Free delivery on all UK orders
Words By

Two years ago the person who is in my opinion the veritable king of dry tooling, Robert Jasper, climbed a completely mind blowing route in the famous cave at Breitwangflue. The video showed a second pitch which traversed a proper roof, which got me seriously psyched. An article appeared in Rock and Ice describing the route as a 'Scarefest' and reporting Robert's thoughts on the fragile rock and poor protection, which then got me seriously terrified.

At the end of the following winter, I found myself at the foot of the wall - it was my turn. They say "it's at the base of the wall that one can see the mason", I admit that this would have been particularly apt for the first metre of the route - the quality of this particular structure would have seriously benefited from some concrete reinforcement. Certainly the two pitons placed in this stuff masquerading as rock, which were equalised to act as the first piece of protection, would win first prize in the "er........" category.

The second move confirmed the non-quality of the rock to me, as I pulled off a nice block. The upside of this was that the pegs, for some unknown reason, did not rip out too. Bolstered by this experience I aided on, quickly forgetting my 'on sight' attempt. I should have revised my judgement on the quality of the protection when the two following pieces ripped. A less wobbly Camalot gave me the pleasure of gathering my thoughts at the crux. The end of this first pitch was fully iced up and brought me rapidly to the foot of the monster.

Now even less happy than when I had been simply been 'not happy', I set off slowly but still aiding - the notion of actually climbing having completely disappeared from my now liquefied brain. Three hours later, I finally let my weight sink onto the mouldy ropes, signifying the end of the second pitch and that I was on a hanging belay.

Terrified, I had placed so much protection all over the route that the rope which Octave had belayed me on was now completely jammed - he had to jumar up to me! The third pitch, negotiated half free and half on aid, was quickly dispatched.

This disaster of Napoleonic proportions snuffed out any inkling of a desire to climb the route properly and, happy with my decision, I vowed to never, ever pick up ice axes again. Back in the valley, I hunted for the first free Wi-Fi I could connect to so I could watch Robert the magnificent on repeat at the site of my worst nightmare. No doubt a politician in a previous life, I quickly forgot my new policy and made a swift U turn:

I decided to finish Ritter der Kokosnuß (Monty Python and the Holy Grail) and link it with two other masterpieces by my darling Roberto: Mach 3 (M9 90°, 150m) and Flying Circus (M10 90°, 100m).

[caption id="attachment_26328" align="aligncenter" width="663"]An overview of the routes. An overview of the routes.[/caption]

To help me remember my decision, I developed a 3 stage plan:

  1. Master dry tooling
  2. Find a solid partner with solid motivation...and solid availability
  3. Find a new wife. Just joking, it's just to find out if my charming spouse actually reads my blog or whether she clicks Like on Facebook just to make me happy

Finally this autumn, beyond all expectations, I had (sort of) become France's answer to Kwon YoungHye. Stage 1, tick! Stage 2 got to the heart of the project - if until now we only highlight the achievements of the leader on big mixed routes, the second has to always has to tag along by aiding or jumaring. I don't want to blow my own trumpet, both Julien Irilli and myself have the ability to lead the whole lot, but I wanted it to be a shared success - in the same spirit as what I had done with Korra in previous years.

We first met each other when dry tooling at Quintal and as is often the case with climbing, "opportunity makes a thief". We continued to train together regularly, and this Euro mutant soon gave me reason think that he had potential for my project. His mind of steel, hardened on the north face of the Jorasses was a bonus.

A quick trip of a few days confirmed in my mind that we could climb as a team high above Kandersteg. Our only disagreements were gastronomic. I have always hated rice, but served on its own and for three meals a day, well… This detail aside, the project was underway. To summarise: 2-3 days of recce, 2-3 days of rest, 2 days to get the gear up, 1 day of rest & 1 day to do it. The whole thing rested on the duration of the anticyclones...

I suggested two weeks in January, but the conditions were very average. Pitch 3 of Ritter der Kokosnuß had little ice, pitch 3 of Flying Circus was a waterfall and pitch 2 of Mach 3 was too thin for climbing. Despite this we climbed the first two pitches of Flying Circus and pitch 1 of Ritter. I feel much more at ease on the crux pitch, but the last two metres remained unsolved.

[caption id="attachment_26329" align="aligncenter" width="960"]The crux pitch of Ritter. The crux pitch of Ritter.[/caption]

Annoyed, we returned to France. The project is shelved. In short, I am massively deflated. Then an unexpected development in the weather brings us back up much sooner than expected. We had actually planned 17 days of ice climbing in Norway… But after three days away with positive temperatures and negative forecasts, we come back the following Monday. At 8pm, I am waiting in Geneva… ready to leave again for MilkaLand the following morning at 6am.

[caption id="attachment_26330" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Just some of the gear… Just some of the gear…[/caption]

This time conditions are distinctly better and the forecast extremely positive. All of a sudden the psyche comes flooding back! In two days, we make our way up Mach 3, Ritter and the two first pitches of Flying Circus. I use the opportunity to find a sequence for the roof section, and redpoint the pitch on the following attempt. In doing so, I bag the third ascent of the pitch, after The Robert and Ines 'Fearless' Papert. As is often the case, it's the first ascent without using figure-of-fours, and given the terrain, I suggest a grade of D13.

[caption id="attachment_26331" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Ju on pitch 3 of Flying Circus. Ju on pitch 3 of Flying Circus.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_26332" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Ju launching up Mach 3 via Tränen der Princessklettern. Ju launching up Mach 3 via Tränen der Princessklettern.[/caption]

Not being a public servant, Julien has to go back to sell a few two-seaters to pay for his rice the following week. We arrange to meet three days later. Finally, feeling on edge, we leave to fully equip Ritter et Flying during the day. I set off up Flying Circus. To get over a small roof, I have to get past a pretty decent hanging icicle. During the move, the tip of my knee brushes past it. If the icicle was only 2cm in diameter where my knee touched it, ten metres up it was a good 60cm in diameter!!! The whole thing breaks off without warning, smashing ice on my thigh for several seconds, during which I am left hanging from a single hand on an axe.

Julien fortunately was positioned a metre away from the point of impact, but our stuff is carried away by the mass of ice. I spend ten minutes swearing, cursing my luck and then continue climbing. This warning sign does little to calm me, as Julien had already broken one off on the previous session, meaning I had to climb on the last of the group hoping that it wouldn't suddenly decide to join its mates on the scree!

In the end, the day ends perfectly, Ju linked the crux pitch of Ritter. Bingo! A long rest day later and finally the sweet sound of freedom goes off at 4am. Deep inside, I know that we have the ability to succeed but with this type of climbing where the holds are only millimetres deep, a pick ripping or a placement breaking are real possibilities. And to legitimise our challenge, we need the leader to climb the routes without a fall. If he falls, he has to start again from the belay.

Just before 7am, I attack Mach 3 head-on. From this moment, and throughout the hours which followed, everything passes like a dream. Each time we return to the ground, we even take our time to drink tea and eat cake! Stress-free and pressure-free, we finish at 4pm. A perfect day!

05:00 Car park
06:20 Base of crag
06:45 Set off on Mach 3, via Tränen der Princessklettern
10:00 Base of crag - after the dry tooling pitch on abalakovs and 55m abseil
10:15 Set off on Ritter
13:00 Base of crag - after 3rd dry tooling pitch on abalakovs and 25m abseil
13:30 Set off on Flying Circus
16:00 Base of crag - after abseiling from pitch 3

[caption id="attachment_26333" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Thanks for the beautiful routes Robert. Thanks for the beautiful routes Robert.[/caption]

Originally published on Jeff's blog - Trilogie à Kandersteg, "Hard Pitches Only"