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A few partial climbs

Sebastian and I hadn’t gotten together to climb in almost 4 years. Where did the time go? We learned about how life was going for each other on the hike up to the Hochwiesler. It took about 45 minutes to the Gimpelhaus, then another 15 to the routes. We had several ideas, but the best seemed to be to climb the Schusterführer, 7 pitches of VI+ (5.10b) climbing up the center of the south face. It was unfortunately colder than we expected, and the sun already had a way of disappearing behind slow-moving clouds. What’s more, I’d been on the lower three pitches of this route before with Josef, and we were stymied by awkward and puzzling moves on the third pitch. Sebastian and I decided that was because we were a couple of young and stupid guys, and there is no way that would happen this time!

It was only when Sebastian tried heroically to overcome the same spot that the full memory of it came back to me. A bolt protects a hard mantel move onto a ledge, but the presence of an “ankle-breaker” ledge right below makes it feel pretty uncertain. At the same time, there is no guarantee that you should mantel up onto the irreversible ledge. The rest of the route is hidden from view. The topo indicates moving rightward, which seems barely possible here. Sebastian tried, breaking off pieces of junk rock along the steepening rightward traverse. Just like 2 years ago with Josef, I went up for a go, and got stuck in the same way. So much for older and craftier! I justified the decision to bail because of the poor landing on a ledge in case of a fall. Almost certainly, you just have to make that move up…I’m pretty sure now that going right isn’t the correct option.

Naturally disgusted with ourselves, we were able to make one long rappel to the ground, then packed up and walked around to look at the Rote Flüh. I thought we might repeat a route Josef and I had done before. Another party was on the route. It was cold. Icicles and weeping slabs threatened some other climbs. While we watched a massive ice pillar collapsed and showered the area with debris for a full minute. Happily no one was injured. “Let’s go,” we decided.

Back at the Hochwiesler, we couldn’t get excited about repeating something we’d done before. I had the bright idea to run down to the car, drive to the Burschlwand, and spend the rest of the weekend climbing lines there. “Okay!” said Sebastian. Cool!

Sebastian on “Donna Delores” (VI+)

At the car, we remembered that it was the start day of Easter vacation, and we knew the Fernpaß route would be hopelessly blocked. We went a long but beautiful way up the Lech valley and by St. Anton. It’s very snowy in there, amazingly, people are still lift skiing. Good music and joking around made the long drive okay. We got to the wall around 4 o’clock, put on harnesses and headed up for one of my favorite routes, “Donna Delores” (VI+), a 5 pitch lines with possibly my favorite grade VI pitch of all time: 45 meters of wall climbing on little edges with continual surprises and miniature traverses along the way.

This place was kind of an eye-opener for Sebastian, who had never been on such a steep wall. He led most of the first pitch, then turned the rope over to me. Aided by knowledge of the route (I think it’s my third time), I continued the lead from his high point. He came up really strong, just mentally taxed by the steepness of the wall!

“Here is the hard pitch!” I said. Pitch two is a bit delicate. The first bolt above the belay is in an awkward location, then you make dicey moves with your feet dancing around it and hands on downsloping bear-paws. I get through this pitch by emphasizing traverses. Go far left, maintaining a leaning aspect on the holds, then back right where a rattly crack takes you vertically up the wall, clipping face bolts on the left. Finally, another leftward leaning traverse gets you to the corner of the face, with a rewarding last look to an apprehensive Sebastian at the belay. “It’s all good!” I say. Indeed, the man comes up really strong, enjoying the climbing but feeling weird in the environment. We figure to do one more pitch, the best I think, and a bit easier at grade VI. We’ll head down for dinner after that one.

It’s a kind of climbing I really enjoy now. Bolts are cool. I used to always feel cheated by a bolted climb…like I wasn’t really on an Adventure with a capital A…but maybe just because I got old and don’t give a damn anymore, I just find the moves on this pitch so creative and exciting that I’m just happy somebody came along and bolted the wall. Not that you’d find protection anyway…maybe a few knifeblades. The pitch goes up and gradually left, overcoming a few short but exciting vertical steps that feel overhanging because of the generally small holds at troublesome angles. The climbing on the Burschlwand reminds me a bit of the “rhino-rock” at Exit 38 in Washington State. Always with the odd angles, requiring pulling in ways other than down.

Sebastian came up to the belay along with a very strong evening wind. I was shivering after about 10 minutes in it. We decided to lower him in order to keep from losing the ropes in some crack way off to the right. This turned out to be a good idea, and on the second rappel I think it helped avoid a minor disaster with whipping wind, the rope and a grabby tree.

“The Burschlwand is breathing on your neck!” we said, driving away, coming up with a name for the “nameless fear” that stalked Sebastian on the wall. It was exposure…which assaults your sense of security in an environment where you really need it. “Next time, it’ll be easier mon friar!” I soothed. I got an earful of Rammstein for my patronizing attitude, which was some really great music!

“Wirklich Oben Bist Du Nie”

We decided to go back to the Tannheimer, as it was a place we knew, and not so steep like the Burschlwand. We stayed at a pension nearby, ate a good pizza dinner, then were hiking back up the next morning. We talked about the Eiger, the Jezebels, a Darth Vader commercial, kids, houses and a dozen other things. It’s always fun to “squat n’ gobble.” We were going to do these two very easy routes on the Zwerchwand, but a guy came along and told us we really needed to climb “Wirklich Oben Bist Du Nie” (loosely translated as you are never really up there), 7 pitches of VI+. Wow! We decided to do it.

We got over there and were confirmed in our choice by the condition of the easier routes…threatened by icicles, snow and weeping slabs. But our chosen climb looked perfect: dry rock in the sun! I would lead until Sebastian felt an inner fire.

The first pitch started easy, traversing up on a grade IV ramp, then getting right to the crux as it launches straight up off the ramp on compact light gray rock wtih rare pockets and edges. Fingers freezing, I rested sadly on the rope for a minute. “You know we have a lot more of this to do!” taunted Sebastian. “Don’t worry” I called…clearly deeply worried! But the sun came back out at the belay, and Sebastian came up easily. The next pitch was less sustained, but featured exciting moves in a shallow dihedral/crack. I replayed them in my mind at a cave-like belay. For the next pitch, I climbed onto a roof with amazing deep holds allowing a rightward traverse back above Sebastian’s head. “Wow, this is viel Spaß!” I said, in bad english/german. Next, I wormed into a chimney/crack that snaked up to a belay. From here a very intimidating blank face led up. “Watch me,” and I stepped aboard. A couple of thankfully deep holes for fingers got me up a few meters, then I launched into a layback of a thin crack, a careful traverse, then a few more moves to a belay.

Two more pitches. Somewhere in here we ate the little square candy bars Sebastian had brought, perfect for fitting in a pants pocket. I started up over a short bulge, then into my favorite pitch of all: a steep face with continually interesting moves required to advance another couple of feet. A couple of funny “drop knee” moves allowed a long reach to good holds on the side. I was inspired by this interesting pitch! Sebastian enjoyed it too, and set off for the lead of the last pitch. First a bulge, then tricky moves on the crest of a ridge characterized this last pitch, a good finish. He excavated some belay bolts from snow at the top and brought me up.

We hiked up grassy ledges to the true summit to hang out for a while. As we climbed the last few pitches, a helicopter came and looked at us. We signaled that we didn’t need anything and they flew away. Later, they came back and headed further into the valley to the Gimpel. A few minutes later, they came away with a rescuer and victim hanging by a “long line.” Hopefully it wasn’t a serious injury.

Moving carefully over the steep grass and snowpatches, we descended to a station with fixed rappels. Waiting a few minutes for another party, the only other climbers we’d see on this day, we soon made long, free-hanging rappels to the ground. The second rappel was pretty exciting, as it was fully free-hanging and our 50 meter rope only reached the station due to stretch…you had to swing in for it a bit too.

Soon we were hiking down, laughing about all kinds of funny stuff. For example, I had a post-apocalyptic scenario where a warlord named “Gilgamesh” took over the Gimpelhaus, with it’s commanding outlook on the valley below. “Bring the girl to me,” he growled at one point, while his loyal one-eyed henchmen hastened to do his bidding.

We ate some pizza and drove home, Sebastian to the far northlands, and me for the great city of the plain. Thanks for some fun pitches!