2021-04-24

Mittagfluh, via "Fritz u Franz im nüe Glanz", 350m, 5a+

Mark, Luigi and I started the Grimsel climbing season. First time this year on granite. The pass isn't open yet, but you can drive up all the way to the Grimsel Hospitz. This is enough to reach some good climbing. A year of Corona lockdown induced inactivity isn't good for anyone's fitness, so we decided to take it easy in the beginning. The 350 meter granite slab of the Mittagfluh is the obvious choice. The only route I haven't already climbed on the South face was the easy "Fritz u Franz im nüe Glanz", so we opted to do that one.

On the approach. The wall looming tall.
This winter was rough for a lot of vegetation.
Mark just before we hit the steep ramp at the base.

We had a comfortably late start and stopped for breakfast on the way. Sorted our gear at the parking lot (Luigi is very particular about his "metal" and insults everybody else's gear - even if that gear is objectively better ;-P). There's still quite a bit of snow on the approach and the final bit on frozen snow just at the base of the wall is steep enough to mandate careful foot placements. We arrived with me bringing snow shoes, Mark crampons and Luigi just his regular hiking boots. On the drive up we were contemplating who'd be suffering the most on the approach. In the end, we all just went up in hiking boots and it was perfectly fine.

Mark's lead.
Luigi's lead. Advantage of showing up late: you get the sun sooner!
~Halfway up.

There were two parties already climbing when we arrived. One on the left side of the wall and another one off to the right. Once we got going we quickly overtook both of them. We started referring to them as the "slow group on the left" and the "unfathomably slow group on the right". By the time we reached the top, about three hours after we started, the party on the right still wasn't even halfway up the wall while the group on the left was still a few pitches below us. Another group showed up briefly on the edge of the wall - we referred to them as the "competent late comers in red". I couldn't tell at the distance, but it turns out I knew them. Fellow Googler Alex and climbing partner climbed the West wall via "Abadia". At 7a, 6b A0 a *much* harder route than anything on the South wall. We shall return for that one!

Hanging out.
The setting is quite spectacular. Even more so if you climb the canonical "Südkante" which is right on the edge of the steep drop over the Westface.
Mark and Luigi coming up.

We had agreed from the beginning that we'd rappel instead of hiking off. The descent is dicy even in good conditions and now there's still a lot of snow on the narrow ledges. And in any case, even the normal descent still requires a handful of rappels. So we went straight back down. By the time we reached our hiking poles and boots at the base the other parties were still going up ;-) Good day out - even if the climbing wasn't all that challenging. Great area, weather and company. And it just feels good to be active and outside again.

The village of Guttannen.
Summit selfie.
Luigi know-it-all bullshitting and commenting on Mark's rope handling technique. As is usual for this valley, it was very windy. This makes rope fuckups likely. So Mark decided to do the first rappel with saddle bags. Truth be told, this worked very well, but still didn't stop us from making fun of him ;-P
It is quite a tall wall!
A look into Abadia in the West face. We'll be back!
"Bitch in a Ditch!" Luigi found a hole in the snow.

2021-04-10

Cragging at Engi

It was a bit windy and too chilly to "go big". Besides, there's still way too much snow in the high country. So we decided to join Mark, Kai and friends for a day of cragging at Engi. It's a kids friendly area with a small training boulder and mellow terrain to scramble and run around and explore. Marzia and Leonie were a bit too excited to be climbing. We turned our backs for a second and the next thing we knew is that they waved at us from the very top of the boulder, grinning from ear to ear over a 10 meter drop. Our next attempts were a bit more controlled and involved helmets and a harness ;-)

First contact with the rock. Lukas could not stand by - he had to do whatever the big girls were doing.
Leonie and Marzia getting ready.
You go girls!
Top!
Daddy gets to climb a bit too.
We climbed a few 6a+ routes. I got barely three hours of sleep the night before, so my performance was somewhat impaired.
Marzia and Leonie insisting on helping me belay Luigi: "Don't worry dad! We got the rope!"
How it started...
...how it's going.

2021-04-03

Brüggler (1,777m) via Direkte Plattenwand (5c)

Since last week's trip to Brüggler was such a success we decided to try again the next weekend. Unfortunately the temperatures had absolutely tanked in the meantime. Some weather stations in Europe recorded the hottest ever recorded temperature in March, followed by the coldest ever recorded for April barely a week later. Not great for flora and fauna who were already in all out spring mode. Climate change for the win ;-/

Into the cloud they went.
Mysterious atmosphere at the foot of the wall. We expected hordes of zombies tumbling down any second.
Slippery and steep approach. We basically skipped the first (easy) pitch of climbing by scrambling up on the snow.

Anyway. We still went. This time Mark and I wanted to guide Christian up the well travelled hunk of limestone that is Brüggler. It would be Christian's first time on rock and first multi-pitch climb ever. There was significantly less snow than the previous week, but still enough to necessitate an approach in snow shoes or on skis. Conditions were markedly different: while I was actively seeking out the shade of the trees to shelter from the heat of the sun and find less slushy snow last time, this time everything was frozen and very comfortable to traverse on snowshoes. It sucked a bit for Mark on skis, but our empathy for his woes on the approach was muted because we fully expected him to make up for it on the descent.

Christian's first few moves.
Getting into the rhythm.
Chilling (literally) at the anchor.

It was cold enough that our water bottles contained chunks of ice once we reached the base of the wall. In return, we had the entire wall to ourselves. Uncharacteristically for Mark and me we actually found the start of the route without issue and managed to stay on route all the way to the top. What's up with that? This ascent means we made up for our previous attempt five years ago where we had to bail in a hailstorm.

Christian seems to enjoy being on rock - why else would he hug it so tightly?
Family shot.
Mark and I alternated leads, bringing Christian up between us.

Christian did remarkably well and climbed the entire thing in good style. Even with occasionally numb fingers and worn through gym climbing shoes. Well done! With snow on the exposed ridge and summit we decided from the beginning that we'd rappel back down instead of walking off. It seemed like the safer and more comfortable option. And it was. Christian needed some habituation with the exposure and height. Made a little more difficult by him discovering labels on my slings that stated they were 11 years old. Recommended manfacturer lifetime for such gear is 6-10 years. Ooops. I shall update my stuff...

One more move to the top.

Congratulations Christian on a great first showing even in less than ideal conditions! Here's to many more outings ;-)

Summit! (ridge)
First rappel ever - with ~200 meters of air under his ass.
Looking back. Some climbers/skiers were staying at this hut for easter. Not a bad choice!
Mission accomplished.

2021-03-26

Brüggler (1,777m) via Blümliweg (5c)

We had a "Sundarday", an exceptional day off, named after Google's CEO Sundar Pichai. The weather was fantastic and so Luigi and I decided to start the rock climbing season. Brüggler was an obvious choice. Familiar, only a short drive away, well protected, non-committing and South facing. There was still a lot of snow on the approach. I don't own ski touring gear yet, so while I was making my way up in snowshoes, Luigi skinned up on skis. On the way up this gave me a slight advantage because I could attack the slopes straight on where he had to zigzag a longer route. Of course he'd more than make up for this slight disadvantage on the way down!

Gigi on the approach.
Sören on the approach.

It was scorching hot in the sun. This had softened the snow enough, even at 9 in the morning, that I was seeking the shade of the trees for some cool and more frozen snow. Getting to the wall itself proved slightly tricky. The slushy snow covered most of the first pitch and made it difficult to identify the correct route and actually get close enough to the rock without sliding down. In the end we were about 20 meters right of the route we intended to climb. We didn't fancy another battle through snow, so I led the first pitch as an improvised diagonal. Without bolts I made use of natural hour glasses and some rotting ancient slings for protection. It was a bit run out, but also easy climbing.

This is the grimace I got when I asked him to smile for the camera...

Once we gained the route proper we made good progress. The sun melted more snow and ice above us and we had the occasional shard of ice helicopter past us with an intimidating whoosh. We climbed Blümliweg (5c) which is the direct variant of the Sonntagsweg (6a+). The final pitch goes up a steep corner/chimney. This was still wet. The anchor and pitch were exposed to a constant drizzle of water from above. Luigi still gave it a shot but had to give up half way up the pitch where the route was running with water. He rappeled off the closest tree he could reach.

"Spread your legs and trust the rubber" a typical Brüggler climbing stance.
Bailing from the wet corner.

We had planned to rappel from the very beginning, so this didn't change our schedule much. While you can walk off Brüggler in normal conditions, this is not advisable with badly attached slushy snow on the exposed ridge and steep trail. The entire 7 pitches of climbing, even with the initial improvisation and final aborted pitch, took us only about 2.5 hours. One of the advantages of being routine climbing partners. Gigi skied out while I walked back to the car. Successful start of the season!

Rappeling back down. Please do note Luigi's footwear. More appropriate for a day at the beach than an Alpine rock climbing trip...
Brüggler. I've climbed many routes on this face and yet still have many more to go.
Heading back home.