The Sächsische Schweiz (Saxony Switzerland) is a very unique area adjoining the Elbe River, upstream of Dresden and extending into northern Czech Republic. It is part of the Elbsandsteingebirge (Elbe Sandstone Range), which covers 250 square kilometers and is comprised of about 1100 buttes made of various types of sandstone, most of which is highly weathered. Over 15000 routes have been established. They range in difficulty from fourth class to extremely difficult. The climbs are short and rarely more than 200 meters high.
The heart of the climbing area is within the National Park Sächsische Schweiz, covering 93 square kilometers in Germany and another 79 square kilometers in the Czech Republic.
The major climbing areas within the Sächsische Schwiez are:
- Gebiet der Steine
- Grosser Zschand
has a compendium of climbing routes in Germany, sorted by region.
This page is dedicated to the memory of my father Hellmut Heinrich Schmid (1914-1998), who grew up in Dresden and learned to climb and ski in the Sächsische Schweiz. He taught me both sports as well as fostered in me a love for the mountains.
A true toehold! Climbing the Ziegenrückturm 1930's climbing group
The first recreational climb in this area was the Falkenstein in1864 by 5 gymnasts from the town of Schandau. They however, used ladders and logs to get to the summit. The first true climbing ascent was of the Mönch in 1874 by O. Ufer and H. Frick. By 1910, the Climbing Rules of Saxony stated, "the use of artificial aids to overcome gravity is to be avoided." Thus, this area is considered by many to be the birthplace of free climbing.
According to Dietmar Heinicke, who has co-edited the current series of climbing guides to the area, the climbing history can be divided into several developmental phases. The "early development" period occurred between 1777 and 1890, when most people reached summit tops by using artificial aids. This was followed by the "main development" period. The first simple climbing routes ascended through chimneys. Then routes followed that were characterized by crevice- and wall-climbing, which opened new ways to reach numerous peaks which had been undeveloped so far. Well known climbers include Fritz Wiessner (a local) and the American Oliver Perry Smith. After 1912 until just before the Second World War, through even more difficult wall- and crevice-climbing, new summits were climbed and new hard routes were opened. My father, Hellmut Schmid, started his climbing during this period and has one first route ascent, the SE face of the Ziegenrückturm in the Rathen area, to his credit. After the Second World War, fast improvements in the climbing techniques and safety techniques contributed to the "final development" period until 1965. The current phase is the development of extreme climbing routes with high levels of difficulty.
You usually arrive to the area through Dresden. You can easily reach Dresden city by car, plane or rail. From Dresden, you can travel by train or steamboat up the Elbe (SE) or by car on B172. A S-bahn (local commuter) train leaves Dresden about every 1/2 hour. Jumping off points include Pirna, Rathen, Bad Schandau, Königstein and Schmilka. Bus connections exist into some of the neighboring valleys. There are also direct train connections from Hamburg, Paris and Frankfurt to Bad Schandau.
The train travels up the left hand river side (when looking down stream). From there you may have to use a ferry to cross the Elbe (like at Rathen). Car travel into the towns and climbing areas is often restricted. Traffic is often very heavy, especially during vacation times and on the weekends. Expect to hike to the climb you chose. Trails are well marked.
For train schedules see: German Railways
(This link works for most of Europe, by the way. At this page there is a pull down menu at the right in the top toolbar that lets you pick English or another language, as desired.)
Here is a basic idea of the area's location and the main climbing regions
Maps for each specific region can be found in the climbing guides,can be bought locally or ordered.
German Alpine Club information and maps
When To Climb
Late spring through late fall, provided the rock is not wet. See the discussion of climbing closures under Red Tape.
The sandstone here is extremely soft. The passage of thousands of climbers has unfortunately left its mark as footsteps and rope drag marks engraved into the rock. Erosion of the sandy slopes has contributed to the damage. Some of the towers are collapsing, despite such efforts as bolting and wrapping metal bands around them! As such, some of the classic towers are now off limits to climbers. Routes and summits are constantly reevaluated for closures as are summits in areas deemed fragile in terms of plant and animal life. Trails must be followed and cross-country travel is discouraged (and really not necessary).
For an update to closures (Sperrungen): Climb Closures
Closures also happen during critical bird nesting times.
There are restrictions on climbing equipment. No metal protection other than the rings already present may be used. The permanent rings are often very far apart. If intermediate protection is desired, creating sling knots, threading sling through holes in the rock (Sanduhr) or looping a sling around rocks is allowed. Given that the rock is so soft, I don't think any of this would really hold. As a family friend explained to me once- if you fall, then you overestimated your abilities and you shouldn't have been there in the first place! Chalk or any other chemical is forbidden.
Rock wear from ropes.
In most areas, you may not climb when the rock is wet.
The locals take these ordinances very seriously. Considering the damage that is everywhere apparent, every effort should be made to make your passage as low impact as possible.
You do not need to register or anything.
Camping is not permitted within the National Park. Commercial campgrounds, bed and breakfasts (pensions) and hotels are plentiful outside of the park. This is a very popular vacation area, with many opportunities for hiking, bike touring and skiing, so reservations are advised. More information
(This is one of the few pages with an English version.).
The climbing clubs maintain climbing huts.
Making hut reservations early is recommended and can be done through the SBB website. The SBB maintains two huts. One is in the Bielatal-Area near the Ottomühle
(which has other accommodations as well). The Saupsdorfer Hütte
is in the upper Kirnitzschtal near Hinterhermsdorf.
Inside the national park about 50 or so places have been designated for camping. At every other place you have to pay high fines if the rangers catch you. ( The locals call it "boofen", a slang-word for sleeping outside.) While no list of these places exists, you`ll find them especially in the Schmilkaer/Heringsgrund and the Affensteine-Sections. They are signed with "No fire allowed".
Ostrauer Mühle Bielatal (Ottomühle) 035022 71071
Available through Amazon.de
Kletterführer Sächsische Schweiz
Editors Alfred Fritsch and Dietmar Heinicke
Berg & Naturverlag Peter Rölke (1999-2002)
§ Band Schrammstein, Schmilka ( ISBN 3-934514-01-4)
§ Band Bielatal ( ISBN 3-934514-02-2)
§ Band Steine ( ISBN 3-934514-03-0)
§ Band Wildenstein / Großer Zschand (ISBN 3-934514-04-09 )
§ Band Affensteine / Kleiner Zschand (ISBN 3-328004-39-4)
Klettern im Elbsandsteingebirge
by Frank Richter
Bruckmann (1993) ISBN: 3-765410-86-1
Kletterführer Zittauer Gebirge und andere Klettergebiete Sachsens
by Hans Pankotsch
Sportverlag (1993) ISBN: 3-328005-78-1