Swiss Climbing: Walen Lake and Säntis

When plans for Kaunertal fell through, I decided to go climbing with my Swiss friends. I talked to Dani who would be working at an expo. He mentioned that both Lippi and Roman were looking around for someone though. Roman agreed to an alpine climb, perfect for the nice weather forecast this weekend. I left for Switzerland straight from work and met up with Roman in Uznach. He greeted me with a box of Toblerone chocolate and a warm “welcome to Switzerland!” We left straight for Gummiswald to hike to a hut for a drink and some fresh air. It was getting dark out, but still light enough to hike without a headlamp. By the time we reached the hut, a pretty thick fog had settled and it grew quite dark.After a while chatting we hiked back down through fog and darkness and drove to Rapperswil to see the town. It is a relatively large town or small city, directly on Lake Zurich. There are pretty, old fashioned houses and cobble streets in the downtown section. The lake front offered a boulevard lined with trees and cafés where you can sit outside. We stopped at an italian café for a coffee before checking out an Australian bar. We talked about our project over a few beers.
After a leisurely breakfast, we got ready for our tour. We drove to Walen lake to an old fashioned ski lift. We rode the chair since we still had to hike over to the rock face a ways. There were already people in the route we planned, so we rested there having a bite to eat and some water until we could start. The rappel down was over the same route we would climb: if too many groups are in the line at one time, it would be too crowded at the anchor points. Our route was a slab that wasn’t too steep but 5 pitches long in a 6a+ route. Slab doesnt often have a lot of holds or placements for the feet. You have to focus on friction with your feet instead. Its really technical which is riviting and painstaking at the same time. We used the mantra “Trust your Feet” over and over in situations where it looked impossible at first, to continue in sections. I constantly felt like I was on the brink of loosing traction. A disadvantage to climbing less vertical, is you scrape over the rocks if you fall rather than into thin air. It would be a VERY deep peeling effect if you slid down the rock here… By the time we reached the end of the 5th pitch, my fingers were killing from the death grip I was using. Using only a finger or two, or the friction of the tips of your fingers to hold your weight, is not my definition of easy! My feet were in even worse shape from pretty small climbing shoes and general lack of technique on slabs. We rappelled back down the route, pleased with ourselves. We picked up our backpacks we left below the route off and had a little more food before hiking back to the lift. The lift had just closed for the day, as we arrived so we hiked all the way back down which took a little longer but was nice. At the car, we decided to go for a coffee and found a great little café in Uznach (I think). After a while sitting and talking, we got pretty hungry and decided to go home and make spaghetti. Roman had some kind of a magnetic English vocab list on his fridge door, actually it is made up of a bunch of single word magnets and you can combine them to make sentences… I was kind of surprised at the vocab words since they didn’t seem too useful for someone learning the language… there were a few common words like father, summer, like, ball, is and so on, but also a slew of weird words like incubate or lucidity! I was curious to know who was responsible for picking the 50 words out! The food was great and after dinner we kind of vegged out and looked at some pictures of their last climbing trip to Greece. We ended up falling asleep watching an old movie on TV… Sunday we awoke to bluebird, excited that we would be able to climb in the sun rather than the cold fog. After breaky, Roman and I drove to the Säntis area which was about an hour away. When we got to the village, we parked the car and packed our gear together. There was a pretty sizable waiting line at the lift up. It had sets of 2 gondolas which were attached and ran opposite of the other two gondolas on the other side of the wire. One pair would ascend while the other pair descended. The whole process took pretty long, and after a short wait, we decided to just hike up. Fog had resettled again into the valley making it kind of difficult to find our way since we weren’t on a trail. We couldn’t really see the rock face we were heading to so we just hiked upwards, for a while. A man was following us and kind of looked at us with skepticism when we turned off trail. Roman said it was a short cut and the man follow us up. Further back we could hear the voices of some older people now also at this crossing, saw us hiking up the hillside and were debating whether or not they should follow us too. After a relatively short hike in the fog, we reached the trail we would have taken from the lift and turned right to head directly over towards the wall. We were finally high enough to be above the fog and in the pure sunshine. It was just beautiful and revealed an endless mountain panorama around us. We could see the face clearly now and headed directly towards it. At the top of the hill, there was a small hut and a cross. Roman took the guidebook out and tried to locate the entrance to the route, one of the more difficult parts in alpine climbing. We were able to discern where our route was more or less, since the drawing in the book was rather good. But we couldn’t see the path which lead up the rock slope to the start of the route. We ended up just cutting cross the field then up a steep hill covered in loose stones which had broken off throughout the years. That was rather strenuous because for every step you take, you tend to slide back down a little as the stones arrange themselves under your foot. We found a kind of a beaten path about half way up the rubble and followed it along a very narrow band which led along the rock wall. There were brittle dried out remnants of a bush on the rock side of the slope which allowed even less space on the path and kind of forced us to keep to the right side of the path which was somewhat damaged through erosion and only offered a steep drop at the edge… not very reassuring! We reached a flatter area where our trail continued up on the rock band itself along the face and required some careful steps and the use of our hands for safety. I always find climbing (or in this case traversing) with a full backpack to be somewhat cumbersome… not because of the weight but the bulkiness and the packs own momentum which can kind of through you off balance. Compared to yesterday, this 6a+ route was a whole different ballgame. The wall was much steeper and less slabby, which I figured would suite me better. Regardless, I “allowed” 🙂 Roman to lead the climb, very generous huh?! His climbing style is rather fluid, making difficult parts look pretty easy. The only way I could tell if a spot was hard, was that some places took him longer to climb than others. I had the opportunity to discover why that was, first hand. About 10 meters after the very start of the long pitch, there was an insanely hard spot which required some massive psychological blocking to continue on. There were literally only a few dents to stand on and a “fantastic” 2 finger hole to hold with the right hand. The left hand was kind of useless with nothing to hold on to. Boy did that take some time to work up the courage to try the move… the thought of loosing it, when you have a finger hold, is less than appealing… so with a sickening feeling in my stomach I breathed in and out and went for a dynamic motion, almost jumping for a different hold with left, to have enough time to get my fingers out of the hole on the right, and reach for a jug (nice big easy hold like the handle of a jug) just past the left hold. WHEW!! I grabbed it! Boy did I let out a sigh of relief! Great I though… this first pitch is only rated a 5c and I nearly dynamo-ed … and we had 6 more pitches ahead of us! The rest of the pitch went pretty smoothly… my brain was already turned off and my heart was still racing at like 500bpm thanks to my little crux at the beginning… I was totally out of breath as I reached Roman who was grinning down at me… “Cool route eh?” He asked… I couldn’t answer yet… man oh man! It made me feel a little better to hear him say that the route was harder than rated. I was anxious to see what was ahead of us if that was only a 5c. I told him that I didn’t envy the lead climber and he grinned back at me. We swapped the gear and he started up the next pitch. This one took even longer than the first one did and I was pretty relieved that it was rather short and he would be able to see me the length of it which was not the case on the last pitch. Sometimes you can feel kind of alone when you are at a hard spot and cant see anyone who can give you moral support… that is definitely one advantage to sport climbing, your buddies root you on. But at the same time, its an interesting process dealing with those situations yourself too. I began the second pitch after Roman had me on belay… funny enough, I raced up this one without a problem. I guess I must have found a different solution to the hard spot where Roman had some problems… of course everything is much easier as the second climber too. We continued up the face and as we reached the top of the 4th pitch, it getting late. We had to break the climb off and start rappelling down, in order to meet up with Dani on time. We knew that we would likely not have enough time to complete the face since we hiked the entire approach. The fog that we had hiked in stayed down in the valley filling the pockets left by the mountains. It looked like some kind of whipped cream ocean where the mountain tops peaked through like islands. Sooo majestic! I don’t know how far we could actually see, but it felt like you could see into eternity. It was really breathtaking. Roman got ready to rappel the first pitch back down and handed me the camera. I started taking lots of pictures and was almost reluctant to have to leave the stand and the beautiful panorama. But we were hungry and tired and looking forward to meeting up with Dani. We hiked back along the rocks to the narrow trail which took us back to the rubble hill, where we found the real trail which we hadn’t found on the way up. We followed that back to a little road that lead to the hut and took some last pictures before hiking back down to the valley… You can clearly see the sugar deficit in our goofy pictures! We hiked directly to the cafe where Dani and Sara were waiting for us once we reached the bottom. Following that chose a pizzeria just down for some real food. Roman, Dani and Sara were all excited about their upcoming trip to Greece and were telling stories about the last trip and other funny situations. All good things must come to an end as the saying goes, and since we all had a long drive ahead of us, we said our goodbyes. It was fantastic to have finally gotten back onto an alpine rock climb and I was really lucky that I was able to go with Roman since he kept me laughing the whole weekend. I cant wait to get back into Switzerland with those guys when they are home from Greece!


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