I went to Switzerland for a brief 10 days recently on my tour of continental Europe. I was staying mostly in the small town of Wadenswil, about a 20 minute train ride south of Zurich, being hosted generously by a friend (Priska) I had met in New Zealand. Initially I had never planned to visit Switzerland when I thought about travelling a year ago, hearing that it was beautiful, but insanely expensive. I stayed at a wonderful lakefront house on Zürichsee (Lake Zurich), an incredible opportunity to be able to swim in the 25 degree water everyday and lounge in the spacious garden.
The first couple of days we went to do some cragging, heading first to the limestone cliffs of Holzegg on the mountain Mythen. An hour or so hike in saw us reach some beautiful grey faces and I was having my first taste of Swiss sport climbing. Difficult to read rock and I thought rather stiff grading compared to what I had experienced in the previous countries.
The following days saw us visit the sport crags of Ibergeregg, Wilderswil and Plattenwand, all over an hour drive away from where I was staying. Having local beer at each of the locations, it became a little bit of a beer tour on the side.
There were plans to do a long bolted multi-pitch at Bockmatli but we were abruptly shut down unfortunately. We were driving there for an hour after a 6am departure only to see rain and thunder on the exact location we were supposed to go (blue skies everywhere else!!!) That was when we defaulted to Plattenwand (Slab forest is the direct German translation apparently) for more single pitch sport climbing. Swiss rock seemed to be consistently difficult to read and stiffly graded, or maybe I was just shit (probably).
On a rest day we drove through Interlaken to take a cable car from Grindlewald to First for a pricey 60CHF. We hiked to the lake Bachalpsee from the cable car station, about 1.5 hours later where we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the Eiger behind a still alpine lake.
Nearing the final days I was heavily recommended Magic Woods, a bouldering paradise down in the Southeast of Switzerland. That Saturday I found myself taking two trains and two buses for a 3 hour round trip for one night at what was to be amazing outdoor bouldering. I met up with one of my host’s friends midway along the journey as she had a birthday party to attend. It was quite the sight and cultural education seeing everyone taking their sports onto the train. There were kayaks, ropes, ice axes, bikes and so on. It was amazing to see! The final bus dropped us right outside the lone campsite at Schmelzi (the name of the bus stop).
I started out quite clunky, having a little trouble on a 6a traverse, consisting of moving hand over hand and shuffling the legs along; a kind of movement I have never encountered before. I started to get into the hang of things, surprising myself by getting a 6c (V5) clean after a few attempts. I then amazed myself flashing one of the classic 6c’s in the Woods, U-Boot. A much longer, pumpier version of the first 6a I did. There were around 8 people projecting it with equally large amounts of boulder pads to cover the long boulder. I felt pretty bad-ass flashing it. I flashed another 6c and climbed an incredibly soft, but fun 7a+. Spent the night and the next afternoon bouldering and then I had to leave back for Wadenswil, just when I was starting to enjoy it!
An incredibly scenic forest which was definitely “Magical” with the glacial river and beautiful boulders scattered through the woods.
Lakes, rivers and mountains galore! Switzerland was amazingly beautiful and a dream location for the outdoors. Adventure sports everywhere and a tight climbing community (including a volunteer run boulder gym rüümli 94 owned by the inspirational and fantastic Franz and Maya) I encountered there on my travels was splendid to see.
I would rate Switzerland a solid 5/7 in my books, will see you again… When I return for the Eiger…
This is by far the worst airport experience I’ve had (so far). I had an easyJet flight booked to London from Edinburgh yesterday night for 9:15pm. A couple of hours before I was due to depart, I received an update notifying me that my flight had been delayed by 90 minutes. So like any normal person, I moved forward my departure time from the hostel to the airport by 90 minutes.
Later that night, I arrive at Edinburgh airport all ready to check-in and make my way to London when I realize there’s no travel desk so I go to the help counter. I find that there is another man there on the same flight and me and we soon become informed that check-in has closed as we were supposed to check-in with the original departure time in mind. A little squabbling later I get a boarding pass but cannot put my check-in luggage through as they have closed the luggage drop. Great.
Now I find myself with my 70L backpack that I was supposed to check in wondering what the fuck I’m going to do with that and my carry-on bag. I think to myself fuck it, I’ll sneak it through or some shit.
I make my way through security pondering if my 15 year-old bottle of whisky, a supposed present for my brother, was going to make it through. Maybe I could pour the litre bottle into ten separate 100mL bottles…
I watch the bags go through the X-ray machine and the observe in great anticipation the decisive moment when the automated rollers decide whether the trays were clear to go through or had to be inspected.
One by one, all three trays I put through the machine get whisked off behind the poly carbonate shield as I watch in dismay. Fuck. I walk solemnly down to the inspection desk and I’m standing opposite the security staff with my belongings on the stainless steel top. He throws me the routine questions of “why are you trying to hijack this plane” and starts to rummage through my bag. All I can think about is the 40£ bottle of whisky all the way from the Glenlivet distillery.
Turns out I had a whole bunch of other stuff that set off some red flags in the scanner. Slowly a pile of contraband items accumulates as Graham (if I recall correctly) removes them from my bags. A six inch Swiss army locking blade, gross 2£ tingly shower gel, a camping gas canister, my tent pegs (for the second time FFS) and of course, the whiskey. Running through my mind was how incredibly ineffective tent pegs would be as a way of hijacking a plane.
“Everyone get down or I’ll secure you to the cabin floor!”
Anyways, I’m the only passenger in the security hall by this stage and there’s a whole bunch of contraband laid out in front of me and I look like the worst Asian terrorist ever. Like a comedy film playing itself out, except it was actually happening (to be fair, the gas canister I had completely forgotten about). The police are called around for the locking blade and I am reminded of Scottish hospitality again as the policeman comments with a laugh “Been camping hey?”, completely aware of the reality that I didn’t really intend to hijack a plane with a multi-purpose knife (or did I?)
It was a rather awkward situation with Graham, his supervisor, two police officers and me just standing about unsure of how to proceed. Of course at this point I had already explained my predicament with the check-in counter closing and thus having all this stuff that should have gone into the cargo hold. Everyone’s extremely friendly and helpful as the manager attempts to call the airline to see if they can chuck my bag (and whisky) into the cargo hold but of course, no one fucking answers (quality service, easyJet). I also learn that you can carry blades under 6cm onto a plane and that locking blades are illegal in the UK as they take it off for “destruction” (ooooh scary). I can only imagine my unopened, pristine 15 year whiskey was also taken off to “destruction” (see consumption). The policeman makes a report on his spiffy mobile electronic device on my blade and attempted hijacking, so I guess I’m on a watch list in the UK now or just added to the stats of “number of Australians bringing knives onto planes”.
The next part after now passing through security with a significantly lighter pack was getting through the gate with my 70L backpack AND my actual carry-on bag. I’m rearranging shit frantically in the line and set myself on clipping my carry on to my 70L bag so it looks like I’ve just got the one bag. This makes me a very long character as I have a bag, hanging off a bag at the back. Front on, I look normal. But take a side profile and I look like a camel. But I was counting on the gate clerks just looking front on.
Alas! I get through and now I get on the plane. I feel like a ninja getting all my shit on the plane. I’m in the aisle seat and two Scots people are my fellow lane bandits (AKA passengers) and upon learning that Jennifer had missed her flight to Budapest by 1 hour, a flight she had booked 2 months earlier (the irony is not lost), and had to buy new tickets. That made me feel a little better that losing a bottle of whiskey and my terrorist knife was not such a bad deal in comparison. Ends up being the most talkative flight I’ve been on, reminding me that Scottish people are indeed the most friendly people I’ve encountered on my travels!
Then I return to London where everyone is visibly miserable, hurrah!
After a couple of days in the Dolomites in Italy, we decided to head to Lake Garda 2 hours away to do some kitesurfing. Almost a month of climbing had quite frankly depleted our psych reserves and so after making use of the fine weather to complete a 250m climb, we made our way down to Limone, a small town on the west side of Lago di Garda.
A friend had inspired me to visit Garda after his experiences windsurfing there and I was tempted by the opportunity to kitesurf in an alpine lake (freshwater woohoo!) We arrived in Limone later that evening and checked-in to our campsite.
We stayed at one of the two campsites in Limone called Camping Nanzel, both a 3 minute walk away from the kitesurfing school Wind-Riders. A small family run site with it’s own restaurant and mini-mart, it averaged out to be around 16€ a night per person (11 for the pitch and 10 per person/ per night) for a small terraced pitch. The campsite had it’s own charm with a jetty for jumping off, olive trees scattered all around and of course, a view of the beautiful lake.
A rather pricey experience at 70€/day (or rather session) for gear hire and the boat lift but I figured heck, when am I going to be able to kite in an alpine lake again? The fact that rock climbing psych was at an all time low was also a major contributor.
At around 2pm, a boat took us a 10 minute journey up north to one of the kitesurfing spots when we had to launch from the water. I had never launched a kite from a boat before so it was a rather interesting experience to say the least. After unraveling the lines which were connected on land, I connected to the bar and jumped off the side of the boat and swam out parallel to the boat to tension the lines while our driver for the day, Roman, pumped up the kite with the on board compressor. We then proceeded to launch the kite as one would on land but I was quickly tossed around on launching as the lines were tangled.
After being pulled downwind and tossed in the air for a bit, getting confused by which line was which, I released my safety to drop the kite. Roman came and picked me up, apologizing for the tangled lines and we relaunched the kite. This time, the bar was hooked onto Roman and it was a rather awkward moment when he flew out of the boat. Nicky and I were left alone on the boat while our driver was floating around in the water…
After what must have been a quarter of an hour of fluffing about, retrieving our driver and untangling the lines, I was in the water again. This time with a properly set up kite. I had a pretty good session with a 15m North Juice and nearing the end when the wind started to drop off, gathered enough confidence to try some down-loops in preparation to get my kite loop.The wind finally died and we were brought back to the beach, it was a cool experience after a kite session riding on the inflatable boats (like a military Zodiac).
The next day we went to the 6:45AM session in hopes of better wind, this time from the North. After having gotten warmed up from yesterday’s session, the stronger wind was welcomed with open arms (still rather low) as I took out a brand new 13m North Dice. I did some easy boosts and backrolls before building up the courage to attempt a kite loop which I was surprised to get on my first try and the subsequent attempts. After three seasons I had finally broken it! I did my other favourite trick, the inverted backloop, landing it clean once and on another attempt had my face dragged through the water.
After two days of kitesurfing in Garda, I was reminded of the trauma to the knees, feeling rather like arthritis was setting in. My abs were sore and lungs too from being compressed by the harness. It was a brilliant experience and I would have liked to have stayed longer but we had to return the rental car to Venice the following day.
Week four of our tour took us into the land of pizza and pasta, we took a bus from the seaside town of Koper in Slovenia to the domestic airport of Venice, where we were to pick up our rental car (a very manly Fiat 500 it turns out). After four hours on the bus and an hour of fluffing about trying to find the car rental place at the insanely crowded Maco Polo airport, we were off to the Dolomites!
Like straight out of a movie, we drove through quaint old ski towns (The Shining comes to mind for some reason). The mountains started to come into view and the sheer faces were huge and demanded respect. Cliff after cliff, peak after peak, every corner offered endless amounts of amazement and climbing potential (well not potential since the routes are already established).
Driving in the Dolomites however, is a well pain; the windy roads are enough to give you motion sickness with numerous hairpin turns; absurd amount of cyclists blocking you and random bike races means some sections of road are closed unexpectedly; numerous motorcyclists make you shit your pants as they speed around bends, narrowly missing your car.
The area was absolutely huge, spanning something like 80km and we only had time to explore the immediate areas of where we were staying but that already left us plenty to do. Luckily, we ended up in an area known for short approaches and easy descents (my fav).
The first day we arrived we were quickly introduced to the alpine weather where the temperature had dropped at least 15 degrees from Venice and had started to rain. Nicky had picked a random campsite earlier on Google Maps and we were headed. We ended up at Camping Miravelle in Campitello di Fassa, a 5 minute drive west of one of the larger ski towns Canazei. We quickly learned from all of the posters that the IFSC Europe Rock Climbing Championships were being held that day! We went for a stroll outside the campsite and by chance saw the an indoor rock climbing wall and found out the championships were being held at 9pm that night.
Later that night, we went to watch the championships unfold as the climbers alternated between female and male leads. Around 8 competitors later we were on our way out, in the sea of Italian from the announcer we picked out the very distinctly recognizable “Adam Ondra!“. In disbelief, we quickly abandoned our plans of leaving and went to get front row seats (or stands I should say.) The crowd was in suspense watching Ondra climbed and roared as he got a no-hands rest with a knee bar! Sadly, he ended up taking second place to a strong French climber. We perchance saw Ondra hanging out by the side once the comp had ended and quickly went to snap a photo squealing like little fanboys.
Still in disbelief, we recollected the string of unlikely events came together.
Choosing the exact date of the championships to arrive
Choosing the closest possible campsite to the championships
Deciding to take that walk and stumble upon the fact that the finals were on that very night
Staying just long enough to realize that Adam Ondra was there
Staying just long enough (again) to see him walking around after the comp
Needless to say, this was one of those travel stories that you can’t believe happened!
Anyway, back to the climbing!
The next day we scouted one of the larger climbs in the area on the Northwest face of Sass Pordoi. The climb I wanted to do, my big prize, was Fedele, a 500m route on a two tiered face. I wanted to link it up with the 200m Dibona Upper Wall to reach an ultimate height of 800m. A huge undertaking no doubt, I had already forgotten the trauma of Anica Kuk and was looking to go bigger. On our recon, the face looked immense. It was also, wet, very, very wet. Not confidence inspiring when the description in the guidebook states “The route crosses the black streak several times, most infamously on pitch 14, which is usually soaking at best and an impassable waterfall at worst.”
With the rain from the previous day, there was definitely flowing water on the face and I realised that plan was not going to come into fruition. Wanting to see what a dolomites “equipped” belay was like, I free-solo’d the first pitch of the climb stumbling upon a collection of random objects along the way like an old T-shirt, memorial plaque and the “belay”. Which was two slings around a thread, solid.
After abandoning our dreams, we went to climb up the Trenker crack at the first Sella Tower. Just as we got to the bottom of the climb, it started to rain (Yay). Undeterred, Nicky led the first pitch and I followed up and upon looking up from there into the crack, realized it was not going to be worth the misery of climbing wet and cold; we decided to bail (making intelligent decisions! Hurrah!). Shortly after on the way back in the car, it started to pour.
Next day, we went back to our unfinished business and glad to have abandoned it yesterday as the crux pitch would have been impossible wet as it was already incredibly polished. We finished the 6 pitch, 130m climb in around 2 hours rather uneventfully.
Mostly easy climbing with lots of run outs and fixed gear when you need it (sometimes), definitely some monster whip potential on the climb as placements were not as plentiful or obvious. Advice? Be prepared for the “equipped” belays to be a stark contrast from your standard two bolts as they were all large iron rings cemented into the wall, often with no possibly for other protection so you’ll find yourself of one bomber piece of fixed protection belaying. Pitches are easily linked (which we did on a single rope but had to cut short due to rope drag) but thin twin ropes would definitely have been easier with all the meandering of the route (hey we’re not used to twin roping!)
After returning to the car, we went to do some single pitching at Citta dei Sassi as we didn’t have time to commit to another long multi pitch (it was already mid afternoon). The single pitching was rather uninspiring, but then again no one comes to the Dolomites to single pitch.
The following day we were rather lazy and only got climbing at around 11pm, this time tackling a larger, slightly more serious 250m on Piz Ciavazes. A 8 pitch route, Little Micheluzzi direct. Efficient climbing saw us catch up to the New Zealand pair in front of us who were probably two or three pitches up before we started. A couple of route finding issues and delays behind the forward pair saw us complete the climb in a respectable 4 hours and 20 minutes, relatively uneventful. Seems we were getting the hang of multi-pitching! The descent was probably the more interesting part of the climb, descending down a scree gully followed by six or seven rappels/abseils. The continuous challenge of finding the rappel stations was amusing but we got down insanely quickly in about 100 minutes with little trouble (a great contrast from our time in Croatia).
Just when I thought I wouldn’t have topped my 12 hour day on Mt Talbot, I surprised myself by breaking that personal record less than 2 months later in Croatia going for a 350m rock route. Flying in to the coastal town of Zadar, Nicky and I set off to Paklenica National Park in our rental car to begin the Europe tour. The limestone gorge was grandiose with sheer walls towering over us as we walked through, climbers littered on both sides throughout in Klanci, the main single pitching area of the national park.
We warmed up on some smaller multi pitches (100m, 120m) to get back into the swing of climbing after a short hiatus in the days leading up to the big one and also to get used to the famed Paklenica bolting (aka. run-outs). After many days of procrastinating it, one night we said “fuck it, let’s do the 350 tomorrow”. The largest undertaking either of us would have done till date. After some short beta from another group of climbers, we estimated it to be a likely 6 hour mission for the pair of us but added an extra 2 to 3 hours for our third addition to the team, Delfi, for good measure. With nothing more than a bowl of cereal, half a dry sandwich and a little less than a litre of water to sustain me, we set off on our adventure at first light (0515 hrs); after the half hour walk in, we arrive at the bottom of the climb; marked by a giant carabiner.
The route we were looking to do was called Mosoraski, one of the three classic and easier routes up the prominent cliff Anica Kuk. A 10/11 pitch climb that was supposed to be a simple cruise up easy grades with one crux pitch of 6a.
About the third pitch up, things started to go wrong as Nicky went up a chossy traverse on a separate line, bailed and swap leads onto me. After retrieving the gear, I went up a narrow dihedral, laybacking up to the next anchor.
At one point I reached a ledge expecting a bolted belay and felt my spirit dropped as it was devoid of any such equipment. Quickly building a five point anchor with nuts, I set up the belay for the others and halfway through the seconds up the pitch, looked to my left across a ledge to see the bolted belay having a movie-like “fuck” realization.
Tangled ropes, crowded hanging belays, terrible route-finding, uncomfortable run outs, horrible trad placements and other climbing nightmare-y scenarios followed us all the way up in true adventurous fashion. I started girth hitching nuts after using up all my available carabiners and had shocking placements which would probably have held but glad not to have tested them.
Three pitches of 6a, one pitch of 6a+ and one pitch of 6b for good measure later (which we discovered on inspection of the book at the top that we were actually climbing a 8 pitch route called Nostalgia;we had to break it into 10/11 pitches because of rope drag and other issues) we found ourselves on the summit, 12 hours after we started. After Jimmy Chin-ing (as Nicky described it, with inspiration from Meru) the shit out of it hauling Delfi up past the crux sections while Nicky ascended the rope off two prussiks.
Exhausted but happy, we took obligatory selfies and started planning our descent route which was to be no more than an hour or two while we eagerly anticipated getting exceptionally intoxicated on cheap Croatian beer… If we had gone down the right path. A fork at the top, a choice between left and right; a 50/50 chance and we took the wrong descent route!
Following the faint red markers, we first came to a gully and after descending for around 10 minutes, ran out of markers and had to go back up on the ridge to find the markers again until reaching fixed steel cables. We had some interesting encounters along the way with the local mountain goats and even capturing a picturesque arch with one of the aforementioned goats.
The sun was beginning to set and our earlier joke of “if we need our head torches we’re definitely doing something wrong” was not so funny anymore. The cables were sharp and sliced our hands as we descended sketchy vertical cliffs on them; which should have been a hint aside from the fact that even the descent route had a name, Duzin silaz ,a bad-ass one at that. When you know the descent has a name, you’re in for a bad time.
The steel cables eventually ran out, as did our water over an hour ago and we were parched. The trail markers had disappeared and I was leading blindly down the gully in the dark, unknowing of whether we were on the right track at all. By some lucky chance, I stumbled upon a fixed rappel that was anchored to a questionable tree. It seemed like someone had used this path as a bail point after facing the same dilemma as the equipment was a stark contrast to the fixed, bolted steel cables we had just been following.
By this point I was exhausted and thirsty as I quickly chucked my harness on and set up my abseil, unsure of where the line went, if it even touched the ground. Halfway through the rappel, I annoyingly hit a knot (unsure of why it was placed there, who puts a knot in a rappel line!). After passing the knot, I lowered into a tree (yay) and then finally to the ground. Waiting for the others to join me I sat, thirsty, in what I later learnt to be the prime rockfall zone as moments later, missiles were whizzing past me. Like in a wild west saloon, I heard the pings of bullets (see rocks) pass and I quickly ducked under a tiny overhang but not before getting hit by a pebble on the leg which was rather painful and all too good a reminder of why we wear helmets. I quickly moved to another safe spot as I was getting eaten by ants and waited for the hailstorm to pass.
The fireflies had come out and reminded me of glow worms in New Zealand, aside from the fact that they were flying. Fluorescent green dots darting through the air, a magical experience if not for the the dehydration and delirium setting in.
Once all three of us were safely down the rappel, we started moving again where we hit scree 50m further on. Butt sliding down the rubble and causing mini land slides, we quickly developed a strategy as I was ahead path finding, I would find a rock to safely wait for Nicky and Delfi to arrive whilst avoiding their mini rock slides.
I hadn’t seen water for that past three hours, my mouth was dry and it was painful to swallow. I felt like I was on an episode of I shouldn’t be alive, except I wasn’t getting paid by Discovery Channel. Talking consumed too much energy so I jangled the hexes on my harness to let the others know where I was while I waited for them to catch up. I could feel my body shutting down as I started developing light tremors and having to focus to stay awake.
We continued descending in this fashion until we hit a cliff; in the darkness and delirious state, my depth perception was greatly diminished as I evaluated that we needed to rappel the section to reach the ground safely. Slinging a tree and making a double rappel (as I thought one rope wouldn’t reach) I went down first, into a tree again as seemed to be the common theme on the trip. The ropes were tangled as fuck and I made the decision to leave them and return for them tomorrow as it would have been near impossible to untangle 130m of rope in the dark. This was the right decision as we learned the day after retrieving the ropes as it took a ridiculous amount of time to untangle them in broad daylight. We sadly also learnt that rappelling was unnecessary as the cliff wasn’t actually that high (a shoddy 10m) and was easy to down climb.
After ditching our ropes, we headed down in our previous strategy on more scree slopes. Seeing the occasional flashlight thinking someone was looking for us like a little beacon of hope but later found that it was just the park ranger on patrol, and conveniently out of earshot as well.
At some point while ahead of the others, I heard the sound of flowing water; like a madman, my primitive brain took over and I stumbled forwards forgetting about everything else with only one objective on my mind. Water.
I reached the treeline and light was no longer a thing as it was pitch black under the canopy. I fell over repeatedly in my delirium, looking back I was surprised I didn’t walk off a cliff or break my ankle. I finally hit a dry creek bed and a wave of elation rushed over me as I could hear running water mere steps away. I stripped off my harness and pants to sit in the stream and drank an inadvisable amount of untreated water of unknown origin but man I didn’t care. The water trickling down my back was a godsend and even better was the water that I was drinking. Finally! After over five to six hours of continuous activity, it was liquid gold pouring down my throat.
Once my thirst had been satiated, higher cognitive functioning returned as I went back to assist my friends in reaching the stream. Nicky arrived at the treeline first and I advised him on the path to the stream while I went to aid Delfi. I had a Gollum-esque moment as Delfi finally reached the treeline 5 to 10 minutes later; I guided her through the pitch black, my eyes having the benefit of having adjusted to the darkness; running around in my underwear, moving on all fours gesturing “this way, this way!” (cue my precious) to the stream.
Overjoyed at reaching water and having had some, we found ourselves next to a dirt road, unsure of where the fuck we were. Using the remaining 13% of my phone battery (which had been switched off in the event we needed emergency services), we first used the GPS to locate ourselves which was of no use as it told us things we already knew (i.e. we were in the national park). On turning on the flashlight, we saw the magnificent sight of a familiar boulder which marked the entrance to the park. We were but 2 minutes away from the car! I had the biggest smile on my face as we walked back and saw our Hyundai i20. We drove back to camp at midnight and after drinking a stomach-grumble inducing amount of water and I collapsed in my tent completely destroyed.
Mind, body and spirit shattered but back to safety 18 hours later.
Planned to climb an easy 350m bolted multi pitch. Went up the wrong route up a significantly harder line mixed route with more than expected trad. Under-provisioned and misinformed. Lead for five straight pitches and belaying up two seconds with no rest. Went down wrong descent route. Took three times longer than anticipated. Didn’t die.
Dropped one sling and nut
Left a quickdraw behind
Fucked my harness butt sliding down scree
Tore two holes in my brand new pants, thanks again scree.