Whee!
Almost like skiing.
Nice trail. Unfortunately only for a short stretch.
Alien landscape with very peculiar rock stucture.
Chossiest choss-pile of choss.
A long way to go yet.
Wild and remote valleys. Nice.
Only a few more kilometers...
Part of the old gear I replaced. We had a good run ;-)


Brienzer Rothorn (2351m), Schongütsch (2319m)

Helmut, Susanne, Paul and Nils stayed with us for a few days on their way back to Germany from vacation in Austria. Helmut likes suffering from long endurance hikes and bike rides. What he does not like is heights and exposure to heights. Susanne on the other hand enjoys ridges and some scrambling. So Helmut volunteered to take care of the kids for a day and allow Susanne and me to go hiking. Unfortunately it was raining from morning to evening on the Sunday we had planned for this. So we took the kids to the climbing gym on Sunday and I took a day of vacation to squeeze the hike in on Monday.

The cable car running from Sörenberg (!) to the Brienzer Rotstock.
On the approach.

I chose (a part of) the Hardergrat as our destination. It is a beautiful area with just the right amount of excitement on a nice ridge. I've done the entire thing twice before (once, twice) and it was a fantastic experience. The plan was to approach from the other side of the mountain this time to include some novelty for me.

Summit selfie.
Comparing the promised vistas of the famous Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau mountain range with reality.

The weather forecast had predicted that it would be dry, but cloudy, with occasional glimpses of sun. Not ideal, but not bad either. In the end we spent the entire day in the clouds with only dozens of meters of visibility. Somewhat disappointing, considering that we should have had beautiful vistas of three lakes. It led to a somewhat surreal and funny moment where we wanted to take a short break and were looking for a dry space to sit. I checked my GPS and proclaimed that we ought to be right at a (closed) restaurant. We couldn't see the building, but my voice, spoken at normal volumes, echoed back to us from the wall of the very restaurant we were looking for. Invisible in the fog, not 20 meters in front of us. We had a similar experience once we gained the ridge. I told Susanne how there were tons of ibexes the last time I was here. And sure enough, we could barely make out some ghostly silhouettes in the fog. Same for the train: you can reach the restaurant at the top of the mountain via an old authentic steam engine powered cogwheel train. We could smell it, hear it right next to us, but not see it, despite being right above the station platform.

Schongütsch summit with "Das Kreuz" as it is marked on the map.

We took an extended launch break in the restaurant at the top of the mountain. Luckily this was open. The only other patrons was a construction crew, working to get the local slopes and cable cars ready for the winter season. We had soup and a relaxed conversation, passing time while checking the weather radar for signs of improvement. No luck. So we decided to try and walk along the ridge for a while and see how it goes.

On the ridge.
On the ridge. Compare to the previous times: one, two. ;-/

Everything was still wet and muddy from the day of rain before. This was OK on level terrain but as soon as it got steeper the mud turned the trail into a slippery slope. At one point I even slipped and fell. No damage done, but a very clear sign that continuing along the long and exposed ridge in these conditions would not be advisable. So we took the next opportunity to hike down and close the loop back to the car. A bit disappointing that Susanne didn't get to enjoy the otherwise spectacular views. But it was still a nice hike in a very moody, subdued atmosphere. Only muffled sounds and the sensation of being the only humans around also have some appeal. And we'll get to do this again some time, because this outing surely didn't count, right Helmut?!

Some legends are stranger than others.


Kingspitze North East Face, via "Steuri", 650m, 5c+/6a

Kingspitze North East face, or: Christian's alpine climbing baptism by fire. After climbing the Vorderspitz, and getting fantastic views into the Kingspitz North East face, it was already clear to us that we had to climb it. So it was, that barely a week after our first visit to the Engelhörner, Luigi and I returned. This time we were accompanied by Christian. Christian is a strong climber and regular gym and crag climbing partner. Until that point he didn't have any alpine multi-pitch experience though. While the route is bolted, it still requires additional protection by placing your own gear. So we decided Luigi and I would lead the entire thing with Christian following. It would be quite a stiff introduction to alpine climbing ;-)

Early morning moon.
On the approach to the Engelhorn hut.
Luigi in front of our objective, comparing the topo to reality to find the start of the route.

The Kingspitz is quite a bit longer than the Vorderspitz route we did last time, so this time around we decided to spend the night in a tent at the parking lot below the Rychenbach alp. A funny difference in perception between me, a parent, and Christian, not (yet) a parent: while he was worried about a short and rough night (sleeping on a mat, getting up at 5 am) I was looking at the same setup as finally getting a good night's sleep. And this is indeed how it turned out for me. Already at 1500 meters altitude the temperatures at night were a lot cooler and more bearable than at home in hot Zürich. And while the night was somewhat short, it was blissfully uninterrupted.

Me about to start on the first real pitch of the climb. At this point we had already scrambled for ~150 meters.
Christian and Luigi coming up the ramp. Following a nice crack.
A short tricky sequence with hardly any structure.

The climb starts with about 100-150 meters of scrambling and easy climbing. Some parties do this unprotected, but we decided to play it safe and rope up. I think both decisions are justifiable and mostly depend on your experience, level of comfort and whether there are other parties in the route (rockfall). I led this part in approach shoes and we got it over with fairly quickly. The primary difficulties consist of route finding and rope drag on the long traverses.

Sun coming up. We only got to enjoy it for a short while in this North East face.
One of the harder pitches: a steep ramp with only small crimps and cracks for progress.

We had a great time once the actual climbing started. The pitches were challenging enough to be interesting, but never so hard as to be intimidating or at our limit. We maintained a rapid pace with Luigi and me switching leads after every one or two pitches. Christian was enjoying himself and easily kept up. Luigi and I as a regular ropeteam have established a lot of weird lingo, insider references, bullshitting, and, most of all, a tradition of swearing and insulting one another non-stop. Christian was quick to pick up on this tradition as well and before long we were all gleefully hurling insults at one another. Good times!

Another one of the harder pitches. Starting on somewhat brittle crumbling rock...
...and traversing into...
...a steep pumpy section.

We were the only party on the mountain that day and made good progress, easily progressing faster than the guidebook suggested. That is, until we reached easier terrain a few pitches below the summit. It was my turn to lead and I had already switched back from tight climbing shoes to more comfortable approach shoes. I didn't study the topo carefully enough and on the easy pitches there are hardly any bolts to indicate where you ought to go. So I just kept going one way until I ran out of rope. Of course I missed the crucial "exit" and had to undo most of the pitch to climb the proper route. Luigi kept cursing about how I'm "piton blind" and "don't see bolts". Most of the time this is actually funny. I'll place a cam half a meter away from the piton because I've failed to notice it. This time it wasted us some time. C'est la vie.

Luigi making it through the steep sequence.
One of the easy pitches. Great views and exposure!
Christian fooling around.

We gained the summit at around half past three. The guidebook explicitly warns not to underestimate the descent and to budget a lot of time for it. So we didn't linger around for too long but started scrambling down the West ridge towards the first rappel. After we were convinced to be on the right track, the descent actually didn't seem all that bad at first. It did require some exposed downclimbing and about half a dozen rappels, but we were making good progress and generally feeling good about it. We had some minor SNAFUs with the rope getting stuck after a rappel, requiring a quick rescue mission. Or evading some rockfall accidentally kicked down by one of us. But it all seemed within normal parameters for this type of terrain.

The pitch leading up to the route book. Still many pitches to go to the summit.
Fun off-width crack climbing.
Christian trying to scale my embattlement.

This all changed when we crossed over the saddle back into the Ochsental valley. The descent route forks, with one route continuing down into the Rosenlaui valley while the option we took goes back towards the Engelhorn hut and thus presents the more direct route for us. What was a proper, if small, trail before, turns into steep scree fields ending in vertical drops. Terrible crumbling rock, no protection and great exposure. The type of terrain where mistakes will kill you. The words of the guidebook weren't enough of a warning to prepare us for this - it had used very similar text to describe the Vorderspitz descent and that turned out not to be so bad. I should have known though, much stronger and more experienced climbers (having climbed all the big North faces of the alps) have opted to never repeat this descent.

Luigi about to start another tricky pitch. This one was defined by a short sequence of pinches on a steep wall.
A few meters into that pitch.
Christian about to "step up".

We eventually reached a steel cable bolted to the rock that serves as a rappel anchor and allowed us to rappel all the way back down to the scree fields of the valley. What a relief! During the scramble Christian kept remarking how this was the most dangerous thing he ever did. While this may not be entirely true for me, it was definitely right up there with the worst descents we did in the Dolomites. Anyway. We all made it back down to safety and Christian has definitely earned his alpine climbing badge! Well done!

Christian and me coming up.
Final few meters before gaining the ridge. Luigi is already in the sun.
Easy terrain on the ridge to the summit.
Waiting my turn.
Christian and me coming up to Luigi on the summit.
The final belay stance. Not too bad ;-)
Summit selfie.
Scrambling down the west ridge.
A few rappels.
Nice views on the descent.
Christian scrambling down towards us. Horrible terrain. Loose rock and absolutely unforgiving. He has to climb down, cross the wet streak on the left and then walk towards where I'm standing.
Luigi scouting the descent.
Scrambling down exposed ridges.
Back down in the valley.
Enjoying celebratory beers at the hut while the sun goes down.