Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Pfalzing Around

A few weeks ago I found myself heading to Manchester airport to meet Mr Fiendypops for a trip to the Pfalz in western Germany. Normally before I go anywhere I spend hours poring over the guidebook, but I didn't have a guide to pore over. In fact I'd never even seen the guidebook, or met anybody who'd been there and the internet wasn't much help. All I knew was this it was made of sandstone, there were some bolts, and Matt was syked. Oh, and the use of chalk was banned on routes below UIAA grade 7 (about E2/F6bish). And it was going to be hot. Like 35 degrees hot. Hmmm.

It turns out that the Pfalz is an area of beautiful wooded hills covered in weird collections of sandstone towers and ridges. The routes are between 15 and 70m long and vary from entirely trad to slightly sparsely bolted sport (although not dangerously so, as long as you don't fall off making the first clip), with most routes falling somewhere in between. The rock is good, with lots of enormous gear-swallowing cracks, massive open book corners, mega-chimneys, giganto-bunter pebbles, cool honeycombed pockets and enormo-roofs.
A 40m gently overhanging honeycombed wall with F6c-ish sport routes next to a 50m HVS mega-corner. Something for all the family.
So, the crags are cool, and there are loads of them. We visited 21 separate crags over 10 days and they were all pretty ace. The weather was mostly baking, but it was relatively easy to find shade with a bit of strategic crag selection. Most days it was still baking in the shade, but a little cunning application of midday lazing around, mini golf and the air-conditioning in our amazing Panda of win saw us through. There were relatively few other climbers around, but those that were climbing appeared to be paying scant regard to the chalk ban, and almost every route across the grades had some evidence of chalk on it.
Laemmerfelsen - just your common or garden craglet...
Climbing on this was rather worrying...
Other than the temperature, the whole trip was pretty awesome. I climbed loads of classic routes, across the grades from Mod - E1ish. Particular highlights were the massive 50m VS/HVS corners and the Hen Cloud-esque E0 cracks, as well as a spectacular 3 pitch VDiff which involved burrowing through 2 separate holes and graunching along a 20m stomach traverse half way up the crag, and a Namenlos-like slab which featured a funky cross-through move onto a mono behind a pebble. Mentile. Bonus interest was added by the fact that several of the crags used to house castles. This manifested itself in random staircases in unexpected places (in chimneys, part way up routes...) which you don't get at Stanage. And climbing on crags with otherwise inaccessible summits (especially ones which overhang their base on all sides) is very cool.
So, it's amazing, you should go there. Perhaps not in the middle of a heatwave though. Some of the harder crags stay dry in the rain, so you should be able to get something done even if the weather's cack. One crag even has a classic perma-dry VS girdle traverse. If you like climbing striking lines up funky towers, then it's for you. It probably helps to like climbing cracks (and chimneys in the lower grades), but even the crackophobic could find plenty to amuse themselves I'm sure.

If you can climb UIAA 8 then the centre of this buttress is a bit of a line to aspire to. It's rather aptly named Superlative and apparently some chap called Gullich thought it was quite good.
Reassuringly chunky, but rather antiquated feeling, most of the older bolts (on the easier routes) looked like this.

Useful Stuff
  • We flew to Basel, which was 2 1/2 hours drive away. Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Strasbourg and Cologne would all be reasonable alternatives to fly to.
  • We stayed at the improbably named Buttelwoog campsite just south of Dahn, which was well-appointed, including a restaurant that served really good pizza, schnitzels and beer until 10pm every evening. It cost about 9 Euros per person per night. 
  • There's a good climbing shop at the Baerenbrunnerhof (as well as a cheaper, more basic campsite) where you can buy the guide and anything you might have forgotten (including chalk).
  • Take a full rack of quickdraws (including some slingdraws), a single set of nuts, a full set of cams including doubles in the larger sizes (camalot 1 upwards) if you can. Some large hexes would be useful too. Oh, and plenty of skinny slings for weird little threads.
  • A 50m single rope would be fine for most routes, although getting off some of the larger towers could be quite faffy. We took a skinny single and a half rope (both 50m), which worked really well.
  • Most of the crags are really close to the road (under 10 minutes walk on generally good paths). A vague understanding of German would be useful for locating the crags, but following your nose would probably work well enough most of the time.
  • The guide gives advice on crucial gear where needed, particularly on the more sport-style routes where you might want to bring a cam or two with you to supplement the bolts.
  • Some crags may be bird banned from February-July, although I'm not sure how you find out whether the bans are actually in force.
  • There are several supermarkets in Dahn, all closed on Sunday, although the bakery next to the one on the west side of town is open on Sunday morning. It also sells the tastiest pastries and is staffed by a higher calibre of pretzel wenches than other bakeries.
The mega-chimney. About 50 yards from the campsite. Yasss.

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