Update: Riki wrote a very nice report of her own with all kinds of climbery feelings and stuff, see inline!

Update: I discovered that my friend Uli climbed the Westschlucht of the middle summit at the same time. We apparently just missed each other on the rappels down the Botzong Kamin. Here is his report.

Over the years since Riki and Arne moved away from Lehel, Riki and I have kept up climbing practice at the Thalkirchen gym. She learned a lot over that time, and was ready to go climb something outside. But trying to find a full day with good weather to do that in between two busy families is…almost impossible. So our date with a “real mountain” was delayed by more than a year. I was determined not to let that happen again, so I figured to begin the summer with an aggressive campaign to find a day and a mountain for our trip.

It’s only June, and since you are reading this we succeeded! Now, the choice of mountain was the subject of a lot of thought, but in my usual obtuse way I didn’t share that with Riki. I wanted a climb that would capture everything wonderful about alpine rock climbing. Thrilling heights and views, clean climbing that feels steep but so good. Great vertical relief to enhance the drama of the situation. But it should be technically easy, to exploit her skill as a strong hiker and runner.

Despite it’s considerable length, the Predigtstuhl Nordkante came up the winner every time in my internal debates. Since I knew we probably couldn’t arrange a climb again for a year or so, I couldn’t stomach the thought of a “half day with top roping and dogs and kids at a crag.” It would have nothing of the artistic experience of mountains that provides deeper meaning. Plus, I’d climbed it twice before and felt like I knew it’s charms and pitfalls well enough to take a strong beginner. Finally, Riki and her family vacation in Kossen, from which you can see the peak in the distance, and she always wants to explore the Wilder Kaiser as much as possible, so far with many hikes and some Klettersteigs. Now on to a new dimension of exploration!

We left from Munich at 6 am, and were hiking at 7:30. I brought a jacket, and Riki reluctantly brought her sweater. Otherwise we had a single rope, rack and other climbing gear along with some lunch snacks. Hiking up quickly, we started to feel nervous energy as we approached the climb, leading us to hurry even faster. We climbed up the assisted cableways of the Eggersteig in the Steinere Rinne, such a dramatic place. I pointed to two climbers high above in a series of parallel gullies that marked the entry pitches of the route. Riki couldn’t believe we were going up there, but continued along with a cheerful willingness to accept the impossible.

Down in the meadows before the Eggersteig, I’d gotten bent out of shape on realizing Riki needed to be home before 8 pm, and there was a full schedule to maintain, including a meeting with the town council. What? I’d failed to explain that we really needed the whole day, and it’s hard to get across that “the whole day” means…“the whole day” outside of the context of mountain climbing anyway. There had already been several attempts as Riki and I both tried to plan the mountain climbing day, always trying to squeeze it into a “3/4 day” or a 1/2 day. Each time I refused because of long, painful experience that a mountain climb, by it’s very definition, is something that pushes your limits, and “time” is usually the first limit to be breeched.

It’s so easy to lose 30 minutes or an hour on a rock climb. And the time can never be recovered. Most of the time, you are moving as fast as you can all the time anyway, and once you are a few pitches into a climb, retreat becomes lengthy and complicated. Then factor in the behavior of other parties (you can easily be blocked for an hour or more as a slower party works out a difficult section), and the number of hours required for a given route can vary by a factor of two. The worst case is when you make evening promises. Then the whole day can be colored by the realization of lateness and the fallout and foiled communication attempts that are inevitable follow-ons.

The entry ramps.

Riki on the second pitch.

So on receiving this unexpected limit to my carefully imagined plan I reacted poorly, yammering and snorting, stomping and finger-wagging. I’d arranged it so that time-wise, we only had one limit: sunlight. Grr. And then I got even madder at myself for having now presented another “problem” for Riki to manage: not only all the issues involved with being late, but add to that a grumpy climbing partner.

I remembered something Kris had told me before in a similar situation, in which my plan for our day was foiled by something or another. I tend to “construct” the day before it happens, and when reality and imagination collide I hate to lose the created construction…I think so highly of it. But is a less real thing, and needs to be discardable.

So we adjusted, realizing that a portion of the trip was an optional extension (a traverse via the North Ridge of the Hintere Goinger Halt, whose extra time I’d hoped to make up for with the fact that we could walk down rather than abseil, but the unknown component of that route might possibly take longer).

We scrambled up the gully to the limit of unroped terrain, arriving right at a bolt in the wall where I decided we should rope up. We changed shoes and put on the rope, looking up at the party above which looked to be on pretty steep ground. I started off, initially trying to join them, but it seemed way too hard for the grade, so I ended up moving gradually left into side gullies. This was the right option, bringing me right to the next belay bolt at 45 meters of rope.

Riki: When we started the climb, we scrambled up the first stretch, and I was enjoying myself and thinking how much fun climbing a route in the gym rated IV is. And I couldn’t imagine why this undertaking would possibly take up all day. Maybe we could speed up a bit and then make it home before dinner (as I’d told my family)? But this was my first alpine climb, and I was just about to learn what alpine climbing means, and how different it is from climbing in the gym.

Riki came up nicely and we repeated the process. I knocked off a rock at the next belay, and Riki had to duck under an overhang to avoid it. In general, we were eager to get out of these gullies, as the rock was still not wonderful.

Finally we reached easy ground, and could move together for a while up ramps to the start of the Matajek Traverse. I brought Riki to the belay, and she got pretty cold in the (initially) light wind. Plus, the size of the wall rearing it’s head above us was a bit overwhelming. Of course, I knew the secret…that it was absolutely climbable at an easy grade. Riki belayed me around the corner and I found the moves exciting as usual. At the belay I chatted with one of the guys from Poland, and Riki came up to meet me very nicely. She dispatched the traverse extremely well and then climbed very fast from then on. I was impressed!

Climbers on the Matajek Traverse pitch.

Riki belays on the traverse.

Riki headbanging with the Griesener Alm parking lot below. I asked her to riff on this picture.

But Riki felt less certain. She wasn’t having fun due to the cold and intimidating exposure of the wall. We talked and reassessed how far we’d come and how much we had yet to do. We were right below the last point that made any sense to go back down instead of up, and could have retreated. But I didn’t relish a descent down the loose initial gullies, which would have to be belayed quite a bit. So we hung out a minute and got comfortable at the belay. I think that is really important…to be able to lean back on the belay, to look around, to know that you are 100% secure in the rope system. If you can’t attain that place, mentally, then you get shut down. Of course you can’t just say “make it so” like Captain Picard. I think Riki felt suddenly like she was in an abnormal place in an abnormal situation.

Riki: To be honest, there was a moment - in the Matajek traverse, where one had to climb around a corner to a foothold invisible from where you start climbing - when I was convinced that I’m a hiker, rather than a climber … and that this climb was beyond me. Too steep, too long wall. I wasn’t scared of how deep the valley below was, or how high up in the air we were, but it seemed realistic that I might fall in this move and get slammed against this wall. I had no doubt about safety: At any moment, I trusted Michael would belay me perfectly. Luckily, I was able to concentrate, and the move went fine.

To lighten the mood and decrease the atmosphere of alien terrain, we chatted with the people around us, drank some water, I think I got a hat out of Rikis pack to wear. We found Kossen out towards the great plain of Germany. We planned the next pitches, measuring exactly how much more big exposed walls we’d traverse. All in all, it didn’t seem that bad, and with the realization that the Matajek Traverse is the most exposed part of the climb, and it comes on so suddenly after relatively snug chimneys and gullies…then the situation didn’t seem as extreme. But Riki was still cold! So I headed off right behind the guy from Poland on a short pitch to a less exposed belay. Riki came up, I think feeling a little better. In two more pitches we’d be in the sun hopefully, at least we’d be off the big wall.

Riki: When meeting up with Michael again on the next belay spot, I told him about my doubts, and he did all he could to make me feel safe and “at ease” (as much as possible). As he did on every belay spot. And it worked out for the rest of the route: it was mentally / psychologically challenging when looking up at “the wall” which in several occasions didn’t seem to end anywhere near. But I felt safe, and I was convinced we’d make it (without wall-slamming :)).

We were three parties at this belay for a while, with a couple from Schwaz who had made a direct ascent that avoided the Matajek Traverse. Interesting, I’ll have to try that next time! It looked like it would be very hard, but it seemed to go at a grade less than V for them. I climbed the long IV crack pitch, really enjoying the moves, placing the occasional cam. Riki came up this beautifully, never having any trouble with the climbing moves at all. All that time in the climbing gym paid off!

Another pitch got us to the edge of the great cliff, with spots of sunlight visible just meters away. I climbed a direct line in front of the easy chimney, inspired by the Schwaz party. However this put me at a belay location where a downclimb of loose terrain is required in order to reach the “Steinmandl” (cairn) that marks the entry to easy ground. I tried several things, but was acutely aware that I didn’t want Riki to downclimb without a belay from above, so I ended up coming back to the belay and sending her down to the base of the loose shallow gully we stood atop. She did this perfectly, and I came over, then we changed the rope system at the Steinmandl to travel moving together.

Riki on the Crack Pitch (IV).

A nice face climb to end the first wall.

A steep wall!

This was great for Rikis morale, as she could warm up with steady movement for about 150 meters across a basin and into a long gully with pleasant low angle ramps on the right side. At an obvious steepening of the angle, we found a belay bolt and the start of several good climbing pitches that would follow the crest of the buttress up to an “absatz” (I can’t think of a good english word for this, it’s like a temporary lessening of angle, a kind of rest spot on a climb) that marked the final wall climb.

We climbed up on about 30 meters of rope, with me placing gear and Riki following and cleaning. Once the rope got stuck and I had to climb down and remove it from a crack. But we continued easily to the top of this ridge, having caught up with the other parties again. Riki led another downclimb and around a corner, a variant that I’d never done before (I usually gained the crest from the north side here). Following, I felt like this had a hard (V-?) move going straight down to the belay. She then led the scramble over to the base of the final wall.

The summit block.

Climbers finish an easy ridge.

Riki at the last belay.

We’d seen the Schwaz couple climb a direct variation to the summit, avoiding the Oppelband. This was an enticing idea, because it might be shorter and less exposed. “How hard is it?” I called up and got the answer of “about IV.” No problem!

The guys from Poland took this variant as well, and I headed out a few minutes later, leaving a visibly shivering Riki at the belay. “Okay I’ll hurry!” I said, or something like that. It was a very nice pitch, traversing left to a piton, then up a crack (IV) to a bolt on a buttress. From this point I continued straight up on harder ground (V) which couldn’t be protected for at least 8 meters. Eventually I found a good #2 cam placement behind a big flake. Another 20 meters of mostly easier ground ends right on the summit. The pitch was 55 meters.

A selfie picture.

Looking back to the last belay.

I sat in the sun on top and eagerly brought Riki up, knowing how much she’d appreciate the warmth! She was confused at the hard moves by the bolt, but I gave her a tight belay as a signal to just come right up, which she did.

So, 18 pitches of climbing to grade V…not too shabby at all! The warmth felt good though an occasional burst of wind would steal it away again. We chatted with a fourth party of the day, a couple guys from Germany. They told us about climbing Vertical Tango (8-) across the valley on the Fleischbank…it sounds pretty darn amazing! Ah one day…

Riki: I was glad to see how Michael was “in his element” and apparently felt entirely at ease with every move. When reaching the summit, I could release most of my tension (anxiety?), and was thrilled about the sunshine warming us. Hiking and scrambling across to the entry of the Abseil chimney and then the Abseiling itself I enjoyed, more so with every step (that gave me confidence).

Michael on top.

Riki on the summit.

The Stripsenjochhaus.

Now we scrambled over to the Botzong Kamin (chimney), our descent route. We’d make 6 20 meter abseils to get down to scrambling terrain. A quick lesson in abseiling for Riki, and then we started. Right away, the abseils are vertical, straight down into narrow slots. Actually, the Botzong was much friendlier than I remembered it…on previous occasions I think I’d been in clouds at this point, and the walls had a moody, mysterious atmosphere. I backed up Rikis abseils with a “firemans brake”: essentially, if anything goes wrong, just hold the two ropes and the descender won’t move any more.

But nothing went wrong, at least until abseil number 5 when the rope got stuck on the pull. I climbed back up in my tennis shoes to free it, then felt a bit queasy about climbing back down. So I climbed back up to the anchor, did the abseil again, and came down one more time. AGAIN, the rope got stuck on the pull, but this time in a different place that I could reach without too much trouble. That was strange, I’d never had such trouble on these abseils. Oh well, live and learn.

Rappelling in the chimney.

More rappeling.

The whole Botzong Chimney that we descended.

Finally we were down, and could put the rope away. We scrambled through a notch, and then made a few careful climbing moves to get onto a trail that traversed and dropped gently into the bed of the Steinere Rinne. Riki had the idea to ski down a snow slope in shoes, which sounded great…but then the snow was too hard, making it nervewracking. She exited the snow for scree, and I kept trying to ski, but just couldn’t get my feet out of “dagger mode,” slamming into the snow with my heels to make sure I didn’t lose contact!

Riki makes a phone call, with our mountain behind.

Michael and Riki safely down with time to spare!

We hiked down for a long time, passing the start of the climb, amazed at how high we’d come up. Eventually we traversed out of the Rinne on the Eggersteig, and Riki tried to call home. She was able to leave a message. Overall though, I thought we would make it home before 8 pm, which I thought was fantastic given the size of the objective and the many slowdowns we’d encountered. In the afternoon sun, she could finally remove her thick sweater and come back to life a little bit.

We chatted some more with the guys from Poland, finding them sitting beside the trail at the Klettergarten below the Stripsenjochhaus. We headed down into the trees, finding ourselves shocked one last time at the size and scale of the Predigtstuhl way above. I love the way the gray rock high on the mountain has an otherworldly look. It’s hard to believe you were ever up there.

Maybe a mountain is wonderful because of how you relate to it. It might be a challenge, looming in your future. It might be a goal attained, now in your past but continuing to send out positive energy and confidence into your future. It might represent a disaster averted, or a physical representation of Uncertainty or the Unknown, quickening the blood. They are a “strong drink of water,” rarely offering pure pleasure. The shining moments are always tempered with tedium and discomfort.

Riki had an adventure, and she can’t honestly call it “fun.” We’ll see if the High Wild lures her back. It doesn’t matter. It’s not for everyone. But she was a good and responsible partner. She operated in a completely new and strange environment with great cheerfulness under duress, which takes a lot of character. All I can say is that if she’s “had it” with alpine rock, I’ll be sad!

Thanks Riki for the great day! Thanks Predigtstuhl for allowing us to traverse your flanks!

A last look at our climb!