Bergseeschijen via "Direkte Westwand", 250m, 6b+, attempt

Faced with scorching hot weather we were trying to make a decision where to go. High. Ideally North facing. Escape the heat. I had a suggestion of moderate difficulty but with a fairly long approach. Luigi prefered a shorter hike and more challenging climbing. He prevailed and so we headed for Göschenen. The guidebook claims this is a classic route that only sees few repeats. The nominal grade is 6b+, but I had found online reports of people rating it at least a 7a when climbed free. The guidebook also praises this wall as the steepest granite in all of Uri, the most rugged canton of Switzerland to begin with. Intimidating prospects.

Luigi. Cow whisperer. Clearing the way for us.
Final few meters towards the scenic Bergsee-hut. Very kids friendly - I'm considering bringing the family next time.
Massive hunk of rock looming over us. Our route goes straight up the middle on the currently shaded West face.

First look at the wall: Damn! I didn't know they made granite this steep! Most geology in Switzerland is such that granite walls are slabby and polished by glaciers. Limestone is where you'll find the overhanging stuff. But this wall proved to be the exception to the rule. 200m of vertical or overhanging beautifully structured granite glowing yellow-red in the sun. It took us a bit to find the start of the route. I led the first pitch. Nominally a 4a. Not even a warmup grade, even at my current meek training levels. It felt way harder.

We may be forgiven for not spotting this label right away.
Just look at the angle of the wall behind Gigi!
Me, starting up the 6a+.

Mark was next on a 5c+. He set off on the traverse and soon got stuck. Couldn't figure out the sequence and spent more than an hour on this single lead. Next was Luigi on a 6a+ steep slabby corner. Beautiful climbing, but hard. Then the first real obstacle: the first of two 6b+ pitches. Somehow get over an overhanging bulge. Even just looking at the pitch it became immediately obvious that few people free climb it. The original gear of wooden blocks and pitons was densely spaced and equipped with slings to pull on and step into. Where we had only a handful of bolts for an entire pitch up to this point, the folks who retrofitted the route deemed it necessary to place a bolt every meter or so here.

Luigi trying to negotiate the supposed 6b+ bulge.
Old densely spaced gear. Clearly used for aiding up.
Grimacing after making the decision to turn around.

Luigi gave it his best shot but ended up pulling on gear to get through this pitch. Mark followed with two backpacks, Luigi's and his own. Then me. Even pulling on gear it still felt like a 6b. No way this goes as a 6b+ free. It also felt like a somewhat illogical line to us. At least from looking at the wall to the left and right, it seemed like it would be easier to get up there. Always a bit disappointing if routes, especially supposed classics, don't follow the naturally weakest line up a wall but instead seek out difficulties intentionally. Makes for less elegant routes.

Still a great day on great wall in OK company ;-P
You can tell from my rappel ropes that this is steep.
Dangling in the void while gliding down.

We convened at the top of this pitch. It was the first of two such cruxes and we were only about half way up the wall at this point. It was obvious that we could finish the route. It was also obvious that we would not be able to finish it according to our usual ambition and style of on-sighting and free climbing every pitch. Thus we decided to bail and return some other day when we are stronger.

The tiny piece of rock that nearly hit us. Not survivable if it actually had found its target...
The small lake behind the hut. Look at all the cairns people built in it.

After rappelling about 100 meters back down to the ground we started pulling down the ropes. They got stuck. While we were still debating and packing our gear, Luigi kept trying to wiggle them free. Suddenly he shouted "rock!". All I could do in response was blindly sprint away uphill. A huge boulder smashed right into the place Mark and I had been sitting and packing gear just seconds earlier. Considering the size of the thing, and the fact that it dropped on us from 20 meters up, our helmets would only have been a sad joke and the rock a definitive widow-maker. Close call. The only casualty was Mark's down jacket that took a direct hit while lying on the ground. Added a few more holes to its existing collection of tears.

Only a few days later we learned that two climbers from our extended climbing circles weren't as lucky and died. Sober reminder that while these mountain playgrounds have rewarded me with some of the best moments and friendships of my life, they are also responsible for some of the most painful and tragic. Always be diligent.

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