Üschenen, via "Diagonale", 220m, 6a, 1p.a.

Third day of continuous climbing action. Third day where I left the house before 7am and only got back late at night. It was starting to take a toll on me so I asked my climbing partner of the day, Arne, for a plaisir route. He suggested the "Diagonale", which he had climbed in the past. Nominally a 6b, but the crux is a single hard move that most people climb by stepping on a bolt.

View up the Üschenen valley.
Our parking spot at the restaurant. Accessed via an exciting gravel road.
Arne pointing out the massive roof we'll have to navigate somehow.

This required a drive via Bern for a total time of roughly 2.5 hours. Just as well, as Arne and I hadn't talked in a long time and enjoyed the opportunity to catch up without distractions. As it turns out I wasn't the only one who was a little bit tired. Just the prior weekend Arne had completed a 600 km (!) bike ride interrupted by only three hours of sleep. He's training for some even longer self-flagellation tour. "Quäl dich du Sau!". I have done long bike rides in my day, but 600km in one go is something else. Chapeau!

First pitch. Steep, but extremely friendly and fun to climb.
Chickenheads. A relief to finally reach them on the blank slab.

To make up for the long drive, getting to the rock itself only required a short stroll up a cow pasture. And what a rock it is! A hugely overhanging wall that makes you wonder how there could be any climbable line through it, let alone a 6a. Embedded in beautiful alpine surroundings with views towards lake Oeschinen, commonly regarded the most picturesque of Switzerland's smaller lakes. Off to a promising start!

Arne coming up.
Look at that piece of rope! Imagine hanging in that position. A privilege reserved for hard movers, not us...

I got to lead the first pitch. Graded a 5c+ it felt much easier. Steep, even occasionally mildly overhanging, but with big friendly jugs to pull on. A great confidence builder for the start! But as it turned out, the following slabby pitches, while nominally easier, proved far more challenging and mentally taxing. Arne was sufficiently intimidated by his memory of one of the pitches that we swapped leads so I got to do that one. Which of course also meant that he got to lead the king pitch: the overhanging 6a sneaking out from under the massive roof. Athletic big bold moves. Super satisfying and fun. Framed by a curtain of glittering water droplets flying off the lip of the cave like so many pearls on a string.

A bunch of 3000ers.
Arne in the steep 6a.
Some athletic moves. The crux sequence is quite pumpy with hard pulls and high feet. Luckily on good holds.

Once out of the cave comes the route's namesake traverse pitch. Not exciting in terms of climbing difficulties (it's a 4c), but with dramatic exposure and great views. The final pitch contains the 6b boulder move. Starting from a comfortable plateau that you can walk around on, one needs to gain a small ledge. The problem is that the wall below the ledge is overhanging with nothing for your feet (and hard to see to begin with). I puzzled around on it and tried several variations before finally giving up and using the bolt as a foothold. Arne remembered the move from the first time he climbed this route, so he knew what to do. But in the end he also had to admit defeat and use the bolt for aid. A tiny blemish on an otherwise clean ascent for the both of us.

Me demonstrating a hands free rest even in a steep wall ;-)
Hanging out. Lake Oeschinen in the background.
Arne in the traverse pitch.

We topped out on a wide plateau and walked for some hundred meters or so to reach the top of another climbing area where a lot of easier routes converge. Another party was getting ready to rappel so we offered to share ropes. We made it down in only a handful of quick maneuvers. A great finale for a great weekend!

Sören and Arne.


Mittagflue, "Südkante", ~300m, 5b

Day two of my long weekend without kids and wife. This time, Björn and I took Lode out for his first alpine multi-pitch climb. He graciously agreed to write about the experience from his point of view:

I had only a very small amount of climbing experience from the climbing gym a few weeks before, and a few climbs in the Ardennes in Belgium long ago but those were much smaller than today.

Lode and Björn on the approach
Mittagflue looming large.

First we had a hike from the parking near Guttannen to the rock face, which took less than an hour. The rock face looked very impressive, from a distance but especially close by. We could already see some climbers on the rock from a distance.

Lode at the base of the wall.
Off to a good start!

The climb itself went well but this was thanks to help and encouragement from my companions. They were also the ones lead-climbing and following me, with me in the center, so I didn't need to handle the safety critical things and collection of gear, just try to climb up with my legs and arms. It's amazing how fast time flew by, since it took over 4 hours to climb up the entire rock but it felt much faster, likely because there were around 10 pitches, subdividing time into 10 individual goals to reach. Each pitch had difficulty levels ranging from 3c to 5a, with most around 4b. These are considered easy by experienced climbers, but definitely not for me. Each pitch was around 30 meters and ended with a small ledge that in several cases barely allowed taking off your backpack to take a sip of water. Standing with your feet and hanging off the rope was the better method to "comfortably" hang out on these ledges but I was not very comfortable with that yet initially.

Good mood at the anchor.

On most pitches, I succeeded in climbing up, on the harder ones I needed a lot of help and encouragement related to where to put my hands and feet. Björn gave the advice to feel with your hands as you don't always see the ledges, and Sören said at one point, when I thought I wouldn't be able to use my foot on a diagonal piece of wall, that the force would point in the correct direction when actually moving there, and I felt that indeed it worked! On the very last pitch, however, I wasn't able to find any place for my feet even with help. I instead got offered to use Björns rope to pull myself up from - which succeeded in the end, and allowed me to reach the summit! I regret not making that part on my own, but should try similar conditions on a much lower pitch instead to practice this.


The weather today was very sunny given what the year was like so far, however there were some small drizzles of rain happening at regular intervals during the day, never big enough to be considered an issue, fortunately it never required us to turn back early.


To get back down, there were two options: rappel down the way we came, with as only minor issues that some groups of climbers were still climbing up below us and the ropes were 50m which was just too short to allow comfortably going down 2 pitches at once. Or, hike by going to the nearby waterfall, and rappelling down 3-4 pitches there.

The village of Guttannen. Framed by the steep walls of the Abadia (7a) route through the West face.
Final approach.

Sören had earlier experience with this hike down with spring snow and described it as "slippery scrambling with immense exposure". Originally the plan was to rappel. However, today we noticed most climbing groups in front of us took this route (or, at least, we did not see them rappelling down), so we decided to take it again as well.

A last bit of scrambling to reach the descent trail.

To start off we had to ascend a bit more with ropes, but with regular hiking shoes though which makes a big difference. Then was a relatively normal trail, just with some rocks or trees blocking it every now and then, but this trail was the easiest part of the whole way down. After a small detour due to reaching an unmarked dead end, we started descending. This was really scary since a lot of the descent was not actually a hiking trail, but rocks to climb down from bare, sometimes even requiring experienced climber manoeuvres for placing hands and feet similar to the climb up, except this time without equipment. I got a lot of help and advice from Sören and Björn for this. There were at least a dozen of such sections of around 10 metres high to be conquered on different parts of the way back, as well as longer sections that were less extreme but still required use of both hands and feet to get down, and one section where we had the choice to rappel (and did).

Not a good idea to fall here...
Scrambling down wet rock.

In the end we reached the beginning of the final 4 rappels, with a very awkward ledge to start the first one. This went pretty well and much faster than hiking and climbing! However this also had its challenges: I was not used to rappelling on this type of rock wall (but more vertical walls), which had quite a few diagonally angled parts. At one point I was avoiding bushes on the right side, which made me climb on such a diagonal part to the left, which eventually caused me to swing freely with the rope towards the right, smashing me against a rock right next to those bushes. This was quite an important lesson on keeping your legs spread wide open while climbing down, and keeping an eye on the shape of the wall and the rope direction.

More descent.
Rappelling next to a waterfall.

Overall the climb down took longer than up! Sören mentioned the theory of type I and type II fun. Type 1 is just direct fun, type 2 is when the moment itself can be miserable, but is fun in retrospect. This event definitely was more on the type II end of the scale, but the enjoyment as soon as hitting the bottom ground, and the food afterwards, were the most fun and rewarding I had in a long time!

Well deserved ;-P


Läged Windgällen, "Zentralpfeiler", 300m, 6a

Anita and the kids were travelling to see her parents in Germany. This left me with a long weekend on my own. Not only that, but a long weekend with a great weather forecast. It was ON! For Saturday I recruited Luigi to head for the Klausenpass and climb the Läged Windgällen via the central pillar. Fairly sustained 10 pitches of up to 6a difficulty. The approach looked conveniently close from the pass road, but in the end we still spent quite some time on it. There's only the faintest of trails leading up to the wall, so we spent quite some time scrambling up pathless steep terrain.

Convenient approach on a side road of the Klausenpass. We walked, but you can also pay to drive this restricted access road.
I'm frequently amazed by old infrastructure like this natural stone wall. Someone manually collected all the rock to create and fence a meadow. So much effort.
Steep scree on the final few meters to the wall. Our objective is the central pillar in this image.

Once we started climbing we quickly realized that this was graded according to old school burly mountaineer's standards. Not only that, but it also seemed somewhat inconsistent - sometimes a 5c felt easier than a 5a and the 5a (usually well within our comfort zone) would make us swear. Two thirds of the way up there is a bit of an interlude where you have to traverse an easy pitch from the pillar to the main wall. This was only made memorable because there was still snow in the depressions that we awkwardly tried to avoid in order to keep our climbing shoes dry.

Luigi looking over to Clariden, trying to count how many people are still going ski touring at the end of May.
Sören on the sharp end.
Luigi on the sharp end.

According to the route book we are only the second party this year to complete this route. The book dates back all the way to the early nineties and it seems that most years only see a handful of ascents. Past the route book we still had two more pitches to go - the crux 6a and a bonus 4a scramble to top out. It was actually quite a amazing that there was any line at all to the top. On the left, a massive and massively overhanging cave that was running with water. Completely impassable. To the right, a series of smooth roofs. Also completely out of the question for us. But between them runs a slightly overhanging crack. This is where the route snuck through. Very athletic and satisfying moves. I always appreciate routes that follow the logically weak line up a face the most. Contrast this to many modern routes that artificially seek out difficult sections in order to ramp up the grade of the climb. Feels forced.

Growing exposure.
Beautiful pitch high above the deck.
Lots of air under my butt.

Two rappels from the top bring us to a ledge that we walked into a different route from where we climbed up. This is harder (I think 7a?) and thus correspondingly steeper. This makes for a comfortable and smooth rappel experience. Walking back to the car we pass a small alm and a single hut. This was deserted on the way up, but now there was a group of 10 very drunk and very loud women singing on the terrasse. Celebrating a bachelorette party they sent the bride to be to us with shots. She apparently had to share a certain number of drinks with random men and they were starved for men up here. We happily obliged ;-P That's how to end a climb in style: have a bunch of women sing "You are cool guys! You are cool guys! Shalalala!" after you.

We had to walk this exposed ledge to get to the rappel route. Not particularly difficult, but high consequence if you do fall...
Me working up the crux pitch. Hard to tell, but this required a bouldering move to leave a small cave at the anchor. Then a ton of slightly overhanging layback moves.
Yeti out of the fog.
Setting up the rappels.
Nice rappel anchor. A single pillar of rock to stand on with steep (sometimes overhanging) walls around me.
The free hanging rope gives an idea of how steep the wall is.