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Category Archives: Frankenjura

The Original Campus Board

As soon as Kate and I committed to a trip to Germany, I started looking for information on “The Campus Center”, the birthplace (and namesake) of the Campus Board. Legend has it that Wolfgang Gullich was looking for a new way to train explosive power for a new cutting-edge route he was trying in the Frankenjura. He developed a ground-breaking new training tool that would allow him to apply the concepts of plyometric training to climbing. The “Campus training” worked, Wallstreet was born (the first 5.14b or 8c in the world) and the rest is history. [read more on this here]

My obsession with campus training, and in particular, campus board specifications, is well-documented. I absolutely had to get a look at the original campus board, if it was still in existence. At the very least, I wanted to take a few measurements, especially rung-spacing, rung depth, and the angle of the board (steepness). It was a long shot, but it was worth looking into.

Unworthy author about to be chewed up and spit out by Wallstreet.

Unworthy author about to be chewed up and spit out by Wallstreet.

The Campus Center was an upscale fitness center for regular people (not a climbing gym), located in Nuremberg, Germany. We just so happened to be flying in and out of Nuremberg, so if it was still standing, I was going to find it. One of my early climbing partners Bobby Gomez once called me a “climbing detective” for my persistence in uncovering all manner of random historical trivia and beta about various climbing objectives. I put all my powers to the test and (after a few missteps) entered “The Campus Center Nuremberg Germany Wolfgang Gullich” into my Google Machine. This is what I found.

Not only did the Campus Center still exist, they have a website, including a page dedicated to the Campus Board, with pics of Wolfgang Gullich and Action Directe! This was going to be easy. They had a picture of the board in 2010, still intact, so there was a great chance the board would still be there when I arrived. Still, I was nervous. How long could a regular fitness studio possibly keep an old relic like this hanging around before someone decided to remodel?

Nuremberg is a town of roughly 500,000, located in the heart of Bavaria and roughly an hour from the heart of the Frankenjura. The Campus Center is located on the east side of town, in a commercial district with a variety of storefronts. After our flight landed on the morning of September 18th, we picked up our rental car and headed straight there. My quite-rusty German was going to get tested almost immediately.

The Campus Center, Nuremberg, Germany

The Campus Center, Nuremberg, Germany

While I was still in Denver I scripted a few lines using my phrasebook in the hope that I could explain my intentions to the Campus Center personnel. Things like “I would like to see the Campus Board” (“Ich mochte das Campusboard gesehen”) and whatnot. I walked bravely through the automatic door, looked the gentleman at the desk square in the eyes, chickened out and mumbled “Sprechen sie English?” Yes, a little. I explained why I was there. He was not surprised. I was lead upstairs and introduced to another gentleman who spoke fluent English. Clearly I was not the first foreigner to make this pilgrimage. Still, it was also not an everyday event, and he was quite curious to know where I was from and why I was so interested. He led me down the hall and into a large room filled with modern-day Nautilus workout equipment. There, at the far end of the room, suspended from the ceiling, was the original Campus Board. I asked if it was still original, if it had been moved or altered in any way. He confirmed that it was all original. It certainly looked original, and comparing the video of Gullich using the board (above) to my photos further confirms that it hasn’t been moved.

The Campus Board

The Campus Board

The wood was glassy and polished. It had clearly been here for quite a long time. On the front side were rungs of three different depths running from bottom to top, and the four lowest of the largest rungs had pairs of two-finger pockets roughly carved into them. All three sets of rungs were spaced at the same interval. The medium-depth rungs had a big, slopey radius on them, and the shallowest rungs were slightly incut with a moderate radius. They looked very similar in shape to the Metolius small campus rungs. The rungs were much wider than Metolius rungs, and vertical lines had been drawn on the rungs in black marker, presumably to measure horizontal or diagonal (typewriter-style) moves.

Thre front or business side of the Campus Board.

Thre front or business side of the Campus Board.

On the back side was an old hangboard, and an even older set of hand-made wood holds cobbled together in the shape of a pseudo-hangboard. Was this the world’s first hangboard? It wouldn’t surprise me. There were also some sloping, quarter-cylinder rungs on both the front and back of the board that looked like they’d been added more recently.

The back of the Campus Board.

The back of the Campus Board.

Once we got talking my escort shared all kinds of interesting details. The board was still used by climbers in the area. He showed me a sequence between a set of pockets and said that was the first move of Action Directe, and so on.

Two-finger pockets carved into the largest rungs.

Two-finger pockets carved into the largest rungs.

I took a bunch of pictures, posed for a pic in front of the board, and then I think I set myself apart from the other pilgrims when I pulled out my tape measure and inclinometer 🙂  I explained how much things like steepness and rung-spacing make a difference, and the value of comparing the configurations of different campus boards with the original. He understood but I suspect he thought I was taking things a bit too far 🙂

Measuring the spacing from the top of the fourth rung to the top of the first rung (63.5 cm).

Measuring the spacing from the top of the fourth rung to the top of the first rung (63.5 cm).

My first measurement was puzzling: 63.5 centimeters from the top of the first rung to the top of the fourth. I also measured the distance from the top of the second rung to the top of the first: 23.5 cm. That doesn’t make sense. I stood back and noticed the spacing between the first and second rungs was larger than the rest of the spacing. This is partially because the first row of rungs was aligned (“justified”, if you will) along the bottom edge of the rung, and the rest were aligned along the top edge. Upon further inspection I realized the spacing between rungs 2 thru 10 was 20cm per rung (on center, or from top edge to top edge), with the spacing between the first two 23.5cm.  According to Jerry Moffatt’s book, Wolfgang Gullich was able to do 1-5-8 using only his two middle fingers.  Presumably that was done on this board, so his 1-5 was 84cm and his 5-8 was 60cm (and his 1-8 has 144cm).  That is insane!  I can’t even deadhang a small Metolius rung with my two middle fingers.

The distance from the top of the fourth rung to the top of the second rung: 40 cm.

The distance from the top of the fourth rung to the top of the second rung: 40 cm.

I measured the rung depth: 2cm, which confirms Jerry Moffat’s recollection from his autobiography Revelations. That’s within a millimeter of .75 inches (the depth of a Metolius small rung). The depth of the carved pockets was also 2cm. The angle of steepness appeared to be about 12 degrees. It was hard to be certain since I didn’t have a level with me, but I think it’s in the ballpark. I had previously guessed the angle was 11 degrees from analyzing old photos of the board, so I think that’s pretty close.

Original Campus rung on the left, Metolius small rung on the right.

Original Campus rung on the left, Metolius small rung on the right.

Campus Board steepness: approximately 12 degreees overhanging.

Campus Board steepness: approximately 12 degreees overhanging.

In its current state, the Campus Board is really slick and polished. I’ve heard people say that wood becomes more textured over time, as the soft pulp wood wears away and the tougher grain becomes exposed. That may be true to a point, but there’s also a point where it just gets so polished it’s almost like glass. I’m really glad this board hasn’t been altered for the purpose of preserving its historical value, but I wouldn’t want to train on it!

The Campus Board in profile.

The Campus Board in profile.

In conclusion, the key specs of the Original Campus Board are 20-cm rung spacing, and 12-degrees overhanging. If you use small Metolius rungs you’ll be close-enough in terms of rung size and shape (the Metolius small rungs are slightly shallower). I’m really glad to have this data point, however, I would still recommend using “Moon-spacing” (22cm on center). I think at this point Moon Spacing is much more established and universal, at least in the English-speaking world, even if it’s not original. Using Moon Spacing doesn’t change the fact the Wolfgang Gullich was insanely strong, which I was able to confirm every time I tried one of his routes! I’m really happy I took the time to track down the Campus Center. Seeing the original Campus Board in all its glory was well worth the effort and one of the highlights of my trip.

Thank you Campus Center!

Thank you Campus Center!

Germany Part IV: Blitzing the Classics

Editor’s Note: This is Part IV in a way-too-many-part series on Mark’s trip to Germany.  If you missed Parts I thru III you can check them out here:

Over the next five days we climbed at nine different Frankenjura crags, split by a day trip to Munich for THE Oktoberfest and a day of sightseeing in Bamburg. The climbing is now a bit of a blur (Oktoberfest is a bit of a blur too), but there were a few routes that really stood out.

Onsighting the uber-classic Gullich pump-fest Treibjagd, ~5.12c, on Puttlacher Wand.

Onsighting the uber-classic Gullich pump-fest Treibjagd, ~5.12c, on Puttlacher Wand.  Photo Logan Anderson

The first day I climbed one of the most famous routes in Germany. Sautanz was first freed by Kurt Albert in 1981, and it was a very futuristic type of climb at the time of the ascent, not to mention the first 5.12c in Germany. The photos of Kurt on the route made it onto the cover of Germany’s climbing mag Boulder, making Kurt and the route instant stars. It’s still the most sought after 5.12 in Germany.

Sautanz.

The two-finger pegboard section of Sautanz.

The climbing is right up my alley, just over vertical on shallow pockets and edges. The route begins up a diminishing crack system, gaining a beautiful wall studded with one-pad two-finger pockets. With good footwork the climbing is pretty straightforward most of the way, until a cruxy leftward traverse at two-thirds height, where the holds lose their incut lips. The rock was phenomenal, and the climbing was just as good as the best 12c’s I’ve ever done (Orange Juice at the Red and Heinous Cling at Smith Rock), although not quite as long or proud-looking as either.

Beginning the crux traverse on Sautanz.

Beginning the crux traverse on Sautanz.

With Sautanz in the bag we packed up and headed a short ways south to the Obertrubach valley. This shallow valley is lined with cliffs and stacked with classic routes. The most famous crag in this area is Eldorado, a 50-foot wide, 15-feet deep roof, slanted dramatically upwards from right to left, giving the appearance of a breaching whale. It has nothing in common with the American Eldorado Canyon (Aka “Eldo”) except that it looks somewhat like the “Roof Routes” area at the lower right end of the Redgarden Wall. There is an awesome playground immediately below the cliff, which includes a mini climbing wall—the perfect place for us! The climbing at Eldorado is short and powerful , and the cliff is known for its bouldery climbs, particularly one line that became the hardest route in the country when it was first climbed.

The playground below Eldorado.

The playground below Eldorado.

In September 1983, Jerry Moffatt visited the Frankenjura for the first time, and wrote a major chapter of German climbing history. He worked through many of the Frankenjura’s hardest lines, climbing Sautanz, Chasin the Trane, and Heisse Finger (perhaps the hardest route in Germany at the time), each on his first try. Out of options, Moffatt visited Eldorado. The cliff had no routes (yet), but German bouldering legend Wolfgang “Flipper” Fietz had bolted a potential line out the center of the slanting roof. (Fietz was a key figure in German climbing, but his contributions have been largely overlooked because he never bothered to redpoint his climbs, instead considering a route finished once he had done all the moves. Later climbers were often credited with the FAs of routes he “opened”, and it’s rumored that Gullich called him the strongest climber he ever knew). Moffatt worked out the moves, and returned a few days later to redpoint Ekel (literally “gross”), the hardest route in the land.

Ekel

Ekel

Obviously, I had to try it! The climbing was brutal, on big but sloping jugs. Just reaching the starting holds was desperate and awkward. The route begins with an all or nothing leap to a high scoop, with feet swinging wildly over the abyss. A series of lever moves and slaps works out the overhang to a strenuous snatch to a three-finger pocket. At the lip, one last powerful lock-off from a sinker 2-finger leads to jugs and the anchor.

We finished the day with a few pitches at the nearby Dachlwand (“Roof Wall”). The rock here wasn’t nearly as pocketed, but the climbing was generally super fun thanks to a number of slashing crack systems that provided great jugs. I did a trio of Kurt Albert 5.12c’s, including Goldenes Dach, a classic pump fest on a slightly overhanging wall, and Power of Love, a cruxy number with a huge, committing dyno below a big roof. The side effect of this was that I had Huey Lewis’ song “The Power of Love” stuck in my head for the rest of the trip.

“You don't need money, don't take fame. Don't need no credit card to ride this train.  It's strong and it's sudden and it's cruel sometimes,  but it might just save your life.  That's the power of love” –Huey Lewis

“You don’t need money, don’t take fame. Don’t need no credit card to ride this train. It’s strong and it’s sudden and it’s cruel sometimes, but it might just save your life. That’s the power of love” –Huey Lewis.  Photo Logan Anderson.

After a long day of climbing we headed into the tiny village of Obertrubach to check out the Café Muller and look for Wolfgang Gullich’s final resting place. It was really heartwarming to see all the totems that various climbers from around the globe had left to honor him.

Wolfgang Gullich's final resting place, behind the church in Obertrubach.

Wolfgang Gullich’s final resting place, behind the church in Obertrubach. It’s pretty remarkable the impact Gullich had on an international level, and that was evident in the tributes that adorned this spot.

The next day we took the train with my sister’s family to Oktoberfest in Munich. Our gracious tour guides, ex pat American and MP admin Shawn Heath and his wife openly mocked our interest in Oktoberfest. Apparently to Germans it’s sort of the equivalent of going to Times Square for New Year ’s Eve or going to Florida for Spring Break or something. It’s a caricature of the Bavarian culture, and packed with surly drunks. But, we had to go anyway!

Vintage beer truck.

Vintage beer truck.

We mitigated the crowds and drunks by going super early (we boarded the train in Weiden at 6:40am). Even then the train was completely packed by the time we arrived, filled with Germans in full Lederhosen and Dirndl costumes. It was pretty cool seeing the locals dressed up, and completely unaffected about it. They weren’t self-conscious at all about their attire, and we actually felt a little like we weren’t appropriately in the spirit of the event. As for surly drunks, not only were people drinking on the train by 8am, there were vendors on board selling beer! But everyone was polite and cheerful and we didn’t have any problems.

Bavarian waiter carrying a ridiculous amount of beer.  Each glass contains a liter, and the empty glass itself is pretty heavy.

Bavarian waiter carrying a ridiculous amount of beer. Each glass contains a liter, and the empty glass itself is pretty heavy.

Oktoberfest itself was fairly mellow thanks to our early arrival. We all got our obligatory liter of beer, and marveled at the talented servers shuttling massive steins to satiate the countless patrons. Oktoberfest is a festival first and foremost, and they had countless amusement park rides to distract the kids.

Prost! (that’s German for “Cheers!”)  My brother-in-law Eric and my sister Christina with her children.

Prost! (that’s German for “Cheers!”) My brother-in-law Eric and my sister Christina with her children.

The next day we went to Streitberger Schild, at the far northwest corner of the Frankenjura, to climb the Adolf Rott Memorial Route, along crack system up the leaning west face of the towering wall. Like many routes in Germany, this was originally an aid climb. In 1975 Kurt Albert freed the route, which at 5.10a was no marvelous feat. However, at that time aid climbers often painted a red circle at the base of the cliff to mark the lines that had been climbed. Albert changed the course of climbing history by filling in the red circle to create a big red dot—the world’s first “redpoint”—and some say the birth of sportclimbing.

Streitberger Schild, with a couple of climbers heading up some old-school steep slab routes.

Streitberger Schild, with a couple of climbers heading up some old-school steep slab routes.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t actually find the splotch of paint that made this route famous. The base of the climb is thickly overgrown, and the paint is now almost 40 years old. I risked tick bites and nettles to dig through the vegetation, but I still couldn’t find it. Still, the climbing was stellar, among the most interesting (and steepest) 5.10s I did in Germany.

Way up the world's first sport climb?  Adolf Rott Memorial Route.

Way up the world’s first sport climb? Adolf Rott Memorial Route.

We did a couple more warmups of the slightly terrifying slab variety, and then headed for Luisenwand, an old crag of vintage techno test-pieces from the 1980s. Gullich left his mark here with ascents of several famous climbs, especially Kaum Zeit zum Atmen and Kamasutra 218, among the hardest routes in Germany when first climbed at 5.13c and .13d respectively.

The right half of Luisenwand.  Kaum Zeit zum Atmen climbs the short line above the rope on shallow, sharp pockets and edges.

The right half of Luisenwand. Kaum Zeit zum Atmen climbs the short line above the rope on shallow, sharp pockets and edges.

My primary objective was a Gullich 13a called Team Motivation. It’s a technical masterpiece, weaving up a monolithic wall of hard, poorly featured vertical limestone. It’s quite out of character for the Frankenjura (the entire crag is), with few pockets, and generally very shallow ones at that. The climbing was super thin and the footholds were unfortunately quite polished, but I managed to get up it on my first go.

Dealing with some thin, slippery footholds on the crux of Team Motivation. Photo Logan Anderson.

Dealing with some thin, slippery footholds on the crux of Team Motivation. Photo Logan Anderson.

It’s kinda strange—it’s not what anyone would think of as fun climbing. It’s very balancy and insecure, but for some reason I absolutely loved it. It was one of my favorite routes of the trip. I really like that type of climbing, and it seemed to me like the quintessential technical route, where excellent footwork is paramount and trust in your skills is more critical than raw finger strength. It’s as if some said “give me the fewest possible holds that will allow me to send an otherwise featureless wall”. As a tourist, I think it also shows the amazing variety that exists within the Frankenjura. It’s the polar opposite of a route like Ekel, and on our trip we found everything in between as well.

The glorious upper panel of Team Motivation. Logan Anderson Photo.

The glorious upper panel of Team Motivation. Logan Anderson Photo.

The next climbing day we visited three crags around the picturesque village of Pottenstein. Puttlacher Wand, Barenschlucht and Marientaler Wande were all awesome crags, and every route I climbed I would climb again (which is really saying a lot). The one route that really stood out from that day was a steep arching line called Herkules at the uber-classic Barenschlucht crag. It‘s one of the best 5.13’s I’ve ever climbed. The route consists of unbelievable sinker pockets up a super steep wall. It’s a classic pumpfest, but it requires a little bit of power at the start, a little bit of intelligence to read the sequence at mid-height, and a little bit of footwork to climb the headwall.

The brilliant Herkules at Barenschlucht.

The brilliant Herkules at Barenschlucht.

I got stopped cold by a ridiculous (dare I say “Herculean”) huck move at the third bolt. I tried it several times with no luck. One thing that made onsighting so difficult in the Frankenjura (and on pockets anywhere, really) is that not only must you read the correct hand and foot sequence, but you also have to figure out, on the fly, the best way to grip each hold. Often the holds are extremely convoluted and a different combination of fingers, or pulling in a different direction can make a huge difference. Just as I was about to bail I figured out the proper finger position for the left hand pocket which made all the difference.

(Finally) sticking the huge huck move on Herkules.

(Finally) sticking the huge huck move on Herkules.

We visited one more crag, a paradise of 5.9 and 5.10 jughauls called Marientaler Wande. After that Kate and Logan did a couple laps on the Pottenstein Alpine Slide and then we headed back to Weiden to pack for the next days’ excursion into the former East Germany….

We finished off the day with seven pitches of marvelous 5.10 jughauling at Marientaler Wande.

We finished off the day with seven pitches of marvelous 5.10 jughauling at Marientaler Wande.

Check back here soon for the final narrative installment on our Germany trip, Germany Part V: East of Weiden

Germany Part III: Chasing Waterfalls

Editor’s Note: This is Part III in way-too-many-part series on Mark’s trip to Germany.  If you missed Parts I or II you can check them out here:

After a stellar day of climbing at Rabenfels, we crammed our gear into the station wagon and commenced the long drive south. We’d been staying with my sister Christina’s family in a town called Weiden on the far east side of the Frankenjura. Having access to a real house—and a free one at that—made the trip way more manageable with kids. Frankly, we wouldn’t have come if not for the lure of a free place to stay and a chance for our kids to spend some quality time with their cousins. We are extremely grateful to Christina and her husband Eric for opening their home to our family and showing us such great hospitality.

Amelie's cousin Lauren takes her for a ride in Weiden.

Amelie’s cousin Lauren takes her for a ride in Weiden.

That said, staying in the same spot the entire time was unusual for us. Normally we migrate around a country to see all the sights. SO far we had been limited to day trips from Weiden, so we were anxious to branch out a bit. For the next two days we were headed south into the Bavarian Alps, along the border between Germany and Austria.

Our route through the Bavarian Alps.

Our route through the Bavarian Alps.

Our first destination was a picture book hamlet—set in a broad cirque, and surrounded by soaring, glaciated peaks—known as Berchtesgaden. Stunning knives of limestone pierce the deep blue sky, waterfalls cascade down the lower slopes, feeding lush green pastures and sparkling lakes. At night the air is crisp and dry, and in the morning you wake to the sound of distant cowbells echoing around the hillsides. The Huber brothers, Thomas and Alex, grew up a short distance from here, and they cut their teeth on the many peaks and cliffs adorning the valley.

The Kleiner (L) and Grosser (R) Watzmann stand sentry-like above the hamlet of Berchtesgaden. At 2713m, the Grosser Watzmann is the highest peak located entirely within Germany (and the third highest period.)

The Kleiner (L) and Grosser (R) Watzmann stand sentry-like above the hamlet of Berchtesgaden. At 2713m, the Grosser Watzmann is the highest peak located entirely within Germany (and the third highest period.)

The first evening we enjoyed crepes and gelato along the shore of the Konigsee (King’s Lake), and then took a fantastic star-lit stroll around the village. My time here really reminded me how much I love the mountains. I’ve been to Europe three times, but other than a few gondola rides I’ve never been up any mountains. Some day I’d love to come to the Alps and climb something big!

Konigsee

Konigsee

Walking around the streets of Berchtesgaden.

Walking around the streets of Berchtesgaden.

The next morning we headed west, into Austria, towards Innsbruck. Along the way we stopped below an impressive limestone massif known as the Wilder Kaiser. Hidden in the foothills below the jutting fins of rock is an easily-overlooked limestone cliffband split by a dramatic waterfall. In the late 1980’s, Tyrolean climbers realized the amazing potential for sport climbing on the steeply overhanging cliffs surrounding the Schleierwasserfall (“veil waterfall”).

Wilder Kasier.  The Schleierwasserfall is hidden in the pine-covered foothills.

Wilder Kasier. The Schleierwasserfall is hidden in the pine-covered foothills.

In the early 1990’s, Alex Huber arrived on the scene and began to leave his mark. The Huber brothers are interesting characters, and somewhat under-rated in my view. Alex especially has mastered nearly every discipline of the sport. In fact, you could argue he has been the best in the world (at one time or another) in at least three different disciplines.

  • As a sport climber, he established the route Open Air in 1996, which some now consider to be the first 5.15 in the world (originally given .14d, it was unrepeated for over a decade until Adam Ondra finally got around to it, and suggested an upgrade to 9a+/5.15a).
  • Soon after, he decided it would be fun to do some trad climbing, and subsequently became hands-down the world’s best big wall free-climber, making first free ascents of El Nino, Freerider, Golden Gate, El Corazon, and Zodiac on El Capitan, and Bellavista (5.14b), as well as many other big routes, in the Dolomites
  • In the mid-2000’s Thomas suggested they try speed climbing, and after a few seasons of practice (and a long delay to rehab a broken ankle) the two set the speed record on The Nose.
Alex Huber in the V12 crux of Open Air.

Alex Huber in the V12 crux of Open Air.

…Not to mention a 5.14 free solo, an ascent of an 8000m peak, and world class aid climbs in the Karakoram and Antarctica. Their ability to excel in many different facets of climbing is extremely impressive. I like to think of myself as an all-arounder, but more of a “jack of all trades, master of none”. Alex Huber is a master of all trades when it comes to climbing.

The Schleierwasserfall.  There are routes all along the cliffband, but most of the famous lines are on the right side of the falls.

The Schleierwasserfall. There are routes all along the cliffband, but most of the famous lines are on the right side of the falls.

Another aspect of my fascination with the Hubers is the brother dynamic. Alex’s autobiography The Mountain Within deals with this topic extensively. Having a brother (in my case, a twin brother) to train with and learn from is an amazing gift that few share. But it’s not always easy. There is rivalry, outright competition, and envy. I would argue the primary theme of Pepe Danquart’s documentary film Am Limit (which follows the Huber’s efforts to set the speed record on The Nose) is their struggle between the desire to be there for each other, and the conflicting desire to follow their own path. I can relate to that very easily, but I think it resonates with anyone whose had a dedicated, long-term climbing partner. Mike and I have each done things on our own that we’re extremely proud of, but looking back I would still say my best “ascents” were the product of our partnership.

Schleierwasserfall

Schleierwasserfall

Although I wouldn’t be climbing, I really wanted to hike up to the cliff and check out a few of Huber’s standard-setting climbs from the ground. The hike to the cliff was brutal—50 minutes uphill, and quite steep at that. The views were breathtaking, and the waterfall was quite impressive. It shoots out from the cliff top to land a good 30 or 40 meters from the base of the cliff. Despite a huge amount of water coming down, the cliff behind the waterfall seemed perfectly dry (although seepage was a problem in many places).

Kate standing below Alex Huber’s two most significant routes, Weisse Rose (L, in yellow) and Open Air (R, in blue). Originally given .14c and .14d (respectively) by Alex, Adam Ondra suggested an upgrade to .14d and .15a when he repeated them in 2008, to align with the “new school” grading. In Ondra’s words: “Now when Action Directe is 9a, Open Air should be 9a+.”

Kate standing below Alex Huber’s two most significant routes, Weisse Rose (L, in yellow) and Open Air (R, in blue). Originally given .14c and .14d (respectively) by Alex, Adam Ondra suggested an upgrade to .14d and .15a when he repeated them in 2008, to align with the “new school” grading. In Ondra’s words: “Now when Action Directe is 9a, Open Air should be 9a+.”

The Schleierwasserfall is huge, allowing enormously tall sport routes, but the rock, especially through the big roofs, looks somewhat chossy and dank. Large sections of the cave were unclimbable when I was there in late September. I would love to have a cliff like this near my home, but I don’t think I would travel to Europe to climb here (historical significance notwhithstanding). There are definitely better-looking cliffs—with much easier access, and more dependable conditions—all over the continent (still, when I was standing below the cliffs, I was wishing I had brought my climbing gear).

The lower sections of the Weisse Rose/Open Air wall from the right side.

The lower sections of the Weisse Rose/Open Air wall from the right side.

It’s interesting that Alex chose to direct his impressive talents towards this crag, especially since he was living in Munich at the time and the crags of the Frankenjura were likely easier to get to. After quite a bit of research, I’m not aware of him making any significant ascents in the Frankenjura. [It’s worth noting that Alex’s time as a dedicated sport climber was actually quite brief. He started as an alpinist, and when he decided to try sport climbing he ascended through the grades quickly. He climbed his first X+ (~5.14a) in 1989, and by the end of 1996 he decided he had done enough and made a pretty clean break from the discipline.]

The green line notionally depicts Kommunist, a 5.14a that Alex Huber free-soloed in 2004. It’s a linkup that begins on a .13c called La Pulce d’Aqua, and ends on a .14d called Mongo. The steep lower panel appears as though it was cleaved by glacier action—it’s extremely slick, and all the pockets are downward sloping. I imagine the climbing demands lots of shouldery underclinging on extremely insecure footholds. At least the landing is pretty good!

The green line notionally depicts Kommunist, a 5.14a that Alex Huber free-soloed in 2004. It’s a linkup that begins on a .13c called La Pulce d’Aqua, and ends on a .14d called Mongo. The steep lower panel appears as though it was cleaved by glacier action—it’s extremely slick, and all the pockets are downward sloping. I imagine the climbing demands lots of shouldery underclinging on extremely insecure footholds. At least the landing is pretty good!

My guess is that he preferred the super long, consistently overhanging endurance routes of the Schleierwasserfall to the relatively powerful and fingery climbing of the Frankenjura. In his autobiography his states that the Wilder Kaiser was as much his spiritual home as the Berchtesgaden Alps, so perhaps this area felt more like “home”. Many of the climbers he grew up with remained in the Bavarian Alps and spent their time here. Perhaps he felt a responsibility (or at least a preference) to push the grades in his home region.

The view south, towards the Kitzbuheler Alpen ski region, from the Schleierwasserfall.

The view south, towards the Kitzbuheler Alpen ski region, from the Schleierwasserfall.

I wonder if he also felt it was better to pave new ground, at a new crag, than attempt to follow in the footsteps of his “guru” (his word) Gullich. I could easily understand that. I know for me personally when it comes to new-routing, I’m more inclined to seek out new crags, or crags that have been overlooked, where I have a blank canvas and my choice of the best lines, as opposed to trying to find something worthwhile at a crag that’s been extensively picked over.

The Bavarian Alps

The Bavarian Alps

After checking out the Schleierwasserfall, we continued west, through Innsbruck, and back into Germany to the mountain town of Garmisch.  There we took a train and cable car system to the summit of the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak.  Logan loves trains, so it was very exciting for him.  We started on a regular train, and then transferred to a cog railway for the steep ascent to the summit.  The last section of track travels 5km through a tunnel inside the mountain, depositing riders at a subterranean train station just below the summit ridge.

Logan on the cog train, with the snow-plastered Zugspitze looming out the window.

Logan on the cog train, with the snow-plastered Zugspitze looming out the window.

Above ground we were suddenly in an alpine setting, with magnificent views all around.  We still had to take a short cable car ride to the actual summit at 9,718 feet.  While not very high (my house in Colorado is at 7400 feet), the vertical relief is stunning.  The valley floor is more than 7,000 feet below the summit, and the walls of the mountain are steep and plastered with rime ice.  From the summit plaza we could see clear to the Dolomites (in northern Italy).  There’s an extremely popular via ferrata that leads to the summit, and a nearly nonstop parade of climbers inched their way to the top before relaxing for a beer and pretzel at the concession stand (and the best part–taking the cable car down).

 

On the summit plaza, with a climber nearing the actual summit of the Zugspitze.

On the summit plaza, with a climber nearing the actual summit of the Zugspitze.

I’m never quite sure how to feel about developments like this.  In my younger, Ed Abbey-reading days, I would have thought it was a monstrosity.  On the other hand, it was a really cool experience, one that my family wouldn’t have been able to have with mechanical assistance.  If every mountain summit had a cable car, that would be a travesty, but I think one out of ten-thousand is probably not the end of the world.  I’m glad that people who otherwise wouldn’t have access are able to experience places like this.  It’s possible that if more people are able to experience the beauty of wild places (even a Disney-fied version of it like this), it will help establish a broad base of support for protection of such places.

The view to the southeast from the summit of the Zugspitze.  Amazingly the Marmolada (in the Dolomites) was visible from here, just out of the frame to the right.

The view to the southeast from the summit of the Zugspitze. Amazingly the Marmolada (in the Dolomites) was visible from here, just out of the frame to the right.

We took way too many pictures, watched the clouds roll in and threw a few snowballs.  The highlight was certainly the dramatic cable car ride down the terrfying north face of the mountain.  The gondola drops with impressive speed–the train ride up took almost 45 minutes; the ride down was lest than 5.

The view down the north face. Garmisch is at the top, center. The lower cable car station is visible on the far left (follow the line formed by the two red and white cable towers), and a red gondola is visible at lower center.

The view down the north face. Garmisch is at the top, center. The lower cable car station is visible on the far left (follow the line formed by the two red and white cable towers), and a red gondola is visible at lower center.

Back in town we found a park for the cooped up kids and grabbed a quick dinner.  My one and only schnitzel of the trip was about how you would expect: not bad, but not exactly good either.  The next morning we did a cool hike through a limestone slot-canyon (made tourist-friendly with copious amounts of TNT and steel railings).  Water was streaming down the canyon walls, creating intermittent waterfalls.  The river running through the gorge had that milky hue that comes from glacial silt.  That and the ubiquitous moss reminded me a lot of New Zealand.  It would be awesome to descend a natural Alpine slot canyon but I imagine it would be super cold!  Definitely dry-suit territory.

Partnachklamm Gorge. Kate and Logan are on the lower left.

Partnachklamm Gorge. Kate and Logan are on the lower left.

The final stop on our journey was the medieval city of Fussen and its two incredible castles, Schloss Hohenschwangau and Schloss Neuschwanstein (the so-called “Cinderalla Castle” that Disney’s version was modeled after).  The first was the boyhood home of King Ludwig II, “the fairytale King”.  He was obsessed with medieval times, and built numerous elaborate castles and palaces around Bavaria to satisfy his fantastic imagination.  The second was perhaps this greatest of his many creations.  He was intimately involved in the design and construction of what is surely the most famous castle in the world.

Schloss Neuschwanstein

Schloss Neuschwanstein

It started raining just as we arrived, but with no sign of improving conditions we decided to go for it.  We all got quite soaked on the 30 minute hike, but it was a warm rain and everyone was in good spirits.  Neuschwanstein was impressive for sure, but I found the fact that it was built purely for show, and never used as an actual fortification, to detract from the mystique a bit.  Not to mention the insane hoards of tourists swarming around the place.  I really wanted to go inside, but there was a four hour wait!  No way were we waiting for that.  Still, we had an awesome time, and in my experience castles look the best from outside.

Schloss Hohenschwangau

Schloss Hohenschwangau

Somehow our two rest days were anything but restful.  No matter, I was eager to get back to the Frankenjura and sample some more limestone….

 

Check back here soon for Germany Part IV: Blitzing the Classics

Germany Part II: Getting Blasted!

Editor’s Note: This is Part II in way-too-many-part series on Mark’s trip to Germany.  If you missed Part I you can check it out here.

The next day was our first sight-seeing day, which we spent visiting a trio of so-called “Medieval Villages”. Nördlingen, Dinkelsbühl, and Rothenberg have been fastidiously preserved to maintain the look and feel of a walled city from the middle ages. The narrow, twisting, cobblestone streets are lined with quaint buildings and Gothic churches from as far back as the 1300’s. By dumb luck it so happened that each village seemed more interesting than the last, culminating in Rothenberg’s elaborate fortifications.

Wandering around Dinkelsbuhl, which is “impossibly charming” according to Lonely Planet. We agreed.

Wandering around Dinkelsbuhl, which is “impossibly charming” according to Lonely Planet. We agreed.

Kate, Logan, and Amelie peeping through the city walls of Dinkelsbuhl (look closely).

Kate, Logan, and Amelie peeping through the city walls of Dinkelsbuhl (look closely at the window closest to center).

The family exploring Rothenberg.

The family exploring Rothenberg.

The highlight for Logan was running along the top of the fortress walls. I was looking forward to a taste of the famous “Schneeballen” (snowballs) pastries: strips of dough balled-up, fried, and coated in various frosting or powdered sugar. Structurally these are impressively tough, and so the beta for eating these treats is to smash them up into crumbs inside the bag, and then eat the crumbs. Most shops have a hammer on-hand for this purpose, and Logan was quite keen to help with the smashing (and eating). They looked delicious, but the taste turned out to be fairly bland and dry. I didn’t go back for seconds.

Schneeballen

Schneeballen

After getting worked on Wallstreet, I had a consolation prize in mind. I was stoked to visit a free-standing limestone tower called Rabenfels (“Raven’s Rock”). My first exposure to the Frankenjura, some 15 years ago, was a 90’s climbing film by Michael Strassman titled “Rock”. The film follows Hans Florine to Arco, Italy in 1994 to defend his World Speed Climbing title. Along the way he visits the Frankenjura, the Dolomites and Elbsandstein climbing areas. One scene shows Austrian Wolfgang Leeb climbing a 5.13b called Westside Story on an otherworldly limestone pinnacle.  Leeb tops out the route, then casually plops down on a hand-made bench on the summit!  I thought the tower looked beautiful, and for some reason I got a real kick out of the bench gag. I really wanted to climb something on Rabenfels (and find out if the bench is still there).

The southeast aspect of Rabenfels.

The southeast aspect of Rabenfels.

In 1986, after a winter spent writing the landmark Sportklettern Heute, Wolfgang Gullich left his mark on Rabenfels with his ascent of Ghettoblaster, hailed as the first upper-tenth grade route in Germany, and one of the hardest routes in the world at the time (Gullich had established Punks in the Gym, the first X+ or 5.14a precisely 51 weeks earlier). Ghettoblaster follows a streak of 1-pad deep water pockets up a 6-meter stretch of 25-degree overhanging limestone on the west face of Rabenfels.

Ghettoblaster (with the green rope) climbs the steep west face of Rabenfels.

Ghettoblaster (with the green rope) climbs the steep west face of Rabenfels.

Ghettoblaster was my back-up plan, but I was more than a little intimidated by it, especially after my experiences over the first two days. According to Gullich’s biography, around the time of its first ascent, prolific Frankenjura route developer Mylan Sykora said that Ghettoblaster “was a route on which no other German climber [besides Gullich] had even the slightest chance.” This was apparently due to the extremely powerful crux, a huge lock-off/deadpoint between a pair of monos. I love pocket climbing, and I love monos, but I’m really not all that good at climbing on them.  That is to say, pocket climbing is not really one of my strengths. I’m much better on crimps and technical sequences than I am with pure pocket power. Sykora’s assessment gnawed at me. Would I have the finger strength to do this move? Maybe the Frankenjura style of climbing was way over my head.

Belayer’s view of Ghettoblaster, which follows the pink fixed draws up the right margin of the gray streak.

Belayer’s view of Ghettoblaster, which follows the pink fixed draws up the right margin of the gray streak.

We showed up bright and early on Tuesday morning. We were finally adjusted to the European timezone, and we were anxious to get going because we had a long drive planned for the afternoon (for two days of sightseeing in the Bavarian Alps). The tower was big and ominous, but the surrounding landscape was much different from what I pictured in my head. The pillar extended from a steep hill, and the back or north side of it was surrounded by dense forest. The south side was clear-cut some time ago by the industrious and prolific Franconian logging industry, and was now partially re-grown.

Rabenfels

Rabenfels

We dropped our packs below some moderate-looking lines, and I scrambled around the corner to locate Ghettoblaster. It looked stellar, but much shorter than I imagined. The tower is maybe only 50 feet tall at the west buttress. The first 20 feet was a slab and the last 10 was easy scrambling up the cap rock. This was going to be bouldery for sure! The forest was quite damp, but the route looked completely dry. Unfortunately the cliff base was super muddy and steeply sloping—no place for kids—but higher up, maybe only 30 feet away, I found a covered hiker’s shelter, the perfect playground for the kids.

The perfect hang for Logan and Amelie. Amelie (in the red on the lower right) is practicing her favorite pastime: climbing up and down stairs. Logan is mesmerized by the Kindle.

The perfect hang for Logan and Amelie. Amelie (in the red on the lower right) is practicing her favorite pastime: climbing up and down stairs. Logan is mesmerized by the Kindle.

We did a number of outstanding warmups on the south and east faces of the tower, including a 3-star 5.11 named Katalysator and a Kurt Albert 12a called Auerbacher Weg. Both routes consisted of long glorious cranks between sinker pockets. Something about this place was special—all the routes seemed to be fantastic. The rock was much more featured than the other crags we had visited, the position was great, and we had the whole place to ourselves (that turned out to be the norm for our trip). It has a slightly adventurous feel with the looming summit, and it was one of my favorite crags of the trip.

Warming up on the classic Katalysator. Auerbacher Weg is immediately to the right.

Warming up on the classic Katalysator. Auerbacher Weg is immediately to the right.

Once I was ready we moved the crew around to the northwest side of the tower and I jumped on Ghettoblaster. After a slabby and then somewhat technical start, the difficulties hit abruptly as the wall kicks back. The climbing is in your face, with burly cranks on shallow, sometimes sharp pockets. This was still only my third day on real rock since early July, and it was clear that I wasn’t mentally ready to try hard on sharp, tweaky holds. Perhaps this timid attitude contributed to my earlier shortcomings. I was struggling just to get established on the overhanging panel, and I realized I needed an attitude shift. I needed to get aggro. I gritted my teeth and tried to ignore the pain. I knew I was strong enough to do these moves, I just needed to try harder.

The intense opening moves of Ghettoblaster.

The intense opening moves of Ghettoblaster.

It seemed to work, or maybe I just needed a bit more warmup, but whatever the case, I started going for it more, committing to moves, and as a result my accuracy improved and I was suddenly latching pockets that I previously struggled to reach. I worked out the lower bit and was soon at the crux. The sequence is pretty straightforward. From a good stance at a pair of two-finger pockets, with the third bolt at chest level, you make a big reach right to a good two-finger, stand up, and then place your left middle finger into a deep, but not terribly positive mono. Hike up your feet, grab a shallow intermediate 2-finger with your right hand, hike up your feet again until your hips are about level with your left hand, and then stab at full extension into the high mono pocket, which is also deep but neutral.

Beginning the crux with a static reach to a left hand mono.

Beginning the crux with a static reach to a left hand mono.

If you stick that move, you shouldn’t fall. After matching your left hand to a shallow two finger pocket, you have to make a desperate slap to a horizontal break, but it’s a good hold. From there, jugs lead to the anchor, just below the cap rock.With the beta sussed, I took a break, watched uselessly while Kate fed the kids lunch, and went through the beta in my mind. There were a lot of tough, low percentage moves just to reach the crux. It was a boulder problem, but it was a fairly continuous one. Honestly, I would be lucky just to reach the crux.

Setup for the crux move:  a big deadpoint between monos.

Setup for the crux move.

Eventually it was time to go again. I waltzed up the scoop to a good stance just below the steep wall. I took some deep breaths and summoned my inner rage. With my jaw clenched, I launched up the wall, climbing with controlled fury. It was perfect. I hit every hold just right. My skin was screaming—I felt the pain, but I didn’t let it affect me. I just kept trucking, moving from one bad hold to the next. I couldn’t hang out on these holds, but I could just barely scratch and claw my way past them. I reached the crux, bounced in my left hand, stood up high, and slow-motion stabbed precisely into the pocket. I bounced, matched and slapped to the horizontal break. YES!

Latching the high mono.

Latching the high mono.

Once I clipped the anchor I continued up onto a vegetated ledge. There’s a 5.8-ish route to the summit of the tower on the north side, but it was soaking wet, so this was my big chance to top out. There’s no gear past the anchor, so I gingerly ran it out up wet holds and bushes. Twenty feet above my last piece of pro I mantled onto the summit. The bench was still there! The backrest was missing, but I took a brief sit and admired the view. It was the perfect place to be.

Screen grab of Wolfgang Leeb on the summit of Rabenfels, from the film "Rock".

Screen grab of Wolfgang Leeb on the summit of Rabenfels, from the 1996 Michael Strassman film “Rock“. Note the vintage wardrobe: Boreal Vectors, skin tight shorts, tank top, and mullet!

Check back soon for Germany Part III: Chasing Waterfalls

Germany Part I: Hitting the Wall

After months of planning, weeks of training and many days of anxious packing, it was finally time for our journey to begin. The flight to Germany turned out to be pretty uneventful. We were really worried about flying so far with two young kids, and perhaps all that worry, and the resultant preparations, paid off. Kate packed an impressive collection of toys and other distractions which really helped keep her entertained.

Kate and Amelie exploring the Nuremberg market below Lorenzkirche, the first of countless churches we would see.

Kate and Amelie exploring the Nuremberg market below Lorenzkirche, the first of countless churches we would see.

Once we arrived in Nuremberg we went for a short sightseeing walk around the Nuremberg Altstadt (old city), and then we headed north to scope out the approach to the crags for the next day. The Frankenjura is notoriously complex, with a maze of tiny winding roads, and finding your crag can sometimes be the crux of your climb (in the end, we were always able to find what we were looking for, but we made a few wrong turns here and there).

Logan and me exploring the walls of Nuremberg’s Kaiserburg Castle.

Logan and me exploring the walls of Nuremberg’s Kaiserburg Castle.

After some shenanigans getting out of the city we found ourselves cruising the luxurious autobahn. The Autobahn is pretty much like any US freeway, but with a much nicer road surface (no potholes) and no slow drivers in the left lane. The German drivers are very courteous in this regard, frequently sacrificing their own speed to avoid delaying faster drivers. Driving was one of many surprising pleasures of the trip. The landscape is a patchwork of rolling hills, farms, forests abundant with colorful fall foliage, and compact villages. Smooth roads twist and turn through an ever-interesting vista of medieval churches, rainbow-colored houses, hidden limestone walls, and lush vegetation. We made good time towards Plech where we saw the first signs for the “Frankische Schweiz” (literally “Franconian Switzerland”, aka, “Frankenjura”).

Finally some rock!  Streitberger Schild above the village of Streitberg.

Finally some rock! Streitberger Schild above the village of Streitberg.

The first crag was easy to find. Weissenstein (“White Wall”) is right on the main road, and when they say a crag is good for kids they aren’t exaggerating. There were easily 10 kids there already, including several who were climbing and one in a pram. The rock looked outstanding, and the holds, while polished, had a nice gritty texture to them that made me think polished holds wouldn’t be much of a problem. [In hindsight, we came across quite a few polished routes, but we were going way out of our way to climb the most famous routes in Germany. Even then, polish was far less problematic than I found it in France and Spain. Most of the time the rock is so featured and the climbs so steep that you don’t mind the polish at all—if anything it’s a plus. On thin vertical routes it can be a bit of a problem on footholds, and I’m certain a few of the routes I did have gotten more difficult over the years as a result of traffic. However, thin vertical routes aren’t very common in the Frankenjura.]

The left, vert-ish side of Weissenstein. The rope is on an uber-classic 5.8 jug haul called Boulderwandl

The left, vert-ish side of Weissenstein. The rope is on an uber-classic 5.8 jug haul called Boulderwandl

Next we headed for Krottenseer Turm, home to Wolfgang Güllich’s legendary testpiece Wallstreet. Wallstreet was the world’s first 5.14b (11- on the German scale, or 8c in French terms), and I was really anxious to check it out. My primary climbing objective for this trip was to gain some appreciation for what Güllich was capable of in his prime. I also wanted to visit a broad selection of crags and climb a ton of routes. With those competing goals in mind, I set aside my first two climbing days for an attempt on Wallstreet. By this point I had already decided I didn’t want to spend my entire trip camped out under one route, but I was committed to at least trying it. After those first two days I would re-evaluate my priorities.

I headed into the mossy, damp forest and walked toward the towering wall. It was impressive. The sloping hillside makes it even more formidable, looming like a castle facade, with little curved turrets on either side. I flipped through the guidebook and identified all the major lines. I was really amped to come back and try Wallstreet, but it was getting late and we still had a good hour of driving to reach my sister’s house in Weiden.

Wallstreet begins up the central black streak, then veers right at mid-height to climb the left section of the high bulge.

Wallstreet begins up the central black streak, then veers right at mid-height to climb the left section of the high bulge.

After a surprisingly good night of sleep, we awoke early and fairly well-rested. Our plan was to warm up at Weissenstein before heading to Krottenseer Turm. In all my travels, Weissenstein is the best cliff I’ve ever been to for climbing with kids. It’s one of the best cliffs I’ve been to period. The cliff has routes of every grade from 5.6 to 5.13a, and literally, all the routes are world class (for their respective grades). The rock is flawless and extremely interesting, heavily pocketed limestone. The cliff base is flat and grassy, the approach is 30 seconds, and there’s a mix of shade and sun. The best domestic comparison I can think of is Chuckwalla Wall in St. George, Utah, but with twice as many routes, infinitely better rock, and half the approach. It’s a true climber’s paradise.

The right, steep side of Weissenstein, with unknown climbers on Damphammer (“Steam Hammer”, lower) and the aptly named pump-fest Panische Zeiten (“Panic Time!”, upper)

The right, steep side of Weissenstein, with unknown climbers on two Kurt Albert classics, Dampfhammer (“Steam Hammer”, lower) and the aptly named pump-fest Panische Zeiten (“Panic Time!”, upper)

Every route we did was stellar, culminating with two lines on the right “steep” side of the wall. The first route, a Kurt Albert 12a called Dampfhammer, was climbed via huge, sequential reaches between perfect jugs. We accidentally stranded some draws on the upper slab, so rather than climb it again I decided to try the Wolfgang Güllich 13a to its left. Normally I don’t try to onsight 5.13 as part of my warmup, but I really wanted to get those draws back! And I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try a Güllich line. This became a theme throughout the trip.

Doulbe-mono warmup on Krampfhammer.

Doulbe-mono warmup on Krampfhammer. Photo Logan Anderson

The crux was supposed to be low and bouldery, so I figured it would be a good warmup and not too taxing. After a few technical moves, I arrived at the Krampfhammer crux, a blank wall with several mono pockets. Welcome to the Frankenjura! The first few moves weren’t too hard, but then I was in the bulge, with my left hand in a high mono and nothing else within reach. I hiked up my feet, uttered the predictable “watch me”, and lunged high and right for a hidden patch of chalk. Jug! After that more 5.11 jug-hauling led up the steep wall to the chains.

About to make the crux lunge on Krampfhammer.

About to make the crux lunge on Krampfhammer. Photo Logan Anderson

We packed our stuff into the car and raced towards my rendezvous with Wallstreet. The route starts with an easy slab, and then gets progressively harder as you ascend, culminating in a crux roof encounter a few meters below the anchor. The climbing up to the roof was beautiful, with technical moves on mostly sinker pockets. There’s a powerful move just below the roof, and then a long reach out to a good clipping jug at the lip. The headwall is relatively monolithic, with a few shallow, well-spaced two-finger pockets.

Rose move! The technical lower bit of Wallstreet.

Rose move! The technical lower bit of Wallstreet.

The crux boulder problem begins at the lip of the roof with a reach to a three-finger dish, and then a difficult stab to an incut but shallow (3/4-pad) two-finger pocket. The hardest individual move is pulling off this pocket. Güllich apparently placed his right hand in this pocket (shown in the Wallstreet poster), threw his left foot super high to the lip of the roof, and then made a big reach to another shallow, sloping, two-finger pocket. Another option is to take the incut two-finger with the left hand, get the left foot up, back flag and lunge desperately for a thin three-finger crimp. There are also various other divots and dishes with smatterings of chalk that didn’t seem too promising. Above here, two or three difficult, but not desperate moves lead to easier ground and the anchor.

Reaching for the jug at the lip of the roof.

Reaching for the jug at the lip of the roof.

I spent about 45 minutes trying the various options. I could get the incut two-finger but I couldn’t realistically pull off of it. With the undercut roof, and the slick, featureless nature of the stone at the lip, you basically need to suspend your entire body weight from that pocket. It felt incredibly tweaky and painful, and I gained new respect for the few climbers who have done this sequence on redpoint. I gave it two burns on Friday and one more on Sunday, but I was pretty well-convinced after the first burn that it was not going to happen.

Latching the incut two finger. Now I just need to throw my foot up to my armpit, lock-off the pocket to my kneecap, and dyno precisely into a half-pad mail slot!

Latching the incut two finger. Now I just need to throw my foot up to my armpit, lock-off the pocket to my kneecap, and dyno precisely into a half-pad mail slot!

I’m really glad I got the opportunity to try it, and that I was able to try it at a time in my career when I was strong enough to appreciate it. I was actually very relieved that it was just plain unrealistic for this trip. My biggest fear heading into the trip was that I would fool myself into thinking I could do it, spend the entire time flailing on it, and still walk away empty-handed. The outcome was pretty clear-cut, and that freed me to enjoy other routes without any regrets.  Still, it makes me wish I lived nearby, because it’s precisely the type of route I would really enjoy training for and working as a long-term project.  At the same time, I realize I live in a great place too, with plenty of awesome climbs to keep me busy.

Kate climbing 40-meters of gently overhanging 5.10 pockets at Roter Fels

Kate enjoying 40-meters of gently overhanging 5.10 pockets at Roter Fels

Before we left Krottenseer Turm on Sunday there was one more route I desperately wanted to do. In 1981, the great John Bachar visited Germany to participate in an international climbing festival. During his visit he claimed the first ascent of an open project on the right side of the cliff. The line followed a discontinuous groove with an intermittent crack that climbed over several steep bulges. I would imagine it seemed very futuristic for the day, considering its steepness. He graded the route 5.13a, which made it the hardest route in Europe at the time, and one of the hardest in the world [ultimately the route was downgraded to .12d, but it would easily rate 5.13 and any of the world’s modern vacation crags]. He called the route Chasin’ the Trane, the title of a John Coltrane album.  Many have taken this to be a not-so-subtle dig at the European climbing scene, although others have alleged that Bachar denied that. According to Güllich’s Biography (the must-read A Life in the Vertical), Bachar’s ascent was a huge deal in Germany. It made Bachar an instant star, and the route an instant test-piece.

Chasin' the Trane climbs through the dihedral, under the big roof and then back left onto the headwall.

Chasin’ the Trane climbs through the dihedral, under the big roof and then back left onto the headwall.

By the time I cleaned my gear off Wallstreet, it was pouring down rain and the top of the cliff was soaked. I waited in vain for the rain to stop, as the various waterfalls inched their way lower and lower down the cliff. The route was still mostly dry, so eventually I decided I was going to take my chances and deal with whatever moisture came my way.

Waiting for the rain to stop at Krottenseer Turm.

Waiting for the rain to stop at Krottenseer Turm.

The route begins with slabby moves on big jugs to reach a horizontal break below a steep bulge. I made a few big moves between sinker pockets to reach a pumpy stance at the lip of the bulge. At this point a thin seam appears and most of the pockets vanish. I made some strenuous liebacking moves to get established in the groove. I was able to get good shakes from some awkward stems, but the climbing was really physical and surprisingly pumpy. I could see how a California crack master would excel on this type of terrain. At the top of the seam, the route traverses right below a roof, and then clears a final bulge before following a long slab to the anchor. I got one last shake below this roof, contemplating my exit strategy. It was still raining hard, and I knew the best case scenario was a soaking wet run to the anchor. At the very top of the seam is a good incut sidepull that I was able to lever out on, allowing a huge reach to a flat jug at the top of the bulge. The jug was a puddle, but it was positive enough that with dry footholds I was able to work my way up onto the slab. Much to my relief, the finishing slab was littered with incut pockets and good footholds. I knew I wasn’t going to fall and enjoyed the early shower as I made my way to the top.

Climbing Hitchhike the Plane, 5.13b, Wolfgang Gullich’s clever answer to Bachar’s line.

Climbing Hitch Hike the Plane, 5.13b, Wolfgang Gullich’s clever answer to Bachar’s line. Photo Logan Anderson

Check back here soon for Germany Part 2: Getting Blasted!

Back in the USA!

All loaded up for the long flight home!

All loaded up for the long flight home. The pilots just get younger and younger.

After 22 straight hours of traveling which included one train, two cars, three buses, and four airplanes, we finally arrived home late Monday night. We’re all still quite jet-lagged–the kids were wide awake at 3:30 am this morning–but we had an AMAZING trip! I won’t get into specifics today, but In the mean time here are just a handful of photos (out of literally 2000) to give you a quick teaser of some of what we saw and did.  I promise over the next few weeks I’ll share the entire journey with all sorts of self-indulgent, narcissistic and tedious details 🙂 

Over the course of eight climbing days we managed to climb at 18 different crags in the Frankenjura.  We were also able to visit 16 other crags (but did not climb at them). 

Limestone spires above the houses of Tuchersfeld

Limestone spires above the houses of Tuchersfeld

I did 32 routes first ascended by Wolfgang Gullich or Kurt Ablert, including a route by each climber named Auerbacher Weg. I also did a pair of historically significant routes by Jerry Moffat and John Bachar.  They were all hard for the grade! 

Onsighting Krampfhammer (~13a?) at Weissenstein. Photo Logan Anderson :)

Onsighting Krampfhammer (~13a?) at Weissenstein. This Gullich route had three consecutive mono moves, culminating in a big dyno from the last mono to a good jug. Photo Logan Anderson

Following the Anderson Principle of “Maximizing Fun”, we managed to squeeze in a ton of sightseeing. The kids were awesome, and they put up with a lot of driving and crag time. They didn’t like everything we did but they put up with it really well and generally seemed to have a good time. They loved the parks, the pastries, and the opportunity to be outside every day. They were even impressed every now and then.

A wet hike to a fantastic castle.

A wet hike to a fantastic castle. Logan was a trooper the entire trip.

Dresden

Dresden was remarkable.  Thanks to our new friend Shawn Heath for climbing with us and insisting that we visit this part of Germany.

Germany turned out to be super kid-friendly. This time of year every town has its own version of Oktoberfest, most of which included plenty of sweets and several carnival-style kids rides. Pottenstein is the main climbing hub of the Northern Frankenjura, and this tiny town has its own mini-amusement park that was open till 5pm each day, making it easy to drop in for some quick fun after a long day of climbing.

Oktoberfest!

THE Oktoberfest in Munich.  Amelie mesmerized by a liter of Bier

Kate and Logan on the Pottenstein "Rodelbahn"

Kate and Logan on the Pottenstein “Rodelbahn”

Now we need some sleep, and I need to catch up on work, and everything else that’s been neglected over the past few weeks. Physically I’m wrecked, but it was sooo worth it and I have a lot to share.  Check back here soon for the rest of the story!

A cool summit in the Sachsiche Schweiz (aka Elbsandstein)

A cool summit in the Sachsiche Schweiz (aka Elbsandstein)

Frankenjura Dreaming

During a brief spell of temporary insanity last spring Kate and I foolishly booked a three-week trip to Germany.  As our departure date approaches (now just four weeks away!), we are becoming increasingly terrified of the prospect of spending 12 hours on an airplane with our two lovely children.  Lord have mercy on the rest of the passengers!

Germany is home to the Frankenjura, among the most infamous crags on the planet, and home to more than 10,000 routes!  My interest in the Frankenjura should be apparent to anyone who has read our book or followed our blog.  I like hard routes, I like pockets, and I like history.  The Frankenjura is known for all three.  Hard pocket routes are not all that hard to come by — the history is what sets the Frankenjura apart.  From a sport climbing perspective, it is likely THE most historically significant crag on the planet.

First off, the Frankenjura is the birthplace of the “redpoint” (or really “rotpunkt” in German).  The visionary free climber Kurt Albert authored countless classic climbs throughout the region, and in the mid-1970’s, in order to indicate which sections of cliff had been climbed, he began painting a red circle at the base of routes whose moves had all been freed.  Once the route had been led free from the ground, with no falls or hangs, he would fill in the circle to create a red dot.  And so the redpoint was born.  Some believe that this simple act marked the conception of sport climbing itself.

For those who keep track of important “firsts”, the Frankenjura is unmatched.  It’s home to the first 5.13d in the world (Kanal im Rucken, UIAA10 or French 8b), the first 5.14b in the world (Wallstreet, UIAA 11- or F8c) and the first 5.14d in the world (Action Directe, UIAA11 or F9a).  [Of course, these were all established by the same legend and hero to pretty much everyone (including Sylvester Stallone), the unparalleled Wolfgang Gullich.]  In addition to these landmark climbs, the Frankenjura is home to countless other historically significant climbs like Albert’s Sautanz (5.12c), John Bachar’s Chasin’ the Train (5.12d) and Jerry Moffatt’s Ekel (~5.13a) and The Face (~5.13c).

More than 20 years after his death, Gullich continues to inspire countless climbers, myself included.

More than 20 years after his death, Gullich continues to inspire countless climbers, myself included.

For me personally, the ultimate reason to visit is to walk in the footsteps of (or perhaps it would be more appropriate to write “stab my fingers into the pockets of”) Wolfgang Gullich.  Has any other climber had a greater impact on the sport of free climbing than Gullich?  Without question he has inspired entire generations of climbers.  Consider that more than 20 years later Action Directe is STILL a cutting edge, rarely repeated testpiece.  Besides being the best redpoint climber of his generation, Gullich made tremendous contributions to the community through his interest in training.  He developed groundbreaking new training techinques, participated in many climbing training studies, and authored a great deal of literature on the subject (especially the groundbreaking Sportklettern Heute in 1986).  I would wager that every single climbing training book authored since his death pays tribute to Gullich.  That can’t be said of any other climber.

Usually when I travel overseas I take it relatively easy, only attempting routes I have a shot to onsight, trying to visit as many crags as possible.  For this trip I hope to do some projecting, because that was Gullich’s approach.  He wasn’t much interested in onsighting.  He wanted to do the hardest moves imagineable.  For that reason, I really want to be at my best during our trip. I started my training cycle a couple of weeks ago with the hopes of creating a power peak at the end of September.

To that end, my friends at e-Grips hooked me up with a great assortment of pockets to help whip me into shape. [Little did you realize that all that rambling about my hopes and dreams was just a clever introduction to this product review, haha!]  I’m still in my Strength Phase, so I’m pretty much only training on the RPTC, but these new holds are getting me really excited for my Power Phase. I can’t wait to get some chalk on these babies!  Many manufacturers seem to be shying away from pocket shapes these days, but e-Grips is still turning out the best on the market.

Pure Power Pockets I

Pure Power Pockets I

The “easiest” set I received is the Pure Power Pockets I.  These are on average the deepest and most-incut set, and the best of them will swallow most of your finger.  One of the holds in this set can accept three small fingers, but the rest are all two-finger pockets. These are pretty much one-directional, and ideal for big moves on steeper walls.  My preference is definitely for thinner pockets on less-steep walls, and when I have to make big, precise moves to deeper pockets I tend to struggle. I’m certain I will come across many such moves on my trip, so I’m really excited to set some reachy problems with these guys on my 33-degree wall and start attacking that weakness.

Some of the "Pure Power Pockets I" are quite deep and incut, like this one.

Some of the “Pure Power Pockets I” are quite deep and incut, like this one.

The next most-challenging set I received is the Pure Pockets.  The set includes two 3-finger pockets and three 2-finger pockets.  They vary from 1-2 pads deep, but they’re generally shallower than the set described above.  Four of these are incut when the bolt hole is oriented toward the ground (the fifth hold, a 1-pad 3-finger pocket, is neutral). All of these can be flipped to make challenging neutral to sloping pockets, great for vert-ish walls. The shallowest 2-finger pocket in the set is basically neutral but has a nice little lip on it that I really like because it allows you to use it on a much steeper wall than you otherwise would‎.  I really dig this set.  The shapes are super smooth and the pockets are essentiall “straight in”, minimizing the risk of collateral ligament tweaks.  Moving between them is relatively straightforward (unlike more intricate pockets that require you to carefully thread your fingers into place).  This allows for “just plain hard” problems with big moves and dynamic latches.  I expect these to be quite challenging on my 33-degree wall.

Pure Pockets

Pure Pockets

I’m most excited about the last pocket set in the bunch.  I’ve enjoyed e-Grips’ 2Tex Pure Crimps for many years (literally among my five favorite sets of all time).  The slippery surface prevents pinching or otherwise “cheating” which allows you to set super-realistic problems.  When you set the edges as sidepulls or underclings you can essentially create a route or problem with little or no footholds — which is absolutely critical when setting difficult problems on near-vertical walls.  It’s really tough to set a pocket problem that requires challenging footwork, because pocket shapes tend to leave an enormous footprint that can easily be smeared or edged.  Enter the 2Tex Pockets….

2Tex Pockets

2Tex Pockets

These pockets have good texture inside the pocket, and a nice slick surface everywhere else.  The set includes one fairly incut mono (that can be used as a two-finger stack), a 2-finger pocket with a third finger divot that is marginally useful, and three 2-finger pockets (although really, they could all be oriented sideways for monos).  They each offer a larger/more positive pocket when set with the bolt hole towards the ground, or you can flip them over for a really sinsister, shallow and neutral pocket. For this reason, these are probably the most versatile of the three sets.  Right-side up, they vary in depth from 1.5-2 pads deep, and they’re all incut (but they’re the least positive of the three sets described here). When oriented upside down, they’re basically 1-pad deep and neutral to sloping, perfect for vert to slightly overhanging terrain. The set includes a cool double pocket that can be used as a pinch or for matching moves.

This set really shines when considering the footwork aspects of route-setting.  In most cases the bolt-side pocket lip protrudes a bit, so it can still be used as a foothold (albeit a very challenging one, especially on steep terrain).  When set the other way (upside down), you’re straight up campusing!  The pockets themselves are more intricate than the Pure Pockets, so they will still be challenging when used in relatively static situations.  I’m really pyched on the set and I plan to order another set the next time my wife is away 🙂

Note, this is not an exhaustive examination of e-Grips pockets.  Here are my thoughts on some other great pocket sets (like the killer Limestone Pockets).

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