In any other context, ten days seems like a long time, but it’s hardly ever adequate when it comes to travel, especially in a place with seemingly endless alpine terrain like Switzerland. And it’s really not even close to enough when you take into account the fact that I had years of climbing and girl-time to catch up on with the person I was exploring it with.
My friend Desi and I go way back – at least it feels like we do. We started climbing together completely by chance in the States a few years ago, became close friends, and discovered that we were basically the same mind in two different bodies, even after she left and completed her education on the other side of the world. (Most recently, we managed to buy the same car in the same month on separate continents without knowing it.)
However, given the ten days of wonderfully cooperative weather we had to explore Desi’s home country, I think we managed to cram in as much climbing and catching-up as humanly possible, in our typical by-the-seat-of-the-pants style (the same one we used in NYC a few months ago). Here’s the long-awaited synopsis of the crags we hit on our sometimes-frantic, always-humbling whirlwind of a 1000+ km climbing road trip:
The Day Trip – Brändliwand & Murgtal
Brändliwand was my introduction to European climbing, as well as my introduction to limestone in general – and it schooled me. Hard. Every move felt like a disaster. Turns out I have a REALLY tough time reading the routes on the light-colored rock, but I managed to eek out sends on a couple of 6a+’s on top rope, Schwertfisch and Blitz-Donner-Bier.
Later in the day, we drove from Brändliwand up into the mountains to explore the boulder fields of Murgtal. Here, I received my first lesson in alpine safety. The place is fairytale-level idyllic, a deep grassy pasture cut in half by a lively stream. But it’s also the site of many recent, dangerous rock falls. Apparently, it isn’t unusual to be working a boulder problem and come back one day to find the entire boulder flipped over with your project buried in the dirt. Or a giant hunk of the mountainside sitting somewhere it wasn’t before.
As Desi cautioned me when we got out of the car, Murgtal is the kind of place where if you hear something rumbling and the cows start running, you run like hell too.
The 30-Second Approach – Lungern
Actually, 30 seconds is generous – the distance from the parking area to the crag at Lungern is better measured in steps.
After easing my aching muscles up a friendly 5b (Rupfer) on lead, I jumped on the Limestone Struggle Bus again, making it most of the way up a long 6a+ (Absolute Beginners) on TR before gassing out a few bolts from the end.
Desi cleaned and we headed down to the nearby lake, Lungernsee, to soak our feet and slowly demolish a box of truffles before heading over the mountains.
The Outdoor Gym – Schlänngen
By the time we got to Schlänngen, I was thoroughly destroyed, physically and mentally. Luckily, this is the ultimate spectator crag, rearing up from the valley floor behind a golf course.
After doing what felt like gladiatorial battle to send a 6a+ on top rope, I settled back to belay and watch Desi crush alongside climbers from Australia and Germany.
One day, limestone and I will come to an understanding, and when that day comes, I will be back for this crag, because it is just so darn cool!
The Via Ferrata – Pinut
Ah yes, via ferratas – the oddball offshoot of climbing that I never thought I’d try, but that I’m incredibly happy I did! It’s more of an intermediate between hiking and climbing – all the mind-boggling exposure of a big multi-pitch route, with the security of being clipped into a steel cable and having (mostly) solid ground under your feet.
We topped around midday, took a break in the summit hut to snack and drink our Strongbow summit ciders (thank you, Sport Beat!), and then descended back to the car on the Roman road. From approach to descent, we spent about 5 hours on the mountain (we elected to hike the full descent instead of picking up the bus halfway).
The Gneiss Place – Sobrio
After a very short side trip to chase an Italian waterfall, I was happy to get my hands on something more familiar. Climbing on the gneiss of Sobrio felt like climbing at home. Neither of us were feeling 100%, battling injury (Desi) and illness (me), so the day was short. Desi scoped out her next project and I led a 5b and a mystery climb that wasn’t in the guidebook (probably also a 5b?), before we retreated to Da Norma, where we were staying, to rest.
A sidenote about Da Norma: the owner, Norma, is one of the most ewonderful human beings I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and I highly recommend staying with her if you’re in the area.
The Epic Approach – Ascher
I was a bit hesitant about going to Ascher after getting my butt so thoroughly handed to me by the limestone crags earlier in the trip, but Desi, in her infinite patience, managed to convince me that even if I didn’t climb a single thing, just going to see the place would be worth it – and man, was it!
A cable car, a cave that leads to a church in the mountain, and just past the world-famous Berggasthaus, bolted alpstein routes as far as the eye could see!
I ended up leaving my first piece of gear behind when I bailed off a route at Ascher, but it was worth it. Not only did I get to experience a place most only see on the cover of magazines like National Geographic, but I learned from that unfinished route. I learned from my partner. I learned from the rock. I learned from every not-so-great hold, every new move, every approach, and every person that I met along the way and my adaptability as a climber is better for it. And, you know, I think I’m okay with getting schooled.
This is only a fraction of the 1000+ photos I took on this trip, all with either a Samsung S5 or a Canon Powershot SX610. For more, follow me on Instagram (@abreemurch).