Gadfly 2005 #1, Switzerland, Ouray
Denver to Calgary flight, January 18 2005.
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I spent January 2-10 climbing and competing in the Kandersteg area, near Interlaken with an extended group of European friends. Straight off the plane I went to Ueschinen, a small but very well featured cliff requiring a pretty hefty ski to reach. There were about 20 plus routes rated M7 to M11 (Robert Jasper’s long traversing route, Vertical Limit, was downrated from M12 to M11 by Ines last year). Ueli Steck and Carlos from Scarpa Swiss and I spent a day there, climbing such classics as Twin Towers (M10), and a bunch of other routes. It was one of the best days of mixed climbing I’ve had in a while, good fun. I was jet lagged and somewhat slow but still had a great time. Ueschenen has the highest concetration of M9-M11 routes in a small area in the world I think, fun cliff.
Ines Papert and I skied up to Breitwangflue the next day and repeated Mach 3, an excellent Robert Jasper route (Robert is one prolific climber!). Breitwangflue is like a slightly larger Stanley Headwall with an industrial cable car for access. The cable car normally carries cows and cheese ($20 for 100 kilos) up and down from a small summer-only village, but the cable car is now open for ice climbers. This is the same area as Jasper’s Flying Circus, which has unfortunately never really formed again. It’s also home to Crack Baby (250M+, WI6) and about ten other good long hard mixed and water ice routes. Mach 3 was excellent, with the crux (rated M9 but closer to M10) about 450 feet straight off the deck and above three pitches of good hard mixed climbing! Drop an ice tool there and it’s going to the ground. I fell off on the onsight, then Ines, who had worked on the route the previous week, sent it while Klaus Fengler shot photos. I then redpointed it and posed heartily, getting some of the best photos of really wild mixed climbing I’ve ever worked on. We need some routes in Canada like this, hard dry tooling up high, it was damn inspirational. Ines and I had a good day, and it was evident that she was climbing very, very well. Mach 3 was one of the finest routes I’ve ever climbed, thanks Robert for putting it up and Ines for going up there. Ines and I both climbed “bareback style,” meaning no spurs or trickery as usual.
On day three of the trip Klaus and I went back up to Breitwangflue and found climbers everywhere. The only thing in the valley that didn’t have climbers on it was a serious-looking pillar, which we climbed at WI6 R due to the fact that the top of it was a very thin sleeve of ice with a creek behind it and then there was an overhang from where the pillar had previously broken… I think ice tends to form in wilder/steeper formations in Europe, perhaps due to the warmer temperatures without savage cold snaps? Anyhow, it turns out that Klaus and I did a likely first ascent. The same day my friends Simon and Samuel Antamatten did a new five-pitch ice route in a cave… Not a steep cave, an actual dark cave inside the mountain with vertical wild ice and mixed terrain in the dark. Only in Swiss!
If anybody is thinking of climbing in the Kandersteg area I really recommend it, amazing place with something for everybody. Temperatures in Switzerland really fluctuate, January is the best month for reliable conditions.
I did my show to a packed hall Friday night; as I speak no German I did it in English, and amazingly the crowd seemed to enjoy it. I find the ability of Europeans to speak so many languages inspiring, you sure as hell couldn’t do a show in French in western Canada or Spanish in the States and get away with it, thanks to everyone for putting up with my language skills. Thanks also to BD Europe and Christian Jaeggi for having me over.
The Kandersteg festival and comp was good fun, a small tower structure that provided excellent dry tooling boulder problems, proving that you don’t need a huge budget to make a cool competition. I wasn’t going to compete then saw the cool lines, next thing I know I was signed up, game on! In the qualifiers Ines, Simon Anatamtten and I were all pretty worked from climbing the three days before the event but still managed to qualify, then we all got worked in the finals. Marcus Bindler won the men’s, and Sandra Wielebnowsky won the women’s. In the finals spurs weren’t allowed, which made things much more interesting, nobody could “bivouac,” as one organizer put it, on the route. Marcus was incredibly strong, showing that the ability to climb 9a (15a) does translate to drytooling! The whole event was a good time, and on Monday I was on a flight back home after climbing five days out of seven, perfect. Thanks to Stefan Siegrist and Roger for the hospitality (there were something like five or us crashing on their floor…).
http://ulrichprinz.de/alpin/ch/breitwang/ (and lots of other routes, this guys gets around)
http://bergsteigen.at/de/Bericht.aspx?ID=317 is for the guidebook. Don’t worry if you can’t speak German, there’s enough English-speakers to get you around.
I first competed at Ouray back in ’98 or so, when Jeff Lowe was running the show and the competition was called an exhibition. I’ve always liked Ouray, primarily for the people who live there and work on the festival. I don’t think there’s another town in the world that does so much volunteer work for a festival. The positive energy is palpable at all the events, and this more than anything is why I came back to Ouray. I’ve pretty much retired from serious competition climbing; I’ll do one if I’m in the area for a show or something, but I’ve just done enough over the years, only the positive energy of the locals in Ouray could bring me back to compete.
Ouray is an invitational only, and generally attracts some of the top climbers. Harry Berger, Aljaz Anderle and Ines Papert came over from Europe. Ines, Harry and I had all competed together last week in Kandersteg—I’m doing my best to support the airline industry this year, crazy travel. Anyhow, the comp was good fun. The route started with about 60 feet of WI5 to a re-belay platform followed by another 30 feet of drytooling to a crux mixed section. I’d rate it about M9-, and Harry, Ines and I all climbed it. Ines climbed close to last, and knew from the crowd’s roar that Harry and I had likely sent the route. She came out climbing hell-bent for the chains, and ran through the drytool section, twice blowing tools and catching herself before falling—it was clear that she wanted to send the route as fast as possible, and did, beating me and Harry by a few minutes to win the overall title (I was second, Harry third). Ines is totally focused on her climbing career and it shows; she is climbing better than any other woman today both on natural ice and in comps. She doesn’t have the pure power of Harry or top male competitors (she didn’t place well enough to make the men’s finals in Kandersteg’s bouldering event and said, “I think in bouldering it’s harder for women”), but she is on fire for climbing mixed routes. It was cool to see! I’ve heard the line, “How does it feel to be beaten by a woman?” more than once lately--it feels good to be beaten by someone who is fully focused on going hard on competition routes, male or female. Expect more from Ines, she is pushing hard and strong mentally.
Aljaz, Louis-Julien Roy and I all climbed without spurs. This didn’t make any difference down low on the route as it was technical but relatively easy (maybe M7+ low, most people fell when a tool skated as they started to get a little pumped, not from pure pump), but they were an advantage during the finishing harder mixed section. I’ve written about how I feel about spurs and tool trickery enough, after Kandersteg and this season I expect spurs to go the way of knee-hook bars, umbilical cords and other add-on technology since made obsolete in the quest to climb more with less.
Isaac, the Huismans and a few others had the awful experience of having a female climber crash to the rocks and into the water from the very top of the canyon as they were warming up in the bottom of the canyon. There is no definitive answer as to what happened, but she was on a rappel rope with a locking biner unattached to anything. Good on Sean, Shawn, Shelley and I think Louis for helping out with the rescue—they had to stand in waist-deep freezing water to help. In my mind their assistance and the prompt efforts of Ouray Mountain Rescue deserve to "win" the festival. The organizers let the competitors who helped go at the end of the comp, which was a fair and sporting decision that reflects the good spirit of Ouray. Best wishes to the victim for a full recovery, she was badly hurt. Be careful out there, check it all twice.
The speed comp routes were long, two 80-foot WI5+ routes back to back. In the difficulty comp I had focused not on speed but just getting to the top of the route, and I wasn’t about to lose for lack of speed again. Ines tried to get me to use her Russian “fifi” hook tools, but I filed the hell out of my Viper Fangs, I don’t think the Russian hooks are faster. I had good runs on both routes and won the event, but fish-hooked my leg jumping for the bell at the end of the second route. Pretty cool to pull the tool out of my leg, I now know what fish feel like when the hook comes out. The results are up here.
The rest of the weekend went by in blur of fun clinics, slide shows, alcohol and even the odd bit of climbing.
Overall the event was great fun, a big thanks to all the locals who set routes, cooked breakfast, belayed, helped with the shows and everything else, you all are rock stars. I will go back to Ouray primarily for the people who make Ouray the very special event that it is.