2024-06-13

Schöllenen via (partial) "Amatörwäg", 330m, 6a

Good weather! Time for action. Björn, Arne and I headed up to Schöllenen once more. This time with the objective of climbing "Amatörwäg", a ten pitch 6a. We arrived relatively late because I first had to drop off the kids in the morning. But we still managed to find the start of the route and start climbing by 10 am. The very first pitch is a 6a slab that nobody was super keen on leading. I volunteered as the ice breaker and gingerly made my way up. Unfortunately I lost my nerve on one move and spoiled a clean climb by stepping on a bolt. Slabs are often not physically demanding as much as they are mentally draining. Friction climbing by sticking to the rock with the rubber of your shoes and skin of your palms never feels quite solid and as if you could slip at any second from the slightest imbalance. And indeed, all three of us would proceed to prove this intuition correct by taking a fall each on subsequent slab pitches.

Chamois in the morning.
Me leading the first pitch. Not steep, but frequently smooth.
Welcome ledges!

The route continues in a very similar style for most of its pitches. While some are nominally easier, there are multiple 6a's and even the easier ones are either also 5c+'s or, for the 5b's, made more challenging by wet streaks and vegetation. Luckily Björn and Arne found their rhythm and their granite feet and both stepped up to lead subsequent hard pitches. Quite remarkable how different this route is compared to the neighboring "Diagnoale" that I had climbed the week prior. Amatörwäg is almost entirely friction climbing on slabs while Diagonale follows a dihedral and is more about crack / layback climbing.

Arne venturing out on pitch two.
Not much to hold onto...
Family photo.

We had agreed to turn around no later than 2pm. This was necessary because Anita was travelling on a work assignment and thus I was responsible for getting the kids by 5pm. This gave us a fairly narrow time window for a ten pitch route and indeed we did not manage to finish all of the pitches but turned around after the seventh. On the one hand, this was not a terrible loss, as at that point we had already done all the cruxes and were left with only three easy bonus pitches. On the other hand, the weather was great and we had all gotten into the groove dancing on the slabs and had energy to spare. I guess this might be a motivation to return and finish the climb cleanly top to bottom?

Björn starting on one of the easier (but wet!) pitches.
Arne coming up.

The rappel went quickly and smoothly and we made it back to Langnau in time to pick up the kids with 5 minutes to spare. Great timing, great company, great climb, great mood. We finished the day on our terrace with beers and pizza.

Arne leading the final 6a pitch and the last one we climbed.
Zoom. From below, we expected the small overhang to be the crux. Far from it. That roof was entirely trivial and super fun to climb. The slab that Arne is on right now proved to be "mental" though! The smoothest of the entire climb, requiring extremely delicate footwork and balance. At this point we had six pitches of experience with that style and all three of us managed successfully. Chapeau Arne!
Sticking to the wall mostly by hope.
Björn demonstrating the technique.
Just like on Diagonale, this wall completely messed with my sense of scale again. Check out the toy cars on the highway below us!
Waiting my turn to rappel at our high point. Too bad we didn't get to finish it...
Two more rappels to go. At least on this particular wall there's no risk of rockfall or having the ropes catch anywhere ;-P

2024-06-12

Ruchbüel (2106m) to Saxerlücke

Finally a mostly dry weather forecast. But I found myself without a climbing partner. Why do people have jobs? What a nuisance! So I decided to go on a bit of a recovery and reconnaissance hike to the Alpstein. Parked the car at the village of Wildhaus and proceeded at a quick pace up the Flüretobel gorge. I was feeling strong and kept going straight up after exiting the gorge. After only a few minutes it occured to me that I was heading up the wrong mountain and towards passes that my prior research indicated would be too high still be covered in snow. Me being me, I continued regardless, hoping against hope that I might find a way to cross even in snow.

The Flüretobel Gorge.
Water straight from the rock?
Nice, but wrong, trail. Notice the artificial wall supporting it on the left. What an effort! That's almost a dam.

I passed a whole bunch of farmers preparing the alp for their sheep. Setting fences and collecting rocks from the meadows. Hard work, but it also looked satisfying. Not soon after it became very obvious that indeed, the higher trails were still inaccessible. Covered in deep snow and hidden in low hanging clouds. Not only would it be risky to try and proceeed, but it would also slow me down too much. So I paid for my stubbornness by turning around way too late and climbing an additional unnecessary 500 meters of elevation.

Optimistic footsteps.
These views eventually made me turn arouns. This is at roughly 2000m altitude and the trails I'd have to reach were a full 300 meters higher still. And hugging steep cliffs.
Switzerland. A farmer offering drinks to anyone passing by. Pay by feeding the piggy bank.

I retraced my steps back to the Teselalp and this time hiked up the correct trail. By the time I reached the Zwingli-Pass hut I had already climbed 1500 meters of elevation and descended 500. Yet despite my little detour I still made the par time signposted for reaching the hut from the valley ;-P The hut itself was supposedly already open but seemed completely deserted. Only few footsteps in the snow indicated that people had indeed visited it before. This season everything feels delayed by a month or so. We have had uncharacteristically bad weather and there's still a ton of snow in the mountains.

The Gierenspitz pyramid. I've climbed that one.
Altmann in the back. The snow needs to clear out some more, but there are some nice cliffs on it!
Kreuzberge. I wonder what my guidebooks have to say about them ;-P

It had been chilly and windy even in the village. Up on the mountain my t-shirt and windbreaker jacket were barely sufficient to preserve my body heat. Thus I stayed active and quickly continued on to the ridge, hiking towards the famous Saxerlücke. No other human around. But lots of marmots, chamois and some plump birds.

The ridge turned out to be a great observation post for all the beautiful limestone walls of the Alpstein range. So much to climb! I earmarked lots of mountains to look up in the guidebooks back home. Only once I reached the Saxerlücke did I stop for a rest and some food for the first time that day. I figured after almost 6 hours of non-stop hiking I had earned it ;-P

The trail was quite steep in places! Descending over rocks like here was actually pretty comfortable. The steep mud was much worse.
Saxerlücke.
One of the shit producers.

Descending from the mountain turned out to be long and a bit annoying. The first few hundred meters of trail crossed active sheep pastures and I had to wade through a slippery mixture of mud and sheep shit. Even after the pastures, the mud stayed with me and the trails required careful walking. The first village I reached was sufficiently tiny that it only gets a bus every hour. Not willing to wait I hiked along the road for a few kilometers until the next larger town. I arrived on the exact minute as a bus back to my car in Wildhaus. Made it back home in time to read the kids' bedtime story. Great day out that provided a lot of inspiration for future endeavors.

Muddy.
Wrong country? A sign on a shed next to the ruins of an old castle I passed.

26km, 1700m, 8h

2024-06-11

Cragging at Klus Balsthal

I had hopes for a multi-pitch climb. They were shattered by yet another rainy day. May saw 1.5x to 2x normal rainfall and June started out in a similar vein. On the other hand Björn was also still recovering from a cold and thus wasn't too sad about going for something a little less committing. So I studied the weather map and cloud patterns once more and decided we should try a new (to us) crag in the Jura. Klus Balsthal offers a short approach and a large variety of routes, including an interesting multi-pitch.

The rock seems to be some combination of limestone and sandstone? At least to my completely clueless non-geologist eyes it seems to feature some aspects of both types of rock. We opted to climb on the gray slab and immediately fell in love with it. It's steep and quite tall (we climbed on a 70m single rope). The climbing is technical on lots of tiny ledges and crimps. Tremendously satisfying. Since the wall is a little less than vertical you can surprise yourself with what tiny structures you can still cling to. Feels very badass despite being in very reasonable difficulty grades.

We successfully on-sighted / flashed:

  • Kleiner Unsinn, 6a
  • Direkter Pfeiler, 6a+
  • Mittlere Platte, 6b
  • Sanku, 6a+
  • Grosser Unsinn, 6a

I also took what were likely the two largest lead falls for me ever when trying to climb the 15 meter extension of the routes. I kinda eye-balled the terrain ahead without consulting the topo. It seemed like there was quite a bit of structure and it didn't seem materially different to what I had already climbed to get to that point, so I guessed it would be easy. Turns out the pitch was indeed graded 6c, so quite a bit harder. On my first attempt I got caught in an open door position. Only my left hand and foot stuck to the wall and my right side was slowly swinging outwards, shifting my center of gravity away from the wall. With the second attempt I made it past that section and then reached a position where I could stretch and barely get two fingers of my left hand into a small undercling crack. Unfortunately I didn't leave sufficient space to match my right hand into the same crack and trying to fix that mistake threw me off balance again. With 30+ meters of rope out at that point and quite a bit above my previous clip I fell past a few bolts before being arrested. No harm done and with my third go I finally completed the pitch to the top.

A great crag. An immediate new favorite of ours and lots of routes to go back to!

2024-06-07

Schöllenen via "Diagonale", 330m, 6a

A tricky weather day. Luigi and I opted for a late start to give the wall time to dry off and the morning showers to subside. We were still driving through short, but intense, rain showers. But by the time we passed Göschenen on the road up to Andermatt the weather gods were with us and it turned nice and sunny. Schöllenen offers an unbeatably short approach. You park on the pass road and walk for 10 minutes. Done. We were originally aiming for the "Amatörwäg", but looking up at the "Diagonale" convinced us that it must be a great climb and so we spontaneously changed our objective. I got to lead the first pitch. A 4a that you could basically walk up. This is followed by a slabby 5a before the route joins into the namesake diagonal dihedral that it follows the rest of the way. Very nice climbing that reminded me of Motörhead on Eldorado. Only this one is easier and actually has bolts ;-P Super fun climbing. Some pitches were a bit harder because the cracks were wet and slimy with running water, but it was all manageable. We made pretty good time so that the entire climb only took 2 hours.

The wall. Jumble of granite.
Luigi on the first real pitch. A 5a.
Luigi following up the crux pitch. 6a. I zig-zagged to avoid the vegetation and the slimy water runoff.

One thing that stuck with me from this wall is how it completely messes with your sense of scale. You start on a pitch, climb for a few minutes and think you've barely made any progress at all, yet you ran out of a full 50 meter rope length. This thing is big! We climbed 7 pitches for 330m to the end of the route, but this got us not even halfway up the wall. The other noticable thing is how at first the road with all its motorcycles and trucks is super noisy. Once you are on the wall however the roaring river Reuss is drowning out all other noises.

Dancing up a 6a slab.
Always carefully avoiding the slimy bits.
Nice dihedral all the way.
Me leading the final pitch into the giant roof.
Luigi coming up to the top anchor.
Top!
Luigi pointing out further ambitions.
The roof actually looks climbable / traversable. There's a consistent crack between it and the wall proper and one could imagine a pumpy traverse on underclings...
Rappelling.
More rappelling.