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Category Archives: Spray

Whitewater Canyoning in Switzerland — Nala Inferiore

By Mark Anderson

Dark and foreboding anyone? How about some 45 degF water at 9am? Photo Rob Radtke.

Dark and foreboding anyone? How about some 45 degF water at 9am? Photo Rob Radtke.

The primary motivation for our trip to Switzerland was to visit my friend Rob and his family, who had recently moved to Zurich. I first met Rob in 1999*, on my first day of active duty in the Air Force. We roomed together for several years and shared many crazy adventures and near-death experiences during the fearless era of our early 20s. Rob introduced me to Arrested Development, Family Guy, and College Football, and I introduced him to climbing and canyoneering.

[*Oddly enough, Rob and I crossed paths 5 years earlier, unbeknownst to us—we were both Cross Country runners in High School, and although I lived in Oregon and Rob in Michigan, we both ran in the same race at the 1994 Junior Olympics National Cross Country Championships in Reno, Nevada]

Rob and I in one of our first canyons together, Neon Canyon, UT, in 2003.

When we told Rob we were coming to Switzerland, he immediately proposed a canyoning excursion in the Ticino region, just north of the Italian border. This was truly a special opportunity. I’ve probably descended a good 100 canyons, all across the Colorado Plateau, and even in the Blue Mountains of Australia. While the desert southwest is stacked with world class slots, one thing it lacks is whitewater canyoning (those with continuously flowing water). Despite 25 years of canyoning, I’ve only done two flowing slots, both of which were quite mellow compared to Rob’s proposal.

Rob’s guidebook was bursting with amazing options, but we honed in on the Nala Inferiore itinerary, above the tiny village of Osagna. We picked this one because it was among the few that made both the list of “spectacular canyons” and “short canyons.” It appeared to have great narrows, incredible rappels, and outstanding scenery. The guidebook described it as “one of the most famous and beautiful canyons in Ticino…an intense route that presents the sort of technical passages canyoners dream about…one of the most spectacular aquatic descents in Ticino that will leave you with lasting memories.”

Waterfalls above the village of Osagna, in southern Switzerland. Photo reluctantly taken by Kate Anderson.

Once we had a canyon picked out, the next challenge was finding suitable conditions. Water flow is critical in these canyons, and the entire region is regularly closed to canyoning due to high water. It rained quite a bit during our trip, and the canyons were forbidden the first couple times we inquired (fortunately there is a hotline you can call for status). Finally, on our last day in Switzerland, the canyon was open. Rob’s wife graciously offered to babysit, so Kate, Rob and I hopped in the car and zoomed down to Ticino.

Kate and I rigging the first rappel into the slot. Photo Rob Radtke.

After assessing the water level at the bottom of the canyon, we hiked up the steep valley floor to the entrance rappel. The canyons here don’t waste any time—unlike Utah canyons, which are pancake flat by comparison, this slot drops 180m in 450m of travel—a 40% average grade! There was no opportunity to ease into the water either; the first rappel was 30m straight down into a massive swimming pool. The water was not as cold as it could be for a country enveloped by glaciers, but it wasn’t warm either!

Kate making the entry rap. Photo Rob Radtke.

I did my hyperventilating doggy paddle to a lodged boulder at the far end of the pool, clipped into the anchor, and waited for Kate and Rob to join me. For the most part, the canyon had zero walking—you were either rapelling, or swimming. Usually the swim would end at the lip of a pothole or some other chockstone, at a precarious stance with water flowing right over the falls into the next rappel. The upper half of the canyon was neither comforting or secure; it was clearly the sort of place where an unprepared party could get into serious trouble.

Kate rapping somewhere in the upper half of the canyon. Photo Rob Radtke.

The next hour was spent on four more rappels, ranging from 15-25 meters, followed by long, cold swims through the narrow, foreboding slot. Generally the rappels were pretty easy and not particularly intimidating, but the swims were challenging in the cold water with heavy packs, especially entering the pools on rappel, trying to unclip without dropping anything, while treading water.

Kate trying to decide if this is Type 2 or Type 3 Fun. Photo Rob Radtke.

After the fifth rappel the canyon opened and there was an easy exit to the right. Kate took the opportunity to cut her losses and headed back to the car at this point. It was a good decision, with the two most challenging rappels coming up next.

Kate cruising one of the few straightforward rappels. Photo Rob Radtke.

Rappel number 6 is straight down the incredible-yet-daunting 50-meter waterfall that Nala Inferiore is most known for. This rap starts easily, down a smooth groove tube a bit off to the side of the main flow, with the water stream fanned out wide. About halfway down the rap, gravity forces you directly into the water stream. As you descend beyond this point, the force of the water falling some 40-meters onto your head becomes riveting. I paused for a moment to absorb the situation and spontaneously, hysterically, burst out laughing. It was such a crazy, wild, ridiculous position to be in. It was both incredible and absurd. Why would anyone do this? Why wouldn’t you, if you could?

Almost half-way down the skull-pounding 50m rap. Photo Rob Radtke.

By the end of the rap, water was raining down everywhere in massive quantities. I had to time my breathing carefully to avoid mouthfuls of water. Mercifully, right at the end of the rap, a large cave appears to the right that offers an eerie stance, sheltered from the torrent. I unclipped from the rope here and Batman-ed the rest of the way into the pool so I wouldn’t have to mess with the rigging in the pool.

Another shot of the 50m rap. Photo Rob Radtke.

After yet another frigid, oxygen-sapping swim we arrived at the 7th rappel, which turned out to be the most difficult. Although “only” 25 meters long, this rappel drops over a car-sized lodged boulder, resulting in a freehanging/overhanging rappel right through the main water course. There was no way to avoid the full force of the river, and at one point I unwittingly titled my head to the right and got a firehose straight into my ear. Lesson learned! Once I could touch the canyon walls again I was able to direct myself out of the main stream and the rest of the descent was a breeze.

Enjoying one of the spectacular-yet-mellow rappels of the lower canyon. Photo Kate Anderson.

After the two crux rappels, the canyon’s character changed completely. The slot widened, the pools became shorter, and the rappels much more straightforward. The chasm was no long dark and intimidating, but now open, bright and welcoming.   We quickly reunited with Kate, who was waiting for us on the canyon rim, and then made four more easy and uneventful raps to the final swimming pool.

Rob, just down-and-right-of-center, jumping the last bit of the final rappel. Photo Kate Anderson.

It was an incredible experience and one of the most unique I’ve had in a canyon. It was a lot different than canyoning on the Colorado Plateau—the scenery is totally different (and not as good in my opinion). On the other hand, the swimming pools were not steaming cesspools of fermenting cow shit either (although some of my best mates would argue that adds to the charm). I relish the opportunity to do something different, and Nala was most certainly that. After desceding Nala Inferiore, I mostly felt contented and stoked to have been given the opportunity to experience such an amazing place in good company. It was one of the top two highlights of the trip and to do it on the last day really wrapped everything up in the best possible way. Thanks Rob for the incredible experience and hospitality!

Teaching the kids to play Ultimate Frisbee beside the Rhine.

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.

Elsigen.

Elsigen.

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.

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.

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!

Goat

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.

Fontainebleau

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.

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.

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.

Maui Mixed Plate—Part II: Pacific Heat

By Mark Anderson

When we planned the Maui trip, I assumed it would be my climbing off-season, and I would be content to spend a week laying around in the sand and sipping mai tais. Silly me. Various factors contributed to me being smack in the middle of a particularly productive hangboard phase when we departed Denver, so I was desperate to get some type of climbing in during the vacation.

If anything, the Hawaiian Islands are known for their lack of climbing. However, Maui has, by far, the best climbing opportunities, thanks to prolific author and former Rock & Ice editor (and current Editor-at-Large) Jeff Jackson. Jeff moved to Maui a few years ago and has been scouring the island for climbing potential ever since. You will rarely encounter a more dedicated lifer than Jeff. He eats, sleeps and breathes climbing. His positivity and drive fuels the stoked and resilient Maui climbing community and I felt incredibly fortunate to climb with him.

Climbing in Hawai’i? It’s even better than it looks! Photo Jeff Jackson.

After a morning of snorkeling that included close-up encounters with a reef shark and several sea turtles, I joined Jeff and his buddy “Coco” Dave for an afternoon of climbing. We hopped in Dave’s pickup for a bouncy, twisting, white-knuckle drive on one of Maui’s many under-developed highways. I was never quite able to extract the latch for my seatbelt, and spent most of the drive wondering if the next corner was the one that would send me through the windshield. The scenery was gob smacking as usual, and before I knew it we were on the trail.

The hike flew by as Jeff excitedly pointed out various boulder problems and aped crux sequences. The narrow canyon was lined with bullet basalt and stacked with Jeff’s inventive problems, from obvious classics on free-standing blocks, to hundred-foot traverses and even a 30-foot roof crack. A raucous heard of feral mountain goats observed our march from above, and provided questionable entertainment throughout the evening, complete with loud farting noises and a high-speed demonstration of their procreation methods.

Raucous goat party.

The cave itself is a basalt/lava rock* version of the Arsenal at Rifle, with big tiered, stair-stepped roofs and corners (*Wikipedia tells me that 90% of the Earth’s “volcanic rock” is technically basalt, so I’m assuming all the black rock you see on Maui is basalt. That said, calling it “basalt” is a bit misleading since it feels and climb so much different from most mainland US basalt). The climbing is quite steep, physical, long and pumpy, with many burly undercling moves and long reaches or throws to generally big holds, often split with strenuous rests. The rock was incredibly solid and formed a wide array of novel shapes. Typically lava rock comes in two flavors: Razor Sharp and Just-Go-Ahead-and-Order-the-Blood-Transfusion-Now. For whatever reason, the rock here was far more—well, I’m not gonna say “skin-friendly,” so let’s just go with “climbable”—than typical lava. There was the odd spiky hold, but for the most part the rock was smooth-but-featured, and I didn’t get any flappers or cuts the entire trip.

Climbing a stellar 13b in the big cave. Photo Jeff Jackson

Then there was the heat (which is nobody’s fault, not even the Romans). It was just damn hot, apparently unusually hot, even for Maui. And surely humid too. I would guess it was well into the 90s, but with the humidity it seemed by far the hottest conditions I’d ever climbed in. I like to think I’m training myself to be resilient so I can climb through Colorado winters, but really I think I’m just adapting increasingly towards colder temps. Jeff, Dave and Justin (who joined us at the crag) showed me what it’s like to really be tough. I took the initiative and led off the complaints, but the local hard men did their best to coddle my ego by joining in periodically (thanks guys!). If you consider the wind chill on Grand Sentinel, and compare it to the Heat Index in Maui, I suspect I’ve climbed in conditions spanning more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the past year!

Dave cruising the 12b, just about to enter the unusual crux.

Once the approach sweat evaporated it was time to climb. I started up an excellent 5.12b, the crag warmup, whose name had something to do with goats. A boulder start led to an easy middle section and a no hands stance below what appeared to be an easy exit pulling around a short roof. Not wanting to appear soft, I pretty much skipped the big rest and charged into the devious finish. I dug deep into my bag of tricks, including clipping mid-crux for extra credit, ultimately resorting to a head jam behind a protruding flake. Higher I chimneyed into the same feature and my back was so thoroughly drenched in sweat that I thought I might Slip-and-Slide right out of it. I appreciated the guys’ letting me climb first, since I’m sure my sweat upped the grade to at least 12c for the followers.

Approaching Crux #1 on the 13b. Photo Jeff Jackson.

After a nice long break to cool down, I jumped on a brilliant 5.13b that climbed out the center of the cave. This was the type of climb that would be a 4-star classic at any crag in the country, even the Arsenal. It was essentially a series of five boulder problems split by rests of varying value. The rock is nearly flawless, and sports some of the most unusual holds I’d ever encountered. The route gets going right off the ground with a burly boulder problem to reach the first bolt and a no-hands shake. In classic Smith Rock-style, the locals have elected to ignore this when considering the route’s difficulty, and instead refer to the next boulder problem as “Crux #1.” This crux comes after a questionable, scrunchy, power-sapping “rest,” and involves a big, committing move to a protruding jug and a tenuous sequence to unwind. “Crux #2” was even harder, with another long move to an incredibly featured hold, before a fun exit of interesting stems on killer rock.

Sticking the long reach in the middle of Crux #1. Photo JJ.

Before we knew it, the sun set and we made the short walk back to the truck. Dave treated us all to a round of fresh-from-the-husk coconut juice, and Justin passed out some delicious fresh lychee fruit. Mercifully, it was pitch-black on the drive home, so I couldn’t see all the road hazards we surely narrowly-missed. Before saying goodbye to my new friends, they graciously shared beta another crag I really wanted to experience, known to the locals simply as “PK.”

The left half of the incredible PK wall.

PK is a totally different experience than the cave we visited, and shows how varied Maui’s basalt can be. The cliff is more columnar and vertical, but it is covered in strange, bulbous mushrooms of protruding stone that climb a bit like tufas. The rock was impeccable and the setting was serene, right on the beach under a canopy of short trees.   The climbing here was much more fingery and less physical—right up my alley.

Warming up on the right end of PK. Some of the bulbous mushroom features can be seen to my left.

Since I was climbing with the family, time was short, but I jumped on a set of excellent routes. Each one was better than the last, with perfect stone and interesting climbing. I quickly learned the mushrooms were all a bit worse than they looked thanks to sloping topsides and generally rough textures, but they were still super fun to climb.

Climbing a 5.12(?) on the steeper, harder, left side of PK.

It’s not often I get a truly new experience on rock, so I try to appreciate it when I do. Climbing in Maui was completely unique. I feel like I barely scratched the surface and I look forward to the opportunity to return and explore a bit more.

Thanks to Jeff, Dave and Justin for showing me around and sharing their little slice of paradise with me, I hope to return again soon. Fingers crossed for a Southwest-Airlines-instigated price war!

See you next time!

 

Slice of Time—New Eldo 5.14b

By Mark Anderson

Injuries suck. Last October I (partially) tore my forearm flexor muscle. At first the injury was relatively minor, but like a climber, I kept climbing and training hard on it for several weeks, and so it evolved into something more troublesome. I spent the next five months or so rehabbing the muscle, thinking I was close, aggravating it, and starting over again (over this process I eventually developed a solid rehab approach which I will describe next week).

By early April I was starting to feel healthy again. My latest batch of hangboarding ended strong, I was campusing without restrictions, and my bouldering was progressing rapidly. It was time to shake off the rust with some actual rock climbing, so I started considering options.

Eldorado Canyon

I hadn’t trained with a particular goal route in mind—the goal was to get 100% healthy. I decided I needed a route hard enough to inspire a proper effort, but not so hard as to be overwhelming or beyond my current, not-exactly-tip-top shape. Mike was coming to Boulder the following weekend, and we wanted to take advantage of the rare opportunity to work a project together, so we tried to find a worthy objective nearby.

I scoured my Black Book (actually a spreadsheet—nobody reads books anymore), and was reminded of an old abandoned line in Eldorado Canyon.  Eldo is a narrow canyon composed of colorful Fountain Formation sandstone, and stacked with thousands of multi-pitch trad climbs, including legendary classics like Bastille Crack, Yellow Spur and The Naked Edge.  It was the epicenter of Colorado climbing for many decades, until the sport climbing revolution took over and the best climbers moved on to other crags.

Photo-0a.jpg

Slice of Time climbs the center of the shaded, left-leaning panel.  Nobody wants credit for this photo.

The line we had in mind follows a sheer panel of slightly overhanging stone on the upper end of Redgarden Wall. This incredible panel first caught the attention of Christian Griffith and Chris Hill, who made the initial forays onto the wall, but the big prize remained unclimbed. I first noticed it in 2008 while climbing nearby classics Ruper and Green Slab. A few years later I finally got around to hiking up to the wall to properly scope out the line from the ground, but other priorities kept it on the backburner for several more years.

Now was my chance—for the first time in many years, I was relatively fit with no particular objective in mind. I had no idea how hard it would be, but I was willing to waste a day to find out. Mike was up for it too, and so we dusted off our trad gear and set out.

IMG_4616

About half-way up the towering wall. Photo Mike Anderson.

We were instantly impressed with the quality of the route. Its literally 40-meters long, almost to the centimeter. It overhangs about 5 meters in that length, and except for a single 1-meter-deep bulge, it is sheer and continuously around 5 degrees over vertical. It’s a beautiful panel of clean stone that begs to be climbed, and the rock is among the highest-quality I’ve encountered on the Front Range.

The movement is outstanding, albeit rather 1980s in style—precise technical edging with grippy holds and challenging footwork. It generally gets harder as you ascend, interspersed with numerous rests. The climbing opens with fun 5.11 jugs, then engaging 5.12 climbing that makes for a nice chill warmup, to a good shake below the bulge. The business is the final headwall.  This headwall begins with a couple bolts of easy 5.13 to clear the bulge and gain a crescent-shaped, right-facing arête/dihedral feature that offers intricate liebacking and arête-style movement, reminiscent of the mid-section of Smith Rock’s uber-classic Scarface.  The headwall culminates in a desperate forearm-bursting boulder problem 120-feet off the deck. Simply put, it’s a King Line.

IMG_4685

Low on the Headwall, just over the short bulge, traversing into the shallow dihedral. Photo Mike Anderson.

Between the two of us we were able to work out all the moves on the first day. It’s really helpful having an engaged partner to work these things out with—especially one who is pretty much the exact same size and shape, has the same climbing style, and similar strengths and weaknesses! We felt the route was possible, and we were both completely stoked. We set our heads to the primary challenge of shuffling our increasingly busy schedules to dodge the erratic spring weather and find enough opportunities to put it all together.

While we felt it was feasible, we were both a little concerned about the low-percentage nature of the crux moves, and the fact that the crux was so high off the deck. It was hard enough to do these moves off the dog, how would they feel after 120+ feet of climbing (and rope drag)? As we made the long trudge back to the car, we reminded each other of similar climbs, with low-percentage, distant cruxes, that we had each overcome in the past. It’s easy to forget that the process works, especially if you haven’t been through it recently. Over the next few days we eventually convinced ourselves, for the Nth time, that routes really do become easier with practice.

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Mike working up the shallow dihedral. Photo Mark Anderson.

Despite some interference from the weather, eventually it all came together. We were consistently waltzing up the lower wall, arriving at the headwall “without the hint of a pump” (as our hero Alan Watts would say). Once we added a couple servings of Try Hard, the route went down.  After putting our heads together we’ve settled on the name “Slice of Time” for the full panel.

Besides a pair of sends, the process of working the route produced several really important side-effects. The first was that it gave me something to strive for again, for the first time in about six months. I’m accustomed to having tangible goals, and without them I struggle to find motivation.  Working the route made me feel like I was a climber again.

Additionally, having a legitimate objective in the balance gave me the extra push I needed to complete my recovery. Often we struggle to overcome the mental impacts of injuries—we “hold back” for fear of re-injuring ourselves. By the end of the process I was training every facet of my fitness without restrictions, and pining for a send rather than obsessing over my forearm. I recall hiking back to the car one day and realizing that, at no time during the previous session did I think about my forearm. It was the first time in six months I’d gone more than a few minutes without thinking about it. Slice of Time was exactly the distraction I needed to get back to normal, both physically and mentally.

IMG_4835

Mike entering the crux of Slice of Time, ~120-feet off the deck. Photo Mark Anderson.

Finally, the best outcome of the process was climbing with Mike. Despite living in the same state, we rarely climb (hard) together because we both have our own agendas that send us in different directions. We spend the odd day together on less-serious objectives, but I think the last time we worked a proper project together was literally ten years ago. It was really fun, not only to spend time together, but to geek out over micro-beta, weather forecasts and redpoint tactics.

We’re both really stoked to climb such a stellar line, especially in such a historic venue.  We’d both like to thank the many folks who put effort and hardware into realizing this route over the years.  It’s an instant classic and should become a popular testpiece for the canyon, and the entire Front Range.  The best compliment I can think of to recommend the route is: its so good, it reminds me of Smith Rock.

The vision for the Trango athlete team is to find climbers who embody our brand’s values and support them in their climbing endeavors. We focus on the character of the climber, their passion for the sport, and their desire to contribute to the community.

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