My wife was getting right tired of me moping around the house complaining about the weather. Family camping trips and he-man adventure climbing trips had been canceled left and right for more than 2 months. The weather was truly worse than Seattle (I looked!). Normally I count on trips in May and June to work off the disposition to soft living that I accumulate every winter like a fresh coat of down.
Finally the summer came, and some friends and I embarked on a crash course to use some good weather well. By the end, I felt avenged. All was right with the world again...no more moping!
For all you guys and gals out there just tryin' to "get 'er done" with limited time and weather. Hell yes!
Tuesday afternoon with Adrian.
Adrian on pitch 4
On the program this afternoon was "Blue Moon," a nice 12 pitch VI+ climb (YDS 5.10a) featuring a beautiful, sustained lieback crack. Adrian and I left Munich at 10 am, after working half a day starting at 5 am (ugh). We got to the trailhead just in time for the hottest approach hike ever. Luckily, some light clouds came in and covered the sun when we reached the base of the route.
After an easy warm up pitch, Adrian led a nice VI- chimney/crack that featured very raw and rough rock. Your foot would stick to a vertical wall in that thing! My camera stopped working so I sadly have no pictures from this point, but I wish I had one of the beautiful corner crack that occupied our attention a few pitches later. I led up slowly, milking rests between the liebacks, then came to an obvious crux move at a vertical section. I started up then had to reconsider...I just wasn't mechanically in the right position. Another try, and I found the key handhold, a rather polished indentation for my right hand that allowed me to paste my foot aggresively high, and reach a small ledge. "Wow!" I said. That was great fun.
Higher, a helicopter buzzed us repeatedly as we worked our way up an interesting buttress (grade VI, I think). Adrian ran out of rope on the lead here, and I was nervous about having to simul-climb the starting (crux) grade VI move. But with the noise of the helicopter we couldn't hear each other and I couldn't leave him standing on nubbins at the end of the rope forever. I made the move carefully and realized it wasn't so bad. When I reached Adrian, I found he had improvised a belay from a bolt and a Camelot, as he was aware of the crux right at the start.
That was pretty much it. Some easy pitches to the top, where we could focus on the action with the helicopter on a neighboring peak. I managed to get a picture of a climber over there with various rescue personnel waiting at the top of the mountain. On the hike down, we met these people (the helicopter had picked them all up), and learned it wasn't a rescue at all, but the filming of an episode of a popular Austrian TV show called The Bergdoktor. Hah!
Thursday with Stephan
"Via Aqua" and they really mean it!
Stephan mentioned a great big climb called "Via Aqua" on the Kleine Halt (24 pitches, VII- (YDS 5.10b)). It's protected completely with bolts, though long runouts prompt most people to bring gear. Almost every pitch is 45 or 50 meters, so you really get a lot of mileage in. He wanted to know if I was up for that..."of course!" was my answer.
So I found myself waiting in front of my apartment at 3:30 am with ropes and my bike. Stephan appeared out of the dark, smoking a cigarette, "this is one of the last ones," he claimed.
Bikes made the approach from Kufstein pleasant, and soon we were hiking up a raging creek, then scree slopes to reach the base of the route. The Kleine Halt is not one of the biggest mountains in the Wilder Kaiser, but the northwest face is massive, starting from low elevation and so giving 800 meters of climbing terrain. Stephan had climbed another route here called "Platten Directissima" (V+) a few years before. That route avoided the overhangs that mark the left side of the face, but our route went right through them. Because of this, the route is a ridiculously dangerous place to be in rainfall. Apparently, a heavy storm will create an enormous waterfall that cascades over the lower 400 meters of the climb. A huge cachement area from wide slabs above funnel water into a small space: but exactly the space we need!
Just a bit wet here...
Above the first overhang.
A last look at the sky for sign of clouds, and we started up. Right away we were racing to climb as fast as we could. I'd marked out blocks of pitches that we could simul-climb, basically any consecutive pitches of grade V or below in difficulty (YDS 5.7). The pleasure of bolted protection just had to be offset against the fact of wide spacing. Three slab pitches to grade V+ got us to the "Witches Bivouac," the only place on the route where we had to deal with wet rock. Apparently, just a few days before, a party encountered wet rock on 4-5 pitches, often in cruxes that required pulling on gear to get by.
The route entered a pattern of a few slab pitches, then an overhang pitch, often with very enjoyable climbing. Eventually we saw to our surprise another party below. We were loving the day, and felt good when we passed the first VII- crux, which was the last overhang right before the "Orgy of Slabs," which mark the upper half of the route. At this point the safest way off is definitely up.
The second overhang.
A favorite pitch.
We ran 6 pitches in 3, really enjoying the slabs peppered with long, rough water runnels, sometimes deep enough to climb into, though usually we would lieback the edge of one...one foot inside and the other pasted on the face. Sparse protection made us concentrate on moving safely. At one point Stephan ran out for a 150 meter "pitch," on which my calves were screaming in the last 50 meters. "Okay, that one is just a little too long!" I whined more or less good-naturedly.
I ended up with the second crux pitch, where the water runnels disappear and a VII- slab has to be climbed. I didn't feel great about it but I didn't want to "shirk my lead." Still, after climbing most of the excellent pitch, I had a series of intimidating slab moves to reach the last bolt before the belay. Frankly, I chickened out. After some half-hearted attempts, and even a couple of "practice" leader falls, I turned the lead over to Stephan. Like Lucy in Peanuts I had a hundred excuses (lets see, I hardly ever led a VII- slab, the pack is heavy, unsure of the right way, etc.). Stephan left his pack at a bolt and easily dispatched the move. The party below caught us here and had to wait a few minutes for these shinanigans. Of course, the moves were so easy to follow...as a friend recently said to me "what's up with you and slabs?" I've gotta get back to the Gorge with the Chief I think.
Really fun climbing.
Deep water runnels!
The upper slab crux.
The rythym could resume above this pitch. Steeper terrain to gain the summit buttress, then gradually easing slabs and faces brought us to near the summit. "24 pitches man!" said Stephan on top. It had taken us 8 hours to climb the face. We were pretty stoked. We felt only a little deflated to learn that the guys behind us did it in even less time after walking all the way from Kufstein. Remembering all the long coasting sections on the bikes we were amazed by that!
We chatted for a while with these guys, then all started down. We took our time on the loose, steep descent, but eventually were sitting on the terrace of the Anton-Karg-Haus, quaffing 2-liter jars of Radler (beer + lemonade...don't knock it till you tried it!) and chowing down on Kaiserschmarm. Stephan introduced me to the owner of the hut and all around mountain man Albin Kraisser. We talked about a route he'd put up recently, even longer than "Via Aqua," called "Weg der Freunde." We'll certainly be back for that!
The bike out was the sweet reward. As the day grew to a close we coasted by idyllic farms and houses in a hanging valley above a raging river, watching the lights of Kufstein come on below.
On the way down.
Until next time...
Sunday with Alexander
Alexander and I had been drooling over some climbs in the Wilder Kaiser and planned to knock one of them out. But the good weather abruptly changed on Sunday, basically leaving us with a half day in Garmisch before the storm arrived. "How about the Zwoelferkopf Nordkante?" I suggested. This 14 pitch, relatively easy (grade IV, or 5.5 in the YDS system) climb would provide more of a mountain adventure with plenty of scrambling around and different views. Hopefully we would beat the storm. "Okay!" said Alexander.
We ran into a few issues that slowed us down early on, but that wasn't all bad. At one point Alexander needed to hike back to the car to get a cell phone. I then had the loveliest nap in the forest listening to a babbling brook! Eventually we dispatched the tiring and tedious scree approach to reach the indistinct start of the route in a great gully called the Mittagsschlucht. I found a red sling on a piton which I'd read represented the "old start." Indeed, this is a very old climb, protected by the occasional piton, but in recent years bolted belay stations have been added. However those stations aren't always in the same places as the original route, or even in logical places, I would say. We had a full rack, and found ample opportunities to place gear, so I wasn't overly worried as we found and lost and found again these bolted belays along the way.
The first pitch at the red sling was somewhat loose but nice, climbing up and left along a crack, well protected by a nut and a cam. Alexander came up, eventually finding a bolted station for a belay. I continued on steadily improving rock, right of the buttress edge. The pitch was marred only because I couldn't find any bolts and had to build an anchor, wasting time. Naturally, Alexander found the bolts 5 meters above as he went up and left on a ramp to gain the crest.
Alexander nearing the base
Fun climbing on the crest
A good pitch
Several nice pitches on the ridge followed, sometimes very easy. We followed a different style on this climb, going relatively "heavy" with double ropes and always fixed belays. This gave lots of time to look around and enjoy the scenery, but at the same time the clouds did seem to be gathering. As we neared the end, the pitches got more exposed, especially when right on the crest. Finally, in my enthusiasm for the crest, I lost the "correct" way, which goes off into scrambling gullies left of the crest. I built a belay and we traded two more leads. Then the storm hit. Happily, it was just very heavy rain and bits of hail...the thunder and lighting seemed quite far away. I continued for two more leads, completely soaked, and finally reached the summit. The storm abated and we switched to tennis shoes and put the dripping ropes in our packs.
We look frightened in the summit picture because the camera started buzzing with electricity the moment I snapped the photo!
Bizarre times on the summit
Why the scared look? At the moment I snapped the picture the camera started buzzing with static electricity! Before I could turn it off Alexander was already gone!
Time to get the hell away. We followed steep, exposed bits of trail down to the Mittagsscharte. Really, this descent was outrageously exposed. I would rather the bolt people had left the climbing route alone and apply their expertise to setting 2-3 rappel stations for the descent! But slowly and carefully, we made it down, then faced a long journey up and down across the slope of the mountain over to the Riffel-Scharte. We decided against a possible climbing descent directly down to the Hoellentalangerhuette on the grounds that it was too dangerous when wet (it was raining off and on now). So we spent a couple of hours reaching the hut the "long" (but safe!) way. It was quite scenic, with lots of salamanders and antelopes, surprised to see humans out in this weather.
A little friend
World of Walls
At the hut, we had beer and Kaiserschmarm (I never get tired of that dish!), recounting the adventure and joking with the waiter. Alexander paid with two soaking wet 10 euro bills that were stuck together. The waiter peeled them apart and said "Dan-ke" very sarcastically! Alexander's phone was a casuality of the rainstorm...it actually had water sloshing around behind the screen!
We descended the tunnels, bridges and spiral stairs of the Hoellental, admiring the vast volume of water cascading by.
And so ends a nice stack of climbs. Thanks to Adrian, Stephan and Alexander for the great times!
The lonely walker