After meeting and talking with Alpenkalb, the summitposter of distinction, my wife Synne and I hatched a plan for our 4 week alps climbing trip: First, Salbit, then on to the Eiger, Matterhorn, and Mont Blanc, with other mountains in-between or after depending on the schedule. Little did we know that climbing in the Alps the summer of 2002 would be impossible due to constant rain and storm. Even the Dolomites were wiped out with bad weather. We did however make it up the Salbitschijen, and what a fine adventure. We hadn't climbed anything big since September 2001, so this was quite a shock. While we both felt that we are better (and much faster) climbers now than when we did the Grand Teton or Mount Conness, we still have a long way to go, as this self-depreciating blow by blow account of each pitch indicates.
1: Synne's lead, don't remember too much. Some friction, & plenty hard for the follower carrying two packs, that I remember. Some runout between friction moves and a couple bolts.
2: We rearranged the packs so the leader would have a tiny pack,and the follower would carry the larger pack. Duh. I led past a big flake, grovelled a little, but it was OK.
3: Synne led long run-outs with lots of friction, her best lead of the day, and perfectly suited to her strengths.
4: Very short and easy ramp with stuff to clip on the way to the rappel station.
5: After rapping off the first tower, Synne led a strange traverse to the left. Fairly short and easy.
6: A hard pitch for me to lead. I tried not to freak-out but it was harder than I expected, and fixed pro was far apart. I dicked around with my own gear making it harder and more tiring. Ran out of biners, tried to use a locking biner but it wouldn't open curses be... Pitons so old you could see them flex when they were weighted. Not my proudest lead ever, but we've all had those.
7: About this time, the exposure hit and the views of the West Ridge were excellent. What a fantastic piece of work it is. After following the not so fun 6th pitch, Synne begged for mercy from leading. Food and discussion helped improve her mood, so she led this mercifully sort pitch on thin wafers of rock with so-so cracks leading to what looked like the top of the tower.
8: I led to the top of the tower, little shaky, but it was OK.
9: The big hefty crux pitch. When I saw it, I wanted to lead it, but I cruelly left the small leaders pack for Synne to carry. That was mean. It felt like hard 5.8 to me, how those old timers did it in big boots I have no idea. Very nice moves, and pro that was reasonalbly spaced. Mostly thin flake grabbing, liebacks and friction. Shallow bottoming cracks, so had to trust those ancient old pegs. Grrr. Plus the thousands of other climbers have worn each hold to a glassy finish.
10: Synne did a brave lead on this pitch, I volunteered to carry both packs since I felt pretty guilty.
11: I led it, but can't remember a thing from it, except I was a little bummed that I couldn't just go a little faster, dicked with gear for way too long... equalizing a stopper and piton etc.
12: Synne's lead, seemed Ok.
13: A long gruesome lead, Mental struggle to place a #2 Camalot, then more clipping of mank pins on both sides of the ridge, followed by a long exposed traverse left, with horrible rope drag. Should have used longer runners, skipped a couple pins, or something.
14: After my nasty lead, we rapped from 3 pins and hiked over to the summit tower/wall. Synne then flew up the only pitch we might have been able to simu-climb.
15: MOJO pitch. Had it groovin and flew, clipped fixed gear without thinking twice, placed pro perfectly each time, yanked on loose flakes and hauled. Synne yelled encouragement ' go for it! Just run it out! Looking good!'. This pitch made up for some of the timid behavior I had exhibited earlier.
16: Poor Synne got the final crappy lead. Not too hard, but wandered from flake to dihedral to face cracks.
17: After pinballing between summit blocks we found the summit tower. By this point, it was so cloudy that we didn't feel the full impact of the exposure.
Descent: Intermittent rain and thunder kept the descent speedy. A nice ridge traverse, and then down lots of broken easy rock and scree to the hut.
Thus ended our summer adventure in the Alps, followed by lots of touristy behavior in-between rain and thunderstorms. After climbing in the USA, it was great to climb in a totally new range. For those Americans thinking of climbing this, think about the North Ridge of Mount Stuart, the long ridges on Dragontail peak, and the Exum ridge on The Grand Teton. You should be able to do these climbs well without a quiver before trying the South, or the incredible West ridge of Salbit.
This was the longest technical alpine rock climb we had ever tried, and with a little more training and climbing earlier in the season, it would have been a piece of cake. Alpenkalb is right. You could climb this route over and over again and never get bored. Maybe next summer......
Difficulty: I'm a weenie. I don't lead harder than 5.6 in the alpine environment, cause the old rule of the leader must not fall is still true up high. For other Americans reading this, here's my weenie version of the ratings:
5.8 = 1 pitch
5.7 = 6 pitches
5.6 = 5 " "
5.5 = 2-3
5 - = 2-3
In other words, about a third of the pitches were harder than I expected.
Gear: I took a #1 and #2 camalot, as well as a smaller Friend, all came in very useful, though just the #1 and #2 would be Ok next time, don't take more than 3 cams no matter what, cause there's usually just fixed pro. Smaller to medium stoppers are good too.