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. We camped at the parking lot right below the wall. Woke up early, chewed a quick breakie and started up. The wall and the climb are visible from the parking, but the guidebook say 1h 40 min. I’m like: “That can’t be so long, I can see the wall from here!” What a fool. It’s super steep. Like very, very, very steep. And the path is vague. So we lost the path and sloooowly scrambled up to the base, passing loose rock, dirt, traversing along snow piles… Some bits were definitely unsafe, like short 5a-ish soloing in approach shoes. In about 1.5h we got to the base, puuuuhhh. What a start.
Climbing. Poorly protected limestone, yay! So Swiss. Easy pitches have about 2-3 bolts, 6b’s had a few more, a traverse pitch was the only one well-bolted. So gear placement adds some special spicy flavour to this magnificent climb.
P1 & 2 - 6a+ & 6b - two intro pitches, common for all the climbs on the wall; 6b is definitely a solid one, though you are still fresh and close to the ground so you fly it up;
P3 - 6b - my lead and I failed the crux. Going up the starting flakes, I was so confident that when I arrived to tiny crimps far above the last bolt, I was scared and pumped and had to fly down a few meters; than I spent about 20 minutes trying to find the right way and got totally exhausted, so all the rest 20+ meters after the crux went like in a dose;
P4 - 6a - Ilona’s lead, went well despite runouts.
P5 - 5c - fuck that was a scary pitch for me! No bolts. Cool corner crack leads to the overhang at the belay ledge. Courage and confidence were drained by that time, so I had a take to catch my breath before realising it’s actually not a difficult move.
P6 - 6a and two bolts, things started getting spicy. Moves are great though, just mental state is a bit shaky.
P7 - 6a - my lead again. I’m not amazing at traverses, so I felt this one was very delicate. Though bolting here feels generous. After the traverse one goes up a very expose pillar: leading it in the mist it felt especially cool.
P8 - 6a+ - I led this one and I don’t remember much apart from me being nervously crimpy very sharp limestone, feeling pain, but being glad it’s sticky as hell. Hard to protect this one too - no cracks or juges, just tiny face crimps and not many bolts.
P9 - 5c+ - following up some corners and ledges. Tired.
P10 - 4c - the worst pitch in my life! It’s a solo ladder up a pile of choss. One doesn’t have bolts (choss!) and one can’t put any pro (choss!) and one can’t move fast (f*cking choss!) so one just slowly and stressfully scrambles on top of the pile and grabs the belay anchor like a life buoy.
Descend. Fuck that was the scariest descend in my life. So for the start: one has to rap all the way down, 10 pitches. Mentally exhausted by this point, we decided we wanna be down asap, so Ilona quickly connected and threaded the ropes and disappeared from the edge. It became misty, so I couldn’t see her. After a few minutes, I checked, if the rope is free and it felt so: I pulled it up to load into my reserso. Suddenly, the rope got pulled back and loaded. I was a bit spooked. Shouted down, no reaction. In a moment my phone started ringing. Ilona: ‘Don’t pull the rope! I missed the belay station, it’s all the way to the right behind the pillar, but I can’t get to it, I’m stuck. I’ll try to traverse, but don’t pull the rope until I call you again’. I said okay. And than my phone died. (Noooooo…) First thought: “It seems this adventure is getting more and more epic. It also seems my guests will have drinks without me tonight”. Waited about five minutes more and tried to shout down to Ilona. No response. I started nervously inventing various ways of calling the rescue without a phone and my imagination went wild… Suddenly I hear Ilona’s voice somewhere very near: 'Hey, the rope's free!' I rapped down and hugged her to celebrate both of us being alive. We started pulling the rope, but in a minute it got seriously stuck. Remember this horrible 4c choss pitch? Exactly. So Ilona climbed the pitch up, freed it, came down, we started pulling… and yeah, it got a little further and got stuck again. Same drill. It took us about an hour for the first rap and our mental strength was almost over. I threw a nervous joke to keep a bit of stoke in Ilona: ‘Nine raps ahead of us, yay!’ And that was the moment, when she accidentally dropped her belay device (nooooooo…) And the rest nine abseils were slow and painful. Luckily no more stuck ropes.
The walk down the steep non-existing path in the dark felt like a nightmare. I didn’t have a headlamp (noooooooo….) and I thought it was a birthday miracle that none of us broke the neck.