Swiss Sport Climbing Part 2: Off the Beaten Path

By Mark Anderson

While I really enjoyed the world-class routes at Lehn and Gimmelwald, I place great value in going to new places. On these whirlwind trips to Europe I try to cover as much ground as possible, so I see virtue in going to a crag I haven’t seen before, even if my research suggests the new place may not be quite as good as the old.



With that in mind, I decided to forego a second day at Gimmelwald in favor of another limestone crag I’d just recently heard about called Elsigen. This west-facing cliffband is about an hour’s drive from Lauterbrunnen, and accessed by a short cable car ride. The rock is super high-quality limestone, mostly of the gray sticky & sometimes prickly variety. Although about half the routes were wet, there was still plenty to occupy us for a day, including (mercifully) some great warmups.

Zweierlei, 7a+, Elsigen.


Prisma, 7b+, Elsigen.

Every route I climbed was excellent. The climbing is generally just over vertical, with fairly intense cruxes but enough continuity to keep the pump going all the way to the chains. My favorite routes were the towering 7a+ (12a) Zweierlei, which climbs impeccable gray Verdon-quality stone, the classic Prisma (7b+/12c) with its burly undercling crux, and a super crimpy, in-your-face 7c+ (13a) called Panther in a Cage.

Panther in a Cage, 7c+, Elsigen.

Panther in a Cage, 7c+, Elsigen.

The views at Elsigen were spectacular, although to be fair, every single crag we visited on the trip had spectacular views—that’s just the nature of Switzerland. Although not quite as spectacular as Gimmelwald, for the typical travelling climber Elsigen is probably a much better destination for limestone cragging simply due to the greater variety of grades. It was certainly more popular than either Gimmelwald or Lehn (which was not really “in-season” during our early August visit).

After climbing at Elsigen, we popped over to the next valley east to check out the incredible Oescheninsee.

Before we knew it our short week in the Lauterbrunnen Valley was up, and it was time to head south for the jet setting village of Zermatt. Another “car-free” village, Zermatt is the typical jumping-off point for the Matterhorn, and it swarms with camera-toting tourists hoping to get a cloud-free shot of the iconic peak.

The Matterhorn from the “5-Seen Weg” hike.

Alpenhorns in Zermatt.

Like everyone else, we were also here to see and hike around the mountain. Zermatt is not known for its sport climbing, nor can I recommend it. It’s an uber-ritzy ski-town, like Aspen or Vail on steroids. It’s not exactly climber-friendly or family-friendly, but this was my first time in Switzerland and I really wanted to see the Matterhorn. In hindsight, I would have preferred to wait for a promising forecast and then just make a day trip to Zermatt to get a quick look at the mountain and then spend our time somewhere a little less spoiled.

Eschelbalmen from Zermatt. There is a climber in red on the lower left, and another in a dark shirt climbing the central black streak.

Fortunately there is a sport crag right above town—like, right above town—you could jump onto the nearest chalet’s roof from the crag base. This small cliff, called Eschelbalmen, is comprised of some pretty mank metamorphic stone covered in a very thin coating of calcified flowstone that sortof holds everything together. It’s not a destination crag, but its passable for a desperate OCD climber who is paranoid about falling out of shape over a 3-day break.

Warming up on Butchered at the Bitch, 7b, Eschalbalmen.

Like all Swiss crags, it has amazing views, but the best thing going for it was a really chill, relaxing vibe. The base is a beautiful grassy meadow, and you can even pick raspberries between burns. I’m not going to waste too many electrons recommending it because its not worth that, but suffice to say, if you are in a pinch, its better than nothing (or bouldering, haha).

Fun with Pano mode. This is the Monte Rosa massif, just south of the Matterhorn, which is quite a bit more interesting in my opinion.

Obligatory reflection pic, this one of the tiny ponds around Riffelsee.

We put in a pretty quick session here after a long day of hiking around the northeast flank of the Matterhorn, including a quick dash up to the Hornli Hut at the base of the iconic Hornli Ridge of the Matterhorn. The shortness of the routes meant it was easy to pack a lot of burns into a short period of time. The highlight of the day was a 7c (5.12d) I did called Victoria, which apparently starts by scaling the roof of the small hut at the base of the cliff. I made a good effort on the 8a (13b) THC, but came off when I failed to spot a mungy roof pocket at the end of the crux.

Cruxing up Victoria, 7c, Eschelbalmen.

The best part of the session was putting up a bunch of routes for Logan and his buddy Sam on the crags highly-featured and low-angled southeast face. They had a great time swing around, scrounging for berries and generally messing around.

Logan crushing at Eschelbalmen

With the Matterhorn in our rear-view mirror, we headed back north to stay with my friend Rob’s family in Zurich. Nothing in the immediate Zurich vicinity caught my eye as far as a climbing destination, but Switzerland is small enough (and Zurich central enough) that we had plenty of good options within a short drive.

Zermatt has a sweet kid-focused rope course that all the kids loved.

I really wanted to visit a crag in the village of Engelberg I learned about just before we left called Schlanggen. This compact cliff sits at the back of a beautiful alpine valley and is stacked with 60-some tightly packed routes and linkups. At over 40-meters tall and continuously slightly overhanging, this white-and-blue-streaked limestone buttress is a paradise of endurance climbing.

The Schlanggen cliff just outside of Engelberg. Rather wet on the day this was taken, but it was almost completely dry two days later.

My friend Rob and I split from the families to make a quick stop there on our way back from Zermatt. Many of the blue streaks were partially dripping with water, which limited the options somewhat, but there was still plenty to do. The rock is pretty unusual for limestone, and any given route will likely contain some tricky sloper climbing, pockets of all varieties, and intense crimping. It took a while to get used to the style, and in typical fashion I struggled to scrape my way up the 5.11 warmup. After that things started coming together.

Attempting Onan, 8a, at Schlanggen.

I cruised up the outstanding 7c+ (13a) Zollo del Lachel, which required some intense pocket cranks and pumpy edging. Next I set my sights on the masterpiece No Time for Wanking (8a/13b). This incredible route opens with a 7b+ entry pitch to a good rest, before tackling a gentling overhanging pillar of velvety gray flowstone. The crux is a devious and reachy sequence working off a sharp undercling crimp to reach distant gastons. If you scrape your way through this bit, you are rewarded with a long, pumping exit, slapping franticly between big slopers, culminating in a desperate mantle onto a holdless-shelf just below the anchor (or at least, that’s how it was for me, haha). The pitch was absolutely phenomenal and easily the best route I did in Switzerland.

Low on No Time For Wanking, 8a, Schlanggen. Could you imagine being in such a hurry?!

In short, I loved climbing at Schlanggen—it was hands-down my favorite stop. With one climbing day left I was torn between the prospect of returning, or visiting the super-highly-recommended crag Voralpsee in eastern Switzerland. While I really wanted to go to Voralpsee, and likely a first day climbing there would have been better than a second day at Schlanggen, I also wanted to take the kids up one more Via Ferrata, and there was a good looking kid-friendly route only a few miles from the Schlanggen cliff.

How can you say I made the wrong choice? Amelie cruising the Brunnistockli Via Ferrata.

By our second visit the rock had dried up completely, providing a bunch of “new” routes to try. Once again the routes did not disappoint. Everything I did was excellent, but the best route of the day was the towering, 35-meter Mousse au Thon (7c+/13a). This classic endurance climb was stacked with hard sections split by good rests, culminating in a long, burly boulder problem out the 30-degree overhanging visor right at the lip of the cliff. My beta was essentially to bare down like a mofo on some tiny sharp crimps and slap for the chalk marks. Fortunately I hit everything well enough to get to the top.

High on Mousse au Thon, 7c+, Schlanggen.

Overall I really enjoyed the sport climbing I did in Switzerland. The country is not particularly know as a sport destination, and its hard to recommend it to the pure climber over more traditional destinations like Catalunya, Provence or the Mediterranean islands. However, if you are looking for crags that are a bit less polished, or climbing isn’t the primary focus of the trip, Swiss climbing has a lot to offer and there are few better all-around destinations.

Rest day visit to the legendary Aescher Hotel above Ebenalp.


High Wire Act: VF Murren

By Mark Anderson

There were two activities on the Swiss trip that were the unequivocal highlights. This was the first one. I’ve done about 10 Via Ferratas now, and this was hands-down the best I’ve done. It has spectacular scenery, incredible position, interesting apparatus and it’s well-designed and maintained.

VF Murren culminates in a spectacular hanging bridge that spans a massive, 1500-foot-deep chasm. This shot was taken from the cable car that runs between Gimmelwald and Murren.

For most well-travelled climbers, the typical Via Ferrata will seem mundane, if not completely boring. Not so VF Murren! While never physically challenging by climbing standards, the exposure on this route is no joke, and will get the attention of even the most grizzled El Cap veteran.

The west wall of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. The village of Murren is sunlit and visible in the far upper left corner—the VF starts in Murren and follows the lip of the massive cliff to Gimmelwald (which is south, or left in the photo).

To appreciate the route, it helps to understand a bit about the surrounding geography. The Lauterbrunnen Valley, located about 10 miles south of the bustling outdoor mecca Interlaken, is perhaps best described as a limestone version of Yosemite Valley. Although not quite as deep or long as Yosemite Valley, the upper rim of the gorge is studded with cloud-piercing glaciated peaks, including the Eiger, the Monch and the Jungfrau.

The village of Murren, and the massive cliff it sits atop—from the top of the Eiger Rotstock. The VF Murrent starts in the village and traverses the lip of the cliff towards the south (left in the photo).

The valley hub is the village of Lauterbrunnen, which can be accessed by car, train, etc. The lower valley is renowned for its 2500-feet-tall limestone walls and ubiquitous waterfalls. Atop these walls, along the rim of the canyon, are a serious of tiny, “car-free” hamlets, accessed by train, cable car, or a combination. Two of the more well-known are the hamlets of Murren and Gimmelwald (home to the world-class sport crag of the same name).

Logan starting the second 3-Wire Bridge.

The VF Murren traverses the lip of the west side of the canyon for two kilometers, from Murren to Gimmelwald. It weaves in and out of forest as the terrain dictates, but in the key spots it is literally right on the lip of a 2000-foot tall cliff. It’s like stepping out of a dense forest onto a small ledge on the side of El Cap with nothing but air beneath your feet. It is so perfectly exposed that there is literally a BASE jumping platform built into the route!

Logan heading towards the business.

I was really psyched to check out this VF, but I wasn’t sure how Logan would handle it. He’s very brave, but that’s a lot of exposure, and in my experience it can really take some getting used to. There’s a big difference between climbing your way up to a really exposed position, allowing your mind to acclimate as you steadily ascend versus just walking out to the edge of a cliff, and it’s hard to know how someone will react to that situation.

Entering the incredibly exposed lip traverse.

The route begins with a long stretch of easy hiking through forest, protected by wire. A series of downclimbs along stemples takes you out to the top of the cliff, where the route gets right down to business. The most exposed stretch comes pretty early, traversing an intermittent ledge system. The walls drop straight down here, with nothing but air for 2000 feet. For a brief stretch the ledge disappears and stemples lead across the void. This is not the technical crux, but surely the psychological crux.

Logan never seemed concerned about the 2000-foot drop. Should I be worried about that?

It turned out my concerns for Logan were completely unfounded. I don’t think Logan would have even noticed the exposure if I hadn’t pointed it out. He cruised it all with a smile on his face, and if anything I struggled to keep up with him while taking pictures and managing the rope.

Me in the same spot as above. Note the arcing line of stemples up and left from my head.

After the lip traverse, the route heads back into the forest for a while, eventually leading to a “Monkey Birdge” (or “Three-wire Bridge”) that crosses one of the many waterfalls. Logan wasn’t quite tall enough to reach between the wires on this one, so I rigged it as a Tyrolean for him and pulled him across.

Logan Tyrolean traversing the first 3-Wire Bridge.

More wire through the forest leads to what I felt was the physical crux, a series of 4 long ladder down-climbs, the last of which was slightly overhanging. Since we had sport-climbed at Gimmelwald earlier in the day, I was doing the VF with my entire sport-climbing kit on my back, 70-meter rope included. After a morning of struggling to grasp Gimmelwald’s biceps-bursting routes, I found that last, overhanging ladder to be rather taxing!

Logan cruising the long ladder down-climb.

Once again, Logan had no issues and didn’t think it was hard despite my whining. Next came a shorter 3-wire bridge, which Logan was able to traverse on his feet. Another long stretch of hiking leads to the highlight of the route, and the most incredible VF feature I’ve ever seen, a massive hanging bridge (aka “Nepalese Bridge”).

The incredible hanging bridge.

I don’t know the exact dimensions, but I’d guess the bridge is over 100-meters long, and crosses a chasm over 1500-feet deep. This was the first obstacle that gave Logan pause. Sadly he’s already a bit jaded and hard to impress, but when he came around the corner and laid eyes on the hanging bridge, he was in awe.

Logan starting across the bridge.

Contemplating the view.

The view down!

Despite its impressive engineering, the bridge was quite rickety, and the hand wires were hard for Logan to reach, so he took his time traversing the wobbly catwalk. Eventually he became comfortable and cruised the second half of the crossing.

Once on the other side, it’s a brief, steep walk along cow pastures to reach the Gimmelwald Cable Car station, followed by a quick zip back down to the valley. Of all the activities we did on the trip, this is one I would absolutely do again. This should be considered a must do for any capable visitor, no matter how jaded by rock cliffs you may be, and the great news is that it’s super easy to tack-on at the end (or beginning) of a day climbing at the fantastic Gimmelwald cliff. Its possible to rent VF gear in Murren if you don’t have your own, just be sure to save some arm strength for those ladders!

Watch our videos of the Murren VF here:

Klettersteig on the Flank of the Eiger

By Mark Anderson

“Klettersteig” is German for “Via Ferrata” (which is Italian for “Iron Way”).[LINK TO INTRO-STYLE VF Post]. Klettersteigs have existed in Switzerland for decades and they have some of the best in the world, including the best two I’ve ever done—the Eiger Rotstock and Murren via ferrats. The Eiger Rotstock route is not particularly noteworthy in terms of exotic apparatus such as Monkey Bridges or Ziplines, but because of its incredible position.

The Eiger Nordwand (aka Eigerwand) on the left, and the Eiger Rotstock on the right (with its summit just up and left of the signpost. The via ferrata more or less climbs the large gulley just right of the center of the photo.

The Eiger Rotstock is a sub-peak along the northwest ridge of the Eiger. It’s several thousand feet lower than the Eiger, but sits adjacent to the main peak’s infamous and iconic North Face, dubbed the “Eigerwand.”

The Eigerwand.

The Eigerwand may be the single most notorious mountain face in the Alps, if not the world, having claimed the lives of some 65 climbers. It was the scene of an unprecedented series of accidents in the mid-20th century as the Continent’s best climbers struggled to climb it. The news reports of these attempts, heroic rescues, and tragedies made the face world-famous to people from all walks of life, and the climbers involved in became household names.

It was eventually climbed in 1938 by Anderl Heckmair, Ludwig Vorg, Fitz Kasparek and Heinrich Harrer (author of Seven-Years in Tibet). Harrer’s book The White Spider, which details his ascent as well as all other attempts, successes and disasters on the face through the mid-1960s, is among the most classic pieces of Mountaineering literature ever written. And of course, the face was the setting for Hollywood’s undisputed best-ever climbing movie, The Eiger Sanction.

A view of the 6 ladders that start the Rotstock VF.

I suspect my hard alpine days are behind me, but as a student of climbing history, I had to get a look at this face, and the Eiger Rotstock Via Ferrata provides an excellent vantage point, in relative safety. The route winds up the notch between the Rotstock and the Eiger proper, essentially climbing the lower quarter of the Eigerwand’s west arête. The position is absolutely spectacular, and provides a taste of exposure and commitment with nearly complete safety.

Logan cruising the ladders.

Logan cruising the ladders.

Our adventure started with an early morning train ride from the spectacular Lauterbrunnen Valley up to the Eigergletscher station just above the hamlet of Kleine Scheidegg. From there a brief contouring hike leads below the Eigerwand to the start of the Klettersteig.

Just above the end of the ladders, with Kleine Scheidegg visible below and to the right.

Just above the end of the ladders, with Kleine Scheidegg visible below and to the right.

The Klettersteig itself is straightforward and not particularly interesting. It begins with six metal ladders, followed by mostly steep hiking (with a wee bit of easy scrambling) on generally good rock, almost 100% protected by cable.

Entering the big gulley.

Besides the phenomenal views, the best part of the excursion was taking Logan up on something reasonably resembling a proper mountain. He was psyched to reach a real summit and loved the exposure. It’s a great day out in the mountains with not much more risk than any alpine hike. For perspective, I’d say it’s a lot safer than the Angel’s Landing hike in Zion.

Near the Rotstock summit (up and right).

The descent from the Rotstock follows the lower section of the Eiger’s West Flank route, and provides unobstructed views of that route, all the way to the summit (when its visible). From our vantage point the route looked pretty fun and moderate in dry conditions, with some interesting scrambling on generally good rock.

Logan on the Rotstock summit, with the Eiger West Flank (and route) behind.

On the summit.

Check out Logan’s video of the Eiger Rotstock via ferrata here:

The descent went quickly and we rendezvoused with the rest of the family back at the Eigergletscher Hotel, then hiked down to Kleine Scheidegg (which was not much more than a large gift shop). After refueling the kids with ice cream we continued hiking north along the crowded “Panoramaweg” trail to the Mannlichen Cable Car station and zipped down to Lauterbrunnen. It was a great tour of the Eiger region and one that I’d highly recommend to anyone who wants an intimate look at the Eiger without taking much risk (or dragging a bunch of alpine climbing gear around).

Amelie and the Jungfrau.

Best Hidden Valley Sport Climbs 5.11 and Up

Time for the final round of Hidden Valley recommendations – this time for 5.11 and up.  And guess what – fall sending is almost here!  So if you are in the market for some good projects, this list might be a good place to start.  While the moderate routes can get quite crowded on good weather weekends, you’ll find that the queues drastically decrease as the grades increase.

In the steeps of Blues Brothers 12a (Photo Bryan Miller)

Roadkill 11a


ROADKILL 11a – A little pumpy, but straightforward, and you get a good rest once you pull the roof.
GRISTLE 12a – I know lots of folks who claim Gristle as a first 5.12….but I also know someone very near and dear to my heart that has dozens of 12’s under his belt that hasn’t been able to do it yet (not to call you out CragDaddy, just making a PSA.)  If you know how to heel/toe cam and have decent lock off strength, this one might be a good candidate for your first 12.  But if you are super tall and that heel/toe cam just doesn’t quite lock in, know that you’re in good company!
USDA 12a – If Gristle isn’t working for you, try out it’s neighbor to the right.  No moves as hard as the crux on Gristle, but the climbing as a whole is a little more sustained.  Multiple roofs, but multiple rests, especially if you aren’t super tall and can get “squatty.”
RAINY SATURDAY 12a – This one is going to be low-hanging fruit for the boulderers.  A powerful sequence right off the ground leads to 60+ feet of climbing that is no harder than 10a.  Two things worth noting –  the boulder problem will definitely feel harder if you are short, and there are a couple of chossy sections up high, so tread lightly.
FLEDGLING 12b – I know the guidebook gives it 12b, but if you know how to use your feet it’s a lot easier than some of the other 12a’s, certainly less powerful.  Plus it was a first ever 12 for a friend of mine.  And it’s an awesome route!
NEVER SEEN A MAN BEAT THE SNAKE BEFORE 12b – This climb is more weird than it is hard.  Once you figure out the beta it’s not that hard to put together.

Steve crimping through Meatballs 5.12a/b (Photo Bryan Miller)

CragDaddy cuttin’ loose on Mating Season 11d


POCKET FULL OF RATTLEBUGS 11a Definitely the best of it’s grade, this route is in the runnings for best route at Hidden Valley.  Lots of variety – pockets, finger locks, power, commitment – if you climb 5.11 do NOT skip this route!
PRIME TIME PLAYERS 11b – This one never sees any action, but it should!  Mostly easier climbing, with a little power move in the middle and some thin moves at the finish.
GODZILLA 11b – This is listed in the guidebook as a route that “stays dry,” if you end at the first set of anchors, which keeps the route 11b (13a if you go out the roof.)  We went down to do it over a Memorial Day weekend after a week filled flooding rains and it was soaking wet.  Go figure.  To be fair however, routes we had never seen wet before were waterfalls that weekend, so my guess is that under normal rain circumstances, it would probably be fine.  That said, I’ve never done it, but I know plenty who have and say it’s as good as it looks!
GREAT WHITE 11b/c – This is Oregon Trail 10c’s older brother.  Pumpy goodness, with a crux that is not-so-obvious from the ground, but you’ll know it when you’re in it.
CHERRY CORDULES 11c – We discovered this hidden gem while working Death by Chocolate 12d.  It’s a great warm-up for harder climbs, and a super fun route in its own right.  Fair warning the opening moves are a little weird, and while it’s not required, a little gear to supplement to the ledge might not be a bad idea.
KESTREL 11c – This route features super fun technical face climbing.  If you are looking to do some of the harder routes on the wall, this one is a better warm-up than THIN SHELLS 10d, despite the grade difference.  While the moves are harder, the holds are a little less tweaky.
MATING SEASON 11b OR 11d – Looking for a short, techy 11b with most of the business at the bottom?  Stop at the rainy day anchors.  Want to add a side of pump to your 5.11?  Keep going out the roof to the top of the cliff.  Note: be careful in the roof as there is some friable rock.  My first send attempt was foiled by a broken hold.

Gristle 12a

CragDaddy on USDA 12a

FLAVORED WITH MEAT 12a – If you like thin face climbing, this one was made for you!  Plus, it’s always fun to do the “cover route” on a guidebook.
BLUES BROTHERS 12a – The best 12a at Hidden Valley?  Just may be!  Definitely the most varied – little bit of crack climbing, little bit of steep jug hauling, little bit of crimpy face climbing culminating with a committing mantel.  It all adds up to a lot of fun!
YABUISHA 12a – This one is pretty hard for the grade – rumor has it a jug undercling broke at the finish.  In my opinion that heartbreak finish bumps this one up a letter.  But regardless of grade, it’s technical face climbing at it’s absolute finest!  Do it!!!
MEATBALLS 5.12a/b – Short but sweet little face climb.  Note: If climbing with small kids, this route starts up on a ledge that you probably wouldn’t want the whole family to join you on, so not a great choice if you don’t have extra adults for kid-watching back-up on the ground.
CAPTAIN FUK 12a – One of two awesome 12’s on the Right Side’s Ship Rock area.  If you are into burly gym routes, this is the one you should choose, though there will still be enough thin (and sharp!) face climbing to make you earn it!
BLACK BEARD 12b – The other of Ship Rock’s treasures.  This one is all about technique and endurance.  No hard moves for the grade….but can you hang on til the finish?
DDT 12b – Another technical testpiece on the Falcon Wall, this one will require a little bit of power with your technique.  Highly recommended!

Death by Chocolate 12d

CONEHEADS #2 12c – Awesome, full-value line.  Requires some power and finesse, as well as a cool head at the finish.  FYI the fall at the anchors is big but totally clean – ask me how I know 😉  More on that one here.  Worth noting is that there is a just as good, but slightly easier link-up by climbing the initial crack of Coneheads #2, then heading right to the upper face of Coneheads #1, finishing on the right side of the conehead feature.  More on that one here.
DEATH BY CHOCOLATE 12d – Though not my hardest send on paper, this one might be my proudest.  It’s a gorgeous line that stays dry in a downpour and never has any traffic.  Short, technical and powerful, I won’t recount the entire saga here (but it’s here if you want it.)  But I will say this – you might wanna save it for good conditions!

Looking for 5.13’s and harder?  There’s plenty to do there, but neither CragDaddy nor myself have a ton of experience at that level.  I will say though, that both of our first 13’s were sent at Hidden Valley – RODENT’S LAMENT 13b for me, and SPURS SLAB 13a for CragDaddy.  The former is a one move wonder (for a more detailed look at that climb, check out this post), and the latter involves a slab dyno, then a ledge and a finish up the ever popular Spurs 10c.  My guess is that both of them would be considered good first of the grade candidates for others as well.

There are a few notable routes that get a lot of stars but we haven’t tried yet.  Hopefully we’ll get a chance to get on them soon, and when we do, I’ll be sure to update this post.  (If you’ve tried ’em, please let me know how they are!)


But until then, you should have plenty to keep you busy from this list!  Also, don’t miss this other posts in this series.

Best Sport Climbs at Hidden Valley – 5.10 and Under


Swiss Sport Climbing Part 1: The Giants

By Mark Anderson

Switzerland isn’t particularly regarded as a sport climbing hotbed, but there are a few crags that are well-known on the world stage. We were able to visit two of the country’s premier sport crags, both located in the Berner Oberland region around the outdoor adventure mecca of Interlaken—Lehn and Gimmelwald.

Beautiful views and buttery limestone at Gimmelwald.  Photo Logan Anderson.

Although not much more than an hour’s commute apart, these two crags are completely different. Lehn is hidden in a pine forest right above Interlaken, with tall, white walls that don’t look particularly special from the ground. The sandstone has a very grippy texture, but generally forms slopey holds that require precise body positions. The best routes overhang up to ~20 degrees and feature long, sustained, and uber-pumpy sequences. The long cliffband offers over a hundred routes and a wide range of grades from 5.9-ish to mid 5.14.

Climbing Knallfrosch, 7b, at Lehn.  Photo Logan Anderson.

Gimmelwald is perhaps Switzerland’s most well-known crag, and certainly the most photogenic. Even if you’ve never heard of it, you’ve almost certainly seen a picture of it. It’s nestled at the end of a remote alpine valley; accessed by cable car and a long walk. The main cliff overhangs in a steep swell that is streaked in beautiful blue and orange, with a backdrop of picturesque, snow-capped peaks. The routes overhang anywhere from ~30 to 120 degrees, and are known for bouldery-yet sustained climbing that produces major pumpfests. The climbing here pretty much starts at ~5.13-, and doesn’t really get good until the 5.13+ range. [Note, there is another crag at Gimmelwald, called “Sector B”, that offers routes in the 5.10-5.12 range. I did not climb at Sector B, but I inspected it closely, and based on that inspection, and visits to other Swiss crags, I would discourage anyone from climbing at Sector B—there are far better 5.10-5.12 sport crags in Switzerland!]

The view from Gimmelwald. Photo Kate Anderson.

Lehn was the first crag we visited on the trip, essentially straight from the airport with major jet lag. Based on a general lack of information and its unassuming look, I had pretty low expectations for the climbing. I jumped on a 6c (~5.11b) to warmup and quickly found myself using every trick in my bag to sketch my way up the thing. The slopey, insecure, oozing style of climbing was a major shock. Body English is paramount, as is trusting your feet on polished bumps.

Lower on Knallfrosch, Lehn. Photo Logan Anderson.

Despite my struggles, I couldn’t deny the crag’s quality. The rock was impeccable, if hard to read. As I progressed to harder routes, I found the grades felt more reasonable and the climbing only got better (struggling on warmups was a theme throughout the trip—I don’t know if this is due to nonlinear sandbagging, jet lag, or a combination of the two!).

Schweizerhalle, 7b+, Lehn. Photo Logan Anderson.

The best route I did was a tall, uber-classic 7b+ (5.12c) called Schweizerhalle. This is a world class route, not quite as good as, but reminiscent of, Orange Juice at the Red. The climbing started with big moves between slopey, pumping jugs, leading to a final battle up a long molasses streak. The holds slowly morphed into small, angled edges requiring sequential gastons and crosses weaving to the top of the wall.

Entering the high crux of Schweizerhalle, Lehn. Photo Logan Anderson.

I was pretty lukewarm on the crag until I did this route, which really convinced me of Lehn’s quality. European guidebooks rarely offer any sort of quality ratings, so sometimes we visitors need to bumble around in the wilderness until we stumble upon the goods!

The Eiger Nordwand from the approach to Lehn. The lower half of the wall is obscured.

My experience at Gimmelwald was pretty much the opposite. I had found a lot of info on the crag and a lot of hype. The crag looked phenomenal and my expectations were correspondingly high. Although the scenery and position were every bit as good as advertised, I was disappointed in my climbing.

Teufelskuche, 7c+, Gimmelwald. Photo Logan Anderson.

Roughly half the routes were dripping wet due to an early morning deluge, so I was pretty limited in my warm-up options, at a crag that is already known for its lack of “moderates.” The crag’s classic 7c+ (5.13a) Men at Work had fixed draws and was dry through the lower half, so I attempted to warmup on that. I really struggled to find a rhythm—it seemed like I was constantly off-balance and out of sequence.

Men at Work, 7c+, Gimmelwald. Photo Logan Anderson.

Next I tried Teufelskuche, the crag’s other dry 7c+. This time it went a little better, but not by much. I couldn’t deny the quality of the rock, but frankly I wasn’t enjoying the climbing.  When the climbing is awkward, its hard to know if that’s due to the rock or the climber. This section of the cliff generally consisted of stacked, sloping rails that all slanted down to the left, such that the climbing was generally slopey liebacking with all the footholds sloping away. I was constantly battling against a left-ward barn-door and I never felt relaxed or comfortable.

Teufelskuche, Gimmelwald. Photo Logan Anderson.

I had been warned before I left that the climbing at Gimmelwald really doesn’t get good until the 5.14s. Once I had confirmed this to my satisfaction, I decided to jump on something a bit harder, and found what turned out to be an incredible 8a+ (5.13c) called Surfer’s Paradise—the sector’s namesake.

Surfer’s Paradise, 8a+, Gimmelwald. Photo Logan Anderson.

Surfer’s Paradise climbs a huge, 45-degree overhanging swell of blue limestone, characterized by big moves between water pockets. For the most part the pockets were big and incut (and mostly dry). The bottom section involved really cool footwork, with overhead heel hooking and toe-camming passing a big hueco. The route never really eased up and ended with some really big, burly throws between well-spaced 3 and 4-finger mini-buckets.

Surfer’s Paradise, Gimmelwald. Photo Logan Anderson.

By the time I lowered off, I could appreciate why this crag was so well-regarded. The setting is unmatched and when the climbing is good, its really good. Unfortunately the grades are pretty exclusive, which probably explains why the routes appeared relatively untraveled. I felt fortunate to get to experience a taste of what the area has to offer, but I was also content and excited to check out some more obscure Swiss crags…

…Coming soon: Swiss Sport Climbing Part 2: Off the Beaten Path

Paraglider over the Lauterbrunnen Valley, with the Eiger (L) and the Monch (R) behind.

Best Sport Climbs Hidden Valley – 5.10 and Under

Now that you’ve got the basic crag beta down for Hidden Valley, it’s time to decide what routes you want to try.  The best part about Hidden Valley (aside from that 4000′ elevation!) is the wide variety of grades spread all around the cliff.  This post will zero in on the lower grades – those of you looking for 5.11 and up recommendations will have to wait!  But for now, here’s plenty to get started on.


STALLION 5.5 –  Both of my children like this one!
 – Easy slabbin’ with plenty of bolts.
LEISURE SUIT 5.8 – Don’t let the guidebook’s comment about short folks deter you.  My son did all the moves when he was 8ish, and while he’s strong boy, he’s not a climbing prodigy 😉
CHICKEN SOUP 5.8+ – A little technical, but short, and you’re on your feet the whole time, so pump isn’t a factor.

Big C rockin’ a Gatorade Mustache on Pony 5.8

Little Z working her way up Stallion 5.5


TIDY BOWL 10a – Once you pull the initial roof (don’t forget to stem!) it’s all about footwork.  Slow and steady wins the race.  Stick clip recommended.
– If you want to avoid the roof pull, you can always end early and clip the anchors for VIPER LOGIC 10d


Butt Crack 5.7+ – This is my son’s favorite route…although I think the name might have just as much to do with his enjoyment as the actual climbing.  That said, the climbing is stellar also!  Perfect for beginners to practice some layback technique and trusting their feet!  Go right at the last bolt for a slightly harder finish.
PONY 5.8 – Tall line with lots of variety and the views at the top are some of the best in the Valley!
NO COKE, PEPSI 5.9+  – This one, along with it’s next door neighbor FARLEY 5.9 get constant traffic on good weather weekends, so get there early if you don’t want to have to wait.  Personally, I think the former is better than the latter, but they are both good.  If your crack technique is not super solid, definitely stick clip Farley’s first bolt.
TAINT MEAT 5.9+ – This one will be super fun if you climb harder than 5.9.  If 5.9 is your limit, it’s gonna feel hard and scary.
OREGON TRAIL 10c – Don’t pass this one by, even if the opening dihedral is a little damp.  You’ll have plenty of time to chalk up before the steep, pumpy goodness begins.
SPURS 10c – Bring a long stick clip or some gear for the opening 20 feet of crack climbing.  Get it all back on the bushy ledge, then tackle the monstrously steep for the grade jug haul.  Note: Back cleaning the first draw after the ledge will decrease drag tremendously.
THIN SHELLS 10d – Technical face climbing at it’s finest, though some of the holds are a little tweaky if you are looking to warm-up on it.
POWDER 10d – Pony’s harder next door neighbor.  Cryptic crux up high that will feel easier in crisp conditions!

Big C tackling the Butt Crack 5.7+ (cue Beavis and Butthead laugh)


All of the routes I’ve recommended are found on the Left Side of the cliff.  Our family hasn’t ventured over to the Right Side yet, but I’ll be sure to update this post when we do.  We also haven’t done much on the Ginseng Wall or Indian Shelter – hoping to remedy that soon.  From looking at the guidebook, it appears that there are a good many lines that should perhaps be included in this list.  If you know of one – please let me know!

What’s YOUR FAVORITE moderate line at Hidden Valley?


Swiss Preview

By Mark Anderson

I just returned from an amazing and exhausting 2 weeks in Switzerland with my family. We experienced easily the most diverse set of adventures yet among our trips to Europe, which I will recount in detail over the coming months, but first, here is a quick, whirlwind photo preview of the highest of the highlights!

The Matterhorn

The trip revolved around three major activties:

  • Hiking & Sightseeing
  • Via Ferratas (called “Klettersteig” in German)
  • Sport climbing

We accomplished all three several times over.

On the way to sport climbing at Lehn, with the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau in the distance.

We hiked below the legendary Eiger Nordwand and around the northeast flank of the Matterhorn. We enjoyed incredible sunshine and torrential rain, rode more cable cars than I can count, and stumbled upon fields of wild strawberries.

Below the many summits of Monte Rosa. The three most obvious summits are (from L to R) Dufourspitze, Lyskamm and Breithorn.

Strawberry fields forever!


We completed three outstanding Via Ferratas, including one on the side of the Eiger and one that traversed the lip of a 2000-foot deep limestone gorge. We swam in alpine lakes and skipped stones across many more. We scoured the country for a palatable granola bar.

Logan braving the unparalled Murren VF.

Swimming in Grunsee.

Ama cruising the Brunnistockli VF.

We climbed at four incredible sport crags (and one passable slag heap in an incredible setting), thrashed through fields of stinging nettles in search of others, and picnicked at the world’s most iconic bouldering destination.

Gimmelwald sport climbing.

Off the beaten path in Elsigen.


We cruised alpine slides, toured a chocolate factory, played Big Chess in a car-free village, spent quality time with old friends, and traversed the digestive tract of a Trojan Cow.

This Rodelbahn is so good someone died on it.

Apparently this is the Willy Wonka-est of Switzerland’s many chocolate factories.

Big Chess in Murren

How would you describe this, other than a “Trojan Cow”? Kids climb up a ladder through the cow’s butt, and slide down its throat. That’s the north face of the Eiger in the background.

Perhaps the highlight of the trip was a technical descent of the whitewater “Nala Inferiore” canyon, including a 50-meter rappel down a raging watefall—a totally wild and surreal experience.

Rapping a 50-meter waterfall in Nala Inferiore.

It’s daunting just thinking back on all the ground we covered, but I guess that explains why I’m so tired!

Stay in Zermatt long enough and you get sick of looking at the Matterhorn. This is from Riffelsee.

NRG Sport Climbing Superlatives – 5.12 and Up

Thunderstruck 12b Photo: Dan Brayack

If 5.11 is where things really start to get good at the New, then 5.12 land is nothing short of heaven.  Whether you’re looking for one-move wonders or sandbagged classics, spooky slab or straight up roof thuggin’, the New has more than a few 5.12’s for you!


LOW BROW 12a (Meadow) – First NRG 5.12 for both CragDaddy and me.  It is a slab, which not everyone likes, but if you have good footwork it shouldn’t be too bad.  Great rests + lower angle means there is not a big pump factor, although there’s a move at the chains that will keep you honest.
FIRED FOR SANDBAGGING 12a (Bubba City) – Seems like everyone migrates away from Bubba City once they graduate past 5.10, but there are several harder gems if you are willing to look!  This one features one very well-protected hard move down below, the rest is no harder than 11a.  Work the opening sequence, then pull the rope and fire for the send!
HOMERECTUS 12a (Endless) – This route can either be a super hard 11b, or a pretty easy 12a.  Keeping the line at 11b requires a long but easy traverse at the 8th bolt to avoid pulling a bulge.  Going direct here will make it 12a, and if you aren’t blessed with a giant ape index, the 12a move will likely feel only slightly harder than the 11b crux down low.  A great way to get experience both ways is to climb the 11b way, then try out the 12 moves on the lower, then pull the rope and go for the 12 send.
STARRY 12a (Meadow, Third Buttress) – Loooong route, but the first 2/3 are no harder than 10a. Be on the lookout for the lay down rest!
MINISTRY 12b (Butcher’s Branch) – Crux is pretty thin, but short-lived.  The majority of the route is 5.10, with a great rest before the business at the finish.

First big move on Lost Souls 12a

While I don’t have a ton of experience at the harder grades here at the New (more on that below), the following were my firsts of the grade here, so they are probably good entry level routes.
GREEN ENVY 12c (Beauty)


NEW WORLD ORDER 12a (Endless) – Full value climbing, with a lot of variety!
PREPARATION H 12a (Kaymoor) – Delicate arete climbing that, in my opinion, deserves more action than it’s neighbor around the corner, Pockets of Resistance.
LOST SOULS 12a (Butcher’s Branch) – I couldn’t decide whether or not to put this one in the above category….it’s giant, monkey swinging moves definitely cater to gym rats looking to bag their first 12, but if you’re not a great “gym climber” you’ll probably find the opposite – that was CragDaddy’s and my experience.  But regardless whether you think it’s hard or soft, it’s still a fantastic rock climb that is worth waiting in line for!
FREAKY STYLEE 12a (Endless) – Technical face to a big-whipper potential crux move at the top.
HELLBOUND FOR GLORY 12a (Endless) – FA Doug Cosby likes to say that this one was once known as “most flashable 12” in the gorge.  That statement might be a bit of a sandbag, but it’s a great route for sure – once you get past the awkward start, that is.
RECKLESS ABANDON 12a (Summersville) – The position out over the water is spectacular!
BLACKHAPPY 12b (Endless) – Everything you could want out of rock climb – thin, technical crux, big moves to big holds, and a spicy (but clean) runout to the chains.  Yee-haw!
MODERN PRIMITIVE 12b (Endless) – Due to it’s orientation, stays in the shade til late in the day, unlike the rest of Endless Wall. Good candidate when the rest of Endless is too hot.
LE FUTURISTE 12b (Endless) – The “optional but recommended” dyno mentioned in the guidebook is not optional for me…but I can see why it’s recommended regardless!

Mid-crux on Le Futuriste 12b Photo: Javier Licon


‘Nuff said.  Transport these routes to another crag and they would probably receive at least another letter grade. These are all amazing.  And also amazingly hard for the grade.

JESUS AND TEQUILA 12b (Endless) – This one has sentimental value for me, see here for more.
THUNDERSTRUCK 12b (White Wall)
HARLEQUIN 12b (Endless)
CHUNKY MONKEY 12b (Beauty)


I don’t like the term “height-dependent,” because I don’t want to limit what we small folk are capable of.  However, unless you’re at least 5’10”, don’t expect these to feel the grade the guidebook gives it.

STRETCH ARMSTRONG 12a (Bridge) – After trying this several times off and on over the years, I finally sent  the day after sending my first and so far only NRG 13.  Honestly the crux of this felt almost as hard for me!  CragDaddy, however, found some amazing beta that almost turned this line into a one move wonder.
FLY GIRLS 12a (Fern) – Also a great candidate for a first of the grade if you can make the reach.  If you can’t, you’re campusing on crimps.
TECHMAN 12c (Endless) – There are some intermediates in the crux, albeit pretty terrible ones, but if you can’t reach a key foothold at the end of the traverse, the exit move of the crux will be pretty low percentage, and will quickly turn this tweaker into “hard in a not fun way.”
MACAULEY’S IRISH STOUT 12b (Meadow, The Other Place) – Most dyno at the crux, but I’ve seen it go static…unfortunately the static beta is just as reachy.

CragDaddy on Modern Primitive 12b

If you are sub par when it comes to height, don’t get discouraged.  Most routes in your grade range can still go down for you at the New, provided you are willing to get creative and try harder than you think you should have to at times.  That said, the following are great options for smaller people, either because the typical beta involves a compact body position that caters to a smaller frame, or because of multiple intermediate options for hands and feet.


PSYCHOWRANGLER 12a (Cottontop) – Be ready for a queue on a weekend day.
BULLET THE NEW SKY 12b (Endless) – If you can get your feet up on small holds, this route will feel LESS reachy to you than it will for your taller counterparts!
POCKETS OF RESISTANCE 12a (Kaymoor) – Yes that last move is big, but if you can get your feet high early you’ll be able to use the undercling better.
NARCISSUS 12a (Summersville) – Plenty of intermediates and multiple ways to go at the crux.
GIFT OF GRACE 12b (Endless) -Be super careful clipping the 3rd bolt.  Safest way to do it is to sling it really long so you can clip early.  Your ethics may vary.
JUST SEND IT 13b (Fern) – I’ve only been on this route once, and it definitely shut me down…but certainly not because of height!

Me going “full blowfish” on Ministry 12b


As mentioned in the 5.11 post, none of the “must-do” lines listed are a secret.  If you’ve done most the classics, or are looking for a way to avoid the queue, here’s your list.  These routes are all good solid rock climbs, and most rarely have any takers.

AUDIOPHERING 12a (Cottontop) – A little weird in places, but definitely worth doing.
POWERFUL OPPOSITION 12a (Bubba City) – Prepare to get funky on this one.
MICHELIN MAN Variation 12b (Bubba City) – Fabulous steep jug hauling to a delicate, reachy traverse.  There’s an 11d version that I’ve never done with a different finish, that’s probably good too?
FINE MOTOR CONTROL 12a (Endless) – Power moves down low, classic Endless face up high.
CONTROL 12a (Butcher’s Branch) – Powerful little boulder problem traverse to better holds and a giant sit-down ledge, followed by more moderate climbing.
FANTASY FACE 12a (Endless) – If Aesthetica and Blackhappy are at Rush Hour, take this back road of technical slab fun.
KAOS 12c (Butcher’s Branch) – Much harder neighbor to the aforementioned Control.
THE STRATEGEM 12a (Bridge) – Did you know there were sport climbs at Bridge Buttress?  Most other people don’t either.  Check out this one, TEAM MACHINE 12a, and STRETCH ARMSTRONG 12a (described earlier) for a sweet bolted trifecta.
UNBROKEN CHAIN 12a – The view is spectacular and the approach can’t be beat.  Plus you’ll never run into anyone else…but bring your A-game because this thing is hard as nails.
WALL DRUG 12c and it’s next door neighbor BOSNIAN VACATION 12d (Fern) – A little sharp, a little tweaky, but cool movement, great views, and I’ve never seen anyone else on them but us!

Shaking out on New World Order 12a


While there are very few true NRG “black holes” at this grade (you know, routes that are so bad they take stars away from other neighboring routes), there’s one that comes close.  One of these is LET THE WIND BLOW 12a, found on the right side of Bridge Buttress.  There are a few reasons why folks end up on this line.  It can be toproped from an awesome full value hand crack – HIGH TIMES 10c, and it stays dry in a downpour.  Don’t waste your time on it though – it’s overchalked, polished, and the holds are sharp and tweaky.


As opposed to a pretty even spread throughout the grade range in prior posts of this “best of” series (5.10 and under here, and 5.11’s here), you might notice that my 5.12 recommendations are a little bottom heavy.  As in, mostly in the 12a and 12b range. Looking at my tick list, the reason for this is pretty obvious.  Counting only routes I’ve sent at the New – 15 are 12a, 7 are 12b…and then I have one each of 12c, 12d, and 13a.  I’m slowly but surely working to rectify this imbalance, but for now the 12+ and higher recommendations will be grossly underrespresented.  In the mean time though, you’ve got plenty to keep you busy from this list!

CragDaddy sticking the dyno on MacCauley’s Irish Stout 12b

Oh and one more thing.  The following is a list of routes that probably should be on this list but I can’t personally recommend because I’ve never touched them.  A few of them may or may not also be on the list of potential fall projects (hence the obvious technical face climbing slant!)

PUDD’s PRETTY DRESS 12d (Endless)
SLASH AND BURN 12d (Kaymoor)
LIBERTINE 12d (Endless)
QUINSANA PLUS 13a (Endless)

If anybody else has any recommendations for hard 12’s and easier 13’s, especially ones that hypothetically might be a good fit for a 5’5″ frame, please let me know in the comments!


NRG Sport Climbing Superlatives – 5.11

Mutiny 11d…the water makes for a big crowd deterrent! Photo: Dan Brayack

Ah, 5.11.  While the New has some of the best climbing on the planet at any grade, 5.11 is where it really starts to get good.  Whether you are looking to bag your first one, rack up a list of classics, or avoid crowds, look no further, because this post can help.


WILD SEED 11a (Fern) – The business section of this one is about as gym climb-y as you’re gonna get at the New.  The opening slab moves will keep you honest if you are a true gym rat, but are probably only 5.9 or so.
DELIRIUM TREMORS 11a (Bubba City) – One move wonder that is short but sweet – if all else fails and you can’t do the move, use the tree behind you to avoid having to leave a biner.
MR. CUTE 11a (3rd Buttress, Meadow) – The opening traverse will leave you scratching your head thinking, “Is this really right?!?” but by the time you get to the top, all you’ll be thinking about is pump management.  No 11 moves, just pumpy.
EURONATION 11c (Endless) – Stem off the tree to reach the 1st bolt (stick clip recommended) for a fantastic, rarely traveled 5.10 warm-up.  Eliminate the tree and all you’ve got standing in your way of claiming 11c is a crimpy V3 boulder problem.
SLAB-O-MEAT 11d (Endless) – One move wonder down low makes this one a great option for those looking for a first 11d.  Note:  The crux is well-protected, but after the business you’ll launch into a long slab with not a lot of bolts on it – it might feel a little heady, but there are no moves harder than 10-.

CragDaddy on the pumpy traverse of Flash Point 11d


LEGACY 11a (Endless) – Might be the best of the grade in the whole gorge.
SATISFACTION GUARANTEED 11a (Summersville) – The other contender for best of the grade in the whole gorge.
MASUKO 11a (Whipoorwhil) – Spectacular climbing with a spectacular view!
CROSS-EYED AND BLIND 11a (1st Buttress Meadow)  This one wants to Pump. You up. (You have to say it in a Schwarzenager voice.)
DISCOMBOBULATED 11b (Endless) – Right beside Legacy.  Knock them both out and you’ll have had a great day!  (If you’re a shortie climbing with tall folks, be ready to be annoyed with their beta around the 2nd or 3rd bolt.)
FLAMING PELLETS 11b (The Other Place) – Both tech and pump for your climbing pleasure
QTIP 11b (Cottontop) – Technical face climbing, with the right amount of weird to be fun.
COFFINDAFFERS DREAM 11b (3rd Buttress, Meadow) – Textbook NRG lockoffs all the way up this super fun face.
STIM-O-STAM 11c (Endless) – Burly boulder problem to techy pocket crux, with a grand slab-with-a-view finale!
S’MORE ENERGY 11c (Endless) – You’ll deserve a campfire treat after ticking this one!
AESTHETICA 11c (Endless) – Worth the hike, even if this is the only route you get on in the area.  Multiple options for climbers of different heights, but you’re everybody’s gonna have to reach and try hard on this one.

Crux clip on Scenic Adult 11c – make your friend hang your draws for you 😉

SANCHO BELIGE 11c (Kaymoor) – In good conditions you will love these slopers…in the summer, not so much.
SCENIC ADULT 11c (Kaymoor) – Don’t let the crazy beta pic in the guidebook talk you out of this one, you don’t have to do it that way.  But you do have to bring your lead head with you.
DISTURBANCE 11d (Beauty) – Can you get your foot at your face and launch?  If so, you’ll love this one.
FLASH POINT 11d (Endless) – My fave of this grade in the entire NRG.  3 cruxes – each gets progressively easier if you’re tall, progressively harder if you’re short.  Leisurely start, aggro in the middle, zen at the finish.  Brilliant piece of stone!
MENSA 11d (Beauty) – As the name implies, this one is a thinker that requires a little creativity.
OUT OF THE BAG 11d (Kaymoor) – Best route on a wall filled with fabulous rock climbs.
UNDER THE MILKY WAY 11d (Summersville) – You can’t beat the position on this one, with a finish high up over the lake.
TOXIC HUECO 11d (Lower Meadow) – Full disclosure, I’ve never actually touched this one, but everyone I know who’s touched it gives it about a million stars..  At one point I was saving it for a flash attempt, and realized recently I’d forgotten about it!  Should probably add to the fall bucket list!

Initial roof on Bourbon Sauce 11d


The one drawback to all of these fabulous 5.11s the NRG has to offer is that there are a heckuva lot of other people who want to climb them too.  So if you are looking to get away from the crowds, check the following ones out.  They aren’t quite as good as the ones listed above, but they are still darn good rock climbs, but won’t draw the crowds the way the others do.

MUCKRAKER 11a (Endless) – It’s right by the Honeymooner Ladders, so you’d think it’d get more action than it does.
OH IT’S YOU BOB 11b (Kaymoor) – Beware a couple of mega reaches on this sucker if you aren’t tall!
MOON CHILD POSSE 11c (Kaymoor) – Usually the only folks getting on this one are taking a quick warm-up lap before hopping on the White Wall 12’s.  This one is shady, tall, and a lot of fun!
COTTON THE ACT 11d (Cottontop)  Most folks never venture this far down the cliff, but this line is a great option for when Cottontop elevates to circus status on a Sunday afternoon.
HOT AND BOTHERED 11d (Summersville) – Right there living in the shadows of MILKY WAY lurks this beauty.  The climbing is just as good, although the position is not.  (Note: Another great neighboring 11 is MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE 11c, and I’ve heard FLIRTIN WITH E 11d is great too, though I’ve never been on it.
BOURBON SAUCE 11d (Kaymoor) – While everyone else is queued up for Sancho Belige 11c and Lost Souls 12a, this unassuming line is usually empty.  I don’t know why though, because it’s so good!
MUTINY 11d (Summersville) – Unlike the previous route, I DO know why this one never has a line – it’s completley off by itself away from all the other walls.  To reach it, turn right towards the water shortly after entering the woods post stream crossing.  You’ll scramble down to a peaceful little cove, where this proud line will be waiting.  Make sure to catch it in low water – late fall through early spring, or else your belayer will need some floaties!

Hot and Bothered 11d Photo: Dan Brayack


As mentioned in my NRG Crag Profile, the New is notoriously reachy.  There is a reason why all the strong climbing team kids flock to the Red (and it’s not because the rock is better there!!!)  However, there are a few diamonds in the rough.  While at 5’5″ I am by no means a giant, I’ve still got about a foot over your average 10 year old, so just because a route is doable for me doesn’t mean it’s a great fit for a kid, even a super strong one that likes to dyno.  Thankfully, the McDermott family has several small crushers at their house, and they were gracious enough to recommend some routes that cater to those under 5 feet tall.  So if you are a pint-sized beast looking for 5.11s, check out SATISFACTION GUARANTEED 11a, Q-TIP 11b, and UNDER THE MILKY WAY 11d, all listed as classics above, ironically all out at Summersville.  Also check out NO WAY JOSE 11b – I didn’t list it above because I’ve never been on it, but I’ve heard good things about it, and it also is apparently short-person friendly.  You can look forward to more input from the McDermotts on hard kid-friendly routes as this series progresses!

So there ya have it for 5.11s…now it’s your turn – if 5.11 is your jam, what are the absolute must-do’s?!?


Corner Pocket

By Mark Anderson

The small town of Ouray, in southwest Colorado, is one of my family’s favorite places to visit. The town has everything we look for in a vacation spot—good climbing, endless rest-day activities, and a place for the kids to swim. With extra sweeteners like a great bakery, plentiful ice cream, the best scenery in Colorado, and heated pools, it’s the perfect road-trip destination.

The 4th of July parade in downtown Ouray. If you stand on the sunny side of the street, expect to get soaked!

This year our climbing focused around the aptly-named Pool Wall, an angling cliffband that looms above Ouray’s legendary hot springs pools. The rock appears to be stuck somewhere in the geologic process between sandstone and full-on quartzite (which is metamorphosed sandstone). It looks like the former, but feels and climbs like the latter. The rock quality varies a fair bit depending on the sector, but where its good the rock is quite good.

The Pool Wall. The Bay of Pigs sector is the clean lower wall in the center.

We primarily spent our time at the killer Bay of Pigs sector, which features a number of super-high quality face climbs. The Ouray community seems to have a proclivity towards stiff grades, and this was certainly on display. Some of my favorites were Empire of Dirt (5.10d), which culminates in a classic but no-joke slab crux right below the anchors, and the namesake Bay of Pigs (5.12b) which has excellent rock and weaves up the center of the sector on generally crisp edges (and a few committing slaps).

High on Bay of Pigs.

The highlight of my first day was scraping my way up Matt Samet’s standout route Breaking the Waves (5.13a) on my first try. The crux climbs over a Rifle-esque blocky bulge with powerful underclings that lead to a committing dyno, but the upper headwall is stacked with desperate stabs to thin edges. It’s easily one of the best sport climbs in the Ouray area, and perhaps the best of the grade.

For my next climbing day, I set my sights on an open project on the far left end of the Bay of Pigs sector. According to Jason Nelson’s fantastic book “Climbs of the Million Dollar Highway,” the route was bolted by my friend Luke Childers but never sent, and features a “small, sharp pocket” at the crux. When I stumble on opportunities like this, I’m both intrigued and apprehensive—I would love to contribute a first ascent to an area I enjoy so much, but I also don’t want to “waste” a few precious vacation burns on a route I may not be able to finish.

Pulling onto the headwall on the “open project.”

With a few good sends in the bag I figured it was worth the risk, especially considering how good the route looked from below. After an easy approach, the route climbs a slightly overhanging arête with well-spaced, rounded edges. The rock was a bit “muddy” from neglect, but with a light brushing, it cleaned up really well.

The business is a 12-foot bouldery stretch along the prow. In the middle of this section is a slightly incut mono pocket that angles to the left, creating essentially a PIP-joint-deep sinker sidepull for the right hand. This pocket was actually pretty easy to pull on, but it was also a “Keeper.” Meaning, if you fall with your finger in that pocket, you better yank it free before your weight comes onto it or else that pocket is going to “keep” your finger!

Yarding off the keeper mono.

The opening boulder begins with a big incut edge, but then nothing for the next 4 feet except an out-of-view, sloping 2-finger dish. Right off the bat I struggled to get off the ledge and established onto the prow. It’s really important to be patient in situations like this. When you know a route has been climbed, and you know the approximate grade, even if you can’t figure out how to do a move, at least you know the move goes (and should be within a certain range of difficulty, or else you’re “doing it wrong”). With a first ascent, you really have no idea. Maybe it’s been left undone because the move is V14?

Pulling past the sloping dish on the lower arête.

Fortunately having gone through this countless times gave me just enough confidence to keep at it until I figured out the right footwork to snag the dish. The upper boulder, yarding off the mono thread, is probably a bit more physical (certainly more finger-strength intensive), but much more straightforward to figure out. After sussing the final panel I gave the route a final brushing and rested for a redpoint attempt.

I climbed quickly to the ledge below the prow, bouldered up a couple moves to clip, and down-climbed to rest and chalk one last time. I powered easily up to the big edge, moved my feet onto the prow, and slapped for the 2-finger dish. I came up empty-handed, but got enough friction from my grating right hand to stop my descent before I sagged onto the rope. Try again: same result, still managing to arrest my fall with a hard left arm lock-off. I took a deep breath, leaned back to get a better view of the target, and tried one last time. This time I got just enough of the dish and bounced my fingers in. I made a quick slap to a rounded edge, snagged the mono thread and gingerly clipped.

The next crux is moving off the clipping stance with a huuuge reach off the mono. Fortunately due to its orientation I could lock it off below hip-level. My Mundakas did their job and I snagged the distant edge with minimal drama and all fingers intact. After a brief shake I snaked up the brilliant 5.11 headwall (well, 5.10 by Ouray standards, haha) and clipped the chains.

Unwinding from the big mono reach.

People often ask something to the effect of “The places I climb don’t have pockets, do I still have to train pockets?” Obviously, we don’t have to do anything in the context of training, but I try to encourage people to train a wide variety of grips and this route is a perfect example of the reason. If you aren’t training comprehensively then you are training weaknesses into your climbing. I haven’t had a goal-specific reason to train pockets for at least 5 years. Had I decided not to train pockets over that time I seriously doubt I would have been able to do that route, and certainly not 2nd go.

Logan enjoying another of Luke’s routes, California Stars (5.10a) at The Alcove sector of the Pool Wall.

Grade-wise, I always struggle to grade tweaky routes, but comparing it only to the mono-intensive routes I’ve done, I’d say its much harder than Manly Bulges at Shelf or One Love at Sinks, about the same as Todd Skinner’s Smoke Shapes (13d), and maybe a bit easier than Ghettoblaster (13d/14a) in the Frankenjura.

Many thanks to Luke for putting the route in. Luke’s done a tremendous amount of development all around Colorado, including at the Pool Wall, and we enjoyed a number of his routes during our trip. We always have a blast in Ouray and this trip was no exception. I can’t wait for our next opportunity to visit.

The northern San Juan mountains from the summit of Wetterhorn Peak.

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