14 Oct 2017

Berchtesgaden climbing

We are pretty eager

Kannst Du Barbara finden?

Rare and wonderful event: Barbara and I both had a full weekend, and good, dry weather was in the forecast. Of course, we had to use it. As usual, I waited until Thursday to hone in on a destination. I found a climb on the Hohes Brett, a broad peak rising on the east side of Berchtesgaden. It was called “Sommer, Sonne, Sonnenschein,” and rated IV. Of medium-long length at 8 pitches, it was perfect for us. I found a hotel in Berchtesgaden, and with that our trip was set. I’d wait until Saturday night to figure out what to do Sunday, based on how we felt and what was available nearby.

Barbara joked with me in the days before. “How about you come at eight in the morning and we leave?” she texted me, knowing that I would find that unacceptably late. Happily she wasn’t there to see me sputter and fume. Bringing myself under control with some difficulty, I replied lightly, “Hmm, perhaps that’s a bit late, seven would be better.” She indicated that would work. Score one for not flying off the handle!

A couple hours later, we were hiking up from the Hinterbrand parking lot, talking sometimes, walking quietly at other times. We reached Mitterkaseralm, though I thought it was higher. A nice fella at the alm, which is currently a big construction site pointed out that we were walking right through an “Aufbau,” and pointed at the crane spinning above our heads. Oh!

We hiked about 30 more minutes up, and realized that we’d taken a wrong turn. We should have turned left up a forested slope above the construction site to reach the broad Southwest Wall of the peak. Now we were below the South Face. Shucks! I was apologetic and feeling we’d wasted time and energy, but Barbara brought me back to the larger point: “The goal is a fun weekend, and the hiking is part of it. It doesn’t make sense to declare a part of the hiking is ‘bad.’ It’s all good!”

We are here

Hi again, you

Oh! She knows things.

So, back down, and then up again on the other side of a short but popular climbing cliff. After a rest, we began traversing underneath our wall, finding the route easily. We were a bit tired…we didn’t get much sleep the night before, and we hadn’t done many hikes with packs lately. Soon Barbara sent me off on the first pitch, an easy III-. Pitch two had a really nice little move at IV- in a chimney/corner. On the third pitch, unfortunately a party on another route above knocked off some rocks and Barbara got hit in the arm. Grr. But soon she was safely ensconsced in a nook below that wall and safe from further predations. A bit more effort got us to the upper half of the route, where the climbing got more interesting.

An excellent grade IV pitch led up and out of a “Kessel” (cauldron) in steep cracks. We liked this a lot. A grade III- pitch followed, and Barbara led it, overjoyed when she found one of the two or three bolts on the long pitch. It was so funny to hear her happy cries above.

Pitch eight was again IV, on a “Rillenplatte,” or a slab with runnels formed by water over thousands of years. Had we begun building civilizations when they were first visible? That would be “only” 5000 years ago, and I suppose that’s nothing to the rock face here. Long it stood, “as if waiting for us to find it enjoyable to climb,” I quipped to Barbara.

Barbara acts in a movie

Hello, süße

Really, a most excellent pitch, with a vertical section after the slab that I thought Barbara would find challenging, but no, she came up easily. The last pitch at IV- was equally interesting. Short and steep walls with grippy rock. The very air had become golden with the descending sun. Barbara arrived, and gave me a kiss.

Have I said that I want more?

Because if I did I was wrong.


A great, long pitch (4/4-)

These are the colors

Now we hiked up in “Golden Hour” light, happy to wear shoes again. We reached the Jägerkreuz, then started down a cable-protected path. Barbara slipped in the snow, getting her pants wet which is no fun! But we had a long ways to go – plenty of time for them to dry! We walked down for ages on a steep trail dropping south and curving west. We saw an enticing view into the Bluntautal, with forests and little houses. Then we took a short cut down to Mitterkaseralm, eventually reaching our point of the morning where we turned back from that trail. Gämse watched us warily from slopes above. Here, we found some water…we were extremely thirsty.

Down to Hinterbrand, pretty worked out! We just made it before needing a headlamp.

In town we found an Italian restaurant and pigged out on pizza, Caprezzi salad and red wine. What a day!


Now my pants are wet!

Guten Morgen, Schätzi!

At a fantastic breakfast, we honed in on the possibilities for the day. The route “Jubiläumsweg” on the Hoher Göll looked interesting, though maybe too hard. It had a short approach, and the other possibility was the “Alte Westwand,” which at III+ would be too easy, though we’d get practice travelling in coils and simul-climbing, which is always useful.

Soon we were hiking up, having a wonderful conversation about how Earth is always our mother, and the Sun is our father. Barbara pushed back on me about too much philosophy, but I stuck to my point. Every single thing that grows comes from the combination of energy from the sun and nurturing of the earth, even her and I. “Your mother’s womb nurtured you, even as she grew a strong body to hold you on the energy of the sun.”

“No! I came from my dad’s cum!” she said, trying to shock me and bring me back to earth.

Laughing, I said “yes, you did! But where was that material grown? Your father’s mother is the Earth.”

Barbara walking over…

Lots of easy terrain

Again, no! We continued like this, enjoying ourselves. I got an idea.

“Look at these dead leaves on the ground. There are so many…to us, their mother was the tree, but think how remote she must have seemed to the leaves. They come along fresh every year, grow and fall, though mother remains standing tall and impossibly high.”

“They lived a bold and good life, though now we are surrounded by their bodies. And as they age and prepare to fall, they are so beautiful. They give us this ‘Golden Time’ that we love so much.”

“Is the earth not tired at the end of the day? Doesn’t it feel the way we do? Fully worked…but happy and satisfied with the effort?”

Difficult, wonderful final chimney

The first of many abseils…

Barbara understood what I meant. But she guards against wandering into deep weeds of useless mental play with a fierce commitment to right here and now. She won’t go one step down a path that she doesn’t feel fully. I can’t express how valuable I find this to be…


Along the way, we kept stopping to hug and kiss. We would part from our embrace, both dizzy with feeling. At our “high age” we’ve finally learned to follow our noses into greater feeling, greater grips with life. We keep finding each other there.


See you soon!

Goodbye, Hoher Göll

At this point, we were like a beach continually washed by waves of peace and love (srsly, I’m not exaggerating :)), so any climbing we did would just be extra bonus on top. Barbara traversed into the face, and I led up the first pitch behind a party of three moving quickly. However, on reaching the grade V slab in the second half of the pitch I felt wrong. Actually, the climbing made me nervous, and I thought about how Barbara would feel. Grr. I climbed back down, somewhat frustrated. Barbara consoled me and we switched gears to climb the Alte Westwand instead. We traveled with about 10 meters of rope between us, clipping into protection or putting the occasional sling in place. At some point on a left-leaning ramp it was hard enough for a belay. Then we continued in coils all the way to the middle part of the wall, having caught up to the other party.

In here, Barbara slipped on easy terrain (she is mad at herself about this, but I think it’s a good reminder that even simple terrain can be serious) and I felt her pull on the rope. Due to the nature of the terrain, I held her weight easily. We kept going, the only injury being a cut on her pinky. She was getting hammered this weekend!

The upper part of the route was more dramatic, with big walls all around. There was an excellent pitch escaping from a Kessel on the left side, then we were below the final chimney. This was the best pitch of the route, and quite intimidating for the grade of III+. Suddenly, you are in a cold, air-conditioned chimney with runnels of water and smooth walls for hands and feet. But several bolts protect the way, and it was just plain enjoyable.

We only had a few minutes to sit, then we wanted to get out of the hot sun. With a single 60 meter rope, I thought the rappels would be interesting in a minor way. But it was unsettling to see that the pitch lengths were not accurate (the Panico guidebook), so even though we could rappel 30 meters at a time, we found ourselves in “rope stretcher” situations on pitches that were supposed to be only 20 meters. I guessed that there was simply no strong check on pitch lengths because most parties use double ropes.

Finally we connected with the abseil route in the middle of the wall, but then promptly ran into trouble. I couldn’t find the anchor, and I was out of rope. There was a strange cave-like formation, and I saw a couple single bolts in the area, but I wasn’t near an anchor. So I went to the left where a solid horn of rock and a ledge looked better. I had to leave a sling and carabiner, but at least I could see our ascent route below, and knew we could just downclimb that once we reached it.

This deviation from the norm made Barbara a little nervous, but this is also good training! She felt and feels everything, and her mental state reflects what we feel. This is mostly great and good for us, but the downside is that she can feel uncertain on terrain that she marched confidently up earlier. How to balance and use the way you feel with the way things really are? It’s kind of the work of a lifetime. All I know is, I’m very happy to share that work and experience with this one beside me.


We did reach the ascent route in one more rappel, but had no anchors around. No problem, but the prospect of downclimbing a chimney without protection was a little nervewracking. Barbara spied a piton about 5 meters above us. I set a belay there, and gave her a belay on the downclimb. She reported it was easy, and so I soloed down.

Barbara found the next anchor, threaded the rope through, and had two beautiful coils for me to throw. She sat there smiling and proud! I hated to say this, but darn it, it wasn’t the right anchor for us…it would have led down the slabs of Jubiläumsweg, and back into the uncertainty of a too-short rope on blank terrain. I preferred the anchors in the blockier ground of the Westwand. So we had to move and recoil the ropes. Seriously though, what a gal!

Three more abseils got us down…down to water and apples, with spicy sausage for me. We began the long journey back home, dodging major traffic jams…it seemed like all Deutschland was on the road, crammed together in mobile parking lots. For us, the dark northern shore of the Chiemsee, back roads and stars above. We are always home.