2020-10-25

Zigerfrigg (attempt), 190m, 6b+

We were looking for an easy Sunday stroll. Criteria included a convenient approach and not too much commitment (i.e. the possibility to bail). Mark and I felt weak-ish after too much Corona induced inactivity. Luigi on the other hand had just returned from Italy where he on-sighted a 7a crag. So we thought we'd bring the Italian rope gun and climb Zigerfrigg. It's 6 pitches of 6b+ (5c+ A0) which sounded just perfect. Mark and I would get to lead the supposedly easy pitches while we'd send Luigi up the 6b+ crux. The 5c+ A0 grade added an extra bit of safety in that one ought to be able to cheat by pulling on gear on the hardest sequence should that become necessary.

Gangsters on the funicular.
A rather comfortable approach on a chair lift.

We dutifully wore our masks in the car and funicular before comfortably floating up the last leg of the approach in a chair lift. From there it was just a short scramble towards the base of the Mittlerer Eggstock South face above the car-free village of Braunwald. Hard to beat in terms of convenience for a climb above 2000 meters altitude.

Hiking to the base of the wall.
The last bit of the approach did require some scrambling.

The closer we came, the more intimidating the wall looked. It shines in bright yellow-red colors, indicative of overhanging limestone. Undeterred I prepared to lead the first pitch. It follows a steep ramp and features a lot of nice corner moves, a style of climbing I very much enjoy and am typically good at. I made it up to the anchor without struggling too much, but it did seem awfully stiff for the suggested 5c+ grade. Luckily for my ego the others also had to put in a bit of effort to catch up with me. So an old-school, hard, route...

Our wall. Yellow/reddish colors imply overhanging limestone.
Warmup pitch. 5c+ and already harder than expected.

I stayed on lead for the second pitch too. It was an easy and short 4c that I should have just concatenated into the first lead. We generally got the impression that the length of pitches in the guidebook was exaggerated. Pitches felt both harder and shorter than claimed. The only thing that made this pitch somewhat exciting was loose rock. I marked a torso sized boulder for the others to push off once they caught up to it. It exploded into a thousand fragments and we climbed with strong sulfur smells wafting up around us.

Mark figuring out the traverse.
Luigi coming up.

Mark got to lead a 5c+ traverse. Very airy. Then we actually had to rappel a bit before we could start on the next pitch. You can tell that the first ascensionists did not have an easy time finding a climbable line through this labyrinth of roofs and smooth rock. The route does not follow an obvious straight line to the top but dodges various big roofs and goes wherever weaknesses in the rock led it.

A rappel in the middle of the route. You can tell the first ascenscionists puzzled a bit before they found a path through the roofs.
Me on the start of the steep pitch. Overhanging even here.

Mark's second lead was graded 6a+ and again started with a traverse below a vastly overhanging section. Once past that it goes straight up only to circle back under yet another roof. Then repeats the same maneuver around another overhanging section, concluding a giant S shape. This is terrible for rope drag. Leading that pitch was tricky enough and required some resting on the rope. But pulling up the ropes proved to be an even more exhausting exercise still. Mark had to pull with everything he had against the friction on the rock and even improvised a little pulley system.

Mark's ropes dangling in the void.
Mark at the anchor.

Watching all of this, Luigi somehow lost his appetite for going further. So we decided that I'd follow up to Mark before we would all bail. I was somewhat disappointed by this turn of events and thought we'd still have a good fight in us, after all it was only 1pm. Either way. I struggled up to Mark, needing a rest along the way, even as a follower. I intentionally dislodged another head sized boulder from the wall and watched it tumble down the slopes below us. Not entirely without risk as it came dangerously close to the trail leading down from the neighboring via ferrata. Anyway, since the loose rock was the obvious handhold, I figured I'd do fellow climbers a service by cleaning it from the route.

Selfie at our high point.
Rappelling.

Now Mark and I were at our high point at the top of pitch four while Luigi was still at the top of pitch three. This required some creative rappeling on my part. I went down diagonally to "rescue" Luigi. Once I reached him, I let him float down to the ground first. Now the question was how to get Mark an me both down? He could have caught up to me first, then we could have re-threaded the ropes and gone down together from pitch 3. However, the ropes were long enough to reach the ground directly from pitch 4, so we opted for a more exciting solution instead. I'd untie from the anchor and take a wild swing into the air and go down all the way, followed by Mark. My brand new ropes didn't like being dragged across the sharp rock, but it was the fastest solution.

Exciting rappel maneuver after "rescuing" Luigi from the second but last anchor.

Despite the close proximity to civilization and the convenient approach this is still a very old-school alpine route: sparsely protected, stiffly graded, rope drag, rappel in the middle of the route, loose rock, non-obious line. I enjoyed it and think we'll be back for a second attempt.