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Switzerland's granite classic

Up and down on the west ridge of the Salbitschijen

...and another tick on the to-do list! After most travel plans unfortunately had to be cancelled due to the Corona pandemic in the first half of 2020, team athlete Cathy Laflamme took advantage of the easing travel restrictions and was able to make an already long planned climbing wish come true in good weather conditions in July 2020: the West ridge of the Salbitschijen in Switzerland. In her following travel report she writes about her experiences and about the little adventures that she added to her trip.

Switzerland's granite classic

The first time I saw pictures of the west ridge of the Salbitschijen it was before any of us had even heard the words “corona virus” (seems like a lifetime ago). That day I had come across the pictures by chance, during a day of random procrastination at work, the steep granite towers piercing the skyline and fixing themselves in my memory. But, as is the case with most long routes, finding the right moment for the climb took some time. Getting time off work when the weather looks good, then finding a partner (who also has to take time off work) is a game of tetris where not all the pieces can be controlled. So, for the most part, this route stayed in the back of my mind, coming out only when scheming about the ever-growing “to-do” list.

Then, in 2020, as the entire world now knows firsthand, plans to tackle this “to-do” list took a nosedive. In January we were reading reports from China without ever thinking that this picture - people quarantined in houses - would ever come to Europe. In February, the first cases in Austria were recorded, and by March we were quarantined at home, working via Zoom and feuding on social media about the moral repercussions of jogging. Now, almost 6 months out, face masks have become a new accessory item and, while we certainly haven’t seen the last restrictions due to covid, we decided to take advantage of the easing travel restrictions for a week of climbing in Switzerland, with Salbit high on the agenda. 

With the best weather forecasted for the first days, we decided not to wait out our luck, and drove directly to Salbit. After one futile attempt on the first day where, with the idea to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime bivy spot on the second tower we overzealously packed our backpacks to enjoy a luxurious night and subsequently found out just how hard 5+ granite can be with so much weight. After quickly reevaluating we decided to sleep at the base and climb the route in a single day, starting early the next morning. Relieved from the weight of the backpacks, we climbed the various ledge systems, cracks and off-widths to the summits of each tower, rappelling down to the start of next - a pattern repeated many times that day, the seemingly unending edge always beckoning from the distance. After a complete day we finished the last tower, choosing the abseil-piste to return back to our bivy place for one more night before heading down. 

After the Salbit grat, we continued to the granite walls at Furkapass and then to the route “Motorhead” at the Grimselpass, which seems like it has pitches of blank slab, until you look to the route to the left and really see what a slab without holds looks like (!). Finally, after one week of rock climbing we swapped out the climbing shoes for ice and crampons in Grindelwald and after a night in the unbelievable Guggihütte and a lot of back-and-forth trying to evaluate the new snow conditions, ended by climbing the “Nollen” on the Mönch. 

Back at work the following week, I’m greeted by the bottle of hand disinfectant at the entrance, a quick reminder of how quickly things can change, and how lucky we got to enjoy this week in the mountains.

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