Hannes and I had planned to get in some rock climbing on the last day of good weather before a storm system arrived. We changed the destination a few times in a flurry of last minute planning because of rain the night before. Then on the drive over, I got spooked by the amount of clouds and level of moisture in the atmosphere…one more destination change! I chose a peak with short routes so that if rain arrived at noon we would hopefully be on top of the peak rather than in the middle of it. Enter the Bauernpredigtstuhl, a peak that blends into a barrage of summits on the southeast side of the Elmauer Tor. There were two popular routes, the Rittlerkante (VI+, 5 pitches) and the Alte West Wand (VI+, 8 pitches). The routes had a reputation for being pretty sustained at a V+ grade despite their short length.

We hiked up from the Wochenbrunner Alm pretty quickly, somehow urged on by our late start of 8 am to catch up to where we should be by now. We had a minor routefinding victory because we could see the peak above us, then off to the side and instinct suggested we should bash up scree slopes to reach it, however we knew we should wait until a clearly visible trail traversed back to the peak. Some other guys had given up looking for this trail, told us there was none to be found, and descended into the scree to fight painfully back up. But we persisted and found it, which makes the approach so much better.

Over at the peak, we’d decided to climb the easier Rittlerkante first, but were dismayed by 3 parties above clustered at belays. They left a rope hanging down, and eventually (mysteriously) dropped the rope! We decided to climb the Westwand instead, now behind another party. We hemmed and hawed, changing our mind a few more times and generally feeling frustrated that it was hard to get off the ground. Hannes was a little cold too!

The first pitch.

Finally we were climbing. The first pitch follows a shallow channel/corner up jamming and stemming cracks to a small ledge. My fingers got pretty cold here. It was around 10 am. Another pitch went up and around a block to enter a very nice sequence in a “Piazriss” (layback crack), again to a small ledge. The third pitch sends you along a slippery edge of a wide crack, alternately laybacking, searching for holds inside the crack, or stemming against a smooth right wall. Gear opportunities on this pitch were hard to come by, but a couple of pitons and maybe a bolt guarded the way. The pitch ends at a fantastic location looking out at the next three pitches, which traverse a vertical wall under overhangs. Hannes came up and we agreed that had been the crux thus far!

I’d been explaining gear placements to Hannes, as it was his first gear climb, though he’s a very strong climber. Now he’d get his chance! The next pitch climbs a corner then traverses a blank wall over and down to a belay. Rated VI+, it seemed that most of the gear was fixed. Hannes would get a chance to place a couple of nuts in the corner. A little bit nervous, he started up.

Hannes on pitch 3. Climbers on pitch 5.

Hannes led through finger locks in the corner with smeary feet. After some fixed gear, he entered a little notch where nuts could be placed, which he did well. Then up to the traverse, which was pretty exciting because you have nothing for hands, you simply need to balance your way over on your feet. I came over, then headed up the short fifth pitch (VI+), which overcomes a bulge with a combination of delicate moves and one or two hard pulls. At the hanging belay, I asked Hannes how he felt about leading the next pitch. I thought one hard trad lead might be enough for the day, but he was like “no problem!” He led up and left under a bulge on nice climbing (VI), then again traversed left on easier ground, protecting with a nut and a cam.

Now two easy pitches got us to the summit. That had been an excellent climb! Rather burly, in fact.

Climbers on pitch 4. Michael (orange helmet) following pitch 6.

I was eager to get down so we could climb the peak one more time, so I fought against “summit malaise.” Hurrying over to the rappel station, I prepared to belay Hannes over, who broke my heart when he said: “could you just take one picture of me, here, on the summit?”

Sniff! “I’ll getcha next time, man!” I felt like Clint Eastwood in the “Speed Zoo” scene.

We rappelled right behind our friends now who had been climbing ahead of us. 5 20 meter rappels get to the bottom, with some intermediate scrambling. Along the way, it became clear that Hannes’ climbing shoes were far to painful to wear any more. He turned them into flip-flops of a sort, exposing the heel so that the toes weren’t crushed. His rappels were rather delicate, as each pad-pad-pad down along the rock threatened to remove a shoe and send it flying away.

Speed was crucial now to be able to make a second ascent. Happily, no one was on the Rittlerkante. I rationalized that it only had two “real” pitches, a V+ on pitch 2 and a VI+ on pitch 5. The others were IV, IV+ and V. Hannes checked the weather, again confirming that storms would arrive at 8 pm. We wolfed down a bit of food and started back up. It was 4:00 pm. We only had a single rope, so abseiling the route in case of rain would be a bit troublesome. Therefore we started up with some haste. Hannes would climb mostly in his approach shoes.

Pitch one is mostly grade III, avoiding all vertical difficulties by a continued discovery of easier ground to the right. It wraps back to the edge crest when it’s easier to do so.

Pitch two was quite fascinating, and not easy! It climbs up to an exposed edge, then climbs the edge directly for a while with high steps on polished holds, finally sending you left into a steep chimney when the edge becomes unclimbable. Sustained moves in the chimney round out the excitement, though decent cam and nut protection are available. In general, this climb had less fixed pins than the previous one. I was glad I brought the #3 Camelot, and used it on consecutive pitches.

Hannes came up and I started out for pitch three, nearly making a route-finding error. The chimney above looked even steeper and more intimidating than the previous one, so I investigated to the right, where another chimney/crack beetled off at a lower angle. There were some fixed pins, and I thought this might be the route. But ultimately, it seemed wrong, so I downclimbed, then entered the steep slot above. Tough and sustained climbing led up the vertical shaft, initially protected by a fixed nut and a piton, but by my own gear after that. The difficulty of this pitch was affecting my plan to be up and off before the rain…it was simply taking too long for a IV+, per my previous calculations!

No matter. Hannes arrived quickly and we swallowed up the easier grade III ground above to a couple of boulder problems (V) that reached an impressive belay right on the crest.

With one pitch left, and the crux at that, I slowed down considerably. I was pretty tired! So many burly pitches, the Bauernpredigtstuhl had extracted a share of blood!

Pitch 4 of the Rittlerkante.

So with some leisure, I headed up to the slabby wall problem above us. A bolt protected entry to the intimidating slab, then two fixed pins side by side offered the real protection for the crux moves. I wasn’t sure what to do. It seemed like there was an option to go right onto the slab and climb directly up, but after inspection this would probably be hard grade VII slab climbing. I rested on the piton to think about it. Hannes, meanwhile, could feel the storm approach, and encouraged me to hurry with silent pleadings.

Then, I had it. The idea is to mantle up onto the good handhold right on the crest, then crab rightward using poor edges on a bulge, hoping for finger jams in the corner right of the bulge to then be able to get your feet above the slab on the right. “Watch me here!” I cried, unnecessarily. The moves went off just as I planned, though I was oddly relieved that there were finger jams in the invisible corner above, as I’d hoped. Still, it was tricky to stick to the wall for two more moves, then I was safely above with good ledge-like footholds. Maybe I tried to yodel here, I forgot. “Now let’s get out of here!” said Hannes. Indeed. A few more delicate moves on loose rock, then up a small corner, led to the belay a few meters from the summit.

Hannes arrived and went to the summit. There was no time for us to sit there together momentarily, so we were back in Speed Zoo. I leapfrogged over to the rappel anchor, then after the initial rappel and scramble down to the line of four rappels to the base, the rain started.

“Wow, right on time!” It was 7 pm. As efficiently as possible, we finished the rappels and got our packs. The rain had been light but steady, and now the rocks were getting wet. We began a campaign of scree skiing that got us down about 2000 feet vertical elevation. At the Gedaeumus Hut, we thought about going in for a well-deserved dinner, but were sure that the Wochenbrunner Alm by the car would have even more and better food. At 8 pm, the rain was falling fast and hard, soaking us completely on the walk out. We realized we’d been the last climbers out of the area. Only we had decided to do a second climb of the Bauernpredigtstuhl, our friends on the Alte Westwand had initially planned this as well, but were a bit more prudent than us!

And so we paid for 5 more amazing and not-easy pitches with a good soaking. A good price, any day.

But we were disappointed with the ‘Alm. They didn’t have any food, which was devastating to people looking forward to Kaiserschmarm all day long. Inside, a rousing party was being held in which a hunter carried the corpse of a dead Gaemse from table to table, and made him “walk upright” to scare a small boy. It was rather strange and sad, and we soon left.

We thought of the Gaemse we’d seen on the Rittlerkante. Across the way, at our same elevation, 3 of them were perched on an improbable tiny meadow, completely surrounded by menacing towers of dark rock. They were quite beautiful over there, in their own world, temporarily safe from the ills that stalk them.

Thanks to Hannes for a good day!

Michael on top. Hannes on top.

More pictures in my Flickr gallery here