Timo and I drove to the Allgäu Mountains, and the town of Oberstdorf. We would climb the North Face of the Rubihorn by the “classic” route. We had a 50 meter rope, some slings, cams and nuts, and ice tools and crampons for what should be an easy mixed climb.

We got lucky and saved a couple hundred meters of elevation gain up the road when the owner of a hut came by and offered us a ride. Woo hoo! He let us out at the appropriate place, and we trudged up a well-made track through forest and back out into the open. Soon we were switchbacking up a long ramp to the start of the technical climbing. We said hello to a party just in front of us, and worried somewhat about another party higher who appeared to be both very large in number and very statically arranged in one place. Hmm.

The Rubihorn Nordwand

Timo at the first belay

The first difficulties

Timo at a sketchy step

The short pitch 4 crux

Frozen mud is best

Timo and I at the roof belay

I got the first “mixed” climbing, and found it interesting right away. It was pretty fun, initially protected by a bolt, then a cam and a piton. I stopped at a belay bolt and then took off for one more pitch as well. This one had no protection, just a long climb up snow to a sketchy slab. I had to spend a few minutes here, finally making some moves I wasn’t incredibly sure about. There were bits of ice stuck to the rock, but they’d been heavily abused in the last days, and I was relying on half-sandwich-sized remains for crampon points.

Timo took the next two pitches, which he ran together as one long one. First it went up easily enough to a bowl, then traversed right across the bowl and a buttress to a corner where he got a good cam as protection. Here a sharp turn back left and up led to what was probably the hardest move of the route: delicate sticks up a steep wall, though with good protection. Great stuff!

Timo near the roof belay

Entertaining climbing

Nice snow to the top.

Michael gritting his teeth


Well, definitely good, but here I confessed to Timo that I wasn’t super keen on this kind of mixed climbing, I guess because I don’t have enough experience. Too many placements seemed to be “just barely good enough” and if I pulled on them a little too long they would sheer through, either because some frozen mud dislodged or it relied more on snow than rock or ice. Secondly, the rock was very slabby and pretty rotten too. Oh well.

I led out on the next pitch, taking my sweet time getting over a short vertical step. It seemed like I was learning, a bit. For these moves I made few tool placements, but each one was more bomber than what I had been settling for before. I started giving each placement a strong jerk to test it, and that did a better job of clearing out the dubious ones that shouldn’t be relied on.

After this difficult move, I went easily up to a belay at about 55 meters. I think a 60 meter rope would be better, as this issue came up a few times. Often a pitch would either begin or end with something difficult, and if you have to simul-climb then you will be doing it on precisely the section you’d rather not. Still, I was glad we’d avoided a set of double ropes.

Timo came up and took off around a corner from the belay on a nice 60 meter pitch that put us hard against a left-leaning ramp. I continued, climbing a short interesting step to a fantastic belay under a roof. Here, we found the Route Book and an old shoe. Timo fiddled in a nut placement, and continued up the ramp for an 80 meter pitch that made it’s way into straightforward snow climbing by the end.

Timo at the summit.

Timo in trekking mode

Into the great Allgaeu wilderness

Timo and icefalls

Timo harvesting for winter

Here we unroped, and continued generally up and left in helpful tracks, ultimately coming right to the summit. Despite the occasional blast of wind, there was some nice sun and a great view of Oberstdorf. Nice!

We scrambled down a ways, then had some tea and cookies in patchy sun, visiting with the party who climbed above us, and were also found resting here.

Going down, Timo broke out his plastic “butt sled” he’d brought, somehow knowing it would be handy on the way down. I made do without one, but also managed some fun sledding.

On the way down my knees and joints felt really sore for some reason. I complained about getting old. We reached the hut and rented sleds for the last 300 meters vertical. That was fantastic! Timo is a fanatical sledder, and taught me a few tricks on the icy descent!

Hiking up

Nice animals

We had to make a long drive to our planned pension in the Sellrain, but eventually we reached it (drama along the way provided by my foot and leg cramps, then Timos attempt to make me feel better with a shoulder rub, that caused waves of fresh pain in a muscle in my back that was the result of sleeping the wrong way!).

We had a good pizza dinner, I used Herr Weber’s sauna and hot tub, then we slept, eager to climb the Zwölferkopf the next morning in what appeared to be perfect conditions. We were only slightly worried because the avalanche danger had abruptly transitioned from a safe 2 to an uncertain 3 that afternoon. Hmm.

Oberstdorf, again

An icefall and climber

Hunting for a secure stick

Well, shucks. In the morning there was quite a bit of fresh snow. Visibility was poor, and the avalanche danger was firmly at 3. Considering our climb would be a rock climb we knew we’d have serious effort brushing snow off the rock, and we knew we’d have to come down the same way because the avalanche danger rendered our planned West Face descent too risky.

We cancelled the plan to climb Zwölferkopf, and I know Timo was disappointed. Shucks :(.

I suggested the Hoher Fricken on the way home as a snowshoe climb I’d done earlier in the winter and enjoyed. We got there and started hiking up. Halfway, we rested in the little hut above the waterfalls, and I fought a growing discomfort that was hard to place. Was my stomach sore, was I just tired, what was it? Finally, having climbed the steep rock buttress and re-entered the trees, I saw I didn’t even have the energy to do the last 400 meters. I gave Timo the camera and turned back, sad but also with relief. I wasn’t sure what was wrong but I was glad I listened to myself.

Inside, having tea

The trees were awesome

Hmpf, sez Timo

Falls on Hoher Fricken

Bavarian Bonsai

Timo approaches the top

The journey down got tougher with each step. After a rest at the hut, I really seemed to slow down, and by the end I was wearing all my clothing and still cold. I definitely had a stomachache. Finally, on the level valley floor, I trudged very slowly to the van, super happy the ordeal was over. I waited a while, and Timo arrived and drove us home. I ended up out of work for the whole week, and didn’t eat any food for 3 days at one point. Ugh!

But there were a couple points of beauty on this day. For one, the trees looked gorgeous. For another, while I was sitting exhausted at one point, beautifully formed little snowflakes came at an oblique angle and lodged on my jacket. They were incredibly formed: like delicate toys, absolutely unique crystalline structures every one. I can still see them. That was amazing.

Thanks Timo for the great time, I’m just sorry to have been such a faltering, sometimes cranky presence. Oh well, the mountains are still there.