I giggled with glee at the beautiful rock and wonderfully intriguing pocket moves that kept appearing. Gymnastic sequences kept coming and every hold needed careful but rapid thought to be used in the best way. I was loving it.
“This is the best 7b I’ve ever done” I shouted, implausibly. Anne and Lucy didn’t believe me, of course. Not until they got on the route themselves, then they agreed it really was something special. ‘Number one lang’ was, appropriately, the first route on our topo. There was a ‘Number one kurz’ too; a shorter but similarly-graded variant which shared the first two cruxes before finding two of its own. Both routes are worth the trip almost by themselves.
We were in the region in search of world class sportclimbing. We’d been in Arco but in the middle of a summer heatwave it isn’t the best place to be, since most of the climbing is at low altitude or in direct sun, or both. We’d acted on a tip-off and checked out the northwest corner of the dolomites – a stunning place with more rock and routes than you can shake a proverbial at, but lacking the one ingredient we so much wanted to find: overhanging single-pitch sportclimbing of the highest order. So we headed up to a region south of Salzburg in Austria to check out a higher-altitude supercrag we’d often heard mentioned, although we knew almost nobody who’d actually been there. Perhaps the rumours of a two-hour walk-in had put people off! It did take us that long too, but only because we started in completely the wrong place and proceeded to get hopelessly lost in the dense forest, eventually being kindly and humorously escorted by a bohemian group of German biologists! When we started at the right place the pleasant walk was comfortably under an hour.
Anne and I arrived to a feeling of deja-vu: Seeing a sunlit column of water plummeting from the overhanging face and crashing noisily some distance from the wall reminded us of our recent adventures on Angel Falls. But this was to be a very different experience; no hanging belays, everything well bolted, holds all solid. The only problem would be that we couldn’t get up anything! Well maybe I exaggerate, but there are a lot of very hard routes here and we soon found ourselves avoiding many of them to protect our egos.
Lucy Creamer met us at the crag, having driven her van from Blighty for a summer road tour. We would be the first in a succession of carefully-scheduled climbing partners on an extended climbing trip we both were envious of.
The crag may be most famous for Alex Huber’s impressive solos of Opportunist (8b) and Kommunist (8b+), two routes
on the centre-stage sick-hard leaning wall. Indeed, despite the crag behind the slender waterfall being 80m or so high, the eye is drawn inexorably to this 12m orange pocketed wall, projecting at an alarming angle from the foot of the grand edifice. Peak power-monsters would love it.
But there is more to Schleierwasserfall than short, fingery testpieces. Either side of this wall are more amenable but equally fine routes between 7a and 7c, and further left again the warm-up sector has a good choice of polished but still enjoyable 6b’s, nestled between the start of yet more hard routes (8a to 8b+), these ones being very different 30m+ stamina-fests with boulder problems thrown in for good measure.
We enjoyed climbing here for a few days, ticking off most of the more amenable lines, then just as it was becoming apparent that to get more out of the crag we’d have to start working something very hard we had a revelation. Well perhaps that’s putting it a bit strong; we looked in the guidebook! Unbeknown to us there was another wall lurking just out of sight no more than 20m away, and when we found it we started to drool.
The rock is very different to that of the main face. It’s grey and more compact, but far from being blank and smooth it’s peppered with pockets of all shapes and sizes, and its 30m height and gently-overhanging nature could almost have been designed for
climbing. What’s even more amazing is that it’s not even slightly polished. The orange rock of the main crag clearly polishes easily. One of the classics there – Überachung (7b) – must rank with Sardine, Wee Doris and most of Volx as having the shiniest holds in existence, although strangely the climbing is still good. But the left wall we’d stumbled upon was pristine, rough and perfect for climbing, as long as you like repeated problem-solving on pockets and edges for thirty metres while staving off a burning pump.
The crag faces Southeast and were it not so steep it would be too hot most of the day in the sun. As it is most walls are shaded by roofs above, especially in the afternoon, and the 1200m altitude is enough to keep the air temperature comfortable in summer. Naturally it stays dry in rain too, although seepage can be a problem after a major storm, particularly on the left wall. In the Autumn there will be less shade as the sun will be lower, but you’re more likely to be thankful of it then.
Apart from the walk it’s a very user-friendly crag. The sectors are very close together and quickdraws on many of the steepest routes are in place. There’s even a park bench at the bottom you can belay from! As at Ceüse people often stash ropes and gear at the crag to avoid having to carry it up each day. The locals have installed large lockable crates to keep their things in from one weekend to the next. We had to make do with keeping our ropes out of sight, but there seemed little chance of things going missing.
The best routes we did were grade 7’s (Number one Lang & Kurz (both 7b), Calimero (7b+), El Gringo (7a) and Buffalo Soldier (7c). Most of the easier routes are good warm-ups but maybe not worth the walk in their own right. Of the harder lines Tokamak, Chaos and Try Again (all 8b) looked to be the pick of the projects and were each very different in character.