Cautiously I scrutinize my knot and show it to Matt for a second opinion.
'Is this what it is supposed to look like?'
Matt shrugs his shoulders.
'Maybe... I does look familiar.'
I agree it does, so it's probably good. I chalk up my fingers. They are sweaty, betraying my nerves. I chalk them up again. There's no way back, I cannot chicken away anymore from the route in front of me on this dauntingly high wall.
I'm not. But off I go. One move. Two moves. Two becomes four, and four becomes eight. It feels like an eternity and it's hard to concentrate on so many movements.
'I'm so pumped!'
I yell down. I'm at least three meters above the ground when I pass the first bolt. One more move and the fear kicks in: I'm above the quickdraw... One little mistake and the fall could obviously kill me. But bravely I battle on reach the second bolt. And the third. And the fourth. A big rockover move follows, of course above the quickdraw again. Suddenly I face the terrifying runout that leads to the top. It's a slab that requires nerves of steel and precise footwork on footholds that are only just 30 centimeters deep... I keep my cool though and clip the chains of the first route of the day: a 6a+.
The last time I climbed on a rope was August 31, just over half a year ago. Yesterday Matt and I finally tied in again after a winter of exclusively bouldering. The days are getting longer, it's mostly sunny and temperatures are gradually rising above 10 degrees: it's time to try and translate this winters bouldering gains to more power endurance oriented climbs. And in what nearby place better to this than Ith? With a lot of gear and Vienna packed, we drove to 'Elefantenbäuche'. We've both never been there before but the name clearly points out what to expect and the Elefantenbäuche did not disappoint. It's one of the few remaining crags in Ith with a high concentration of hard routes.
|The Elefantenbäuche deliver exactly what the name suggest: two 15m high impressive, bulging overhangs offering a selection of hard routes.|
According to our guide book, a route called 'Strontium 90' is the best of the crag. At a grade of 7c+ it's not too off-putting to scare us away and we decided to give it a closer look. Long story short: it kicked our asses, bruised our egos and - weirdly - inspired us greatly. The route starts steep and as soon as your feet lift off the ground the climbing is hard. Powerful moves on small edges and strangely shaped pockets that look good but feel terrible lead to easier and less steep terrain. In a big hole a no hands rest is possible using a knee bar. The second part of the route is nearly vertical with a hard crux around two razor sharp mini crimps (just a few millimeters deep) and a perfectly beautiful, very bad sloper. Despite the availability of some good footholds, the sloper felt nearly impossible to hold on to, let alone make a move from. The crimps appeared to be hungry skin eaters, limiting the available amount of attempts drastically. Both cruxes are of similar difficulty (about 7A+/7B boulder I'd say), but they couldn't be any more different.
While struggling my way up Strontium 90 on top rope, I eventually managed to do all the moves. Matt did all but one (moving away from the sloper). Although it would most likely have been a better idea to work the moves some more on top rope, I felt a strong urge to try and make links on lead and get into that mindset again. I haven't even reached the second crux. I got scared on a move at the end of the first where you have to bump up dynamically from a mono to a high two-finger pocket, high enough above the quickdraw to give the feeling of a ground fall potential. I know rationally that's not the case with a good belayer such as Matt, but nevertheless it shut me down. After convincing myself to man up I tried again. But I felt battered, beaten into submission by the uncompromising limestone overhang and couldn't pull off the moves anymore. Matt experienced exactly the same. Dusk set in and our bodies failed us. We had to pack our gear and start the long, steep walk back to reach the car before dark.
We were beaten up but somehow very satisfied at the same time. The limestone felt completely alien, the types of movement felt awkward and lead climbing felt almost uncomfortable. A typical first session of a new season. What did we expect? Cruising up the hardest route we've both ever done? As strong as I feel bouldering, as weak I felt on a rope yesterday. Route climbing is indeed a whole different game than bouldering, requiring a different set of skills. Should we have started the season with something easier? I think not. We got our asses kicked, we got humbled and above all we got inspired to sink our teeth into a hard project that will make us much better climbers than we are now. We will be back!