Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Uli asked if I wanted to go climbing on the weekend, and we thought we'd climb the Watzmann. But the route had become snowy in the recent cold snap, and likely wouldn't be any fun. I suggested climbing the "4er Weg" on the Östlicher Schoßkopf instead. While I was pretty sure the rock quality on the route would be somewhat below par, it had other attributes that seemed like a good match for the day. The elevation was pretty low (we top out at 2100 meters), the route faces south and east, and while it offers many pitches of climbing (15), it's bolted and not very difficult (V+). My hand was still a bit sore from the accident in August, and I had done no climbing at all, so I felt a bit weak. Finally, I was unsure how I'd really feel back on rock after the accident. This climb seemed like it might offer a good trial run at climbing again!
I picked up Uli and we made the 2 hour drive to the trailhead in Obermieming. A long walk up a dirt road through the Mieming Plateau, then switchbacks up forested slopes led to a series of tiring scree slopes. It's not a fun approach! The East Face of the mountain is quite impressive, a 400 meter wall of rock with quite a few lines along it's length, divided into chimneys, gullies and slabs. From the town the mountain looks like an undistinguished hump because lower walls are blocked by forest slopes, and peaks of the Mieming Range crest are arrayed behind it.
I'd been here once before, Daniel A. and I tried to climb the Goedeke "Ostwand" route (V) several years ago, but we got lost (physically and enthusiasm-wise) after a few pitches. We came to a curious ledge festooned with a dozen bolts. We ended up down-climbing a series of ledges to the north after an aborted attempt at a direct rappel over a massive cliff. I couldn't tell if the ropes touched anything useful, so I prusiked back up the rope, unwilling to descend too far into the void.
Uli and I found the first pitch, marked with paint to separate it from two other climbs that start in basically the same place. I had the first pitch, and ran into trouble immediately. The first bolt was over 20 meters up, actually near the end of the pitch (where there were 3 bolts placed in rapid succession!). I found this mentally difficult. There was a piton much lower, and I clipped it and hemmed and hawed for a while, resting on the rope and remarking how much this reminded me of the terrain where I fell (also a kind of chimney, also wet in the back...though much wetter in that case!). Finally I climbed...well enough, but without feeling "cured" at all. In fact, for most of the climb I rarely found myself looking forward to the next pitch. I found I could do things that were demanded of me, but I wasn't excited about it.
Still, the climbing wasn't all bad. That first pitch had some interesting moves at the end, and Uli led a very good V+ chimney for pitch 2. Clean, solid rock and interesting moves with one foot on each wall of the chimney. It was also well-protected. Pitch 3 had a grade IV chimney with lots of climbing with your back on one wall and your feet on the other. Two easier pitches crossed a via-ferrata installed on a sloping ledge system, useful for emergency descent or to get down from shorter routes on the south side of the face.
Uli climbed an easy face, then traversed left on an imposing slab with a sloping ramp. I led up the slab from this point on it's left side, following the easiest line up and right. There were some tough moves, especially at a little "V" scoop which was extra smooth. One handhold with a broken edge could be used along with some fancy footwork to get by. Whether it was my mental state or just plain old physical weakness, I developed an "Elvis leg" shaking that nearly knocked me off the holds a few moves above. Wow, not my best day, I thought!
Uli came up very easily, then went to the left on a vague 30 meter grade III pitch. He was lost in a sea of rubble, and couldn't find the start of the next pitch. I thought that the right answer would be straight up (the vague topo supported both of our interpretations), and after Uli came back, sure enough I found a bolted anchor straight above. Another grade IV chimney/crack led to another anchor, but then we began to feel we were on a different route. "I think it's Strada del Sole, mentioned in the Panico guide. No worries, it meets up with 4er Weg soon," I said, sure I was right. I led an easy pitch to another belay below an impressive chimney.
Uli did a great job leading this chimney pitch, which turned out to be pretty hard. Near the top, he touched a big buttress of seemingly solid rock with his foot and it exploded from the wall. Suddenly surrounded by flying rocks, I got away with a glancing blow on my shoulders. I cursed like a sailor for a few minutes, mainly irritated that my belay was right in the path of debris like that. C'mon, I thought, this is the Mieminger Kette...the rock here is terrible!
I was heartily impressed with Uli's lead, powering over tough but delicate moves. At the top we couldn't see any bolts, but a long obvious gully led upwards. After 50 meters I had nothing but a series of rotten bushes I'd lashed together. Uli came up and repeated the exercise, finding a fixed nut in a crack at mid-way, allowing us to breathe a sigh of relief at ONE very good piece of protection. We'd clearly lost the route. But I knew that 4er Weg was somewhere to the left. From Uli's sling belay, I traversed left to find it. After a few minutes I saw a bolted anchor above and went for that. Nothing will make you feel more foolish that wandering around on a mountain with a useless rack of quickdraws. "I'm always bringing a rack of nuts from now on," said Uli.
Indeed, we'd found the last 3 pitches of 4er Weg. Dispatching them quickly, we scrambled to the fore-summit where the log book revealed that we were the 5th party to climb the wall this year. Though I chose the route from a popular guidebook, I'm not surprised that the mountain sees little traffic. But we'd had some fun, and the scenery couldn't be beat. Snow had already powdered the northern ramparts of the Stubai and Ötztal peaks to the south. According to the Wandbuch, we were the 5th party of the year. We enjoyed the views for a few minutes, then made a 50 meter rappel down a gully to reach a sloping green terrace.
I found myself starting to feel queasy on this terrain. There was a huge cliff below, and I kept slipping on the tilted scree, grass and loose rock. I asked Uli to stick near me just for psychological reasons. I really didn't trust anything in here. It's funny, Uli and I talked later about the climb and we both had sections we really felt uncomfortable on. For him, it was the mostly unprotected pitches below the summit. For me it was this stuff, by far! After some initial down-climbing, we were blocked by cliffs. Uli found a just-doable way on the other side of a gully, then making short switchbacks on steep grass to finally reach the basin.
Lots of scree-skiing followed, often fun. But when the carpet of small rocks runs out, you get stranded on bare 40 degree dirt slopes with tiny embedded pebbles. We tried to link pockets of deeper scree, and eventually reached our pack at the base of the route. Well, Uli did. I started slipping uncontrollably about 30 meters away and gave up!
We hiked down, having a good laugh about a cliff that was polished white with water. We joked that local hardmen like Heinz Zak might solo climb it in the moonlight. The polish on the smooth wall would be so great you could see your face all the way up. The climb would be named "Spiegel, Spiegel, an der Wand..." (Mirror, mirror on the wall), and doubly frightening because you could see your face as you carefully ascended!
Sometimes imagining something ridiculous and laughing at it distracts you from your own ridiculous activities, no?
Thanks Uli for a safe climb and return.
More pictures here.