Four sunny climbs

April, 2007

It was great to climb with Sebastian. For a year I’ve admired his photos and trip reports for various Austrian and Swiss destinations. So we were happy to hike the steep trail to the walls above the Gimpelhaus for what promised to be a warm and exciting day. I’d come here for the first time a month before with Daniel, though the weather turned and we shivered at our belays.

What a difference a month makes! The snow was almost completely gone, and although the hut was still closed there was a smell of summer in the air, probably coming from the brown, dry grass.

Sebastian is an extremely strong sport climber, though new to alpine rock climbs. To minimize fuss I brought a single rope, and we started with a popular 7 pitch bolted route called “Via Anita”. Like many climbs on the Hochwiesler and it’s neighbors Rote Flueh and Gimpel, this climb got a mixed free and aid rating. Free, it was VI (about 5.10b YDS), but with one pull on a quickdraw it was V+/A0 (more like 5.8 or 5.9). In fact, almost every climb on this weekend was like that. Plenty of moderate terrain, but one or two extremely hard short moves that warranted a spot of aid.

I led several pitches with the wall still in shadow, enjoying the cold but solid rock, and good protection. We had a funny moment when I grandly asked Sebastian to take a picture of me freeing the crux. After only a few moments, this turned into pictures of me hanging on the rope, and finally, ignominiously, pulling on my quickdraw to escape the “Wulst”, or little bulge. Later in the weekend this quickly-withering bravado would have us laughing hoarsely.

Sebastian quickly led up a pillar to an impressive stance below a yellow overhanging wall. I got a nice picture of him there as I crept around the corner, then combined with the pitch above for a vertical journey on good holds. From here we made a mistake and ignored the bolts going right and around the corner to go left and up. Oops, we were misreading the topo! So now we continued up a tough vertical crack at V+, actually on the “Old South Wall” route. Sebastian swore fiercely at the crack. My apprenticehood in the Washington Cascades had taught me jamming, so I found it much more secure. Only a little discouraged, we continued in one long pitch to the top, enjoying a hard move right at the end.

Well! It was 12 noon, what to do next? The walls were alive with parties enjoying the many sunny routes. Sebastian had done great for his first alpine rock climb, though he worried a bit about endurance. A tweaked tendon some months before had to be protected. I, being a bit too aggressive, urged us onto the Rote Flueh, but Sebastian wisely knew where to draw the limit. He found a good line on the Hochwiesler, only a little harder, just a bit left of “Via Anita.”

We started behind another party, enjoying the unaccustomed crack climbing on the “Old South Wall,” rated at about YDS 5.8 here. The next pitch was the crux at 5.10. I was determined to avoid aiding it since the protection (bolts) was so good. You climb a slanting polished wall, with fingers in the crack on the right, and feet on glazed nubbins. Holding my breath, I edged out of the crack onto the wall, feeling that my feet wanted to grease off at any second. A big reach around to the left, trying not to upset my delicate balance, and…got it! “Whew, that was close!” I said. That had been really fun. I climbed to the belay feeling truly “warmed up” about the possibilities on this wall. I only wished I had the strength for harder climbs. Oh well, it would be something to work for over the next months.

Sebastian climbed up, a little discouraged because he had to aid that one move. I knew how he felt! As he said later, it’s not much fun climbing stuff that is a little too hard for you at the moment. Climbing is such a personal game. On one day I would happily swing from rung to rung on a via ferrata and think grandly of myself. On another, I’ll rest for a moment on the rope, and depart cursing at my lack of fiber.

We continued up easier terrain, admiring the views. Now, we came beneath the difficult crack we’d climbed before when we lost the “Via Anita” line. Not wanting to re-climb it, and still confused about the routes in this area, we resolved to follow a ramp left then look for our continued line above the ramp. As I wandered the ramp, I clipped a bolt then forced a line straight up sharp, frictiony rock. I was on a new line without bolts, so I placed a cam and then a nut higher on the grade IV terrain. Finally, with a lot of rope drag, I ended at the same belay place on the ridge from our first climb.

Unfortunately, the length of the pitch and the severe rope drag hampered communication. Finally I understood through rope movement that Sebastian wanted some slack. However, it was already too late: he had decided to unrope and walk the ramp to a nearby saddle where folks waited on a rappel route. “Wha?” I said, when I saw him loping up the steep heather. He came up and we sorted out what had happened. I apologized for leading up a strange and, ultimately, contrived route just to get a few more feet of climbing!

Now we had a mini-lesson in rope acrobatics. I rappelled down the face until level with the area where I could retrieve my gear. Sebastian put me on belay as I downclimbed diagonally down to get the cam. Climbing back up, I had to make some awkward moves to get on the steep face I used to exit the climb. Sebastian couldn’t really protect me here, because his belay was diagonally far to the side. Correspondingly, I had to be cautious in my movements, and finally had to leave my well-placed stopper in the rock, and carefully downclimb the face. “At least it would have held a fall!” I thought to myself. Once back up, we happily coiled the rope and admired the afternoon views. It was 4 pm.

Again we hiked down the ridge, and debated what to do the next day. As it turned out, Sebastian really needed to get back home because multiple back-to-back trips had left his fiance wondering who she was marrying! Plus his feet were really sore from the tight high performance bouldering shoes. So we hiked down, and had a great drive to Pfronten with the windows down, admiring the stunning view of the Rote Flueh. A good Weissbier and dinner rounded out our trip. Much thanks to Sebastian for the good climbing and good belays!

I went home, sat down with my wife, and realized I just had to use the great weather the next day too. She had just finished knitting me a pair of mittens, which she felted in the tradition of “Dachstein Mitts.” I was eager to try them out in the wilderness! I called my friend Josef, who amazingly, after a full day of ski-touring in the Stubai with his girlfriend, was happy to join me for another day of adventure. “How about the Rote Flueh?” I suggested, head still full of this mountain that loomed on our left all day. Josef was ready, and the next morning we set off.

The hike back up was much hotter than Sebastian and I experienced because of the later start. Still, we were at the Gimpelhaus in 40 exhausting minutes. We drank a lot of water and stashed a pack here because we’d devised a one-way plan for adventure: we’d climb the Southeast Wall of the Rote Flueh (VI+, or V+/A0), go down to the Judenscharte, then climb the West Ridge of the Gimpel (VI or IV/A0), finally returning to the Gimpelhaus.

We arrived beneath the wall and looked for the start along with another party. I started up, and kind of wore myself out trying to figure out the crux. Boy, was it steep…and polished! Finally I grabbed the quickdraw to be able to stand up, and still had some “heart in throat” moments as I balanced up to some “thank god” handholds. The rest of the pitch was vertical, though much easier, and I was relieved to stand at the belay. Josef didn’t get that move either, but dang, he can climb fast! On difficult terrain, he still managed to look like a speed climber.

Now we had two long easy pitches to get below a steep chimney. I was worried because wet moss and water were seeping down below the chimney. I imagined nightmarish wet chimney scenarios…but somehow the chimney was dry. I begged off leading the next VI+ crux, so I took the V+ chimney, finding it to be solid, pleasant climbing, mostly on the left wall. Now I waited at an impressive belay on the face while Josef came up. He set off a little apprehensively. “Good luck!” I offered weakly. Judging by how hard the first crux had been, I couldn’t imagine myself leading this one.

But in fact he led up through some tough slightly overhanging moves on greasy, sloping holds in a crevice. Soon he was at the crux, clipped into a bolt at the start. After a few tries at it clean, he used some tension on the rope to lean far to the left and clip the next bolt. From here he climbed more easily to the belay. It’s called the “Pfannenquergang” (cooking pan traverse?), and is essentially a vertical traverse on slopers for feet with nothing for hands at all. Thankfully, the tough part is two or three moves max.

When I reached it I was determined to get it clean thanks to the security of a top rope. With my pack trying to pull me backwards, I balanced just on the edge of falling for 20 heart-stopping oh-so-quiet seconds. When I reached the exit of the traverse I whooped happily. “Yes!” We enjoyed our super-steep perch for a few minutes, then I headed out for an enjoyable vertical pitch.

“Hey Josef get a picture of me here on this tower.”

“Okay.”

“But be sure to take it before I clip the bolt!”

“Show off!”

At this we started laughing at ourselves. Now that I’ve been posting on summitpost.org for about a year, I’ve learned which kinds of pictures get votes and which don’t. A climber looking heroic with the rope leading to a bolt above him just doesn’t cut it! So we laughed…me somewhat hoarsely because I was ignoring a sudden cold.

Above this fantastic pitch (my favorite, I think), we had two long easy pitches to the summit. It was around 1 pm, so after a brief lunch, we slid down snow to the Judenscharte with our intimidating next objective looming above us. The West Ridge of the Gimpel is really not hard at all, but looking at it head on it appears very formidable. There is a spot of aid at a place where old-timers would have the climber stand on the shoulders of the belayer. It’s called “Nur Mut Johann,” which I take to mean something like “only Johann has the courage.” The move is grade VI if done free. Other than that, the climb is much easier, and we dispatched several pitches in tennis shoes.

All the same, for an easy climb it delivers you right into stunning vertical exposure. The ridge falls off steeply on both sides, and continues to loom overhead in a series of intimidating towers reminiscent of the Dolomites. We switched to rock shoes, where Josef led the crux move without trouble, though he felt he went slightly too far left than should be allowed. Determined not to lose style points for such an elementary mistake, I tried to go straight up the overhang…only to collapse like a sack of potatoes on the rope! Indeed, going leftward to get less polished footholds was the only way up for me too!

Above, I comically tried to free another spot of aid with contortions deep in a small, polished chimney before giving up and going another way. Josef easily followed by using holds on the outside. By the end, I liked this climb very much, as it always offers a way up, though allows you several interesting puzzles along the way. No matter if you sail through them or thrash like a wet cat!

The Gimpel is the highest summit around, and the views spanned from the Zugspitze in the east, to many unknown Allgaeu summits south of us, to the rich green plains of Germany in the north. What a treat! We bombed down the normal way, me doing my best to keep up with Josef’s fluid, scampering style, then jangled down trails to the Gimpelhaus.

How fast could we reach the car? Well, at 17 minutes we bet that we could stand at the door in 3 more minutes. So running pell-mell and laughing hysterically, we achieved our 20 minute descent from the Gimpelhaus.

We tried to eat at a restaurant with a great view of the Rote Flueh, but it was far too expensive, and the besuited patrons scowled at our rough attire. Alas! We repaired to Fuessen where a stroll through the streets finally got us some pizza and beer. On the way home, we stopped for sightseeing at the famous Wiesenkirche (meadow church). We deciphered various inscriptions and wondered about the old times. Were they as fun as today?


Starting a steep crack on the Alte Suedwand of Hochwiesler

Sebastian at a nice belay on the Via Anita

Another exposed belay on Via Anita

The beautiful Tannheimer Valley, as seen from Hochwiesler

Michael on the second pitch of the Alte Suedwand on Hochwiesler

A party on the Alte Suedwand, and another on Via Anita

There is some nice crack climbing on the Alte Suedwand

Sebastian's feet feel the pain

Airy views on the Alte Suedwand

Sebastian finishing a pitch on Hochwiesler

Someone is enjoying a long free-hanging rappel

Josef on the Suedostwand (Southeast Face) of Rote Flueh

Josef at a belay, the Rote Flueh

Josef tackles the second crux pitch on the Suedostwand

Josef is happy to have finished the VI+ (YDS 5.10b) crux!

Really steep terrain on the Rote Flueh!

Michael gets sun in his eyes.

Finished with the technical ground on the Rote Flueh

Near the summit of Rote Flueh

A look across to the Gimpel, our West Ridge directly in sight.

Josef on the scenic West Ridge

Josef is near the crux moves (Nur Mut Johann)

Higher on the West Ridge (Westgrat)

A lovely boot

Another satisfied customer!