Sunday, August 5, 2018

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. -->]

P1 - 5c - nice intro, not too easy for a 5c, polished cracks, pure joy, gets your head into the right mode
P2 - 5c+, a bit of laybacking
P3 - 6a, the crux pitch; I didn’t lead it clean: one needs a solid right hand jam to get above a small overhang; I got nervous, put a #1 and had to catch my breath.
P4 - 5b+ - cool pitch, getting through the 
P5 - 4c - silly pitch, has one odd bolt to show you where to go (go right from the belay stance);
P6 - 4a - an even sillier pitch, grass traverse;
P7 - 5c - my favorite pitch - photos below! Super exposed! A series of fabulous chimneys and giant flakes and spires above a huuuuuuge drop make your senses go woooooosh! Needs big gear, like #2 & #3.
P8 - 5a - no memories about this pitch, I guess it was an okay one.
P9 - 5c+ - quite a sweet pitch up a chimney.
P10 - 5c - a nice cocktail of delicate moves on the face and crack climbing, well bolted (or I got used to it by pitch 10).
P11 - 5b - my least favorite pitch, the rope drag to get you all the way to the right on top of the wall to the anchor is absolutely bitchy. But yeah, you are on top and it’s awesome.

Gear. One definitely needs a full rack. The climb has a few bolts per pitch, more difficult sections are bolted, but to feel comfortable you need to place pro. A few slings are handy to protect pitch 7 - you can wrap them around the spires!

Descend. Abseiling from the top, 11 times. Abseil stations are different from belay anchors on this line as the wall is so crowded. I am still quite scared of abseils and this one did not go smooth. Rope got stuck a few times, so we had to figure out how to free it. Once I got lost and couldn’t find a rap station. Also this italian couple was rapping on our heads and threading their rope when we were abseiling through the same ring, which is fine I guess but when you are inexperienced tired medium-sketchy climbers like Jarek & me, you feel stressed. At least we did.

Impressions. 10/10. Fantastic climb, pitch 7 is still one of my absolute favorite climbing experiences. Tickles your brain in a pleasant teasy way, but doesn’t get you spooked. Don’t go there on a nice summer weekend, if you don’t enjoy the agony of crowds.


  1. Great post - I agree with your assessment of the quality of the route!

    Funny to compare our experiences especially re crampons and trad gear. When we did it I was the only one with crampons and they didn't really seem necessary. And while we brought a few cams for backup, we hardly ever placed any.

    1. Thanks Sören! I read your blog quite a lot to set some expectations for the routes I'm planning to do :D Laughed hard at the queue situation, which cleared up quite quickly for you! But it's hard to believe you didn't place any gear... you are so bold! And it's hard to believe Vladimir had beared back in the days :P