Saturday, September 8, 2018

Directe on Miroir d'Argentine (5a) - up the wall of silver

So there’s no real story, why Jarek and me chose to climb ‘Directe’ but we were so glad we did! Miroir d’Argentine means ‘the silver mirror’ and it’s a stunning wall: you look at it from below and it’s so unbelievably beautiful. A few days ago I found this cool video of Remy brothers’ father, 94 years old Marcel Remy, climbing that line. Super inspiring footage, gorgeous views of the Miroir wall, amazing muisc and they found a much better beta for the descend than we did (spoiler: they’ve paraglided down!).

Directe is one of the easiest lines on Miroir d’Argentine main wall, 12 pitches long, but all of them are pretty mellow, not harder than 5a. It was raining for a few days and Miroir doesn’t get any sun, so we thought the climbs might be wet. Plus we went with our friends and camped the day before, so weren’t fast in getting ready in the morning. I was quite keen on trying to climb something easy in the approach shoes, Jarek was happy to climb something easy to practice placing gear… so the choice was perfect. Our friends, Doug and Joce, went for a harder and longer line, Zygofolis (14 pitches long, 6a+). ‘How long could it take? Most pitches are 5c’s!’ - bragged Doug. Sure thing.

Approach. We woke up at 7, but finally set off from the camp at around 9:30. Where did more than 2 morning hours go? - mystery. But when you had a great night and you take things easy, time goes by at a different speed. 10 minute drive from the camp and we are at the huge parking lot by the path to Miroir. We followed the description of the approach from CampToCamp: start by the bridge, cross it, follow across the pasture and look for the trail. It took us a while to find the right trail though. Don’t get fooled: the correct trail is very prominent and it’s all the way on the other side of the pasture, so cross it first. The trail is steep, it took us about an hour to get to the base (Doug, a cardio machine, ran it up in about 40 minutes though!).

The wall looked wet. In some places we saw small waterfalls running down, very encouraging. Our climb started to the right from the trail, so we started scrambling up and right. The scramble quickly turned into grade ~4 solo climbing. I went up first and saw a few parties up on the wall, so I reckoned we should be close and kept climbing. Finally we got up on a huge ledge, which had a metal plate with the name ‘Directe’. From there we could see, that instead of sketchy soloing from the left side we could have done a gentle approach from the right. Nah well ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Climbing. I wanted to test climbing in my approach shoes, so asked if Jarek could lead the first pitch. He started quickly, but at about 5 meters to the top he got stuck: unusual terrain, not being warmed up yet, having to step on wet rock - everything together made the start for him uneasy. It took Jarek a while to figure, how he wants to move, warm up his hands and execute it. He even slipped once on the way, but caught himself and was super relieved to get to the belay. I followed and got confident, that my fiveten tennies were just fine for this climb. Joce and Doug started straight after me (our routes shared the first pitch), but I haven’t seen them anywhere close since.

P2. 4a - my lead, super easy stuff. I went up quickly and met a team of two frenchies at the belay, whom I saw on the wall when we were approaching. They seemed to be arguing with each other. One of them wore a bike helmet, another one was hanging on the rope two bolts in.

I set up a belay and shouted to Jarek to climb. Than turned around and said ‘Hey! How’s it going?’ The frenchies looked at me and went ‘It’s very wet up there, we are not sure we can make it’. And I went: 'Oh, that’s a shame! But wasn’t there another party above you?’ - ‘Yes, there was a team, who was able to climb it, but we are not sure. We’ll let you go first and than we decide’. ‘Okay, good plan’ - I agreed. Jarek toped out at the same time and I explained him the situation. ‘Interesting, mind leading the next pitch then?’ - ‘Why, sure!’ - and we switched the belays quickly. 

I started climbing and quickly realized, what spooked the frenchies: the wall was soaked, it was pouring down. 

P3. 5a - ‘Letterbox pitch’ - The third pitch is one of the funnest pitches of the route and the topo calls it ‘the letterbox’. It’s basically a narrow, diagonal chimney and one has to do a full body jam and be a little creative to get up. Especially when it’s wet. But it’s not super difficult (5a!) or scary. Just different. And wet. And narrow. I had a lot fun climbing it up. Jarek had a bit less of it: unfortunately you can’t really fit in with a large backpack. 

When he got to the belay, he told me the frenchies bailed. They saw us getting up so easily, got a bit frustrated, asked him to unclip their draw and started abseiling down. Apparently, they also asked him, why the hell his partner didn’t climb in rockshoes. Well, why one of them climbed in a bike helmet?!

[Further pitches -->]
[Descend -->]

Monday, August 27, 2018

Alhambra (6b+) - Underpromised, overdelivered

Weirdly, first time I heard about Alhambra was just when I moved to Switzerland from someone who never even climbed here. Facebook chatting with a climbing friend from London, I told him that we are going to Ponte Brolla over the weekend and he replied ‘Oh there’s this route there, Alhambra, which I really want to do one day’. I looked it up in the black-and-white guidebook: it was one of a dozen dotted lines on Monte Garzo, without any comments to it. When we arrived to Ponte Brolla then and climbed something slabby and unmemorable, my friends were looking to the right asking each other: ‘Where is Alhambra again? Ah there, right! Looks cool’ - to me it looked still like nothing special, but I thought: ‘This Alhambra must be a real something,  if everyone knows it’. And I heard about it many times since. It’s even on Mountain Project (*I’m always surprised to find any european topos there*). So now I know for fact: it’s indeed a real something. 18 pitches of fantastic something, one of the best routes I’ve climbed so far.

Everyone advises not to climb Alhambra in summer as it’s freaking hot, but well - Ticino was the only place last weekend with a decent weather. They also say the place is very crowded, but damn, in Switzerland in good weather - what isn’t?.. So thanks for all the betas but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  

Approach. After chilling in Zurich for the whole rainy Saturday Ilona and me drove towards Ponte Brolla late in the evening. Arrived around 10 pm, parked near the entrance to the approach trail and bivvied in to the nearby forest. Woke up still in the dark at 5:45 am, fought for 15 minutes with the idea ‘why the hell we are doing all that’, had a quick breakfast waiting for the sun to rise and walked to the base of the climb. It’s a 20 minute walk and the trail is well marked with the stone pyramids. Also ‘Plaisir Sud’ has a photo of the wall, so there’s no chance to get lost. When we arrived, we were the only ones in the whole area (~7:30 am) and we had about 4.5 hours before the sun hits the wall, perfect.

Frankly speaking, the wall looked very unimpressive. I was not inspired, at all. It’s a long dirty-grey slab followed by two vertical faces - everything covered with bushes and grass, a bit of moss here and there, some pine trees. Meh. Not photogenic. After dramatic vertical walls of Furka, Wendenstocke etc. these jungly slabs just didn’t do it for me. And that’s why their ‘wow’ effect during climbing was so much greater (underpromise but overdeliver!). 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Fair Hands Line (6a), Handegg - The most plaisir out of all plaisirs

Story. Jarek and me had “Fair hands line” on our ‘to-do-together’ list for a while and eventually we decided we’d do it some time in fall: the wall is not very high and dries quickly, so should be climbable also late in the season. But a few days ago the weather gods kept sending us very controversial promises about the high places, so we ended up in Meiringen area. Every trip report says ‘Fair Hands Line’ is a pleasant mellow climb: great rock, just slightly underprotected, short approach, no rappels and beautiful views. What else one might wish for an easy and fun day out? And happy to say: it definitely met our expectations. 

Approach. Easy-peasy 15 minutes (I feel like it’s rarely the case in Switzerland, haha). We drove to the Handeck Hotel and parked at the bottom, than walked to the station of Gelmerbahn. At the station we got stopped by a very Swiss (damn polite and devoted to her job) Train Service Lady, who was eager to explain to us the detailed instructions for the descent (spoiler). We arrived at the base at about 9:30 am and there was just one single party on the Fair Hands Line, up the first pitch. The guidebooks and other trip reports warned, that the line is super popular and gets crowded on a good day. The day was perfect and we were only the second team in the line. After about an hour we saw another team at the bottom racking up and two more teams approaching. So as anywhere on classic easy lines in Switzerland: the earlier you start the better.
Our friends, Joce and Will, who tagged along, did a neighbouring climb, Mummery (6c), also a classic from the Remy brothers. Even though their line is literally just next to the Fair Hands Line, they climbed in comfortable solitude for the whole day.

[Gear beta -->]
[Beta pitch by pitch -->]
[Descend -->]
[Thoughts -->]

Saturday, August 18, 2018

La Fin de Babylone (6c), Chamonix - When nothing went like it was planned

A month ago I went to the Arcteryx Academy down in Chamonix, where I did an aid climbing clinic (so fun!) and got to know V. He seemed like a cool guy: not very strong or experienced, but definitely excited about climbing. He lived in Geneva and he said he goes to Chamo often with his alpine club. We exchanged emails and I said: if I was down for a weekend in Chamonix this summer, I’d hit him up. A couple weeks later the idea of going there emerged quite spontaneously: the weather report was solid (which doesn’t happen that often!) and a few friends from Zurich were heading there at the same time. Texted V. - he agreed to climb straight away. We discussed a few route options and I sent him a list with a few routes up Brevent and Index, all of them 6a’s, sport / mixed, not very long. Not the best ones in Chamonix, but… I haven’t climbed anything there and I never climbed with V. and I’m quite inexperienced weak-ish climber, so you know - I was just excited to go do something mellow in this iconic place as a start. 

V. suggested we go for Nabot Leon up on the Red Pillar - super classic, alpine route in Aiguille du Midi. Why not, I thought. He had double ropes, but didn’t have a rack, so I brought mine. We thought we’d catch the first lift up Aiguille du Midi on Saturday morning, do a full day there and climb something short and mellow on Brevent the next day. But absolutely nothing went as planned.

[Approach -->]
[Beta pitch by pitch -->]
[Thoughts on climbing with a stranger -->]

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Lofoten, part 2 - Climbing, Days 4-6

Day 4. Another rainy day.
After camping for three days below the Gandalf wall, we moved our camp to Kalle beach and went straight for a climb at Myggapillaren. It’s a very beautiful place and the walls look quite dramatic. 

The midnight butterfly (N6 etc.) - The climb we chose had 3 stars in the guidebook and a vague description for the starting moves. Ilona said she wouldn’t like to start. More out of a team spirit rather than out of stoke, I said I’ll start; racked up and hopped onto a slabby, almost hold-less wall. I had to traverse on that slab for about 2 meters up and right to reach the first crack and put some pro. The ground was muddy, I wasn’t warmed up and felt shaky. Ilona spotted me behind as I made the first unconfident attempt of the traverse...and fell down to the ground from about 3 meters up. Woooooo, that was quite a flight. "Okay", I thought, "let’s try to put some pro into this crack from the ground!" Ilona stepped on her tiptoes and jammed a tiny nut as best as she could from where she were. "Bomber!" - I said, and repeated my traverse attempt, this time not being spotted, but clipped. But having a pro didn’t quite improve my head game and my second attempt was even less confident and yes, I repeated the fall. The nut popped. I fell all the way onto my back, the grass cushioned the fall. I wasn’t keen on trying any more. Ilona was spooked seeing my flying twice, so wasn’t excited to try either and we bailed. 10 minutes into our hike back to the camp it started raining. Fab.

Waiting for the rain to stop, we went to Svolvaer just for fun and came back again around 6 pm, when the clouds disappeared and Kalle beach was drying in the evening sun. The perfect crack seen from the campsite, Puffriset, was unoccupied by anyone. Unbelievable! - thought we and ran to the base.

Puffriset (N5, N5+, N6, N5-) - I led the 1st and the 3rd pitches and quite enjoyed them, Ilona led the classy pitch 2, a really sweet hand and fist crack. The crux pitch is pitch 3 which has more and less scary variations, both of which go at N6. I chose the less scary but not a less fun and committing one. It’s a long-ish slab without any protection. Spooky, but very enjoyable, teased my nerves just a little. Super cool climb.

[Day 5. Geitvika + Festvåg again -->]
[Day 6 - An EPIC FAIL day. -->]

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Lofoten, part 1 - Climbing, Days 1-3

In July Ilona and myself spontaneously decided on a trip to Lofoten. Both my trad and my crack climbing skills were pretty much non-existent before that trip, but a sequence of life events made me wanna have a break from usual life, go somewhere far and push myself to try hard. And this trip was perfect for that. I’ll put together the details on how we got here and got around in another post, this one will be all about the routes we’ve done.

We were in Lofoten for six days and while we thought that it’d be reasonable to have one rest day in the middle… we didn’t. And auch! we regretted it later, being absolutely drained and dehydrated on our sixth day of climbing and having to bail in the middle of the route, as none of us felt mentally strong to push up a pretty sweet off-width chimney, after an epic 2.5h approach… but let’s not get ahead things. Let's take it day by day.

[Day 1. Gandalf. Great intro and warm up -->]
[Day 2. Festvåg. Just a little spicier -->]
[Day 3. Presten. BIG day -->]

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Excalibur, Wendenstöcke - A truly full-on

Excalibur! So classy. The easiest line in Wendenstöcke, the one Ueli Steck soloed back in the days (what a guy!). It features everything for an unforgettable adventure: exposure, cool moves and some very, very sparse bolting. 

The story. This one was quite a special climb. My 28th birthday, yay. Asked Ilona, if she’d be able to take off work and go climb some cool rock. She said yes, I got excited. We were choosing a line, which could be interesting but doable before 5-ish pm, so we could be home in time for a shower and my birthday drinks. She sent me her to-be-ticked list, I compared it to mine, did some research and got settled on Excalibur in Wendenstöcke. 10 pitches, we thought. 6b, we thought. How hard it could be, we thought. (Typical scenario for an epic full-on.) 

By the reasons unknown, The Universe decided it would hide from us the fact that Wendenstocke is (in)famous for its horrific approach and mental descend. Telling this story to my friends later, I figured everyone was aware this wall is hard. Everyone, but us. Which is cool: now looking back, I don’t think we’d do the climb, if we knew. But then we did the climb. 

[Approach -->]
[Pitch-by-pitch -->]
[Descend -->]

Graue Wand, Furka - 11 pitches of pure joy

Okay. Let’s see how this whole blogging about climbing will go. 

Starting with one of my absolute favorites so far, Niederman / Graue Wand in Furka, an absolute classic of the wall. First thing first: the name and the grade for this line varies from one guide to another. Dreams of Switzerland say the climb is called ‘Niederman’ and is a 6a. Plasir Ost say the line is ‘Graue Wand’ and it’s a 5c+. I’m gonna go with the harder grade, but with the nicer name: I’d refer to the line as ‘Graue Wand’ (since there are at least two other lines around Furka with the name ‘Niederman) and I’d say it’s a solid 6a, at least the crux pitch (the third one).

Why this line. Well it is a classic line in Furka, especially in low grades. But the choice was rather spontaneous. It was the first big-ish climbing adventure for Jarek and me, sort of a test piece, whether we can and want to partner up going forward (spoiler: it went well!). I climbed with my friend & mentor Ilona the previous day and we went for a classic linkup in Dammazwillinge, in Furka (the blog entry coming soon!). Jarek did a mountaineering tour with his mate, Chris, and the following day Chris wanted to bring his girlfriend up Graue Wand. To simplify logistics between all the folks involved, I suggested we do the same line like Chris. Jarek was like ‘Are you sure? All the guidebooks warn to not underestimate the difficulty of the line, it’s a rather hard 5c and on gear!’ but I was like ‘Yeaaaaaah! Come ooooon!’ and his severe reasonableness  melted under my burning stoke.

Approach. Classic swiss adventure approach, ~2h from the parking lot. The toughest bit is the last 100m up the steep (45’!) snow. We used crampons and ice axes to get to the base. Honestly it was my first time using both and I had a face fall doing my first step in crampons. It felt like the first step on high heels. Fucking uncomfortable but weirdly exciting. I saw folks doing this bit of approach without crampons and it went well, but they looked sketchy: it’s super steep and icy. So I’d say crampon up!
We arrived at the wall around 10 am and it was crazy crowded, about 4 parties in front, Chris and his girlfriend started first, so we waited good 1.5h before we actually hopped on the wall. A old-ish italian couple started right behind us, the women was leading right up Jarek’s butt. It was a shame. So yeah, the route is uncomfortably popular at the weekend.

Climbing. Every pitch is super pleasant and cool apart from two silly 4c + 4a (pitch 5 & 6) in the middle, both of which are dull scrumbly jungle walks. But you need them to get you to the terrific pitches 7 & 8.

[Pitch-by-pitch beta etc. -->]

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Yet another climbing blog

Blogs are so 2008. And we are half way through 2018 (shoooot, time flies!) yet here I am, being cheesy, starting a blog. Nah, it's not going to be any different from other climbing / adventuring / sometimes-sliding-into-boring-personal-crap kind of blog. But I can explain! 

First, I just came back from Norway after a week of stellar cracks at Lofoten. And before the trip I browsed the internet jungles for trip reports and route recommendations - but couldn't find much, so we followed the Rockfax guidebook route selection. And while mostly it was great, one day going for one of their 'Selected Top 50' lines on the island we had a horrific day with type-two-fun approach, epic bailing from a route and a nerve racking descend. I felt betrayed. 

Second, I moved to Switzerland a year ago and my German is - hmmm - conversational. I can order my beer no problem, but reading a stoked review of Excalibur route in Wendenstöcke in Swiss, I totally missed the part about the descend and the sandbagged grades. Which made our trip there 10x more epic ofc, yet we were glad to come back in one piece.

So yeah, somehow in Europe none of the platforms do as great job as Mountain Project does in the US (euros are also more secretive about their betas imho), people here speak different languages and guidebook topos are known to be very brief and approximate. So I thought the climbing world could benefit from crowdsourcing betas and reviews a bit more. And from my opinion of course, because we are in the internet after all.