Fuck snow, go alpine climbing!

Well yea, a bit rough for a title I reckon, but hey, how to better deal with a winter situation that clearly decided to do without much white, thus far? Exactly: Either, stay home and cry a little or go out and climb a little. Or, a little much, if you really mean it.

Autumn and the young winter 2015/16 has not blessed the eastern Alps with a lot of snow, barely anything to be precise, but to make up for it, with pretty much perfect climbing conditions. The same was true for much of the recent years as well, but in a way, this season topped it all off: The last days of a dying twothousandfifteen saw almost 15 degrees (Celsius! plus!) and cloudless sunshine for weeks (in Tirol, that is). Can’t be global warming, could it? Well … here’s some action:

„Da Capo“ (7+), Waidringer Steinplatte, Lofer

Situated at the far right end in this endless sea of rock, Da Capo takes a beautiful line in 7 pitches, starting off with an almost impossible slab start (6+?!). Best of all weather, best of all rock, what a place! The climbs around Wermeteigen Alm are more than just idyllic, they are ridiculously idyllic. This was on the last day of October, and doing an out-of-this-world pumpy 40m 7a baseclimb at the seemingly forgotten crag in the last of this days sun rays and almost collapsing from overheating, well, this was a clear sign that there might be something slightly “wrong” with the weather this season.

„Mon Cheri“ (8-), Schüsselkar, Wetterstein

One more on the list. It is always special to climb a route set up by your dad and dedicated to you mum, there are not too many of those routes around. 1991 that was, Schöpf/Knabl. Back in the day, Mon Cheri was among the first fully bolted routes in this area, quite a thing. 15 years later, we take this perfect October day to repeat it in style, what a climb! 7 pitches of continuous tricky climbing, starting off with the crux pitch testing all your on-sighting skills. Finally done!

„Freie Verschneidung“, Söllerköpfe, Wetterstein

Alex: „Let’s do something really alpine.“ Me: „Well, alright.“ Yea, almost the famous last words. We can now quite confidently claim that this route did not see many repeats in the last 37 years. First ascent: 1978, graded 6+, one of the test-peaces of free climbing. Normally, this grade is an easy warm-up for us, but up here, it proved to be our very limit. Mentally and physically. The first crux is to actually get to the start of the route („100 m Schrofen“ my ass), about 200 m of free soloing through questionable terrain you finally reach the route, and it proves to be all but easy. Almost without fixed protection, besides a (very) few rusty pitons and slings, the climbing took a lot longer than we thought, and it was a lot harder than we thought; finishing off with a 6- offwidth crack; never been so thankful for seconding a pitch! Well, and then this was of course in December, and days in December tend to be short. Of course, getting down that thing was the second half of this story, and thank the spaghetti monster that we had both headlamps. What followed was a highly sketchy repel / downclimb action on properly aged gear, and let me say that, quite out of my comfort zone. Well: alpine we wanted; alpine we got.

„Das Schweigen der Hämmer“ (8+), Plattenspitzen, Zugspitz-Massiv, Wetterstein

Another project, long on the list: Skitour -> climb -> ski. Finally made possible this year on the south faces of the Plattenspitzen, touring up from Ehrwald. A (to me) new and beautiful area with lots of base climbs as well. The route we chose, Das Schweigen der Hämmer, well lets say that the 5c’s are definitely 6b’s and the 6c+ is … hard. Very fragile slab climbing on mini-holds, and as this was December as well, we repelled after pitch 5 for the day was deciding to end, slowly.

„Pfeiler-Mix“ (7+), Waidringer Steinplatte, Lofer

One last alpine climb end of December, still in t-shirt, still at 1.500 m. Back to the good old Steinplatte, the conditions are incredible, and we choose to go for a mix of few tours on the Akkupfeiler. Beautiful rock as always, beautiful day as so often. Good times out! Topping out into a skiing area where people are actually skiing is something quite surreal, but well, everyone follows his or her passions. We chose rock!

So much for the longer routes. There as been an awful lot of great sport climbing, too, but what do you want to blog about that? That’s just always cool, and that’s it. So much for the alpine autumn and early winter, and now it’s all waiting for snow. It’ll come, it always does. Thus far.

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Summer 2015: Going big, reclimb the classics

As always, life is too busy to write blog posts. More precisely, I tend to organize life’s events way too narrow to write blog posts. And events, even more precisely, equal climbing trips, as of speaking. With a new occupation on the horizon, I decided to make best use of the students’ flexibility remaining, which means in plain English: Organize as many great climbing trips as possible in a row. Now, I could easily write ten different blog posts about the happenings of the last months, but also I need to move to a new city, which is why I’m happy to type only a few lines instead. But a few lines are necessary, at least, as summer 2015 seems to have a very bad conscience about the rainy something the year before, so apparently, it’s only sunshine and heat this year. Which, for any climber with sense, means an escape upwards, into the greatest rock-faces of the Alps. And escape, we did!

What follows is a subjective list of what I found to be the most impressive routes and the ones I do recommend to anyone without the blink of an eye.

May: Oceano Irrazionale (VII, 525m), Bergell / Val di Mello, Italy

So I feel quite fortunate to claim that I have seen some very beautiful places around the world, especially those where huge rock faces grow out of the earth. I’ve heard people talk good about the ‘Mello’, especially boulderers who, for some reason, think it’s cool to define and find a lot of problems, sometimes even solutions, when they come here. I bet that’s fun, too, but look at the 800m faces of perfect granite just behind those boulders! Wah. What a place! Not even a proper road finds its way into the Mello, half of the valley is a nature reserve without even hiking paths, and waterfalls nurture the crystal-clear Mello river. To call this valley idyllic would be an understatement, this place is beyond idyllic. Coming there in May on the weekend after the famous Melloblocco boulder festival, we basically had the valley for ourselves with only very few other climbing folk in sight. Even if you’re not a climber it is worth going there, simply for you will have a totally new experience of the color green. And it will be a good one.
As of the routes, we had to tackle the big classics, of course, so we started with “Luna Nascente” (7, 300m, E3) and “Il Risveglio di Kundalini” (7-, 400m, E3). Two incredibly fantastic routes finding their way through, I have to repeat myself here, incredibly fantastic granite. Generally, the long Mello routes tend to be an exciting mix between well-protectable cracks and (almost) non- protectable run-out slabs. You’ll learn to trust your rubber here.
On our last day, we decided for the route with the neatest route-name of all times: “Oceano Irrazionale.” First ascended by Ivan Guerini (coolest dude in town!) in 1977, Oceano introduced the 7th grade to the Alps and is for this historic reason more than worth such a name, as is the impressive piece of rock it tackles (“Precipizio degli Asteroidi“). The line is incredibly logic and diverse, leading through perfect cracks (the 5b’s feel like 6c’s here) and roofs up the the ‘Eremit’, a lone tree mid-way the wall. From here, the Oceano gets slabbier and easier, but still some way to go; we just managed to reach the foot of the crag by the very last rays of the day’s light, descending and then going for a horribly tiring 5h drive back to Innsbruck: no fun. Luckily, we all survived and somehow managed to stay on the road before dropping dead in our beds, so now we can keep this journey as a perfect climbing trip in our memories. Mello Love!

June: Le Marchand de Sable (TD+, 6a+, 300m), l’Envers des Aiguilles, Mont Blanc Massive, France

The next course on the menu was crossing pretty much the entire Alps length-wise to get to the Western part and the place where the rock is so good that it plays in its very own category: Chamonix granite. Golden-red cracks and green-orange slabs lure the engaged alpinists up to higher grounds, the ever-strenuous glacier approaches are the price to pay. As last year, Seb and me decided to venture up to the massive walls behind the Refuge d’Envers des Aiguilles for we still had some open tabs there, getting rained out a bit too soon. This year, we arrived at this gem of the alps early in the season, the hut still closed and other climbers rarely seen. We knew that pretty much all routes done by Michel Piola and friends were *****-lines, so more of this drug!

An ultra-classic of the Envers is “Le Merchands de Sable” (Sandmännchen) as it was among the first routes in the alps where a brand-new invention changed the course of our beloved sport: the expansion bolt. Drilled in 1983, the Merchands suddenly opened up totally new grounds for climbers: Slabs, previously not protect-able. And how tricky they still are! Rated with 6a+, a grading that we’d both climb as an easy warm-up when sport climbing, we had to fight pretty hard to hold on to the tiny nobs and crystals that prove to be your holy chance of not slipping down the wall. Ingenious climbing, but this can be said true for pretty much all routes at the l’Envers: We could also do “Guy Anne” (6a+, 370m, TD+), “La Piège” (6a+, 200m, TD sub.) and “Elle a du le Faire” (6b+, 140m, ED-). Beyond all those perfect cracks, thanks for those bolts, Michel.

June: Noli Me Tangare (7a+, 270m), La Maladière, Vallee de l’Arve, France

When driving from Geneva towards holy Chamonix, one tends to be almost too focused on the granite giants straight ahead and thus ignoring the limestone cliffs to the left and to the right. But wait, give them a chance! You’ll soon find out that not only the granite in this area is superb, but so is the limestone. And also here, in the Vallee de l’Arve, Michel Piola envisioned climbs that are of the same quality than the famous ones higher up: Five-star-potential everywhere. Noli Me Tangare translates to ‘touch me not’, but touching, we did. Being incredibly sustained throughout its ten-pitch-entity, namely 6b+, 6b+, 6c, 7a, 6b, 7a, 7a+, 7a+, 7a, 7a, (!!), I found this line to be the perfect on-sight challenge.

July: Tschechenplatte (8-, 200m), Schnittlwände, Speckkarpitze N-Wand, Halleranger, Tirol

Why travel far when the best lines are just around the corner? On ‘the list’ since long, and described as the “best crack climbing in the entire eastern Alps” (I would add: best limestone crack climbing), in July all conditions finally aligned (a few days of hot & stable summer weather, a few days worry-free days to spent bivouacking up in the mountains, personal fitness, and above all, a strong & motivated partner) and we gave Tschechenplatte a go. The route itself is not too long, but very sustained and self-protected climbing in all its six pitches. Put your jamming gloves on, water-eroded limestone is especially rough on your palms. Incredible to have such a line in the otherwise mostly (heavily) brittle Karwendel. But many of the routes here have comparable quality: We also climbed “Hundertwasser” (8, 200m) and “Coach Crack” (8, 200m); priceless experiences, magic place!

July: Comici (VII, 550m), Große Zinne N-Wand, Italy

For the grand finale, the grand-est of all names: Comici, north face of the infamous tre cime; it’s not a regular that when you see a rock face for the first time, you go something like this: “…. uh ….”, but this one definitely causes effect. Again, the weather in July was simply amazing, so there were finally no excuses left, Comici we had to do! A bit scared by the aura of fame surrounding such a big name, we thought strategically and decided to start later than all the other teams to not get into a traffic jam on the route, and climb fast thereafter. Well, we started late, but we didn’t climb all that fast, so we got to ‘enjoy’ the most beautiful sunset from the top of this massive piece of rock, just not too happy to have a horrible three-hour grade III downclimb ahead of us … quite likely in the dark. But what comes up goes down, so we managed to get down safely just with the very last of this day’s light. But what an up-climb it was!

These were the great classics climbed in summer 2015, May ’till July. Summer goes on, but Simon goes back to work now, so the available time for big walls will be more limited. So long, and thanks for all the fish; but even more so, so long and thanks to you restless souls venturing on the above adventures with me! Good times, good times; best of times!

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Osttirol, 2013

Summer retrospect #4: Osttirol, Austria. The paradise next door, finally discovered. Only named ‘Dolomites’ for touristic reasons (you could do that back in the day), nevertheless impressive on an equal scale for long and slightly scary high-altitude climbs. Will be back. Pictures:

[AFG_gallery id=’17’]

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A Tourist in my Home Place

I have left to come back home quite a few times now; I was always looking forward to arriving and eventually seeing those all-familiar mountain-skyline appearing in the distance, that very first glimpse of altitude on the horizon when relaxingly approaching from Franz-Josef-Strauss International never loses its magic. Always, I looked forward to meet up with great people, catch up on our lives, share stories, share experiences. Always, I looked forward to the first Schnitzel, the first Manner, the first Stiegl after all those desperate month of unfamiliar food intake. And always, I knew that it’d be back for good in that place that others usually get to ‘see’ for a week or two on their let’s-do-it-all-and-party-afterwards skiing holiday.

Not this time; This time was different. This time, I found myself back, indeed, looking forward to all mentioned above; but the difference was that this time, I only had X days to do all those things; the return flight was booked, the day of departure seemingly getting closer every minute; just like being a tourist, a tourist in my home place.

So I was confronted with the challenge of every tourist: getting as much awesome and thrilling stuff done in as little time as possible. Within that lies the danger of not being able to actually experience the experiences. Trying to walk the thin line in the middle, three weeks in Tirol made for some, and hopefully lasting, experiences.

And oddly enough, global warming made for some tears (imagine 24h of continuous rain in January) but also some excellent rock opportunities; Christmas climbing! But above all, of course: good to be home. Good to was home.

pirchkogel-77

 

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Leaving Paradise …

… for the next one. So, everything’s new, once again. But before everything was able to be new, everything was still old’good and there had a mission to be accomplished: absorb as much ‘mountain’ as possible. Such a call needed to be followed as best as one could, which in the end resulted in a very-last-minute pack-up action and not a lot of sleep at all. It just had to. This, in turn, almost lead to my aeroplane leaving without me, but this time, luckily not quite. So here are some impressions from the last three mountain-weeks before departure.

What you see here is paradise. But also, home, Heimat, Dahoam. Indeed, being in a position to use those two words as synonyms encapsulates a feeling beyond words; Realizing, over and over again, that the place you are fortunate enough to call home is actually the most beautiful place you can possibly imagine is something like deep, deep-down happiness. I use the word happiness here because when I find myself out in those places accompanied by close friends, gazing around, I am simply happy, nothing else. Happy and satisfied in a way that no material good whatsoever, no job, no achievement, no nothing could otherwise give me.
Simply sitting (or rather hanging, belaying) on a pillow of rough moss, watching some thin clouds dissolve over a peak, enjoying that slight tickling feeling of a butterfly licking up some of sweat from your scratched skin, well that is it, that is living. Exhaling, realizing: home, paradise. That is what must be pure happiness.

Too much public sentimentality? Naah, the pictures disagree. So, go about and find yours, if you haven’t yet. There are only so many chances, and counting.

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