Rock ‘n Road 13/08/2020
Traversing Switzerland from East to West linking the most significant multipitch walls, all by bike. This was our objective during one month. The idea was born during spring time when suddenly all our expedition plans got cancelled and we started to explore more our home mountains. When Ines Papert called me to ask if I would do a climbing project by bike, I was instantly keen. Even though I’ve never biked a lot, new adventures are always appealing to me. And doing an “expedition at home” in an ecological way sounded like a perfect combination.
After some planning and organization we got our bikes ready with a trailer each, to pull all our climbing gear
, food and camping gear which added up to around 40kg of load behind each of our mountainbikes. We never biked with so much weight for a long
Well if you don’t try, you’ll never know… and thats how the adventure began, pushing hard into our pedals in the direction of Rätikon.
As we go around the first bend my trailer falls off. “Oh no! Whats wrong?” -Luckily Ines knows the system a bit better and shows me that the two little wires on each side are meant to lock the trailer on the bike. First problem solved.
The first hairpin bends up to the Rätikon are steep and we have to gain over 1000m of elevation. Our setup and our legs are immediately put to the test. Luckily we manage to get up there faster than imagined and our motivation grows.
For the next two days we camp around the climbers hut (which is unfortunately closed because of Covid regulations) and hike up to the amazing steep walls of the Schweizer Tor to climb Intifada.
An amazing route on vertical, technical limestone with every pitch being it’s own challenge. The style is very unique and not being used to these slabby moves, tiny crimps and run-out passages makes it quite challenging. As if the route wasn’t hard enough, the sun catches up with us on the last pitches and destroys all the good friction. It is our first day out on the wall and we begin to optimize our skills as a climbing team, as we had never climbed together before. We’ve been talking about it since we met in Patagonia a couple of years ago, but with both of us being on expeditions around the world it somehow never worked out. In the end it needed Corona to slow us down and let us create this project together.
Every evening we have the honour of big thunderstorms transforming our camp into puddles. Luckily we can seek shelter under our tarp and in our tent. We try to minimize weight and are therefore travelling with a tiny lightweight tent that barely fits our blow-up mattresses, but is a great shelter without taking much space and weight.
Luckily we have many amazing friends on the way, that are happy to offer us the comfort of a bed and a hot shower from time to time. A very appreciated luxury after long days of biking and climbing.
To minimize our weight we keep leaving stuff with our friends: Two pairs of underwear and two pairs of socks are enough and we just keep washing them in rivers or wherever we can.
The heavy rain forces us to continue on our way after only two days in Rätikon. All wrapped up in our water proofed clothes we bike to Chur and from there through the Rheintal, all the way up to Disentis and over the Oberalppass. Long days of biking gaining many thousands of meters and covering quite some distance. We quickly realize that our fuel is our food and we need way more than on a normal climbing trip. Luckily while biking we pass lots of little shops or farms that can provide us with energy and it feels great to support the local business in that way.
After our first col the Oberalppass we reach our second climbing destination: The Teufelstalschlucht just above Andermatt. Eight pitches of amazing clean granite climbing on the route Peruvian Dancing Dust (7a+) make me feel in my element. From fingercracks to chimneys, corners to roofs we find all kind of different features of granite climbing. Just amazing! But while climbing I have a complete new experience: Normally my arms get pumped, this time my legs are sore and when I layback they start shaking. The plan to recover from biking while climbing and vice versa doesn’t seem to work that well and we will probably have to think about a rest day for our tired bodies. But first we still want to cross the Sustenpass. Which means that the next day we find ourselves again on our bikes again, hoping that our tired legs are going to bring us all the way up through the rain. It is amazing how we can still keep biking day after day just pedalling with the flow and keep going. We make it over the Susten and down to Gadmen in a big rainstorm. The Wendenstöcke will have to dry out and like this we can finally take a restday after 9 days of full on climbing and biking this is more than necessary.
The Wendenstöcke are known for their exposed approach: Steep and slippery grass guard the imposing rock face and this time we even get some rockfall in addition. Suddenly big rocks start falling down from the top of the wall while we are traversing a gully to the base of the Excalibur pillar. We try to stick our bodies as close as possible to the wall hoping that none of these stone bombs will hurt us. And when the nightmare finishes we both get to the start of the route with wobbly knees and shaky hands.
For today lots of our mental strength has been used and we decide to climb Excalibur instead of something harder. A great route and still demanding climbing in between the bolts, while we keep thinking about the descent and having to pass the scary couloir again. On top of this a mother ibex is crossing the ledge above us and we are scared that she will cause even more rockfall. After all the experiences of today, we decide to not climb another day here, but to rather continue on our bikes in direction of Interlaken and our next stop the Eiger.
The way up to the Eigergletscher is steep and several times we have to get off our bikes and push. They are so heavy that we can’t push them alone. We have to work as a team every step of the way on this trip.
At the Eiger we find windy conditions and cold temperatures while climbing the route Deep Blue Sea on the Geneva Pillar.
Afterwards the weather gets bad and we are happy to rest a little in Interlaken. But at one point, we can’t waste anymore time waiting for the rain to stop. So we just start biking in a chilly drizzle. And when it finally clears up, all the mountains around us are white, covered in snow. Not really what we wanted to see on a rockclimbing trip, but just another challenge to deal with. We do a night shift to bike up to the Jaun Pass and are super happy to find a warm shower and a bed at the Campground of the Col to recover our exhausted bodies. Bed and shower suddenly become goods we dream of like something special and luxurious.
Due to the cold we climb on the South Face of Gastlosen, a classic route: “Fêtes des pères”. Some slabs and some steeper sections make it a varied climb, that we enjoy cruising up. We had to realize during this bike roadtrip, that we had to reduce our expectations on climbing difficult routes: Biking up so many passes makes the whole body tired and makes it challenging to climb at our limit.
After a full day of climbing, we sit down on our bikes again to get over the Col du Pillon. With another night biking session we reach Les Diablerets powered by the motivation to sleep at a friend’s house.
As a beautiful day dawns we continue on our bikes down to the Rhone Valley and then into the Valais, the last swiss canton that we are going to visit. Luckily the wind pushes us and we can move quickly in direction of the most western part of our trip. Because of the snowfall we start changing our plans from climbing steep granite cracks on the North face of the petit clocher du portalet, which is probably going to be to cold and wet, to doing some alpine ridge climbing just beside on the Aiguilles Dorées. But this means that we suddenly need crampons, ice axes and warm clothes, which we didn’t bring along on our bikes! Luckily we get help from our friends who lend us all we need. Amazing to see all the support we get from the climbing community.
The way up to the Cabanne du Trient seems way longer than normal. First steep biking and then hiking on a steep mountain trail, we barely make it for dinner. Olivier, the hut-keeper has an amazing surprise for us: a hot shower. Unbelievable and so good for our exhausted bodies.
The next day we wake up early and start walking in the dark, traversing the glacier towards the start of the Aiguille Dorées traverse. We know it’s going to be challenging, because there is quite some snow on the mountains and nobody has yet broken trail, but this makes it even more interesting.
We start with some iced cracks and rock covered by snow to then pass onto the south side, where we find amazing golden granite shining in the sun, which allows us to climb without gloves and freezing.
The tricky part is not the well-known steep dihedral pitch, but the pitches on the North Face. Here we find tons of snow, which isn’t consolidated. Leading one of those steeper pitches just trying to dig to find some kind of hold while moving upwards in a mess of powder reminds me of some Himalayan first ascents I have done. Quite an adventure.
It’s amazing to travel all the way across this long ridgeline to then finish at the summit of the Aiguille de la Varappe. What a great end of our Rock’n’Road trip. A big long hug being so happy to reach this point close to the border with France. We have made it, we traversed Switzerland and climbed all these amazing walls. A moment of happiness that let all little disagreements and sufferings disappear.
Back at the hut, it feels the same like coming back after an expedition. A feeling of letting go all pressure, deep exhaustion and pure happiness. We have completed our little “expedition at home”. We both agree travelling by bike is a unique opportunity to meet people, discover awesome landscapes and get to rockclimbingspots in an environmental friendly way. Definitely something that we will try to do more often.
It also showed us again how much good climbing is just on our doorsteps.
To finish off the trip, I take a day to cycle back down to the Rhone valley and up to my little home perched in the mountains. Ines has an epic train adventure: She is thrown off the train in Austria, because they don’t want her bike. It is a shame that travelling in an environmental friendly way is made so complicated! Infrastructure for cyclists needs to be developed if we want to encourage this fantastic solution for travelling.