Sunday, 8 August 2010

Fusssteinkante, 9th July 2010

Mario belaying me on the Fußstein Nordkante

The Fussstein Nordkante (north ridge) is a 14 pitch granit climb up a 3380m high mountain with a glacier approach. This makes it something unusual for Austria, since most of the rock climbs there are on lower limestone mountains, and the higher glaciated mountains popular for their classic alpine routes do not mostly offer good rock climbs. It is a super route on mostly excellent rock that would probably be very popular with British climbers climbing VS.

Getting to the hut

Felix Luetkenherm, Mario Senke and I approached from the Geraer Hut up the true right bank of the glacier, i.e. its eastern edge. Apparently the approach can become tricky later in the season, but we did not have to cross any open crevasses, and there was no bergschrund either.

On the glacier

The first pitch

The first pitch starts straight away up solid rough granit. The climbing is reminiscent of routes at Bosigran such as Little Brown Jug (VS 5a) or Variety Show (HVS 5a), but less steep and so correspondingly easier. We had the topo from, which probably has more right than it has wrong, but I still found myself searching for the belay at the top of this pitch, which turned out to be a bit higher than it appeared on the topo. Further up we climbed entire pitches not marked on the topo, and totally ignored a puzzling traverse through an overhang that seemed to exist on the topo but not in reality. Some of the belays have been reequipped with bolts, but a lot haven't, and we ended up building a lot of our own, which was in fact never a problem due to the numerous cracks.

Mario in the middle of the route

After the first pitch and a half the quality of the rock went down a bit and the climbing turned from easy VS fun on solid rock to VDiff and Severe meandering for a few pitches. A traverse right took us into a gully, the walls of which we then climbed for three or four pitches to a loose ledge. From here the route goes up a series of cracks just to the right of the ridge crest, offering four or five pitches in a row of wonderful hard Severe or easy VS standard climbing on rough solid rock before the angle eases and some easy ground leads to the top.

Mario with some belay ingredients

The mountain itself has a really nice summit. We admired the view briefly, but we had spent such a lot of time on route finding and climbing the wrong way only to downclimb again and try somewhere else that we wanted to get on with the descent. We abseiled to get to a ledge which leads to a col on the ridge connecting the Fussstein to the Schramacher, from where a big scramble, marked with blue and red paint, leads perhaps 700 vertical meters down the walls above the corrie on the west side of the mountain. By the time we got back to the hut it was dark and we had missed supper, so were very grateful when the warden's wife cooked us up some soup.
On the wonderful slabs of the upper pitches

In summary I would say that this is probably the best route of this grade which I have done in Austria. I would guess that it matches the taste of a great many British climbers, offering the sort of rough, solid and easily protectable rock they know from home, but in a high mountain environment on a route 450m long.

On the descent from the Fußstein

Post Script: The Nordkante is by far the most well known route on the Fussstein, but it is not the only route here. Further to the left is the slightly harder Direct North Face or Aschenbrenner/Mariner, while to the right the Fluch/Brankowski is longer but apparently a
little easier. The north face of the Sagwandspitze overlooks the hut directly and offers a small number of longer and more serious routes, including three from the prolific Mathias Rebitsch.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Zwoelferkopf, 4th July 2010

The Waxenstein (l.) and Zwölferkopf (r.) seen from Hammersbach

The Zwölferkopf and the Waxenstein are two of the most prominent mountains above Garmisch. When sitting in a cafe in the town centre or going for a stroll over the meadow it is these two mountains which dominate the view more than any other, despite the higher Alpspitze and Zugspitze slightly further back.

Letterbox on a tree in the middle of the forest on the walk in

I had heard tales of loose rock on the Zwölferkopf, but wanted at least to have sat on its summit once. Michael Stanton and I had planned a trip to the Wilder Kaiser for this weekend, but a bad weather forecast for there together with a slightly better one for Garmisch led to a quick decision to climb the north ridge or Zwölferkante.

Michael crossing the small snow field before the start

The original start, by the red sling marked in the guidebook, turned out to be as loose as its reputation. However, after two pitches we found the first of the newer bolt belays and with them also solider rock. The middle pitches turned out to be as good as can be hoped for on a grade IV route in the northern limestone alps. The pitch lengths between the new bolt belays appeared at times to be longer than marked in the topo, or we might simply have missed some. We had 50m ropes, but if doing this route again I would take 60m ropes.

One of the new bolt belays

The weather forecast we had chosen to believe turned out to be a little optimistic in its prognostications over the arrival time of the thunder storms. Whereas these had been advertised for the evening, it was about two when we heard the first peals of thunder. From this point our interest in taking photographs of the climbing waned and we concentrated on getting to the top. Somewhere around pitch 11 we lost the route, and at exactly this point the cloud came down, the thunder claps became more frequent, and the storm broke loose. Michael made a heroic lead of three pitches of anonymous terrain in pouring rain and hail to get us to the summit.

Michael on one of the upper pitches

It turned out that our difficulties were not yet over. At first we descended easily over solid scrambly terrain in the direction of the Höllental. Very quickly, however, the descent led leftwards and then out over steep grass slopes in the direction of the Mittag Scharte, the saddle between the Zwölferkopf and the Waxenstein. Beneath us the slope steepened and dropped out of sight into the Mittag Schlucht hundreds of meters beneath us. From the saddle we then traversed southwestwards at the same height as far as the Riffelkar, and found our way down in more or less continuous rain to a very welcome plate of Kaiserschmarrn in the Höllentalangerhütte. Finally at nine o'clock we got down to the valley again.

In summary, a nice climb and a full mountain day out, but a descent not for beginners or for those of a nervous disposition.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Two Innsbrucker climbing books

I have just read two books about climbers from Innsbruck, the Austrian city in the heart of the mountains.

Hermann Buhl's Nanga Parbat Pilgrimage (German title Achttausender Drüber und Drunter) does not need much introduction. I knew in advance that it describes his climbs in Austria, followed by the expedition in 1954 on which he made the first ascent of Nanga Parbat.

For anyone familiar with climbing in northern and southern Tirol it is very entertaining to be taken on a tour of known routes sixty years in the past. Buhl climbs on the Schüsselkarspitze in the Wetterstein, on the Fleischbank, the Predigstuhl and the Maukspitze amongst numerous others in the Wilder Kaiser, various better forgotten horror routes in the Karwendel and Stubai Alps, the Solda on the Marmolada and the Eisenstecken on the Rotwand. Taken individually these accounts are all very readable, compared to, say, the awkward prose of Joe Brown in The Hard Years. Read together, however, a pattern seems to emerge: Buhl succeeds in roping in another unsuspecting innocent for a madcap mission (Rainer/Aschenbrenner on the Schüsselkarspitze in January, Solda on the Marmolada in winter, etc.), they climb some overhangs, the weather turns bad, death seems almost certain, and against all odds they survive to climb another day.

It is a while since I read many climbing books from this era, so I am comparing from memory. However, while Lionel Terray doesn't set out to entertain the readers of Conquistadors of the Useless (French title Conquerants de l'Inutile) with a laugh a minute, and while he too survives some epic brushes with an untimely end (e.g. on the second ascent of the Eiger North Face), I didn't end up with quite the same impression of a never-ending cycle of staring death in the face, surviving by the skin of one's teeth, and then going and doing it again. Friendship too plays an important role in Terray's book, particularly his friendship with Louis Lachenal. While I don't know what role Buhl's climbing friends played in his life, I certainly didn't get to find out through reading his book.

The great French mountaineers of this epoque are mentioned twice. Buhl and his partner find themselves climbing the Eiger North Face at the same times as Gaston Rebuffat and Guido Magnone, and indeed join forces with them at the White Spider and in the exit cracks as the weather turns and the climb becomes a battle for survival. On the march out from Nanga Parbat Buhl then reflects bitterly on the acrimony within the expedition, comparing it unfavourably but almost certainly naively with the French Annapurna expedition, an "expedition of friends" as he puts it, showing that he was unaware of the bitter controversy surrounding Maurice Herzog's death-or-glory push for the summit which was to cost Louis Lachenal his fingers and toes. (This was probably generally not known outside the inner circles of French mountaineering at that time.)

Tom Patey, meanwhile, was also a contemporary of Buhl's, but in One Man's Mountains manages to make the most hair-raising of escapades seem like a bundle of laughs. Patey was, however, writing for fellow mountaineers who understood what really lay behind his understatement or lighthearted trivialisation, whereas Buhl was writing for the wider public.

This edition has been abridged in order to make room for a chapter by Kurt Diemberger about the Broad Peak expedition and the transcription of Buhl's diaries from the Nanga Parbat expedition. I don't know whether these have been translated into English, and while I didn't mind having these additions, I would have preferred more Tirolean adventures to the details of Buhl's thoughts on Nanga Parbat.

A totally different kettle of fish is the recently published Wo die Wilden Hunde Wohnen. (The title is a pun on the German title of Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are.) 10 Tiroler climbers from the 70s and 80s, most from the area around Innsbruck, write about their local climbing scene from these years. Some of them, such as Heinz Mariacher or Heinz Zak, are well known to English-speaking climbers, while others, such as Otti Wiedmann or Luggi "Darshano" Rieser are not, despite their considerable influence on their own climbing scene. The period is that at the start of the free climbing revolution (until the early 1970s the usual climbing style in the eastern Alps was V+/A0) and before the bolt revolution, while the tone is rebellious and iconoclastic. Route names become references to literature or mock previous routes - following Heinz Zak's ascent of Schwarzer Spaziergang (Black Stroll) comes a whole series of Spaziergang routes, including a vegetated Grüner Spaziergang and ending with a Graugrüner Spaziergang durch die Rosa-rote Brille (Grey-green stroll through rose-tinted spectacles). When Heinz Mariacher comes close to an untimely demise while soloing in the Rofan mountains at the age of nineteen, he reflects that the bad piton which had nevertheless held his fall is not now likely to fail as he hangs some meters from the rock face and many more meters from the ground, so at first he rolls himself a cigarette and relaxes smoking that before prussiking his way back to solid rock. Possibly not entirely coincidentally a winter ascent of the Solda on the Marmolada is also included. Here, however, Mariacher and Rieser oversleep and only start climbing at midday, but manage to reach the top in three hours and are "down in time for tea".

The action is concentrated in the Karwendel, particularly around the Lalidererwand, and in a number of other areas such as the Kalkkögel in the Stubaier Alps which, to judge from the descriptions here, are not in danger of being overrun and which appear to rival the shale cliffs of north Devon in their lack of solidity. (The Schüsselkarspitze receives surprisingly little attention, despite being just up the hill from Innsbruck and across the road from the Karwendel.) If bolts are mentioned at all, then it is only to reject them, while long run-outs above pegs which scarcely support their own weight are more the order of the day.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Schüsselkarspitze, 24th May 2010

Michael Stanton approaching the Schüsselkarspitze

After a month of May during which it seemed to have rained almost every day we finally got a good weather forecast for the weekend of the Pfingsten (Whitsun) holiday. After such a long period of forced inactivity I was keen to get up into the real mountains again, and so suggested, unwisely as it turned out, the Schüsselkarspitze for another attempt on the Meßner/Sint.

My attempt on the first pitch of the Meßner/Sint

I had walked up the Puitztal on my own a month earlier, and lower down there was now less snow. However, on the summit ridge of the Schüsselkarspitze there was a lot of new snow which had not been there then, and great black streaks of water covered the entire face as the sun melted this snow.

An avalanche coming down the middle of the south face

Armed with slightly better information than on my previous attempt we found the start straight away. However, our attempt was to end half way up the first pitch at the first difficulties, which were soaked with melt water. Cabbage-sized snowballs fell through the air from the ridge above as I climbed, landing some distance out from the foot of the face and burying themselves in the snow field. I climbed back down again, and it took little discussion for us to decide to abandon our attempt there and then. This was probably a wise descision: as we descended in the warmth of the late morning sun the central face was swept by several avalanches.

Descending through old avalanche debris

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Buchstein, 20th March 2010

The Roßstein and Buchstein are two little mountains, or even one mountain with two summits, above the Tegernsee to the south of Munich. They are easy to get to, even early in the year, and have got short sunny south faces with scores of climbs of all difficulties. Michael Stanton and I wanted to take advantage of the warm spring weather to start the climbing season early.
The Roßstein (left) and Buchstein (right)
First of all we climbed the Südverschneidung or Südwandschmankerl on the Buchstein. This is an old climb which follows a corner. It has solid rock, although it gets more vegetated in the upper pitches, and has been re-bolted almost to climbing wall standards. The hardest pitch was graded VI-, although this was generously graded - a V in the Wilder Kaiser is harder.

Michael Stanton on Sahnestückchen
After this climb we abseiled back down again and climbed Sahnestückchen. This is a totally different style of climb, a modern eliminate up the compact slabs to the right of the Südverschneidung and the sort of climb only made possible by bolts. The first pitch, graded VI, is wonderful - tricky technical slab climbing on rough compact rock. The second pitch, graded VII-, is the crux. This turned out to be a one-move wonder, with a desperately hard move which neither of us managed free. At the top we continued up a slippery snow gully to the summit of the Buchstein, which certainly was not pleasant in rock shoes, but gave us a wonderful view out over the Wetterstein to the south, the Karwendel to the southeast and the Rofangebirge to the east.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Bayerische Alpen Nordtirol

Selected climbs guide with 100 of the best-known classics in grades IV - VII from the Oberreintal, the Schüsselkarspitze, the Wilder Kaiser, the Karwendel, the Berchtesgadener and the Salzburger Alps, and some less well-known mountains. Each route receives a hand-drawn topo and a black and white crag photo with the line of the route. Approach and descent are described in German. For the publication date of 2004 the guide does not seem very modern. It has no climbing photos, and even the cover photo is a less than inspiring bum shot. Set against that, it is probably the quickest way to get to know the classic routes in this area.

A second slightly revised edition was published in 2009.

Author: Richard Goedeke
Published: Rother (2004)
ISBN: 3-7633-3016-X

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Wilder Kaiser, Band 1 and Band 2

Topo-based guides to climbs in the Wilder Kaiser. Minimal text in German describes approach, how many bolts and pegs a climb has, and descent. Seriousness rating given on a scale of E1 - E6. This has nothing to do with British E-grades, and is better compared with the P-rating in the Yorkshire gritstone guide. Climbs in the lower grades are described in Band 1 and those in the upper grades in Band 2. As with all Panico guides in this series the topos are also reproduced on pocket-sized pull-out cards. Topos are clear and accurate.

Author: Markus Stadler
Publisher: Panico (2004)
ISBN: 978-3-936740-06-6 and 978-3-936740-13-4

Friday, 26 February 2010

Best of Genuss, Band 1

Selected climbs guide covering the Salzburger and Berchtesgadener Alps. The guide covers climbs in the range from IV to VII, although the emphasis is more on climbs at the upper end of this range. Furthermore the guide concentrates on the many new bolted climbs which have been established in this area in the last two decades. For example, the Hinterstoisser/Kurz and the Barth Chimney, two well-known classics on the Berchtesgadener Hochthron from the start of the 20th century, are ignored in favour of newer but less well-known climbs. On the other hand, the guide contains many routes currently (2010) not described anywhere else. The authors are prolific new-routers in this region and include many of their own climbs.

The guidebook has many colour photographs for inspiration as well as colour crag photos with the lines of the routes. Each climb recieves a well-drawn topo as well as notes on approach and descent in German. Some climbs also receive a pitch by pitch description.

Of greatest interest to visiting climbers is likely to be the Hochkönig massif. A great number of the climbs in this massif are equipped with the controversial home-made Sigi-bolts. These have been linked to at least one fatal accident and subsequently shown in tests by the German Alpine Club (DAV) to show a large spread in failure loads. The authors have consequently decided not to describe any of the routes protected by Sigi-bolts, but still manage to include a large selection of other routes in the Hochkönig.(The DAV has also issue a warning concerning the use of these bolts.)

Authors: Rudolf Kühberger, Gerald Forchthammer
Published: Panico (2008)
ISBN: 978-3-936740-37-0