Fürenwand Klettersteig: Big Wall Big Fun

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Author:  Pete
Location:  Fürenwand Klettersteig, Switzerland

Sunday afternoon in the mountains!  Drove an hour south to Engelberg where we usually ski in the winter.  The encompassing valley is rife with steep walls and just south of town is an area called Fürenalp, which has a tremendous klettersteig.  The day started with a little bit of cloud cover, giving a moody atmosphere.  Miranda and Leonie hiked the approach to the base of the climb and then took a grandparent-approved cable car to the top for their own hike.

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Klettersteigs, also called via ferratas, are protected climbing routes found throughout the Alps.  Climbers ascend a cliff face through odd mix of aggressive hiking, usually scrambling on all fours, easy-grade rock climbing, and precarious navigation of hammered in re-rod holds for hands and feet.  You’re always clipped into a large gauge cable bolted along side the route with two specialized carabiners.  A fall might leave you a little scraped up but the burly cables will keep your tuckus on the mountainside at least.

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It had rained the night before so the rock was wet, making the 2,500 foot climb feel even more spirited.  Our friend Jen knows the route well and introduced me to the climb.  There’s some incredibly wide open space up there; you’re a thousand feet above the valley floor on sheer rock that would be really difficult to climb.  That’s what makes the klettersteigs so neat.  It allows easy access parts of a big wall that would take a good deal of time, equipment, and logistics to climb.  Klettersteigs do away with all that fuss prohibitive for a Sunday afternoon hike and dump you right into the good stuff.  Exposure!

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It wasn’t just us yahoos up there; locals young and old were out climbing too.  I was glad.  As things got progressively wetter up the crag I started to feel like we might have underestimated the conditions.  The hammered-in holds and smearing foot placements became slick.  None of the locals seemed to mind the literal waterfalls through which we followed the route.  On some sections of rock without features to cling there are U-shaped holds to stand on and grab like a ladder.  Other sections have only straight bar out of the slick rock which makes me queazy.  The long lost simian in me kicked into gear and I overgripped until my hands hurt.

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Just before the top of the climb a suspended ladder arches past some overhung terrain.  You can see it at the top of the photo.  The ladder swayed in the breeze; the bars still slick with precipitation and hand sweat.  I kept reaching for my chalk bag where I store my confidence when I’m rock climbing.  Should have brought that thing even just as an emotional crutch.

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At the top of the climb, once off of the God awful ladder, we unclipped and walked a short way up to the cute Swiss chalet that adorns all Alpine hiking peaks.  Miranda made it back from her hike and we had lunch and cider with an incredible view of the glaciated mountains.  Leonie was all smiles on the way down in the cable car and made quick friends out of our fellow passengers.  Mountains, friends, and fun!  A great Sunday!

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Climbing Cerro Plomo Ice Falls

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Author: Pete
Location: Cerro Plomo, Santiago, Chile
[S 33° 14′ 13”,  W 70° 12′ 50′]

 

Back on Cerro Plomo.  As we retreated from the storm just five days prior, Sergio remarked that the ice falls just below camp Federación hadn’t been so well formed in many years and that we should go back the following weekend.  I thought it was a dehydrated, altitude-delirious bluff, but there we were the following weekend.

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Casey Overton in tow, we drove up early Saturday.  At Tres Puntas we loaded packs and waited for a new mulero to ferry our heavy ice climbing gear.  No show!  After an hour we set out with heavy hearts and heavier packs.  In three hours we were setting up camp below Federación.

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After lunch we slogged gear up to the base of the icefalls to help Queso acclimatize and make our climb day a bit easier.  Played with the gear a bit , climbed a touch on the low-grade stuff unroped.  Casey used Darlene’s axes and I used a nice pair of sponsored Petzls!  P1110909

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The ice as plasticy and forgiving.  Hero ice.  As we hiked back down through the steep scree we hoped it would be the same quality the next day.  Queso and I slept in the tent, which was plenty big enough for three, while Serg bivied outside.  Doesn’t like our smelly feet, I think.  Actually, I’m sure he was trying to soak up the mountains.  He’s off to Dubai next year.  Nido will miss him, and so will all his friends.

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We slept long, maybe too long, but it was glorious.  I hadn’t had a chance to catch up over the week.  So we slept, and I didn’t mind.  Loaded light packs and scrambled towards the icefall we were eyeing.  An hour to the base in sucky scree, then some time outfitting.

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First picks were sunk at ten-ish, at a respectable altitude of ~12,000 feet.  Sergio legged the lead.  The first part of the pitch was low angle, then turning more vertical.  I belayed as he swung picks and his fancy center-point crampons.  Show off.  He made it look easy, like most things he does, placing ice screws along the way.

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Showers of ice chunks of varying size and destructive capacity plummeted down at us.  At first it was fun, a bit like frogger, but eventually I lost the game and got cracked with a baseball size fragment from 100 feet up, right in the belay hand.  Owwie.  I dodged and weaved more apprehensively.  Serg climbed unhurriedly, and in the afternoon sun the rain of ice began to mix with rocks, cracked off gully face some 300 feet up by the expanding, sun-lit face.  By the time your eye would track them they’d be already going 200 mph, dark streaks embedding into white snow around us.  Glad to be wearing helmets.

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When Sergio had set a top anchor Casey and I were ready to climb.  Happy to warm up from standing in the snow!  We climbed simultaneously on either side of the twin ice ropes.  Queso a bit above me, raining ice shards down my neck.  We climbed slow.  You end up in an easy rhythm.  Kick, kick, swing.  Kick, kick, swing.  That, mixed with some heavy breathing from exertion at altitude.

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The rock rain increased and by the time we were all at the belay station a quick assessment made descending a good call.  We were too late, climbed too slow, and had too much fun in the process.  Tired and happy with our success, we set about making a V-thread, two ice-screw holes meeting in the ice with a loop of webbing that we rappel off of.  As the clouds cruised over our heads just outside the sheltered couloir we rapped down off the ice.  I was last, and therefore the only guy trusting only the ice.  I slapped it a kiss for good luck and descended the 150 feet.  So fun.

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Packed up and trudged back to camp, our gear stained white from the minerals in the ice.  Our bodies melted a good deal while kneeling on the climb.

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I’ll be very sad to leave the people and places that have come to mean so much to me.  This is likely my last hurrah with Sergio and Cerro Plomo.  Goodbye my good friends.

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