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Climbing in Italy – Finale Ligure Part 1

By Mark Anderson

Climbing Camera Con Vista (Room with a view), 7a, Finale Ligure.

Climbing in Italy has long been a mystery to me. I knew there was climbing—a lot of climbing—I just didn’t know anything specific about it. For whatever reason I knew much more about the sport crags of Germany, France and Spain. Some quick internet research revealed Finale Ligure, in the Liguria region of the Italian Riviera, was a highly recommended spot.

Playing on the Beach in Finalmarina.

The Finale region is spectacular, nestled in a set of tight valleys right on the Mediterranean Sea (some of the crags climb directly over the water). Finale is also renowned as a mountain biking destination, and the village of Finalborgo (where we stayed) was always bustling with adventure-seekers like ourselves. In the small piazza where we went for pizza, beer and gelato (not necessarily in that order) there were six different climbing shops and just as many MTB shops.

The cliff-covered valleys above Finalborgo.

Within a 15 minute drive of Finalborgo are hundreds of crags with thousands of routes. The rock is white, gray and sometimes orange limestone, covered in small pockets and the occasional tufa. The routes are entirely bolted, but there are many expansive cliffs covered in multi-pitch lines. The cliffs tend toward steep slabs with many vertical to slightly-overhanging walls, and the most appealing routes are in the French 6-7 range (5.10-5.12). According to our guidebook, polished rock is a bit of a problem at certain crags, but we never found it to be an issue.

El Diablo in Grotta dell’edera. This is fairly typical of the rock in Finale—generally white to light grey, near vertical, with many small pockets. Photo Logan Anderson.

I had pretty low expectations for the climbing, based on the few pictures I’d seen. The routes looked thin, tweaky and old-school. The two days we spent climbing there completely changed my view.   Every route I climbed was excellent and many of them were outstanding. While there were some thin and tweaky routes and some runouts, we also found amazing tufa curtains and walls covered in jugs. Even the less featured lines were fantastic technical challenges on amazing rock.

However, the best thing going for Finale is the atmosphere. It reminded me of Tonsai Beach in Thailand, where you can drop your pack on the beach, climb world-class limestone, then walk 15 steps to the bar and eat a great meal with a beer for pennies on the dollar. Finale wasn’t quite that convenient, but on the other hand, you don’t need Malaria pills. The climbing in Finale is equally relaxed, with the sea never far away and a great evening on the boardwalk or piazza to cap off every day.

The best part of Finale climbing was the ambiance. Eating phenomenal pizza in our garden in Finalborgo.

Grotta dell’edera (Ivy Cave) was the one “must-visit” crag on our list. It’s a collapsed cave, resulting in a near-perfect cylinder of limestone open to the sky. There’s a “window” on the southwest side of the cylinder that forms an archway across the cylinder. If that wasn’t peculiar enough, the Grotta is accessed by climbing 50 meters through a proper cave (with some steep scrambling thrown in along the way).

Amelie and I spelunking on the approach to Grotta dell’edera.

Looking up at the roof of Grotta dell’edera.

The perfectly-named Camera Con Vista (Room with a view), 7a. The “window” is to my left, and there is another mini-cylinder (with three routes inside and a skylight) to my right. Photo Amelie Anderson.

Kate cruising Bombolo, 6b, in the mini-cylinder inside Grotta dell-edera. Photo Logan Anderson.

Higher on Bombolo, a classic jughaul with wild stemming and some tufa action. Photo Logan Anderson.

The climbing in the Grotta was fantastic in its own right, but the setting made every route extra special. I climbed several great tufa lines and set up a thrilling rope swing for the kids that the other climbers seemed to get a kick out of (the place was packed relative to the rest of our trip—there were 8 other climbers, with us making 12 people to share 14 routes). The best route I did was a dead-vertical, slightly concave 7b with small incut pockets and tricky stemming called Lubna.

El Diablo, 7b. The Climber in the orange helmet is on the mega-classic technical masterpiece Lubna. Photo Logan Anderson.

Amelie’s rope swing.

Logan getting in on the climbing.

Logan preparing to take a big swing.  The higher you climb, the better the swing.

The (hiking) approach to the Grotta was long, hot and miserable. Frankly we were all in a terrible mood when we got there. If there’s one downside to Finale, it’s that the approaches can be long, steep and complicated. Other than that, it’s the perfect family climbing destination, with routes for climbers of all abilities and lots of fun rest day activities for kids. Fortunately the rough approach was a distant memory by the end of the day. We all had such a great time between the cave, the swings and the climbing that we would love to return. Back in Finalborgo we capped off the day with literally the best pizza I’ve ever had. Logan and Amelie picked lemons from the garden and Kate made lemonade. It was the perfect climbing day.

Castle of the Day: Dolceaqua, easily the best medieval village of the trip, with a maze of narrow winding passageways. The Ponte Vecchio bridge shown here was memorialized in this painting by Monet.

 

Climbing in France – Venasque

By Mark Anderson

Nearing the top of Vole, 7b, at the French Limestone crag of Venasque. Photo Logan Anderson.

Venasque is a little known crag outside the village of the same name, about an hour south of Buis. We first went there on one of my rest days, to give Kate a chance to climb some of the highly recommended 5.10s and 11s. Kate really enjoyed the climbing, and it looked so fun that we both agreed we should return for our last day in France.

Kate cruising Beaucoup de Bruit Pour Rien (“A Lot of Noise for Nothing”), 6a+, on our first day at Venasque.

The cliffs of Venasque don’t look remarkable (relative to other crags of the area). There are no tufas, the colors are bland relative to the orange and blue streaks of St Leger and Baume Rousse, and the scenery isn’t particularly special. But man, the climbing sure is fun! The rock is limestone, but it seems to have quite a bit of sandstone mixed in, and it’s weathered in a manner very similar to the best routes at Kentucky’s Red River Gorge. We spent most of our time at “Place de l’Ascle,” the main feature of which is a 30m wall, overhanging up to about 20 degrees, and covered in huge jugs. All the routes on this wall were spectacular 5.12 pumpfests. The routes aren’t particularly striking or cerebral, but it was definitely the most fun I had climbing on our trip.

Kate starting up Petite Marie, a gobsmacking 5.11c that charges up the right side of a towering swell of overhanging jugs.  5.11 sport climbs don’t get any better than this.

Higher on Petite Marie. Note the leaning wave of rock to Kate’s left—home to Misanthropies Therapeutiques, Aller Plus Haute, and Vole.

I started by warming up on a brilliant 7b on this wall called Misanthropies Therapeutiques, which was completely stellar, getting gently steeper, with equally growing holds, as you ascend (all the routes on this wall were like that).  It was one of the most fun sport climbs I’ve ever done. Next we moved to another sector along the same cliffband which the Rockfax guide described as a “must see wall that is the epitome of a sport crag and a must climb venue.” This cliff overhangs about 20 degrees, with a number of pockety, sequential lines from 7c-8b. I tried a route called Objectif Puree, or “Pure Objective.” This name was apparently ironic, as I soon discovered about half the handholds on the route were chipped. It was a drag, and really turned me off on the wall. I felt like I was climbing in a gym with poor route-setting. It was also rather disappointing that some people think chipped garbage is “the epitome of a sport crag.” Whether that’s a reflection on the author’s taste, or the reputation of sport climbing (or both), I don’t know. Nor am I sure which would be worse. To me it seemed like a real waste of a cliff, not to mention a waste of a climbing day in Europe.

Objectif Puree. Photo Amelie Anderson.

The upside of this revelation was that I was free to return to the first cliff and climb as many of the rad jughauls as my family could tolerate (fortunately it was also another great place to rig a rope swing, which got me at least one extra route beyond the usual quota).

Midway up Vole, 7b. Misanthropies Therapeutiques is the next route left (following the flake system), and Aller Plus Haute is the second route left. Photo Logan Anderson.

The most memorable moment of the day came as I was cleaning the 7b+ Aller Plus Haute (“Go High”). The crag is right over the road, at the intersection of a very popular hiking trail.  A crowd of about 30 hikers came through, pausing briefly to watch my acrobatics as I neared the bottom quickdraw. When I cleaned this last draw on the steeply overhanging wall, I predictably swung way out over the road, greeted by a chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” from the gathered spectators.

Logan getting in on the fun.

All told it was easily my favorite day of climbing on the trip. The crag doesn’t look spectacular, it’s not photogenic or historic, but it’s hard not to have fun on these amazing cliffs. It was a great hang for the kids, with no approach, and nestled in one of the most scenic rural regions of Provence.  It’s the perfect family vacation crag.

Castle of the Day – Entrevaux. This one was so spectacular it gets two pics….

Logan had a great time playing with the two cannons at lower right. Note also the Citadel high above, and the zig-zagging path that climbs up to it.

 

Climbing in France – Baume Rousse

by Mark Anderson

World class tufa climbing at Baume Rousse, France. Photo Logan Anderson.

As mentioned in the last post, it rained heavily during the first part of our trip, so for our second climbing day we picked a crag called Baume Rousse, somewhat sheltered in a natural cirque, and close to our home base of Buis-les Baronnies. Before getting into the climbing, Buis deserves a short description. This village of about 2500 people is nestled in an incredible valley, surrounded by impressive peaks and limestone cliffbands. There are three extensive limestone sport crags within walking distance of town (Baume Rousse, Ubrieux, and St. Julien), and another five or so within a 30 minute drive. There’s literally a lifetime of climbing opportunities with an hour’s drive.

Buis-les-Baronnies from Baume Rousse, with the limestone fin of St. Julien just above town, and the snow-capped Mount Ventoux in the background. St Leger is nestled in between Ventoux and the next ridge behind St. Julien, about a 25-minute drive from Buis.

The piercing limestone fin of St. Julien dominates the skyline above Buis-les-Baronnies. The crag features ~100 routes, including many multi-pitch lines and a network of via Ferrata.

A pair of climbers low on St. Julien (in yellow and blue, near the bottom of the cliff, in the center of the frame, at the same height as the tallest tree).

Baume Rousse is a smaller crag with only about 100 routes, but the hardest of those routes climb some of the most amazing tufas I’ve ever seen! Besides its amazing orange & black streaked limestone, Baume Rousse is unusual because it was developed in order to host a climbing comp in the 1990’s (fortunately the rock was not chipped to engineer the comp routes like at some other outdoor comps of the era).

The view towards Buis from the base of St Julien. The V-shaped diagonal limestone ridge behind the village is the crag Ubrieux (which we did not visit). The limestone cirque of Baume Rousse is visible just beyond the ridge, directly above the center of the “V.”

The left half of the Baume Rousse cirque.

Looking straight up at the tufa curtains on the back wall of Baume Rousse.

By far the best route I did on the trip was an 8a called Rigpa ou la Nature de l’esprit (Google doesn’t seem to know what “Rigpa” means, but the rest of it has something to do with “the nature of the mind”). The route follows a phenomenal tufa fin which juts out from the wall as much as 16” but is never more than 2” thick. It’s a classic pumpfest, maybe 15 degrees overhanging, with strategic exotic rests. The tufas fade near the top, requiring some big reaches between features.

Rigpa ou la Nature de l’esprit. Photo Logan Anderson.

Nearing the crux on Rigpa. Photo Logan Anderson

Another pic of Rigpa. Photo Logan Anderson

Just to the right of Rigpa is another tufa-laden 8a. I tried that line next, but just as I finished it started raining heavily. Thanks to strong swirling winds we found the little cirque was not quite as sheltered as we hoped, so we decided to pack it in for the day. The entire back wall of the cirque is covered in awesome tufas curtains, and if I had one more (dry) day in Buis, I would head straight to Baume Rousse to try more of these amazing climbs.

Amelie enjoying the best rope swing of the trip

One of the highlights of the trip for me (and I think Logan as well) was a short, entry-level via Ferrata I did with him at the base of St. Julien. Like most things at this age, it took a bit of prodding to get him interested, but once we got started he was instantly stoked. I think the pictures illustrate best how much fun we had. Before we were finished he started campaigning to do another, harder, higher via ferrata, and he kept bringing it up throughout the rest of the trip. Unfortunately these are engineered with a certain minimum height in mind, and there wasn’t another one around that was suitable for 6-year-olds.

Starting up the first few iron rungs of the via ferrata. The look of half fear/half excitement in Logan’s eyes says it all.

 

Still not clear if he’s happy or terrified. I think just really excited. I learned later that I was supposed to hook the rope through the metal hook-thing above Logan’s head as a directional. (St. Julien in the background.)

This particular route was designed specifically with kids in mind, more like a vertical park than a mountaineering objective, with closely spaced steps and a number of fun “obstacles” to look forward to (including a suspension bridge, “monkey bridge,” cargo net, and balance beam). It even climbs through a natural stone arch. It was super fun, even for jaded me. It really made me wish we had more via ferrata in the US; it’s a great way to introduce beginners to the mountains and creates no more impact than the typical hiking trail.  It’s pretty awesome the way the local European communities embrace climbing, marketing it as an attraction and encouraging participation.  There was a huge kiosk in the center of Buis describing in detail all the via ferrata, how to reach them, what equipment was needed and so on.

The suspension bridge.

So-called Monkey Bridge.

Climbing through the arch.

The cargo net, with Buis, etc in the background.

Castle of the day – Logan playing with a Trebuchet at Chateaux des Baux.

Climbing in France – St Leger

by Mark Anderson

My family and I just returned from a two-week trip to France and Italy. In addition to sightseeing and eating (my favorite pastime), we visited four distinct climbing areas in Southern France and the Italian Riviera. All of these crags are relatively unknown to Americans, but would be renowned destinations if they were in North America.

The first crag we visited, and the one I expected to be the best, is called St. Leger. It’s a fairly long limestone gorge at the very base of the north slope of Mt. Ventoux. Mt. Ventoux, aka “the Giant of Provence”, is a legendary peak for cycling nerds like me. Fans of the Tour de France will recall many famous ascents of Ventoux, especially Chris Froome’s whacky bicycle-free ascent in last year’s Tour.

Pinching my way up the St Leger tufa classic, La Farce Tranquille. Photo: Logan Anderson

We picked St. Leger because I’d heard it was a relatively new crag, relatively untraveled (compared to other crags in the vicinity like Ceuse and Buoux), and so might be less polished. The crag is basically one long cliffband that seems to go forever, sorta like Sinks in Wyoming, but with about 400 routes. The first thing we noticed was bulging caves covered in amazing tufas. The routes at Leger tend to be long pumpfests. Most of the walls are vertical to slightly overhanging, with a few caves thrown in (most of the cave routes seem to be in the 8c/+ range). The climbing seems to get better the harder the routes get, with most of the tufas following steep cave lines in the mid-to-high 8’s. We definitely struggled to find worthwhile routes in the 5.10/11 range, but I did quite a few excellent 5.12s, and the 5.13s were stellar.

Piedra Salvage, Le Ceil du Loup, Le Voleur de Pesanteur, and La Farce Tranquille sectors of St Leger. This pic was taken on our 2nd day at St Leger—note all the black streaks!

The first day we started at a crag called Le Voleur de Pesanteur, which has a number of great warmups, and is also adjacent to one of the best looking steep sectors, “La Farce Tranquille.” Once I was warm I jumped on a pair of adjacent 8a’s that climb up a smooth, steep pillar that splits the cave ( the broad tan pillar just right of center in the above pic). Both of these lines (Barbule and La Farce Tranquille) featured some amazing, pumpy tufa climbing with weird kneebars, exotic stems, and lots of pinching.

Starting up the sweeping wave of limestone on Barbule.  Photo Logan Anderson.

Tufa wrangling on Barbule, 8a, St. Leger. Photo Logan Anderson.

Later in the day I scrapped my way up Le Voleur de Pesanteur (“The Thief of Gravity” according to Google Translate) a devious 7c on the sector of the same name. It was one of my favorite routes of the trip. This line featured a series of subtle tufas, with nice pockets and edges just where you needed them.

Kate climbing the classic “Piedra Salvage, 6b+” on our wet day. Note the (relatively for Europe) fractured rock.

Overall the tufa climbing at St Leger was awesome. I would highly recommend any of the tufa routes I climbed. However, I was not really impressed by the tufa-less routes. It rained heavily on the second and third days of our trip, and when we returned to St Leger a few days later we found all the tufas were still soaking wet black streaks. There were plenty of dry routes to choose from, but the rock on these routes is heavily fractured. The climbing was still good, but not worth traveling across oceans for. In dry conditions the crag was stellar, and had it not rained we likely would have spent more time here. As advertised, the rock was not polished and we never saw more than 8 other climbers at the crag. It’s definitely a hidden gem, but best in dry conditions and probably better suited to climbing in the higher grades.

Castle of the day – Souze la Rousse, about an hour west of St Leger. This pic is our impression of every Black Sabbath album cover ever.

Julienne Salad Days

By Mark Anderson

My family and I are heading to France (with a few days in Italy) at the end of the month for spring break. I spend the vast majority of my outdoor climbing days working redpoint projects, but on this trip I expect to focus on climbing routes first go, so I’ve spent the past few weeks tuning up my fitness accordingly and practicing on-sighting. All the crags on our itinerary are limestone, so we made a point to visit Shelf Road to climb on similar stone (albeit of much, much lower quality–or so I hope).

Earlier in the winter I bolted 4 routes (and a linkup) on a nice cream-colored panel of rock in the “Tropical Wall” sector of Shelf’s North Gym, which offered the perfect objective. Granted, these would not technically be on-sight attempts since I had rapped all the routes while bolting them. However, I don’t really possess the capacity to remember the details of four random lines I bolted a few months ago, since all my memory banks are filled to the brim with song lyrics and movie quotes. So I expected it to provide good practice nonetheless.

The main feature on the wall is a 3-feet-deep roof about halfway up. Four of the five lines involve this obstacle in some way. The first line I tried (“Booty Sweat”) follows a fairly continuous crack system that skirts the left side of the roof with powerful underclings (for the grade). While basically a crack climb, there are a lot of nice pockets sprinkled around to spice things up.

Shaking out below the undercling roof exit on Booty Sweat, 5.11b. Photo Amelie A.

The most intimidating line on the wall climbs out the center of the roof. Thanks to a few sinker pockets I climbed fairly easily up to a good shake at jugs below the ceiling. Just as I arrived, Amelie announced she needed to pee and she couldn’t hold it. Fortunately there was a bolt right at my waist, so I clipped a loose sling straight in to the bolt so Kate could help Amelie. This gave me plenty of time to contemplate the imposing obstacle above. Once I was properly on belay again, I charged up to the lip and groped my right hand over to a shallow 4-finger dish. I couldn’t see an elegant way to get established over the lip, so I coiled and hucked my left hand for what appeared likely to be a big jug. It was, and I stuck it, but it was incredibly prickly. My feet swung out wildly as I stuck the jug, and Kate shouted up “that was sick!”, which is incredibly rare—usually she is completely and justifiably unimpressed by my climbing antics (having seen the sausage being made, so to speak). I replied with, “what’s sick is what happened to the skin on my hand.” My palm was torn up and bleeding in a few places, but it turned out to be nothing serious, just enough to warrant the name “More Shredded Than A Julienne Salad.”

Working up the headwall after surmounting the big roof on …Julienne Salad (5.12b?) Photo Amelie A.

Perhaps the best line turned out to be the 5.11- linkup that joins the bottom half of Booty Sweat to the top-half of More Shredded…, climbing through the left side of the big roof via a bubbly pancake flake. It’s a classic jughaul with no hard moves to speak of. I’m generally not a fan of linkups, and I had no intention of bolting this line when scoping the wall from the ground, but once I rapped the wall and saw the line of jugs I couldn’t resist.

Scoping holds on The Boy Everybody Was Jealous Of, 5.12a. Photo Logan A.

The other two lines on the wall, Be Australian and The Boy Everybody Was Jealous Of, involve sustained pocket and edge climbing on great stone. They’re both worthwhile. I hiked past this wall probably 20 or 30 times while developing the rest of the North Gym in 2011, and I always intended to bolt it, but I never got around to it for whatever reason. I assumed somebody else would claim it during my 5-year exile to Clear Creek, so I was surprised and stoked to find it still untouched last November. In retrospect I’m really glad I had the opportunity to put these routes in. I’m sure some day in the future, once every route at Cactus Cliff is polished to glass and has a queue 10-ropebags deep, these routes will be well-appreciated by adventurous loners like me.

Fine edging on Be Australian, 5.12a.

New Anderson Brothers Podcast

by Mark Anderson

Last week Mike and I did another podcast with our friend Neely Quinn over at TrainingBeta.com.  You can check out the podcast here.

The interview runs about an hour and covers a wide variety of topics including:

  • What went into designing the Rock Prodigy Forge, and why we think it’s the most advanced hangboard on the market.
  • What we learned at the International Rock Climbing Research Association conference, what other research we are working on, which questions need further study.
  • How I trained differently for my ascent of Shadowboxing.
  • Mike’s recent 8a+ and 8b onsights in Europe.
  • Whether or not hangboarding causes forearm hypertrophy.
  • The secret to climbing hard with a family.
  • Questions & Answers from the Training Beta Facebook community
Mike crushing at the Schleierwasserfall

Mike crushing at the Schleierwasserfall

Hope you enjoy the listen, and if it generates any questions, please share them in a comment below, or (ideally) in the Rock Prodigy Forum.

Be sure to follow us on Instagram at @Rock_Climbers_Training_Manual

 

New Indy Pass 5.14

by Mark Anderson

It’s been ages since I’ve done a proper road trip. Camping with young kids can border on misery, so we’ve made a point to avoid it since Logan came along. When Amelie turned two last month (Logan is four-and-a-half) we tested the waters with a 3-day trip to the Black Canyon and discovered they’ve magically blossomed into champion campers. With new confidence we headed north to the annual Lander International Climber’s Fest with a trunk full of camping gear and a loose itinerary.

The crux of Captain America, Independence Pass, Colorado.

Captain America, Independence Pass, Colorado.

The festival itself was loads of fun. Our friends at Trango provided awesome lodging in a rustic cabin (not that rustic—it had a shower, microwave and mini-fridge) at the Baldwin Creek B&B. We enjoyed two great days of craggin’ at Wild Iris, including the clinic on Saturday. Logan’s been getting much more interested in climbing (and rope swinging), and we found a great spot for him to practice his skills on rock, capped off with a great swing off the lip of the Calamity Jane roof. The best part of the festival for me was meeting numerous Rock Prodigies and hearing their inspiring success stories.

Logan swinging from the lip of Calamity Jane.

Logan swinging from the lip of Calamity Jane.

Another highlight was Ethan Pringle’s keynote address on Saturday night. He shared several short videos about his effort to snag the second ascent of Jumbo Love (5.15b!). It was downright hilarious and ultra-inspiring at the same time. My favorite bit was Ethan’s Seven Commandments for climbing success:

  1. Coffee
  2. Poop
  3. Safety Third
  4. Lookin’ good
  5. Food
  6. Sex
  7. Send!

Ethan spent seven years working the route and 18 days just this season. It made me reflect on my definition of a “long term” project. I’ve never spent 18 total days on a route, despite several projects that spanned multiple years. I’ve never clipped the chains on a project and thought “that’s the hardest I can climb”, either. Instead I always finish knowing I could do something harder if I could tolerate the uncertainty of a project that was seriously in doubt (and commit to the extended effort required). Perhaps it’s time for me to make a serious commitment to something.

Black Bear in Grand Teton National Park.

Black Bear in Grand Teton National Park.

After the festival we headed further north to Grand Teton National Park. This is one of Kate’s absolute favorite places. The mountains are spectacular and for whatever reason the wildlife viewing is incredible. We saw a Grizzly Bear and a Black Bear on the slopes of Signal Mountain. The only other time I’ve seen a grizzly was 15 years ago in Alaska (which almost seems like cheating). At one point he stood up on his hind legs to scratch his back on a tree and he had to be at least 8-feet tall.

Trust me, there's a Grizzly Bear in there somewhere.

Trust me, the blurry brown blob is a Grizzly Bear.

If the last pic didn't convince you, surely this one will!

If the last pic didn’t convince you, surely this one will!

We did a nice family bike ride, took the ferry across Jenny Lake, watched climbers on the classic Baxter’s Pinnacle and hiked to several mountain lakes. Logan loves swimming and doesn’t seem to mind icy cold mountain water at all. I think he has the makings of a successful alpinist. I could stare at the mountains for days, and I was definitely feeling the itch to climb up there again. I did The Grand and Mt. Moran in my “youth”, but it’s been such a long time that I’ve nearly forgotten the alpine starts, unplanned bivies and knee-pounding descents.

Logan crushing in Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton NP.

Logan crushing in Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton NP.

Next we headed back south to Independence Pass, just east of Aspen, CO. Aspen’s one of those rare places where you can see a beater ski-bum-mobile parked next to a Ferrari. Despite its Beverly Hills sparkle the town is surprisingly kid-friendly. There are many great parks, fountains, ice cream shops, etc. There are endless things to do and sights to see in the area, from abandoned mining towns to the Maroon Bells, flow-style MTBing, whitewater and sport climbing on the Pass.

Amelie and Logan at Outrageours Overhang (Indy Pass).  For some reason Logan’s look in this pic just kills me.

Amelie and Logan at Outrageours Overhang (Indy Pass). For some reason Logan’s look in this pic just kills me.

We were there for the climbing of course. In particular I was hoping to work and perhaps send an open project that Pass local Jay Brown had recommended to me after I finished Insurrection. A couple weeks earlier we made an overnight trip to the Pass to climb with Mike’s family. I took that opportunity to check out the project and it captured my interest immediately.

Tricky footwork and burly pinching in the crux of Captain America.

Tricky footwork and burly pinching in the crux of Captain America.

The line climbs the 20-degree-overhanging arête of a shallow right-facing dihedral. I’ve long considered myself an arête connoisseur, having cut my teeth at the arête paradise of Smith Rock. The climbing involves burly pinching and slapping for 20-or-so relentless moves (and a finishing boulder problem after a sit-down ledge rest). I was bouldering fairly hard in the Lazy H at that point, and I was able to do all the moves that first day, but I was unable to link several sequences. I hadn’t done any real training since early May, so I wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence. I often feel that way early in a project, and it seems I’m constantly reminding myself to trust the redpoint process—routes do become easier with practice.

A short, insecure boulder problem guards a bivy-sized ledge rest.

A short, insecure boulder problem guards a bivy-sized ledge rest.

Once I finally got back on it the climbing went better than expected. After one burn to reacquaint myself and refine some sequences I one-hanged the project twice on my first day back. Both times I fell on the same stopper move though—a dyno into an overhead 3-finger undercling on the arete. You have to hit the hold precisely while also maintaining strong core tension. It’s the kind of move I could imagine falling on repeatedly on redpoint.

Logan swinging from the top of the classic 5.11 Thug Route.

Logan swinging from the top of the classic 5.11 Thug Route.

We spent the next day enjoying some of Aspen’s other outdoor attractions. Logan hopped in a couple more mountain lakes, we gazed at the Maroon Bells, strolled around downtown and did several short hikes. We had a nice picnic in Wagner Park and bumped into Kevin Costner (actually his grocery cart) at the Citi Market.

Logan in Jackson Lake (Tetons)...

Logan in Jackson Lake (Tetons).  Notice he didn’t bother to remove his shoes or pants…

…Taggart Lake (Tetons)…

…Taggart Lake (Tetons)…

…String Lake (Tetons)…

…String Lake (Tetons)…

…Weller Lake (Indy Pass)…

…Weller Lake (Indy Pass)…

…and Maroon Lake (Aspen area), the only one he seemed to think was cold.

…and Maroon Lake (Aspen area), the only one he seemed to think was cold.  He was easily the most hygienic member of our party.

By the next climbing day we had been on the road for nine days, including the last five nights in a tent. The kids were still happy as clams but Kate and I were itching (literally) for showers and a real mattress. Knowing that a send would be rewarded with soap and a fluffy clean comforter, I tied in under the leaning prow early that morning.

Dressed for the occasion.

Dressed appropriately for Captain America.

I climbed briskly to avoid exhausting my meager power endurance. This time I stuck the undercling move and managed the desperate clip at the third bolt. I barely stuck an arête slap a few moves higher, and I could feel my legs and arms trembling slightly as the pump grew. I finally reached the first shake 30-feet up and took my time recovering my breath—not a trivial matter at an altitude just under 10,000 feet. After one more insecure windmill move I pulled up onto a massive ledge.  Still quite worked, I took off my shoes and relaxed for a good 10 minutes. The short headwall above is probably V7 or 8 in its own right, requiring several committing slaps to clear a steep bulge. After an unsettling moment of hesitation searching for the proper right-foot hold I snagged the first left hand pinch, then the second. I set a high heel hook, slapped my right hand up to a good sidepull, and paddled up jugs to the top of the cliff.

Staring down the ensuing heel hook on the final boulder problem.

Staring down a heel hook on the final boulder problem during the first free ascent of Captain America, 5.14a.

 Many thanks to Wade David who discovered, equipped and cleaned the line, and thanks to Jay Brown for telling me about it.

Germany Part V: East of Weiden

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

 We were nearing the end of our trip, and the fatigue of “maximizing fun” was beginning to take its toll, but we still had one major excursion planned, and I was really looking forward to it. “Saxony” sits to the northeast of Bavaria, sharing its southern border with the Czech Republic and its eastern border with Poland. For tourists, Saxony’s main attraction is the breathtaking city of Dresden, in the heart of Cold War East Germany. For climbers, the main attraction is the “Sachsiche Schweiz” (literally, Saxon Switzerland), known to American climbers as “Elbsandstein” (literally, Elbe (river) sandstone).

Elbsandstein, from the Schrammsteinaussicht overlook

Elbsandstein, from the Schrammsteinaussicht overlook

As we approached the Sachsiche Schweiz region, a thick layer of fog enveloped the countryside, so we decided to delay our planned recon hike by visiting the imposing Festung Konigstein. Construction of this impressive fortress began in the 13th century, and it’s said that the structure is so intimidating that nobody ever bothered to attack it.

One of the more remarkable watchtowers at Festung Konigstein

One of the more remarkable watchtowers at Festung Konigstein.  Kate, Logan, and Amelie are standing on the bridge.

It was easy to see why. The fortress featured a series of tiered walls, the tallest of which were easily 100 feet high and quite sheer. Of course, as a climber visiting castles, I’m always envisioning lines of weakness and routes through stone walls that were meant to be impossible to climb. The fortifications were entwined with the sandstone that makes the region famous to climbers, further enhancing the fantasy.

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The hybrid cliff and stone wall fortifications of Festung Konigstein

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This was the only castle that we paid to enter on the trip, and the interior was not particularly impressive, but the views from the fortress walls were unparalleled. The fog gradually cleared as we explored the extensive courtyard, revealing first the Elbe River, and then various distant spires of sandstone. The castle was awesome, but we were getting the itch to explore the natural stone fortress of Elbsandstein.

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The Elbe River through the fog.

It’s hard to describe the scale of a place like Elbsandstein, but it’s rumored to contain more than 17,000 routes. That’s an insane number! Mountain Project lists 18,951 routes in the state of Colorado (granted, not every route in the state is listed, but the vast majority of them are). Colorado isn’t exactly know for restraint when it comes to route development. The entire country of Germany is only 31% larger (in terms of land area) than the state of Colorado, and the Sachsiche Schweiz is only a tiny fraction of that area.

The Schrammsteine area of Elbsandstein.  The thin spire at center is Tante (Aunt) and the formation to the right is Mittlerer Torstein.  The furthest left spire is the Schrammtorwachter.

The Schrammsteine area of Elbsandstein. The thin spire at center is Tante (Aunt) and the formation to the right is Mittlerer Torstein. The furthest left group of spires includes the Schrammtorwachter.

To get a sense of the place, we picked a loop hike known as the Schrammsteinaussicht. This passage twists and turns through a narrow labyrinth of sandstone spires, utilizing a series of ladders, catwalks, and not-quite-enough railings for a family with two small kids. Think of it as Saxony’s version of the Angel’s Landing hike in Zion.

Logan negotiating one of many ladders on the hike to Schrammsteinaussicht.

Logan negotiating one of many ladders on the hike to Schrammsteinaussicht.

The hike started in dense forest, but we were progressively introduced to more and more rock. First a narrow canyon coated in velvety green moss, and then a viewpoint that revealed distant sandstone spires. After more woods, we passed through a grove of towers on the order of 100 feet tall.  The most impressive tower in this are was a broad, twin-summited spire known as Schrammtorwachter (which means something like “Schramm Gatekeeper”—a fitting description).  At this point I spotted the first sign of rock climbers—an iron ring bolt located about 20 feet up the Schrammtorwachter’s south face.

Kate peeking through a narrow chasm below the north side of the Schrammtorwachter.

Kate peeking through a narrow chasm below the north side of the Schrammtorwachter.

Elbsandstein is legendary for its strict ethics. No metal protection is allowed, except for the rarely placed iron ring pitons. The cams and nuts that we consider essential to traditional climbing are not allowed for fear they will damage the soft sandstone. The primary form of protection is nylon cord, slung around natural features when possible, or tied into elaborate knots and slotted into constricting cracks (in recent years new types of “soft” protection have been introduced, like nuts made out of layered nylon webbing). Needless to say, this protection is dubious at best, especially when placed by neophytes.

A pair of experienced locals approaching a route in the Bastei. Note the elaborate “Monkey Fist” knots dangling from the Frau’s harness. These are slotted into cracks for “protection”. Apparently they work to some extent.

A local climber approaching a route in the Bastei area. Note the elaborate “Monkey Fist” knots dangling from her harness. These are stuffed into cracks for “protection”. Apparently they work to some extent.

A typical protection ring.  Apparently these were scrounged from railroad yards during the Cold War.
A typical protection ring. Apparently these were scrounged from railroad yards.

The rings, on the other hand, seemed quite solid. The piton blade is easily an inch wide and a quarter inch thick, and the ring material is beefy as well. However, all rings must be placed ground-up, and may be placed no closer than 3-meters apart. No three rings can be within 10 meters. It’s definitely not sport climbing, even on routes that offer ring protection.

Once I picked out a ring, I started seeing them quite frequently. Even the blankest, steepest looking walls seemed to have rings in the most inconceivable places (although the stone was rarely overhanging, except in the case of short roof sections). It was hard to imagine what it would be like to lead up these features with nothing but some nylon cord and a drill bit.

We continued snaking around rocks and through gullies until we reached a series of ladders and platforms that led to the summit. Logan loved it and was really psyched to climb the ladders himself.   Right as we reached the summit we saw a nearby climbing party beginning to descend from the tiny “Tante” (Aunt) spire.

The Schrammsteinaussicht.  Somewhat sketchy for toddlers.

The Schrammsteinaussicht. Somewhat sketchy for toddlers.

The view to the north, with a climber (in white) rappelling off Tante.

The view to the north, with a climber (in white) rappelling off Tante.

On the way back down I made several detours to inspect various features up close. The rock looks very similar to the vertical walls of the Red River Gorge. Extremely featured in places, and quite blank in others. Some if the rock even had iron dike intrusions like those found all over the Left Flank (and other crags) at the Red. The rock was also frighteningly soft in some places. Much of the light gray stone was so soft you could probably dig into it with a small stick. The best stuff was the dark black patina, and some of it formed impressive horns, shallow pockets and incut crimps. The catch was that this patina was quite brittle in spots and frequently hollow and filled with loose sand. Holds could easily snap off or crumble under load. So not only was the gear sketchy, but the rock was suspect.

Kentucky or Saxony?  Hint: if this were Kentucky, the wall would be covered in fixed draws :)

Kentucky or Saxony? Hint: if this were Kentucky, the wall would be covered in fixed draws 🙂

A more typical example of Elbe sandstone.

A more typical example of Elbe sandstone.

Seeing all this amazing rock, all these unbelievable features, and some climbers in action, set off a chain reaction inside of me that grew into an obsession. I had to climb something here. I knew I was ill-equipped—I didn’t have a guidebook , the skills to place protection here, or the time to acquire either, but surely I could find something relatively moderate, with enough fixed rings, to keep me off the deck. I didn’t bring any gear on the hike, so it would have to wait until tomorrow, but the plan was set in motion. Until then it was time to get some dinner in the mythic city of Dresden.

Kate on the hike back down from Schrammsteinaussicht.

Kate on the hike back down from Schrammsteinaussicht.

Dresden is known for its stunning architecture. The city was completely destroyed during World War II, but it has since been painstakingly rebuilt. I’m not really one for cities, but I would have to say Dresden is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. Unlike Barcelona (one of my other favorites) the scenic part of Dresden is really dense and compact. The Altstadt is almost entirely unspoiled and you can easily see the most impressive sights entirely on foot (even with two small kids in tow).

The towering Frauenkirche from the Fest.

The towering Frauenkirche from the Fest.

Our hotel was right in the center of things, so we were able to walk right out our door for a self-guided tour as the sun was beginning to set. A few blocks down there happened to be a Herbst Fest in progress, so we got a quick meal and a beer, Logan got a train ride, and Amelie played in the fountains. After dinner we waltzed through the plaza below Dresden’s most iconic landmark, the towering Frauenkirche.

Logan during the happiest moment of his life (about to start a train ride).  The saddest moment of his life is two minutes away (the end of the train ride).

Logan during the happiest moment of his life (about to start a train ride). The saddest moment of his life is two minutes away (the end of the train ride).

The magnificent Frauenkirche was completely obliterated during the notorious Allied fire-bombing campaign in 1945. I’m a big fan of Kurt Vonnegut’s writing, and surely his most famous book is the semi-autobiographical novel Slaughterhouse V, which follows the non-linear travails of an American soldier imprisoned in Dresden during the air raid. It was sad to think that such a beautiful place was once completely destroyed, but even worse to contemplate the terrible forces that led to it. Apparently the city was also completely destroyed by a Prussian siege in 1760, and suffered serious damage during the German Revolutions in 1848, only to be re-constructed each time. Vonnegut would say “So it goes.”

Frauenkirche

Frauenkirche

For decades after World War II the Frauenkirche was left in rubble as a war memorial, but after Reunification of East and West Germany it was rebuilt to look exactly as it did before the war. In any case, it looked amazing, and the evening light gave all the buildings a glorious yellow glow.

"The skyline was intricate and voluptuous and enchanted and absurd.  It looked like a Sunday school picture of heaven" - Kurt Vonnegut, describing Dresden in Slaughterhouse V

“The skyline was intricate and voluptuous and enchanted and absurd. It looked like a Sunday school picture of heaven” – Kurt Vonnegut, describing Dresden in Slaughterhouse V

The altstadt skyline from the Augustusbrucke.

The altstadt skyline from the Augustusbrucke.

We continued our stroll through the old city, crossing the Elbe River to watch the city skyline fade into darkness before returning back through a maze of architectural masterpieces. Every corner was captivating—it’s the sort of place you could never tire of.

Walking across the Augustusbrucke back into the Altstadt.  The central building is the Residenzschloss (palace) and a cathedral is to the right.

Walking across the Augustusbrucke back into the Altstadt. The central building is the Residenzschloss (palace) and a cathedral is to the right.

The Semperoper Opera House.

The Semperoper Opera House.

The next morning we headed out bright and early to the tourist mecca known as The Bastei (literally “bastion”, or fortification). This is one of those places with a constant stream of tour buses coming and going, and between the hours of 10am and 4pm the place is completely packed with crowds. We were able to beat the rush and get a brief unspoiled glimpse of the beautiful sea of sandstone spires that tower over the meandering Elbe.

The Basteibrucke (bridge) after the crowds arrived. This infamous structure was constructed in 1851.

The Basteibrucke (bridge) after the crowds arrived. This infamous structure was constructed in 1851.

The centerpiece is the multi-arched stone bridge (known as the Basteibrucke) that leads to an old mini-fortress hidden quite well within the rocks. However, the real attraction is the magnificent views. Once again there was a dense layer of fog, which I think really added to the mystique. The fog slowly lifted throughout the day, revealing more and more spectacular towers and expansive views.

More sandstone towers at the Bastei.

More sandstone towers at the Bastei.

This time I brought my kit with me, and I was on the lookout for rings. There’s a nice loop hike that drops down around the Bastei, and I quickly spotted a short, slightly detached tower of stone with a series of rings leading up a blunt prow. With three rings in 50 feet, this was a sport climb by local standards.

The small pseudo-tower I chose to climb. The line began up the white, left-facing flake, then veered right onto the black-streaked face.

The small pseudo-tower I chose to climb. The line begins up the light gray, left-facing flake, then veers right onto the black-streaked face.

Kate was super-not-psyched about my plan, especially after I spent the last 48 hours talking up the danger of the Elbsandstein’s climbs and the unparalleled boldness of its climbers. Now I had some serious backtracking to do to convince her that it really wasn’t that bad and I would be fine. There was a time when I was quite a bold climber, but we’ve been strictly in sport climbing mode since the kids came along. She wasn’t too re-assured by my assertion that the worst-case scenario was a few broken bones.  Apparently “it’s not like I’m going to die” isn’t a very compelling argument.

Passing the first ring.

Passing the first ring. Photo by Logan Anderson

Despite her reservations, I unwrapped my rope and racked up. I was pretty confident when I left the ground. The first bit of climbing to reach the lowest ring was really straight-forward, up a highly featured slab on the left side of the prow. After the first clip, the climb trended right onto a steeper face with dark gray incut edges.   Just as I was passing the first ring a solid looking edge crumbled under my left foot. I was in a good spot and easily avoided coming off, but it really got me thinking about the rock quality. The hold that dissolved under a fraction of my body weight looked completely bomber, like the black patina of Red Rocks. I didn’t have the experience with this type of rock to really judge which edges were solid and which were suspect, so I decided to avoid all the small incuts and instead use larger slopers and other low-profile holds that were less likely to break. This approach made the climbing much more tedious and much less fun, but it kept me on the rock.

The second ring is still a body-length away.

The second ring is still a body-length away. Photo by Logan Anderson

After several minutes I reached the second ring, and from that point I felt pretty confident that Kate could keep me off the ground in the event of a fall. I was able to relax a bit as the angle lessened gradually near the top. With growing confidence I made quick progress to the last ring. I found a highly dubious thread a body-length above the third ring, but I clipped it in hopes that it would re-assure Kate (it didn’t). Soon I was at “the summit”, which luckily had a nice big beefy rap ring. This was probably just the end of the first pitch of some multi-pitch route, but I was temporarily satisfied with my brief sample of the Elbsandstein climbing experience.

A statue of a Monk. The formation is also known as The Monk, and the tower-ette I climbed is at the base of the formation, opposite the camera.

A statue of a Monk. The formation is also known as The Monk, and the tower-ette I climbed is at the base of the formation, opposite the camera.

What I learned is that this is not the sort of climbing area you can experience in one or two days. It would be like trying to experience Yosemite in eight hours. You really need to take the time to just be here, explore the area, and work through the grades as you learn the rock and the protection. Perhaps some time in the future I will have the opportunity to do that, but for now all I really know is that I absolutely want to come back!

More towers.  The formation in far right, in the distance, is  The Locamotive.

More towers. The formation on the far right, in the distance, is The Locamotive.

If I have even the slightest ability as a writer, it should be evident by now that we had a fantastic trip. Shortly after I returned my good friend Fred Gomez (a new proud father) asked me if we would do it again considering the difficulties of traveling with two small kids. The answer is ABSOLUTELY! It was such an awesome trip, easily the climbing highlight of my year, in a year filled with worthy candidates. On the drive home from the airport Kate and I were already brainstorming ideas for future adventures to faraway places. Thanks to all the people who helped make it happen, especially Kate, Logan and Amelie for putting up with a season’s worth of climbing crammed into 17 days.  Thanks to my sister Christina, and her husband Eric for putting us up (and putting up with us) in Weiden.  Thanks to Shawn Heath and his lovely wife whose name I can pronounce but won’t dare try to spell, for showing us around the Frankenjura and insisting that we visit Dresden. Finally, thanks to the entire Trango/Tenaya team for continuing to support my climbing endeavors.

Auf Wiedersehen, und Danke!

Auf Wiedersehen, und Danke!

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

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