OverviewBalmflue is a 1480m tall hill/mountain in Solothurn,in the Jura range (Western Switzerland). This part of the region is famous for the Jura rock climbs, characterized by limestone and climbs set in greenery. Jura rock isn't particularly noted for solidity but the numerous exquisite shapes makes climbing interesting here.
Balmflue has two pretty popular routes: Balmflue Sudgrat (South ridge) and Sudwande (South Face). The ridge is longer and slightly harder that the face, and is probably the classic here.
The climb is 18 pitches with 3 pitches of 5c-5c+ and is 450 m long. The approach walk is an additional 400m of elevation. [F5c=5.9YDS]
4c, 5c, 3c, 5a+, 3b, 5a+, 5c+, 5a+, 4b, 4c, 5b, 4b, 3b, 5b, 5c, 4c.
Getting ThereYou can walk to the climb from Solothurn in about 2 hours, or take the bus to Ruttenen or Balm and walk a bit over an hour.
MotivationWell, this was my second attempt at the route. Last time I went with my most regular partner Dieter, autumn of 2010. Unfortunately we missed the correct start and instead Dieter began leading a much harder pitch (6a). I could not follow it (I was new to the sport then; I can do it now), so we decided that he will be lowered down. The route is not clean and straight, the rope tangled with some shrubs and rocks and a foot-wide boulder came loose and hurt Dieter's knee! Nothing serious, but enough for him not to climb for 1-2 weeks. This was the first time I was involved in a climbing áccident" and felt I shouldn't bother trying this route again.
But this year (22 March 2011) when my other partner Klaus invited me, I was more experienced, and a long route appealed to me, so I agreed.
Well, this time it was incident free, however I would still say this climb is more an adventure than pure rock climbing skill.
Trip detailsWe reached Solothurn at 10:00 am and met each other. We decided not to wait for the bus and began hiking. It was a pleasant day, about 10 degrees Celsius and not too sunny, just what I like on a climbing trip.
About 1 hour into the hike we get to the point where the descent trail intersects the approach to the climb. There I wore the harness/gear and hid my backpack behind some trees. We reached the the start of the climb and had eaten and ready to climb at 12:00 noon. The agreement was to do alternate leads, which we followed mostly except one or two places where I asked Klaus to lead extra.
The approach walk can be scary because you hear rock fall all the time. There are many mountain goats inhabiting and they keep kicking off stones. I felt good I was wearing the helmet already (since I didn't have a bag now). Luckily the route per se it now solid with many climber having done the route and kicked out any loose rock.
That day our route was in top condition: it had been dry the previous days, so there were no unpleasant surprises (like pockets of dirty water in the holds). Two particularly interesting things remember are:
1. After 3 pitches and a short scramble, you come across a via ferrata (it is basically a solid steel cable you use to support yourself as you hang-traverse a 100 foot drop, the length of the traverse being about 40 feet long). Nothing hard, but thrilling if you haven't done that before.
2. Around the 12 or so pitch, you need to jump across a chasm that is some 6 feet wide and maybe 50m deep. That is scary! And when you jump, you land the other side which is about 1 m lower, so you land pretty hard.
With these adventures, it is a very enjoyable climb, lots of variation, and some of the best climbs happen higher up. Lots of easy grade climbs/scrambles too, we mostly simul-climbed them.
Once you reach the end of the climb, you followed the crest and reach the actual summit which is about 15 mins hike, there you find the summit book. The descent will take about 1-2 hours down to Ruttenen (don't forget to pick up your back pack if you left it there!).
Essential GearA 50 m single rope, 12 quickdraws and a few slings/biners is all you need. Rappelling down isn't an option on this route after the 8 or 10th pitch.
p.s. I just checked up the guidebook and was surprised to see it says bring 1-9 nuts and 2 friends (Klaus had done this route before, so I left it to him to decide things). I can't remember needing nuts/friends at any point on this route. I must admit I pulled on expresses 3-4 times at the harder sections, but can't see how carrying nuts would have helped.