Via Classica, 15 pitches, UIAA V (YDS 5.7/58)The snow was melting and it was time to visit the Wilder Kaiser again. We hiked up Saturday morning in dubious weather. Interestingly, the rain gods let us get right to the base of the climb before celebrating in their malicious fury. We hiked back to the car dejected, and were home before 10 am.
Spring is fickle. Try again? Okay!
The next day looked completely different:
I think we can make the hike now. Leave the cold weather gear in the car.
Our plan was to climb the provocatively named Fleischbank ("meat bank" for the German-challenged). Does it resemble a slab of meat? Is it some kind of grim joke? Eventually I'll learn the reason and report back here.
Our route seemed like a good warm up for the season: "Via Classica," a fairly new climb that links 15 pitches to 5.7/5.8 up the northwest face. The climb appears a bit deflected, as it whiles away most of it's time on the left wall of not one but two massive chimney/gully systems. The protection was easy: all fixed! Of course this takes away from the feeling of adventure, and I'm already longing (why?) for the runout faces on a yellow alien and a rusty piton. But we got in some great climbing this day. Here's what happened:
8 am, I'm leading out from the snow moat where Daniel is tied to a bolt. Mid-5th class leads up then right to a belay. Another party is trudging up the snow. I wish we could simul-climb, but the double ropes would make it really awkward. Daniel leads out around a corner, then up to a belay out of sight. From this belay in a "Kessel" (German for a sort of cauldron or bowl, really nice word), I climbed behind a chockstone in a steep, solid chimney. Above, a 5.7 lieback move got my heart pumping. Later I saw the leader of the party behind us somehow walk around this, and felt silly.
Daniel headed up for the spectacular pitch 4. It would be his first 5.7 lead outside, something you are always bound to remember well! And it was a great pitch. I felt pretty insecure following on steep nubbins and smears during the transition from a corner crack across to another crack far on the right. Congratulations Daniel!
Two more mid-fifth class pitches led to a smooth-looking chimney that offered sustained 5.7 climbing. Back on one wall, feet on the other, then stemming, always with only one good foothold and one dubious location to smear the other foot against. For some reason I was remembering the time in high school when my friend made a giant paper mache bust of Dee Snider's head. Happily, we never got around to executing our plan to pull it across a nighttime highway on a rope when a car came along. At the time, just imagining the surprise a driver might feel to see the disembodied head of the lead singer of Twisted Sister floating across the road in their headlights caused me to giggle for 10 minutes at a time. Thank God I've found a more constructive use of my spare time!
We've reached the first "escape band!" This broad ledge offers escape to the easier North Ridge route. But the sky was blue, and we had virgin territory ahead: we cannot be removed from our goal! We hiked about 50 meters up heather and scree to reach pitch 9.
Whoa, interesting 5.7 slab climbing, then a run-out journey up ramps to a belay. Though all the protection pieces are bolts, they are definitely spaced in an alpine manner. In fact, on the last two pitches, you essentially had to solo 20 meters or more of 5.5 a couple of times. Either that or I was just passing by the bolts, something easy to do because they matched the color of the rock. How many times would one of us say "ah, there's a bolt!" Then a few seconds later "wait...wasn't there a bolt around here?"
As this point, perhaps because we couldn't help but chat about the silly things we see at work, the party below caught up to us. Daniel carefully climbed his second 5.7 pitch up attractive steep ramps on the side of the Great Chimney. I chatted with the fellow and his girlfriend at the tiny belay stance. Pitch 11 was mine, and maybe the best or the 2nd best next to pitch 4: a 50 meter very sustained grade V (5.7/5.8) journey up a steep chimney then up to more exposed terrain. I was on the right side of the huge chimney, pinching flakes and smearing my feet on the wall for upward progress.
It was a fantastic pitch. Here was my view of Daniel following, and you see the climbers behind us too:
Daniel was pretty tired, and that explains what happened on the next pitch. After the 2nd bolt, he was smearing his way up on the same mix of flakes and ramps when he seemed to be sliding down. I pulled in the rope quickly and caught him. The rock was quite rough in places, and I worried he could have cut himself badly even though it was a short (10 feet?) fall. He had the reaction that I know well of "huh, wow! Okay, let me get back up there and..." but I advised him to lower down and check everything over carefully.
The three of us had a hard time at the tiny crowded-for-two belay. I asked the party behind to wait until at least one of us left before bringing up his companion. He agreed, but suggested instead that we hang out while she comes up and then we wait for them to pass us. I said no, because Daniel was bleeding a bit from a cut on his finger and if we climbed this pitch we could relax on a large grass band rather than hanging in our harnesses at this cramped belay.
So Daniel and I exchanged rope ends. The way the rope was flaked in a little crevasse would have made it a nightmare to try to "flip". He belayed me out and I made it past the point where he fell with the aid of a solid hand-jam. Just the other day we were talking about crack climbing, and how much more confident you feel if you know how to jam securely. There aren't as many chances to learn this skill in the Eastern Alps, because cracks are usually short and discontinous. Also the preponderance of bolts allows people to do all kinds of sport moves around the crack rather than grappling with it properly.
On the grassy ledge we waiting for the other party to pass, and took a short nap after eating our chocolate stores. We put a bandage on Daniel's finger. Funny, he had injured that same finger at work 3 weeks before, and the company doctor was so happy to have a patient that he and three nurses doted over Daniel for an hour applying the bandage. Now he could go back to them and provide more excitement. A "company doctor" sounds to me like something out of a 1950s film starring Spencer Tracy and Kate Hepburn. Anyway, Daniel thought about it and said he had been tired, but also a bit distracted, knowing that a party behind us was waiting. He just didn't think about what he was doing. Indeed, on the next attempt he easily found a hold off to the side which made the move easier. The fall itself happened so fast that he didn't have time to be scared or anything. It kind of reminded me of my first lead fall years ago, on the bolted 5.8 pitch of "Sky Ridge" at Smith Rocks. It was a complete surprise!
Anyway, it is a rite of passage. Welcome to the club Daniel :-).
After our rest we had two pitches to go. First a protectionless 5.5 steep corner and chimney to a bolt and then the belay soon after. Then another nice pitch up a slab with deep water runnels. I chatted with the couple now eating lunch at the top of this one. They hiked off to descend the North Ridge, while Daniel and I put our gear away for the 200 meter hike and scramble to the summit. We are peakbaggers too, of course! We kept passing numbered rappel stations situated on the edge of the vertical east face. Finally we realized they must be for rescue situations. We looked deep into the gorge of the Steinere Rinne, really impressed by the absolute sea of rock in there. Predigtstuhl looked beautiful on the other side...it was dressed in long, sweeping curtains of rock.
We belayed two small steps on the ridge, first an exposed step-across that I rated at 5.2, then a 5.0 slabby move right below the summit. We made it! No one else was around...is 4 pm so late? We decided to hurry down the unknown descent route.
Downclimbing and making one rappel, we reached a trail that led us to the Christascharte. From here we made an error, and descended the other side of the pass because that just seemed to make sense. When the loose gully got steeper, and scary moats and blocks of snow appeared below we suddenly realized there was no sign of human passage, and no impending sign of a rappel anchor despite steepening terrain. "Uh oh!"
Sigh. We hiked back up and this time paid attention to the big, obvious red spray paint leading up above the pass to then descend a hidden notch to a trail and rappel station further south. This picture shows how you should go above the pass:
We made two short rappels, then three more to stand on solid snow near the Elmauer Tor, the great pass at the head of the Steinere Rinne.
Fun boot skiing and plunge-running took us down a quick 1000 feet or so. Then the snow became icy and troublesome. With frozen fingers and cold, wet feet, we were happy to finish with it and emerge on dry trail. Now we enjoyed going down the "via ferrata" as it wound it's protected way through steep cliffs down towards the valley. I volunteered to hike back up to the base of our route and retrieve the pack we left there. 15 minutes later I was back, and we made the 45 minute hike down to the car. Of course we stopped for a drink and the most fattening Apfelstruedel you could imagine: piping hot and swimming in vanilla sauce and ice cream! "Via Classica" had treated us reasonably well, and we would sleep with memories of endless chimneys, corners, slabs and chockstones.