“I’ve just thought of another phrase you need to learn” said Dirtbagjens as he threw our haulbag into the back of the car.
“Alright, what is it?”
“Es ist nie zu kalt zum klettern” he said, grinning.
“Es issst nee tsoo cold fur klettering?”
I hoped that I hadn’t just said something terribly rude in Deutsch.
It wasn’t rude. But it might not have been entirely true.
By the time I had perfected my newly learned sentence, the car was loaded up ready for three days of climbing in the Frankenjura.
This amazing area is home to over 12,000 climbing routes spread out across over 1,000 crags in what seems like hundreds of picture perfect valleys. One of those routes is Wolfgang Gullich’s classic 9a, Action Directe.
I spent quite a bit of time standing at the bottom of that route, staring up in disbelief… but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the car.
The car was barreling down the autobahn, heading southwards, away from Hanover. About halfway through the four hour drive, we noticed some patches of snow on the side of the road. Then we noticed patches of snow on the hilltops ahead of us. Soon there was snow everywhere. The usually speedy traffic slowed as snow started building up on the road. For the Germans in the front seat this was a minor inconvenience. For the beach-dwelling Australian in the back seat, it was all incredibly exciting.
Es ist nie zu kalt zum Klettern right?
We pulled off the autobahn and into a McDonalds drivethrough. We wound the window down and collected three coffees, a cheeseburger and a car full of snow that was carried on a gust of wind that arrived at the same time as our caffeinated refreshments.
After a few more flurries of snow, the skies cleared up and we arrived at Oma Eichler’s. Oma’s guesthouse and camping ground is a famous Treffpunkt für Kletterer. Most other Kletterers were cleverer than us; they had obviously opted to stay at home, sitting around warm fireplaces. We seemed to be the only fools silly enough to climb in the cold weather. We had the whole guesthouse to ourselves.
We were greeted at the door by the very friendly Martha. She delivered a spirited 15 minute long lecture on what could and could not be thrown into the various recycling bins. At the end of those 15 minutes, I had to confess that ich bin aus Australien and didn’t really understand any of her super-speedy speech . My German companions assured her that they would guide me through the complex recycling process as best they could. She seemed satisfied with that and started her next lengthy oration, which I think had something to do with the solar-powered hot water system.
At the end of the tour, Oma handed us some tattered climbing guide books and gave her recommendations on where we could climb before the sun went down. She seemed to have an encyclopedic knowledge of all the routes. Each morning, we would tell her the grades and the style of routes we wanted to climb, and she would rattle of a list of 5 crags that satisfied all our criteria.
Her recommendation for the first afternoon was a pinnacle set back behind some houses, within walking distance of the guesthouse. We jumped on a fun multipitch route that wound its way around the pinnacle and up above the treeline.
Cold hands made the relatively easy route feel quite difficult. Despite a lot of whingeing (mostly from me), all three of us reached the summit and enjoyed the views of the valley from our sunny perch above the forest.
We squeezed in another short route before heading back to the Guesthouse for cold beer and hot food.
I woke up the following morning and looked out the window. I was hoping to see blue skies and sunshine. Instead I saw the solar panels on the building next door, completely coated in snow.
Snow was still falling by the time I finished breakfast. Dirtbagjens was not discouraged. He was pouring over Oma’s guidebooks looking for a ‘nice sunny crag’.
The three of us got dressed in as many layers of clothing as possible and grinned stupidly at each other as we trudged out to the car, looking at the snow on the ground around us.
“The weather report said it should warm up as the day goes on”
“Sounds good. I reckon it’s getting warmer already”
Over the past few years, we’ve both developed an impressive ability to interpret weather reports with a great deal of optimism and creativity.
Our interpretation of the weather report this time around turned out to be wrong this time.
That’s not entirely unusual for us.
There were a few more short bursts of snow during the morning. If anything it got cooler as the day progressed. We found ourselves brushing snow out of the holds on some climbs. We climbed as fast as we could, in the hope of reaching the anchors before our hands went completely numb. It’s odd, looking at your fingers to double check that they’re curled around a handhold, because you can’t actually feel the rock.
The things we do for fun.
After a few hours, the most sensible member of our trio headed back to the car, to read a book and drink hot tea in the comfort of the car.
Dirtbagjens and I jumped on one more route before reaching the same point. It was a really tough climb full of one and two finger pockets that were hard to pull on with frozen hands. After a few laps, we retired to the carpark ourselves, then went in search of a warm place to refuel.
The next day we were all too wrecked to climb. We went in search of caves and saunas instead. The story of that adventure is in the next post.
Taking a rest day turned out to be a smart move. There were no snow-covered solar panels greeting us when we awoke on our last day in the Frankenjura. The sun was shining. The sky was blue. The temperature may have even crept into double figures. It was a beautiful spring day in Bavaria.
We had decided that we needed to make a sort of pilgrimage to Action Directe before we went home. We would go, marvel at it for a while, then climb something else in the surrounding area that was many many grades easier.
Action Directe is impossibly steep. The biggest holds on the whole climb might just be big enough to squeeze two fingertips onto. If you can forgive me switching into climbing jargon, the first crux is a huge dyno, from a shallow mono, to a two finger pocket that seems lightyears away. It doesn’t let up from that point. Every single move seems impossible.
After gazing in wonder for a few minutes, we headed further into the forest to find something that was within the realms of possibility for us. We found a good spot and enjoyed the feeling of holding onto warm rock for the first time on the trip.
Dirtbagjens stemmed his way up a fun chimney climb. He made it look quite classy. At that point a group of three older gents arrived and quietly set up to climb the next route across from us. A quick glance at our guidebook told me that it was a freaking hard climb. The first guy jumped on a cruised to the top effortlessly.
While he was on his way up, Dirtbagjens arrived back on the ground, after his adventure up the chimney. Dirtbagbashi was up next. He too powered through the awkward climbing.
Soon it was my turn. I climbed the first part of the route well enough. But then I reached the point where you had to squeeze through a gap in the rock to gain the top part of the cliff.
I just couldn’t get my damn hips through the gap. I kept twisting around in the chimney trying to reposition myself, but it just wasn’t working. I made a bunch of noise while I was up there. There were high pitched shrieks of frustration and low pitched groans that you’d associate with the most horrendous off-width climbs. Eventually I wriggled through and reached the top of the climb.
I started cleaning the route. It took me a while because the bolts were quite small. I had been fiddling around up there for a while when one of the crusty old dudes popped up onto the top section of the cliff from which I was dangling.
Mr. Crusty had just listened to me battle my way up a heavily bolted climb that might have been a grade 14 in Australia. He must have thought I was a complete Muppet.
Now he was hanging from one finger on a grade 27, quite a few meters above his last bolt. He threw his heel up somewhere near his left ear. He rolled the rest of his body up and onto a ledge below me. It looked effortless, he was just floating up the wall. Halfway through this ridiculous gymnastic movement, he looked up at me and asked, in English, whether I needed any help.
I nearly died of shame. I tried to assure him that, in the face of all the evidence available to him, I was actually a competent climber and that I could get myself down safely, without any help, thank you very much.
Maybe one day, when I’m old and crusty, I’ll get the chance to turn up to a crag somewhere and quietly show the younguns how its done.
Until then, I’ll just keep on climbing. In the sunshine. And in the snow. Because es ist nie zu kalt zum Klettern.