Bouldering in Switzerland
October 29th through November 14th, 2004
Determined to see for myself, I planned to spend two-weeks in Switzerland in the middle of a two and a half month trip to Africa and Europe. I called up my friend Stefan and he told me that he had a few days off of work and would love to show me around. Stefan is not only a cool guy but has been climbing for 16 years and developed many areas in Switzerland making him an ideal guide.
My trip started off with a bang. Stefan picked me up from the train station in Lucerne and his house was only a few blocks from the station. He told me that his friend Fred had just gotten back from overseas and that we were going to go climbing with him the next day. After talking for a few minutes, I realized that his friend Fred was none other than Fred Nicole, the grandmaster of bouldering. The next day we picked up Fred from the train station and headed up to little known area named Murg. The rock was a deep purple and boulders littered lush alpine fields. The three of us did a warm up circuit together and then moved on to an area that had an amazing project for Fred and some problems near my limit as well. The session was amazing and with Fred spotting I managed to send my hardest problem of the trip, a steep roof that was about 7A+(V7). Watching Fred climb was amazing. He had an incredible intuitive understanding of climbing and a depth of power that combined to create a smooth-slow technique.
The next day looked as if it was going to prove that you couldn’t climb every day in Switzerland. It was raining everywhere. Stefan remained completely confident in the face of my skepticism. We drove for a bit checking out a few local areas and sure enough we found a dry one. This was a little limestone cliff band Stefan had developed and named Bay of Pigs. The session was awesome, to warm up Stefan let me do the first ascent of a new easy problem. And the trip just gained momentum when we spent a couple of days at the beautiful alpine area of Sustenpass.
Unfortunately Stefan had to get back to work, so I set off on the incredible public transportation to check out more areas. The public transportation system is linked to the mail system, so anywhere mail is delivered you can take a bus to. It also lives up to the stereotype of always being on time, they even guarantee connections. Imagine if the airlines had to do that. The only drawback is that it is expensive.
Between buses, trains, and hitching I got a whirlwind tour of the Magic Wood, Chironico, and Cresciano. All three areas were amazing and pretty empty. Surprisingly, the few climbers that were there were all ones I had heard about. The first person I saw in the Magic Wood was Dave Graham. He liked the climbing in Switzerland so much he moved there. Dai Koyamada was there with a Japanese crew crushing one hard problem after another. And then Tony Lamiche pulled in with a French crew a couple of days later. In less than two weeks I had seen four of the strongest boulders in the world and apparently, the Austrian powerhouse Bernd Zangrel had left the day before. The few other climbers that were there all seemed to climb at least 8B(V13). It was easy to get psyched with such inspiring climbers around. Watching Tony and Dave climb a proposed 8C(V15) in a single session and then point out that it had to be easier was amazing was mind numbing. I think I learned more about climbing from just hanging out and talking with Dave than I have since I first started.
I really enjoyed the powerful climbing and surreal setting of the Magic Wood but a blizzard rolled into the Valley on my third day there. The campground cleared out quickly. Luckily Tony Lamiche himself offered me a ride in his RV to the Tecino, the sunny southern Italian speaking part of Switzerland. We went to the area of Chironico. It was a fun and beautiful ride. The next few days of climbing with Dave, Tony’s crew and a Spanish crew were idyllic. Even Stefan made it down for a day. Then it was on to Cresciano and I had this world-class area all to myself for a few days.
Overall, Switzerland more than lived up to its promise. I saw six areas in two weeks and climbed with an amazing group of psyched climbers. Now I have yet another place I want to return to.