Jasper and Rathmayr ice climbing fest in Bernese Oberland
Over three days at the start of January Robert Jasper from Germany and Bernd Rathmayr from Switzerland ascended three immense icefalls in the Bernese Oberland, Switzerland climbing over a kilometer of vertical ice in the Lauterbrunnental and Kandersteg.
Ice conditions in the Bernese Oberland have been remarkably good this winter and Ralph Jörg and Peter von Känel timed the cold to perfection to carry out the long-awaited first ascent of the extraordinary Buchenbachfall in the Lauterbrunnental. The 420m route, now called B.A.S.E., rarely if ever comes into condition… Not one to miss a trick, Robert Jasper from Germany teamed up with Swiss Bernd Rathmayr to repeat the line and make the first one day ascent on 3 January, before heading off to Kandersteg to make the first ascent of their "Almendudler” (M 9+/10-, 350m) at the Almenalp. Still not content, a day later the duo also repeated the ultra classic "Crack Baby" to complete their trilogy which ascends over 1000m of vertical ice and, interestingly, also spans 15 year of ice climbing history. The report by Daniela Jasper is published below.
Ice – Trilogy, report by Daniela Jasper
During Christmas and New Year 2008 ice conditions in the Bernese Oberland were ideal. Together with Markus Stofer, Robert Jasper finished equipping the 350m high "Almendudler”, a mixed route previously attempted in winter 2003. Planning to redpoint this project, Robert was then informed by Bernd Rathmayr that the hitherto unclimbed "Buchenbachfall” in the Lauterbrunnental had just received its first ascent at the hands of two locals Ralph Jörg and Peter von Känel. The two had climbed the route over two different days (29.12.2007 to pitch 8, 31.12.2007 the final three pitches via abseil from top) and called the line "B.A.S.E.” because of the dozens of base jumpers who dropped down over their heads. This is an extraordinary icefall with over 400m of near vertical ice which presents continuous difficulties up to WI 6+. An impressive performance by the two first ascenders! Because the route hadn’t received its first single day ascent and because conditions were still good, Jasper and Rathmayr decided to try their luck on the 2nd of January 2008.
Early in the morning on 02/01/08 Jasper and Rathmayr had quickly climbed the first third thanks to simul climbing with their headlamps. But steep and doubtful ice then forced them to belay. Swapping leads after each pitch the two climbers enjoyed better ice as they gained height on the last 8 pitches, including two crux pitches graded WI 6+.
After the descent on foot down to Lauterbrunnen the weather forecast predicted "Föhn”, the strong warm wind from the south that normally melts all icefalls. But would an Allmendudler attempt still be possible the next day?
Despite the strong Föhn the two ice freaks were joined by photographer Klaus Fengler and the three headed to the base of the icefall. "Only when standing right below the icefall can you see if it’s safe to climb or if it’s better to grab a couple of beers in the village below. Cold air in the Kandersteg valley had managed to withstand the Föhn and ice conditions were perfect. Nevertheless we had to climb fast because of the length of the route, thankfully I knew the hardest sections from previous attempts. And with such tired arms the M9+/10 redpoint ascent would otherwise have been out of the question” remembered Robert Jasper. Everything went perfectly and after 7 hours the first ascent was complete.
At this point only the warm wind stood in the way of the personal trilogy. How would the weather develop? What about the avalanche situation? While descending from Almendudler Robert persuaded his partner to cancel his appointments and accompany him the next day on the third route. In order to include all the facets of the modern ice and mixed climbing the two climbers wanted to complete their 3 days program with an absolute steep ice classic. Warm weather conditions meant that only one route could be considered seriously: Crack Baby.
Jasper states: "Crack Baby” isn’t just a great classic for me, it is also a journey back in time to the 1997 when we had to fight hard for the route’s third ascent. At the time it was one of the hardest and longest ice climbs, a really impressive test piece.” Ice master Xavier Bongard first cracked the route together with Michael Gruber in winter 1993, and the icefall was probably one of the first to be graded WI 6. This was the absolute limit of what was possible at the time, and that is why this extreme classic still counts as one of the best icefalls in Europe.
This season the small cable car which transports the climbers 700m higher was severely damaged so that the 1000m height gain from the valley to the base of the route had ascended on foot and on backcountry skis. The ascent had to fast or with a bivy, but since the cable car doesn’t work the alpine character and adventure of the whole Breitwangflue is greater than before.
The following morning the two ascended through the dark with backcountry skis to reach the base of the Breitwangfluh. Although they felt the effort of the last two days, they were still highly motivated to climb that dream line, a huge 340m stream of ice.
After just 4.5 hours of climbing they reached the top, thus completing their three day trilogy. They abseiled off Abalakovs and fixed belays to reach the base of the route, then skied back down into the valley.
WI 6+, 420m
Valley of Lauterbrunnen, Buechenbach
1st ascent: Ralph Jörg & Peter von Kanel. on 29. and 31/12/07 (abseil descent from top for final three pitches on second day).
1st one day ascent: Robert Jasper & Bernd Rathmayr, 03/01/08 in 7.5 hours, onsight.
M 9+/10-, 350m
1st ascent: Robert Jasper & Bernd Rathmayr, 04/01/2007 in 7 hours; the route was equipped in 2003 and 2008 together with Markus Stofer
3. "Crack Baby"
WI 6, 340 Meter
1st ascent: Xavier Bongard & Michael Gruber, 1993, nowadays considered an extreme classic.