Thursday, June 9, 2016

highlander, 8C - finally - the (s)end

2016 - what to do (change) to finally send the "highlander"?! i did make a plan - and it worked out :)
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in winter 2016 i sat down at my table at home. i knew i had to change some things. i was getting 39 years old. and i could just not "afford" to go down on that last move off the "highlander" for another six years. i knew i lacked crimp-power. the short "hangboard-test" back in 2013 and in fall 2015 had shown me the potential. so i decided to go for that again. luckily my fingers managed to cope better this time. still not a 100% but better. i reduced my workload at my job for better recovery (=more sleep!!!) and more flexibility to be at the crag when conditions were prime. 

as the "highlander" is pretty long (around 30moves) i needed "endurance" as well. so i was three times a week at the gaswerk-climbing-gym for some 30minutes-non-stop-climbing-sessions. very easy routes. max 5a. it was all about active recovery and building up some basic endurance. (people were laughing at me doing these easy climbs. but i always was more interested in who laughs last. this was followed by some core-workouts, antagonist-training and stretching. the stretching was important as well as there is a crucial foot-move in the middle of the crux. with enough flexibility you do not have to pull so hard on the holds to replace your foot.

last but not least and may the hardest part; i did cut my daily after dinner chocolate-intake from 50-100g to 25-50g and went for some light running/biking three times a week. this resulted in my weight going down from 72.5kg to 69kg.

2016 - first signs of better power. first ascent of the sds to the beautiful "heritage" in valle bavona

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already in march we had some unusual warm weather up in the higher mountains. so off i was to sustenpass to make use of the great spring-conditions. there was still a lot of snow. so i had to walk up two hours with my splitboard and shovel off snow for hours. but it was totally worth it. it’s truly beautiful up there when the road is closed. and thanks to some nice "foen-wind" the air was not too cold but super dry. friction from hell. and i immediately could see the difference to the last years. the crux sequence suddenly felt super solid. even easy. i finally managed to step up my game and leave that five-year plateau. i clearly was stronger then ever before.

first crux of the "highlander"
- it took some time to feel comfortable doing it without a pad... pic by

this was the moment i got nervous again. i did not feel like that for years. but now i really knew this spring was different. i felt in great shape and already on my second day up there i managed to get through the crux move for the very first time ever. after falling off that move for six years this was a really surreal moment. interesting enough i still could feel my fingertips. despite just some eight degrees and bit wind.

first crux of the "highlander" - physical.
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at the resting point i could feel how i got tired. so i decided to go for it. this last five-move-7B-sequence is really powerful. and almost everybody who climbs "le reve de faire, 8B" (the second part of the "highlander-project") goes down there at least once. already years ago i had sworn to myself that i would not let go there when coming from the "highlander-start". i had the beta dialed. i was able to climb it really really tired.

bad thing was i had no pinky on the second last hold and did not catch the hold perfectly. with the last remaining power i was able to match the hold. i tried to bump my left hand into the little slot but missed it. one split second later my fingers did open their grip and sent me back onto the pads. sitting down in the pads i did not know if i should be happy to finally have made it through the crux orbe angry i managed (so martin like) to go down on the very last move.

going for the move that sent me down for six years - looks easy on the picture. but it is not. at least not for me.
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three days later i was back there. and sure enough it did not happen. i was failing three times super close on the crux move. then bad weather hit. snow again. lucky me the following week i had some free days. day one was spent with hiking up with my splitboard again. shoveling the fresh snow off. day two i was up there for climbing. this time ready to finish the business. 

first try was very good. i did stick the crux-move but lost my feet. i did hold the swing but dry-fired off in the very last moment. BIG bummer. this was a big effort and i was really tired. i needed over two hours of rest and lots of food. when i was somehow ready again it already was 7:30pm and getting cold at 2'000 meter above sea level. so i literally was running trough the sequences to be faster than the cold. suddenly i was up there in the crux-sequence again. the move never ever went so solid. perfect climbing. no error. i felt still strong and after a short rest did set up for that last sequence. 

setting up for the last part. easier terrain. but very physical. gets the better of you when you are really tired.
went down once up left on the last move. and was so close on falling on the very last move on the send go as well!!!
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and again my pinky was not on the hold. but this time i managed to rearrange it and go for the final move. then while going for the intermediate sloper i suddenly was empty. i was hanging there. but i could feel that if i would do something with my left arm i would fall down. if i would do something with my right arm i would fall down. i was unable to move and i was laughing at myself that i would go down with the finish-jug in front of my face.

in an act of panic and desperation i bumped my right hand up out of the shoulder. somehow it stayed on the second and better sloper. now all i had to do was to lock with my right and go with my left to the monster-finish-jug. easy. but watching my right arm in pure disbelief it just did not do anything. then instincts and experience of twenty years of climbing  kicked in. i flagged my left leg and kicked it hard twice. the resulting swing got my left arm to the intermediate and finally - thirteen years after i first tried this line - into the big finish-jug. it was done. i could not really believe it. may i still can't today.

thirteen years after touching it first. finally on top of the "highlander".
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arriving at the top i was so tired i had to sit/lay down for a few minutes. i literally was not able to stand. sitting there on top of the boulder all alone in the middle of this natural amphitheater of big mountains i could see the moon rising. nearly too much to take. after packing up and leaving the "highlander" i may have had my best moment in all this years up there.  the ride and hike down at 9:30pm in bright full moon light with my splitboard was just amazing. words can not describe these moments.

to finish this story i would like to say thanks to all my friends and people who i met and supported me during this journey. in the end i climbed it just by myself. but i am well aware it would not have been possible without all of you. now i can finally quit climbing and start playing chess ;)

on the approach/way down when the road is still closed. as beautiful as it gets!

this may sounds cliché. but after spending so much time up there, putting a grade to the "highlander" seems totally irrelevant to me. when you spend thirteen years of your life to climb a line it really does not matter anymore if its a 6A, 7A, 8A, 9A, 10A... it simply does not matter anymore. all i wanted was to climb that line i had imagined all these years ago. the question was: would i climb it. or not. 
for me it’s my hardest boulder for sure. i was not able to complete the highlander when i climbed all the other harder boulders i did in the past years. so for me it's in the  8C-area...  - ("soft" - (because i am so strong) to swing with the mainstream these days). but then i was sooooo close again and again over the years. and its not really my style. its more about finger power. and finger power is not where i am particularly strong and its pretty long. when i finally climbed through the crux-sequence on my send-go it did not feel that super hard anymore. but that was because i am clearly stronger then the previous years. not because the boulder got easier. and despite feeling strong through the crux i still nearly went down on the very last easier move to the finish jug. when something is at your limit it gets tricky. its may a big step up for me. but for somebody stronger its may just a minor step up from other problems. well i have problems myself sometimes to say if something is 6A or 6A+... ;)

so i am sure others will find this easier. may there is better beta (i will write another blog about this). and others will find it hard(er). everybody has his own perception of difficulty. and that is totally ok. grade-discussions about "norming" a grade for "everybody" therefore normally are pointless. you just can not (literally) force somebody else to how hard a route/boulder has to feel for him/her. and if you climb a bit longer you may see one day that there is a lot more to enjoy in climbing then pointless discussions (in the internet) about grades. and honestly i don't really care. climbing outdoors for me is not about others in the sense of competition. i don't want to be stronger then mister or miss xxx. that is not the reason why i went up to sustenpass for thirteen years. 

i (still) have lines in mind i want to climb. some harder and some easier. with the "highlander" it was the same. this was not about others. this was all about me and this piece of rock. very selfish i know. but i am not sorry. the question was not 7A or 8A. the question was getting up or not. very simple. finally i did get up. very simple. this fact and the journey to that special day and the lessons learnt is all that matters. even though i could have just walked around the boulder to get to the top. very strange thing to spend that much (life)time for something you could get so much easier (getting to the top).  but it’s very often the same in life. it does not matter too much what you do. but it does matter how you do it. go for it. whatever this may be for you. good thing though; "there can be more then just one... "- ...and chess can wait... i am off to scramble on some rock... ;)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

highlander - the best and the worst

but despite great form i did not manage to send the "highlander" that season. last move. but that's not enough.

2012 - fa of "der mit dem fels tanzt, 8C". great line. amazing 3d-climbing. pic by

in late fall things turned very bad. it was a beautiful fall and i again i was close to stick was close to stick that last hard move of the highlander-project at sustenpass. the weather-forecast predicted one of the last days of the season. so i was up there one more time. it was a beautiful day with great friction and i felt super strong and did not have too cold fingers when arriving in the upper crux of the highlander-project.

very unfortunately i managed to rip of my hamstrings off from my hip bone while going for these last two moves. quite the shock. great pain. complicated surgery. eight months of rehab. no real guarantee i ever could climb (doing sports) again. for somebody loving sports and the outdoors not a nice outlook. lucky me surgery and rehab went well. but i learned for sure some lessons!

2012 - two permanent anchors in my hip-bone fixing the hamstrings to where they belong

two months after surgery i was able to walk again. one of the best days of my life!!! i was in rehab for up to five times a week. three hours of travel to get there and back home. but it was totally worth it. the pt-guys and girls have been as motivated as i was. i was working really hard on my hamstrings and for the first time ever started to regularly do some campus- and hangboard-workouts. in spring i could feel the benefits of this as i was as strong as never before. i could not wait to test my new gained power on the "highlander".

just a few days before i was officially allowed to climb outdoors again i was training indoors. i was sitting on my left heel doing a basic move. nothing special. no pain. just a little scratch. i did not pay too much attention. some days later while playing with the cats at home my knee "locked" and i was just was not able to stretch it out anymore. i really had to push hard to stretch it again. first i did not think too much about it because i was fine for days. so i went up to sustenpass again after that eight month break to test my fitness. immediately i could feel how much stronger i was. the problem was my knee that decided to lock spontaneously.

so i had to look for new beta to practically climb the "highlander" with just my right leg. this was not too helpful. it got quite a bit harder. but then i was stronger. it was crazy. after a few days i was up there in the last two moves again. but without being able to really use my right leg it was just too hard. and the knee really did not felt good. so back i was in the hospital.

2012 - hospital again: split-freegliding-meniscus. locking my knee. NOT nice!!!

the mri-pictures showed a split meniscus. one part was free gliding - this part was going into my knee and was locking it. not good. surgery did not look promising. so my doc (thanx a LOT for that) insisted to "just wait". doing nothing. he told me that there would be a small chance my body could fix this.

so coming out from eight months of rehab i was straight on my way into the next three months of rehab. that second stretch was even harder to take. in the end 2013 was spent more or less in rehab. but i am very, very, very thankful that my hamstrings are back to 99% and also my meniscus fixed itself again. what is one year when you gain another 40???!!!! at the end of the year i even was back up at sustenpass. falling off the highlander on the last two moves again. same same.

campus-boarding for the first time. very efficient. but be careful. my fingers (and elbows) could not really cope!

2014 - transforming the newly gained crimp-power to rock.
compression-climbing as its best: first ascent of "gepresster hase, 8B+". pic by

in spring 2014 i finally could transform my better crimp-power to rock and was able to make the beautiful first ascent of "gepresster hase, 8B+" just some 4m left of the "highlander-project". despite feeling and being strong i somehow managed again to not send the "main price". the highlander fought back hard and resisted one day after another. then there was an unusual wet fall and i struggled with wet holds nearly all the time. i climbed to the last moves a few times again - but no send again as well.

2015 - the right heel works fine again. what a relief. "insanity of grandeur, 8C". what a great, full package boulder!!!
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winter 2015 was spent in chironico and in spring, after quite some effort, i was able to make a repetition of dai koyamada's beautiful "insanity of grandeur,8C". soon after i was back at sustenpass. i felt strong but again lots of wet holds and falling off the last moves again and again. in summer i started to change some things. i knew i had to get better crimp-power for the highlander. so when projecting on rock i did not climb till total failure anymore. instead i went home earlier to go for a hangboard-session. in just a few weeks i could already feel how i got stronger on crimps. the crux-sequence of the "highlander" never felt better before. unfortunately my fingers did not cope with the added pressure and i had to quit the hangboard-sesssions. i could do just some two climbing sessions a week. that was more or less tolerated by my fingers.

nevertheless i could feel that i was strong as never before and was now able to climb up to four times a day into the last move of the highlander. i was getting really close now. again and again i went down super close. now already touching the rescue hold. i fell there one time last time in late december. dry-firing off the while setting up for the last move. winter hit hard one day later and it was over for the season.

---> the next blog will about year thirteen up there at sustenpass... and the final (s)end... stay tuned

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

highlander - early years

my journey with the "highlander" started with my first visit to sustenpass on a late afternoon in summer 2003. my friend simon wandeler showed me the „famous" traumland-boulder for the first time. it is a stunning 30 degrees overhanging shield with four climbed lines at that time. unfortunately it sits just some ten meters above the sometimes very busy, loud and stinky road up to sustenpass. so it is a very unpleasant place to be on an sunday afternoon. therefore my absolute favorite time up there is when the road is closed from november to june. its real "traumland" (paradise) this time of the year.

view from the "highlander": when the road is closed; it is real paradise up there

standing at the parking and watching up to this big boulder i instantly realized a line of holds crossing the whole boulder from down right up to the far left. i asked simon if this line already had been climbed. he laughed. he thought i was crazy. and well he was right. later in the day i tried the "middle-part" of the line i had imagined. this is the classic "traumland" and i was literally not able to do one move. nice try. but i was attracted to this big piece of gneiss nevertheless. what i did not know at that time was that i would be back climbing on this line for every year for the following 13 years.

2004 - way back in time while checking out the first part of the "highlander".
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over the years i climbed lots of the classic problems up at sustenpass. the big line, the "highlander-project" was always in the back of my mind. but i knew it was way too big. so first i climbed the middle part, the classic "traumland". after climbing "le reve de faire", the second part of the "highlander-project" it was finally time to really go for it.

but i had to bail out pretty fast. i quickly realized that it was still way over my head. instead i opted to first top out via the easier and very classic"traumland". this was already a hell of a fight. but i got it back in 2010 when i was able to complete this easier version of the"highlander"-project. a nice line itself; "ikarus" ends at the traumland-finish and"deadalus" toping out.

2010 on the first ascent of the direct topout "ikarus/deadalus". "highlander" goes left from there.
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feeling fit and having all the parts dialed i was back a few days later and went for a try on the real "highlander-project". i was pretty confident as compared to "ikarus/deadalus" its basically just two more (semi-hard) moves to the left. then a not really good restpoint followed by an not to underestimate topout to the left. i had two really good tries but went down setting up for that last hard move out left. then winter hit. but i was confident to send it the next season. that was not a total hybris with being twice already in the last move. just one more move. little did i know that it would take me nearly six years to finally stick that one more move.

going the extra-mile. 2hrs walk by split board. reward is a beautiful setting and perfect conditions

every year i was up there falling on the last two hard moves. battling wet holds when i was in great shape, missing perfect conditions because of illness, bad skin, too much work, broken holds, blew my knee, blew my fingers. once in the middle of the crux-section a foothold broke. making it just a little harder. but it took me two weeks to get to the last two moves again. and then winter hit. at your limit the difference between possible and impossible its very small. 

the most frustrating thing was to have really good tries, falling down at the last move and then coming back three days later and somehow not getting the first crux done anymore which is way lower in the boulder. and the craziest thing was that at the end of the day i still was able to climb all the hard climbing from just three hard moves in despite being super tired.

broken foothold from the crux-sequence - this did not make it easier...

my main problem though was (and still is) "cold fingers". arriving in the upper crux i usually could not feel the holds anymore. even in the middle of summer. this was not just "too cold". i somehow managed to press all the blood out of my fingertips. resulting in numb fingers. that resulted in countless dry-fires off the crux-sequence. i tried everything to avoid this. tried to activate blood circulation by running or putting my hands in ice-cold water.

or i tried to "shake out" quickly in between moves. this however just needed more power and the fingers on the other hand got cold because i had to hold on even more while "shaking out". it turned out that summer was even worse. because of the missing friction i had to dig even deeper and pressed all the blood out of my tips. with decent friction i did not have to press that hard on the holds and did not get such "cold" fingertips.

trying everything to get this circulation in my fingertips started.. ;)

somehow the years passed and i fell down again and again on this last two hard moves. but i did not even think about quitting. you can’t quit when there is just one more move to go. can you? and believe me, over the last six years. every time i was up there i was a 100% sure THIS would be the day. i mean. why not?! just one more move to go!!! 

despite feeling stronger over the years and climbing up to three times a day into the last crux i somehow just did not make it happen. i slipped off so many times with cold fingers. i lost count.

--->  the next blog will be about coming very close to finish the "highlander" and then injuring myself really bad while going for that last two moves and the following one year rehab.... stay tuned...

Friday, June 3, 2016

finally. after 13 years. peace in my heart


the video-still above shows the moment i was living for the last thirteen years. getting this finish-jug for the first ascent of the "highlander" was the dream i was chasing since my very first day up there at sustenpass. but then, this is not big (climbing) news. it's (by far) not the hardest boulder. it's not the easiest. it's not the longest. not the shortest. not the best. not the worst. not the highest. not the lowest. i am not the strongest. not the weakest. not the oldest. not the youngest. not the tallest. not the shortest. not the lightest. not the fattest. anyway: now i can retire to play chess ;)

setting up for the last moves for the first ascent of the "highlander", sustenpass, switzerland.
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but it’s the story of a long journey that shows that you can turn your dreams into reality when you are truly passionate, willing to go the extra mile and ready to test and push your limits. as i was not one of these supertalents who crush their first 8C boulder or 9a route when they are 15years old i had to go more then once this extra mile. it all started when i did quit a possible professional career in soccer with 20 because i was really curious about climbing. 

at this time i was not even able to climb a 6a route in the gaswerk-climbing-gym. if anybody had told me at this time i would ever be able to climb in the 8th-grades i would have laughed at him. this was just light-years away and i did not even dare think for a second about things like that. but this was never the focus anyway. i was amazed by the whole package. the climbing. the movement on rock. the lines and puzzles nature shapes and creates. all the areas you get to know. the travels. the drive to the crag. the coffee on the way. the walk to the boulders. soaking in nature. during the day. during the night. with friends. just by myself. i am getting 39 years old this year and i am still loving it.

soaking up the sun in paradise - sustenwinterwonderland.
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the ones who followed my blog during the last years know that a final blog-post about the highlander may take a bit more space. it is the story about 13 years of my (climbing)life. "second go, five minutes, soft" would not do the job here - as it normally does not anyway ;)

so for the interested ones this highlander-blog will come in three parts which i will publish over the next few days. i hope you enjoy the story. it was a hell of a journey for me for sure.

-first part: the early years
-second one: the best and the worst
-the third: the (s)end
-and some beta-remarks