2021-06-14

Winterstock, Turm I, (2,903m), via "Varinia", 6b, 280m

After climbing the Eggstock on Friday we got a "reset day" off from work on Monday. The weather was still great and we were itching for some granite. Since the Winterstock turned out to be one of the best climbs I have ever done, we decided to return for seconds.

06:30 in the morning. Quite a view to wake up to!
Mark on the approach.
We'll be climbing the hunk of granite to the right of the main tower.

This was complicated by the fact that the Furka pass road is still closed and not even the parking lot at Tätsch is reachable at this time of year. So we braced ourselves for a long approach. Luigi and Mark would bring ski touring gear while I'd don snow shoes. We put the kids to bed and left Zürich at 9pm on Sunday. Luigi has since upgraded his camping equipment and is now a proud owner of a (used) campervan. Not only that, but he also has a roof tent. 5 star accomodation for the three of us. Zürich is scorching hot, even during the nights. This leads to restless sleep for me. Parking the van just above Tiefenbach at more than 2,000m altitude meant we got close to freezing temperatures at night. Bliss. Without kids, without work and with cool temperatures I slept like a rock. When Luigi's alarm woke us up in the morning I just went "fuck you" and we slept for another hour, getting up at a leisurely 6:30.

Luigi on the approach.
Balcony with a view.
You don't see the sheer vertical drop below my feet...

It's a long approach. Initially we could still see other people, ski tourers, heading up in the morning. But once we passed the Albert Heim Hut over into the Lochberg valley we had the entire area to ourselves. And were smiling at the ski tourers - what they considered a big day out, for us was only the approach and appetizer to the main course of climbing.

After crossing the Bergschrund into the second pitch.
View from above.
Luigi on the sharp end.

The final ascent towards the Lochberglücke goes up a 300m tall, steep snow field. Fully exposed to the sun this was like climbing a parabolic mirror and scorching hot. After this exhausting bit of gaining altitude, the next part is an exposed traverse on a patch of snow over a sheer drop. I scouted the path there, being very aware of both the abyss below me but also the even more treacherous abyss of the Bergschrund, the gulf between the rock and the ice, above me. Luckily this turned out to be mostly well attached to the wall and crossing over from the snow onto the rock proved less difficult than feared. It better, as most of the first pitch was completely burried under snow and we came to the rock at a very steep section.

Cruising up the crack...
...and negotiating a tricky traverse.
Luigi.

It took us a while to spot the tiny bolts and find our route, so we finally started climbing at around 11am. While not quite at the level of the neighboring Mangolyto, this route nevertheless still features fantastic climbing and bomber rock in beautiful surroundings. Props to the Rauchquarz team for setting it up in 2011.

Mark.
Sören.
Summit!

Luigi led the two crux pitches. The first a delicate traverse and upswing on tiny crystals and knobs sticking out of the otherwise smooth granite. This felt a bit like a bouldering section - the difficulties of that pitch were concentrated in just a few short moves. The second crux pitch however is delicious. Big, bold, powerful whole body layback moves up a corner with a splitter crack. Strong Motörhead vibes for this one. Extra spicey because you need to place your own gear. The crack takes bomber pieces, you are basically attached to planet earth itself. No worries there. But it does add to the mental and physical requirements to fiddle with gear while getting pumped out of your mind. Chapeau Gigi!

Rapelling back down. Nice straight lines.
Switching shoes while still on the wall.
Climbing the second pitch again.

We topped out (a bit anti-climatic on this route - you don't actually gain the summit but just some random point on the ridge) and started rappelling. Rappels go down in a straight line and take advantage of the full 60m length of our ropes. Thus we were super fast and got down in short order. We were already celebrating and putting on our ski/hiking boots at the base of the climb when the ropes snagged while pulling them down. No amount of wiggling, pulling or shaking would get them loose. No helping it, one of us had to go back up.

This is the flake that snagged our rope. No chance of pulling it out from below. It was difficult to yank out even from above.
Until next time. Visible: the somewhat dicey approach on a steep slab of snow over a sheer drop.
While the others were still donning their skis, I had already glissaded down this slope.

So I donned my climbing shoes again and climbed on the end of the rope we still had left. First following the bolted original route, then traversing to where the rope was stuck. Properly jammed behind a flake. Difficult to pull out even while sitting right on top of it, no chance at all from below. I got it free and rappelled off a sling that I slung around an even larger flake.

Marmots sounding the alarm of my approach.
Mission accomplished.

For the way back to the car the skiers had a big advantage over me on snow shoes. So they carried most of our gear and I left early while they were still putting on their skis. This strategy worked out fairly well. We arrived back at basecamp not even ten minutes apart. In the end we had a full 12 hours roundtrip time. Moving more or less non-stop. Big day. Definitely served the intended effect of getting my mind off work and showing up at the office the next day with a renewed understanding of what is important in life (notably, *not* work).

2021-06-11

Vorderer Eggstock, (2,448m), via "Sambolero", 6b, 400m

With the whole company red-lining from the pandemic induced work from home situation, and extra demands placed on us and our infrastructure, Google tried to incentivize people to take their vacation: Take a minimum of four days of vacation during the first half of 2021, get an extra day for free. Friday looked to have great weather, so Mark, Luigi and I decided to go climb the Vorderer Eggstock to fill my 4 days of vacation. I had already climbed "Sött mögli si" in 2013, so this time we aimed for the less well known and more difficult "Sambolero".

Luigi on the approach.
Mark brought some rather unusual climbing provisions.
Mark getting ready for the first pitch.

The cable car to the restaurant at the base is not yet running, so we had a fairly long approach on foot. Braunwald is a car free village that you can only reach via a furnicular. So our journey was: car -> furnicular -> cable car -> hike. The cable car is on a leisurely summer schedule and only runs once every thirty minutes. We were the only customers far and wide and had a nice chat with the guy running the station during our 20 minute wait. He warned us that the via ferrata (that we relied on for the way back down the mountain) was not yet open for the season and that they had gear taken out of it for the winter. He couldn't tell us what gear though. We decided to risk it and see.

Nice corner. Very alpine.
I enjoy this style of climbing. Easy to find good resting positions that don't tax your arms. But exposed.
Luigi leading the "leap of faith".

We finally made it to the base of the climb by 11am. It was not off to a good start - the first pitch, while it looks like nice climbing, has been completely destroyed by the via ferrata. They bolted the metal wires and ladders directly over the climbing bolts and protection. We tried working around it, but in the end just climbed the via ferrata for a bit. The second "pitch" is a walk up a steep grassy slope, only made a bit exciting by patches of winter snow. Our hopes for the route sank. If it kept going like this, this would turn into a huge disappointment.

Getting a foot across is easy enough...
...but pulling up on those crimps isn't entirely trivial.
Luigi heading towards the crux of the route.

Luckily the route redeemed itself with the next pitches. Great quality rock, great alpine exposure and climbing style. Interesting difficulties, but never too hard. We had a fantastic time climbing it. Once we gained the summit, we had to decide which way to go down on the via ferrata. We chose the wrong way. Via ferratas are typically designed as one way tracks in order to avoid traffic jams with people going in opposite directions. With the route still closed we were the only people around and this was not an issue. However, the second reason they are directional is that you tend to choose the difficult climbing on the way up and the easy climbing on the way down. This meant that we had the hard stuff to go down on now.

Mark following through the 6b crux.
Mark demonstrating his wingspan and the bearhug technique he used in the crux.
Luigi.

At one point we reached a fork: left or right. Mark chose right while Luigi and I continued on the left. It turns out that Mark chose ... poorly. Once we reconvened at the base of the mountain, we discovered that Luigi and my path was graded K3, "Difficult", while Mark's variant was graded K5, "Extremely Difficult", the second hardest grade they assign to such routes. He vowed to never again climb any overhanging metal ladders. Made more risky by the fact that he didn't even bring a proper via ferrata kit. So he improvised with regular climbing gear which means that the "whip" didn't have a dynamic break and falling was really not an option. Even a best case fall on a via ferrata with proper gear is dangerous and painful. In our case it's likely to either break your spine or tear your sling and lead to a groundfall - not a desirable outcome either way.

A curious choice of route book.
We snagged the 34th ascent after the route was opened in 2003. First this year.
Summit!
Descent via the via ferrata.
Mark. "He chose ... poorly".
Braunwald.

2021-05-15

Pebble Wrestling in Murgtal

It had been quite wet recently with even some fresh snow in the high alpine. This severely restricted our options for proper climbing. Thus, for the first time ever, I allowed myself to be convinced to go "pebble wrestling". Bouldering. This abominable form of climbing, where instead of striving for the majestic peaks, you content yourself with crawling around the debris that fell off them. An occupation for slugs and other slimy insects. Deplorable.

Luigi on our warm-up problem.
Nice surroundings.
The road up was still closed for cars, so we had to walk quite a bit.

Mark, Luigi and Piotr provided the necessary gear in the form of crashpads and off we went towards Murgtal. It turned out to be a decently fun day. Trying ourselves at way too hard problems (definitely for my current fitness level). I still managed to scale a few rocks, albeit in more of a grunting and swearing style rather than the weightless elegance you'd expect from me ;-)

Perfect bike path.
I have to admit, bouldering does have some things going for it. If only I had brought beer.
Diagonal Mark.
Piotr demonstrating a proper sit-start.
Luigi crimping hard.
Just about our high point on this problem. It's a 7a and got quite grimy and crumbly towards the top. Not to mention somewhat exposed.
Who came up with the idea of starting in a sitting position? Just jump to the frickin' top already.
See?! I did top out.
Piotr.
Luigi.