I was looking for a good first alpine climb to take Barbara on. She’s super eager to climb, but she doesn’t have technical skills yet. But she is a strong and fast hiker with lots of endurance, and she likes mud and challenges. Shes done enough climbing outside that I felt she could handle the exposure on a bigger wall.
Still, it was a delicate balance. The good beginner climbs that I know are still buried in snow for another month. But I was thumbing through the “Berchtesgaden Ost” Panico guidebook (I’ve spent so much money on those things!), and discovered “Anfänger Freuden” (this means something like ‘Enjoyment for Beginners’). It had many attributes we needed:
- Multipitch, but not too long, about 8 pitches.
- Difficulty of V-, which sounds easy, even though in practice it was harder than that…
- All bolted, very safe.
- South facing, important since the elevation is above 1500 meters and we’ve had recent snow.
- Easy walk down.
I had no recent reports of the route, and I was a little apprehensive that it’s something new I haven’t done before. But Barbara says she likes doing things with me that I haven’t already done. The weather threatened thunderstorms in the afternoon, but by leaving Munich at 6 am we should secure for ourselves enough time to at least get near the end of the route by 2 pm. Who cares if it rains on top…there is a hut! The fact that Barbara is a strong hiker meant that the 700 meter elevation gain approach should be doable in less than 2 hours.
It was enough…we could go, and so we should go. Let’s do it!
She picked me up at 6, with coffee too…w00t!
We parked after driving 5 kilometers up a road from Marktschellenberg, then walked briskly up a steep gravel road. Eventually we were on trail, and I got involved in a difficult German explanation of my concerns regarding automation, the future of jobs (or lack of future), and the environmental crisis. Whew! This was harder work than pushing up the steep trail :D. Barbara listened and offered her perspective. My concerns didn’t resonate with her, but she was alarmed by the growing ability of automation (“robots”) to do jobs we used to think we needed humans for. Fun discussion!
We emerged from the forest to the Scheiben Kaser (I think this means “push camp,” like an upper camp to stash gear?), and admired the huge rock walls of the Berchtesgadener Hochthrone rising steeply behind. We conversed with some friendly hikers. Barbara spoke with a mother and daughter just returned from a long trip to New Zealand, and I chatted with a man about different mountains. The Watzmann was visible in snowy splendor, and the Hoher Göll with her western cliffs demurrely hidden by a forested hillside.
We pushed on, hiking under the cliffs to the west. Our goal was an obscure gully reached after about 20 minutes of walking. It has a cute little piece of metal on a rock, and Barbara found it for us, yay! We followed the gully up the steep hillside, climbing over a little pass and continuing on loose rock. We found the start of the climb and roped up on a knoll about 30 meters away from the start.
I went to the first belay and Barbara followed. We started off. The climbing was on a solid and enjoyable slab (German: Platte), with good bolt protection. I did run into trouble at a crux move near the end…probably due to rarely climbing outside in the last years…I climbed the wrong way then had trouble getting down. Eventually, rather than fall, I hooked my finger through the bolt (a huge no-no), repositioned my feet, then clipped in. So, I’d already climbed with aid, ha!
I finished the pitch and offered Barbara encouragement from the belay, hoping it didn’t freak her out too much that I had this difficulty at the crux! But I think she did notice and was a little apprehensive…
Still, she started up very well. As she approached the crux moves though, she got mad! “I hate you!” she said, which had a special richness in the original German. LOL.
But she climbed through, despite my request that she rest on the rope anytime she feel like it. Her struggle was intense…some whole-body work to move right on the slab to easier ground. I was impressed.
With Barbara “full of feelings” it was easier for me to just leave, ha! I climbed an easy pitch but missed the anchor, instead rigging up an ersatz belay with a large boulder above the initial cliff. She liked that pitch much better.
We walked up to pitch 4, an easy slab climb at grade III. We both liked this pitch. The next one was my favorite…first climbing a slab then turning left into a grade IV face climb with lots of holds. Really nice! Barbara did well in this, too. At the belay I encouraged her to look down and all around. I pointed to a hawk soaring gracefully in the wind below us. We watched him silently glide across the vast empty space below. She was processing where she was and what she was doing, and how strange it all was. I feel like it’s important to be able to relax at least a little bit on big climbs. She leaned back on her tie-in and took a deep breath. She was as relaxed as she could get here. Fine…just fine.
Now, the crux was above us. Variably rated as V-, V or even V+, online reports describe it as pretty hard. There are three closely spaced bolts in the crux. I suggested we pull on gear just to keep it simple. Barbara already worked hard enough on the first pitch! I quickly climbed the short pitch, which was enjoyable despite the few seconds of pulling through the crux on aid. I demonstrated for Barbara how to do that, and hoped she wouldn’t find it too hard. She was a little cowed at the perceived difficulty here! But she climbed through very well. I had told her to abandon the first quickdraw if it made it possible for her to get through. Hilariously, she noticed that this first quickdraw was one of her own new, beautiful green quickdraws and there was no way she would abandon it! So she climbed through.
Once this crux pitch was finished, I knew we were golden. The storm had held off, and we had two final pitches. We smiled, I gave her a kiss goodbye, then led off for a 50 meter pitch of slab and chimney climbing. Barbara came up, momentarily annoyed because the chimney trapped her with her poles sticking up from her pack. The last pitch was especially nice. It was supposed to be grade III+, but I felt it was harder, though in a good way. Really enjoyable slab climbing up and right to a belay station by the Wandbuch. We signed in, then scampered up a few meters to the top of the wall, and a nice rest in the sun with shoes off. Ahh!
Later we hiked over to the Stoehrhaus where I got a beer and some cake. Then to the Berchtesgadener Hochthrone summit. We exchanged photos with a couple there, then hiked down, noting the ominous clouds that built up seemingly out of nowhere. As we walked and talked, we heard thunder and saw lightning to the west, with tendrils of rain cloud coming ever closer. By the time we were near the Scheiben Kaser and looking back at our wall the rain was coming down hard.
Comically, at the Scheiben Kaser it began to hail, and the wind blew like crazy. Below us, the trees were whipping back and forth. We were soaked to the skin, and hail struck us on the neck and ears. Yowch! I was laughing as we descended and Barbara was concentrating hard on the trail so she wouldn’t slip.
What a beautiful end to a great climb. Indeed, we got ever faster as we descended, with Barbara leading the way on a very fast walk downhill. At the car, we changed clothes while a man who was living for a week in an empty shack nearby came to chat…he had been up in the storm as well. He was attempting to live “like an Aztec” on a special diet, doing special meditations there in the forest. Wow! Nice fella.
Boah. No words anymore. It was a big and good day.