These pictures were taken during a day of guided climbing that I did in the best German sandstone climbing area while I recently visited Germany.
Most of the climbing areas are part of the national park Saechsiche Schweiz (Swiss Saxony) located near Dresden (south east corner of Germany) along the river Elbe.
While hiking in we pass some nice looking walls. But climbing rules, which are actually part of the law, only allow climbing on free standing summits. Climbing on walls that don't belong to such a summit is prohibited. Exceptions exist only for a few areas.
Other rules exclude the use of chalk and the use of metal protection gear (more on this later).
A first glimpse at the Falkenstein. An impressive free standing rock that rises nearly 300 ft above the forest floor.
The prominent crack in the face is called Suedriss (south crack) which we planned to climb later.
But my guide wanted to take me to to the "Bunny Hill" for warm-up and introductions first. Later we realized that this was a waste of time.
The first climb was Loeschnerwand to the summit Spitzer Turm. A 5.4 or saxon climbing grade IV. The fact that this region uses grades, which not only depend on the difficulty of the crux but also the length of the route, made conversion of grades difficult.
The route we climbed ascended through the chimney at the bottom and then right towards the right hand side summit.
View oft the adjacent summits from the top.
The view to the other side shows more of the rocks in the area called Schrammsteine
Each summit has a Gipfelbuch (summit log) ...
... registering it in it is part of making it to the summit.
One of the most remarkable aspects of this area is the ban on all metal protection pieces (nuts, cams, big-bro's, etc.) that we came to rely on in other climbing areas. Mostly due their danger to the soft rock but also due to tradition.
In its simplest form that means clipping large (5 in diameter or larger) rings that are held in the rock with 20 cm (8 in) or longer posts. Those rings are used as belay, as shown here, or along the climb for protection. But they are placed very sparingly.
When rings are not available, the next option is looping hourglass shaped bridges in the rock (called Sanduhren). They can be so small that a hook is needed to feed the sling through them or so large that one can hook an arm through them to gain a rest position.
The other, seemingly more scary option, is using knots like stoppers in constrictions. If places in solid rock they tend to be stronger than the hourglass placements. The knots used range from the simple square not to the more complex monkey fist, which makes a large ball shaped knot.
There is even science to the art of placing knotted slings. Some knots expand more under load than others.
Such knotted slings are carried in various sizes. Ranging from thin 5mm cordolette to 12 mm or larger cords. But in general the leader does not place as much gear as it is common in areas where metal gear is allowed. Here the rule is that the leader should avoid falls and many climbs would be rated at least R.
Other features that can be used for protection are plates that protrude from the rock and which have edges that hold the slings in place as seen here.
Two other benefits of a rack of slings are their low weight and low cost. At the local climbing store a rack of assorted knotted slings is just 30 Euro. If you make them at home they can be even cheaper. Compare that to the $80 for a set of nuts or $60 for a cam.
The next destination was Suedriss on Falkenstein. But the place was rather busy and the climb was taken.
When walking around the rock I spotted a hand crack followed by a dihedral. I asked the guide "What about this?". He asked me if I was sure since this was a bit stiffer than we intended. I was confident that I could get up there and he was happy that the outing would challenge him as well. The picture shows the guide starting up the crack. The first pro was a ring below the crack.
Here is a picture that I took later which shows the line (Renger Gedächtnisweg VIIc or 5.10c) . It ascends the crack in the middle, moves left into the dihedral and then right into a chimney to reach the summit.
Looking down from the top of the dihedral
The chimney leading to the summit. This area is full with chimneys and efficiently climbing them is an essential skill. This was also the first chimney I climbed outdoors and I can only imagine how scary and awkward they can get. Usually there is no protection available for the leader inside chimneys.
Looking towards Hoher Torstein from the summit. This will be the next summit we climb.
Another unique part of climbing here are jumps, which are done roped and are even graded. This was an easy grade 1 jump. We started on the left and jumped to the depression on the right.
Some of the wilder and higher graded jumps require one to land in climbing position on hand and foot holds.
Each summit has a series of rap bolts that are not part of a route. This one descended though a chasm.
And off to the next summit. For late October in Germany, the weather was really great. 65 F and sunny.
This climb would be a face climb on features that are typical for sandstone walls here. The climb follows the textures looking patch on the head wall visible at the top left.
This is a close-up of the texture that can be found on the wall.
The geology of the sandstone is such that water penetrates the rock and carries minerals to the surface. There the water evaporates leaving a mineral rich hard shell. The shell is mostly colored black due to manganese and a black lichen that lives there. Where the shell breaks away the rather crumbly sandstone core is exposed. This is a problem and popular, well traveled routes, are actually preserved by applying an epoxy like compound that protects the surface.
It is this epoxy compound that can render the rock rather frictionless. A problem that we both had to contend with at the top of this climb.
Looking south east along the rock face. Note the face on the lower right wall.
Looking north west. There is a nice long crack in the center of that wall, that I definitely want to try when I go back. For the last route of the day I had the choice between this crack and the face I'm going to climb next. I wanted to get all types of climbing, so I opted for the face. But that crack looks very nice.
Looking up on the Knirpelwand (translated Nubbed Wall). Here the hard outer shell is mostly eroded away and left behind and abundance of positive edges and finger pockets. But the wall is dead vertical and maybe even slightly overhanging. I did develop a pump and very much welcomed the rest near the top which involved an hourglass that I could wrap my arm around.
My guide and me on the last summit. The Falkenstein, which we climbed earlier, is in the background.
I'm planning to return next year and even bought a book that teaches knot-craft basics so I can do some lead climbing. What fascinates me most about that area is how strongly steeped in tradition it is.