David and Mike were going to fly into Munich to visit the Eastern Alps and Eastern Europe more generally. As it turned out, I could take a day to climb, and the weather forecast looked pretty good after many days of rain. They came over Friday afternoon, and we headed out to the Wilder Kaiser and the Griesener Alm Saturday morning. Knowing these guys are hella good rock climbers, I was thinking we could climb the Duelferriss on the Fleischbank, which has been on my wish list for years. But to my dismay, the expected light rain around 2 am had extended through the morning, and we soon found ourselves a bit shell-shocked in the Gasthaus at the Alm, drinking coffee and wondering when the rain would stop!
Finally, at about 10 am, the sky looked a little brighter. We packed the piece of bread and butter I'd bought as our sole food for the trip, along with another piece of bread with the anis spice in it (not a great idea!).
No sooner did we start hiking, but it rained again. I talked a lot about how English climbers are very hardy and climb cheerfully in the rain, hoping we'd be suitably inspired. No one was fooled by such play acting! Still, we kept hiking up, wondering what we'd actually do in the end. We'd already eliminated the Duelferriss as an objective, and settled on two ideas: The Nordkante on the Predigtstuhl (IV) and the "Via Classica" (V+), the former a beautifully scenic but easy mountain climb, the second a modern bolt-protected rock climb. Having decided the Nordkante would be better in the rain, we walked under Via Classica" and saw two parties starting the route, to our surprise. "Glad somebody is optimistic!" we thought.
We hiked up into the Steinere Rinne, it was cool to show this interesting landscape to Mike and Dave. Mike got some good pictures of climbers on the Fleischbankpfeiler with his enviably cool camera. I'd climbed the route before, taking a variation start that is suggested for when there are parties above (and potential rockfall). This time, for variety, we'd do the normal start. We scrambled up the first pitch, but pretty soon the loose and occasionally wet terrain made the gully feel insecure. We roped up and belayed the rest of the gully to the notch. Another pitch, this time on solid rock got us to where the two starts join.
"You mean we are only at the top of pitch 5?" said Mike. "And there are 16 pitches?"
His dismay was justified. We were a little behind schedule, but I hoped to make up time in a block of easy terrain ahead where we could short-rope and simul-climb. Pretty quickly, we reached the first "real" pitch of the route, the "Matajek Traverse." This is a really entertaining pitch, where you have to traverse a smooth wall to reach a hidden crack that takes you back up and right of the belay. Mike and Dave were happy to let me lead this, being in "euro-tourist" mode! It was really fun, and Dave found a better way to climb it by traversing considerably lower. Well, I hope his variant was as fun as ours!
Another really nice pitch followed, with sustained but easy crack climbing. We continued around a corner and ran into some difficulties gaining the easy scrambling terrain. We had to downclimb a short but loose section of rock that seemed unjustifiably ridiculous. We did kind of a cool move where a sling on a horn allowed Mike to lower past the section. In general, we had to use a lot of gear on this route for a supposedly "bolted belays" climb. Often we didn't find the belays, and just as often I blindly missed them, only to sheepishly see the bolt across from my sling and nut belay 20 minutes later! At this particular difficult point, our topo marked a belay where there was none. The uncertainty of our absolute position added to the stress of the downclimb because it made it easy to think we were in a wildly bad location.
But once past that pesky spot, we could short rope for a few pitches. A cloud had bedeviled us for a while, but now it was gone and we knew it wouldn't rain for some hours. We'd been granted a reprieve from rainy retreats and other such nasty difficulties!
Really nice, easy climbing on the ridge led to a notch, then a short pitch below the infamous "Oppelband." This is a 7 meter crawl around a corner with massive exposure. I tried to get Mike or Dave to lead but they successfully evaded my charms. I started crawling, and soon was bringing the guys over to hilarious grunting noises and soft cries of supplication. Dave got a pretty funny video of Mike coming across. This was fun. Overall, we'd suffered the stresses of bad weather and bad rock. Now, close to the end of the climb, with decent weather, we could laugh a little bit. In fact the next pitch, the last, was really good and gave a nice finish to the climb.
We joked around a bit on the summit, finished our anis bread, and admired the "New Age" crystal that was embedded in the formidable summit cross. The things people think of!
I hazily remembered the descent, but it's amazing how much you forget in a few years. Still, we found the scramble down and around the Middle Peak, to reach the Botzong Chimney. We decided to be conservative and make single rope rappels, not knowing how 60 meter raps would work. But with three people the setup time for each rap is high. We thought about changing over but didn't. At the bottom, I'd lost count of the raps, and after skipping an anchor landed perfectly at the bottom of the part of the chimney we descend. The topo doesn't make very clear, but you are supposed to leave the chimney at this point and follow a scramble route around to the side to reach hiking terrain. Due to confusion about this, Mike and Dave reset the rappel and made one more needlessly. I blame my food-addled brain for not being able to explain why one more rap wasn't needed. Still, soon we were on hiking terrain again, and watching a beautiful sunset paint the walls around us orange and finally a muted pink.
The hike down felt long, and Mike had a bothersome old knee injury. We were happy to reach the stashed pack with hiking poles, and the piece of bread with butter which we shared happily. Now a long march out in the dark. We chatted about various things, and somewhere in here Mike turned into a speed demon with his hiking poles and zoomed past me and Dave. That was funny, then, a creepy voice croaked in the darkness. It was some young fella hiding in the bushes hoping to scare us! "We're gonna kick yer ass!" said Dave. I complimented the young fellow on his timing and timbre. Back at the car, we tried to see if the restaurant would serve us but it was after 10. Oops! That's okay, Burger King awaits!
We enjoyed the climb and the company. I wish I could have shown more splitter cracks or clean dihedrals to these guys used to climbing in Yosemite all the time. But our scruffier mountains would have to do, they have their charms! We all came back to Munich, Mike and Dave crashed in the guest room and we enjoyed spicy scrambled eggs in the morning with hot peppers from grandpa's backyard on Oahu. Thanks to Dave and Mike for a good adventure in the mountains, till next time!
Pictures by me, David and Mike. Awesome to have 3 cameras!