Starting off...

This is a summary of my climbing efforts up to the time my blog starts.  The chronological order might be somewhat warped, since I started climbing at the tender age of 43, an age where the memory starts sucking a tad.  I hope that someone will find these ramblings somewhat inspirational and can relate to it a bit better than the stories of some pros ("I started at the age of 11 and climbed my first 5.13b with 13...").

March 2007

It's all Rikita's fault. In March 2007 she took me bouldering for the first time. She had started about a year earlier and was doing a university course in sports climbing at the time.  Since she lives and studies in Berlin, which is deplorably devoid of real rocks, all there are are climbing gyms and outside facilities emulating real rock.

The Kegel

The first place she introduced me to is called the Kegel.  It is a massive old water tower, 18 meters in height, 11 meters to the ledge, garnished with artificial holds but also with "natural" features chiseled into the concrete.  They have an indoor bouldering section, and this is where we started.  I rented some climbing shoes and off we went.  I remember feeling awkward and a little overwhelmed, since she wanted to play a game called "packing your suitcase" where you have to copy the other's moves and introduce a new one, which was a bit much for the first day, since my major concern was not to fall off and get a feeling for how to place your hands and feet there.  I remember being pretty pumped up after just a few moves, but I also remember that I got a bit higher on one problem than she did, which didn't have anything to do with our abilities, but more with my size (I am 10 cm taller than her).

I was intrigued... We went outside towards the end to do some traversing on the Kegel itself, which I found even more interesting.  Needless to say, I was hooked right from the beginning.

We went there again two weeks later (we are taking turns in commuting to each other's place on the weekends) and this time it felt more natural already and we climbed a few easy routes indoors before we went out and traversed again.  This gave me the opportunity to look at climbers who did the sports routes there as well - which we would try at a later session there.

April 2007

The new shoes

Well, I wanted to get more serious about the whole thing and did some research on the net for climbing places in and around my hometown.  I found a privately owned bouldering place, run by the IG-Klettern Hildesheim.  I contacted them via their website to enquire about opening hours asf.  At the same time I found a shop in my hometown selling climbing and mountaineering gear.  Since I didn't want to rent shoes every time I went climbing I got down there to buy my first pair of climbing shoes - the famous Five Ten Asanazi Lace Up, which were on special offer and a chalkbag.  Thus vested with everything I needed for the time being, I went to the bouldering place, which was only accessible for members who had a key for it.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find the entrance and went roundabouts for some time until I finally approached someone in a second hand stuff warehouse, who not only pointed me to the right direction, but showed me to the staircase leading up to the place.

The door wasn't locked, but there weren't any other climbers.  I signed myself into their list and left my contribution in a box and tried out my new shoes.  Unfortunately, all the walls were overhanging, so I got pretty pumped quickly and needed some breaks.  In a fashion I was quite happy that I was there on my own, since I could try out things without making a fool out of myself in front of experienced climbers.  After 1 1/2 hours or so I was done in and my feet were hurting like hell, when some other boulderers arrived, which gave me the opportunity to introduce myself and get some more info about the place.  I felt that this place was a bit too demanding for a beginner like me and I resolved to check out another place I had read about on the net, 30 km from my hometown, so easy cycling distance.

The Escaladrome

The Escaladrome is an indoor bouldering place in Hannover.  It has problems for all difficulty levels and this was exactly what I had been looking for.  Needless to say that I spent many happy hours there, as many as my time and budget would allow for. I started working on a few problems in the lower and medium difficulty level and got a lot of good tips from other climbers.  Bouldering is excellent to learn how to climb, without the encumbrance of gear and the opportunity to rest hanging on a rope.  Right from the beginning problems with difficult technical moves, sequences where it was darn difficult to keep your balance fascinated me, and with time I learned to climb less with my arms and more with my legs.  That of course didn't prevent my fingers suffering from my first ill-prepared attempts at roofs and overhangs.

First climbing session

Rikita was pretty pleased that I had taken an interest in her hobby and arranged for a friend of hers, who had taught climbing to children for a while, to meet us at the Kegel and show me the ropes so to speak. Since she started to learn how to lead on sports routes in her university course, I had the opportunity to watch her trying this on a fairly easy route, before it was my turn.  She got as far as to the last bolt before the anchor, but then her awareness of being above the quickdraw kicked in, and she couldn't continue.  Her friend Carl, who had taught her initially as well, belayed her for that, later I was to belay him, as he was much taller and heavier than both of us.  First I had to attempt to bring up the rope.  I wasn't exactly scared, but quite confused about what I had to do.  I managed to put in one more quickdraw, but somehow I couldn't get up to the anchor myself either.  The climbing itself was easy enough, but I remember that I was a bit scared of doing something stupid once I reach the anchor, since I had no idea whatsoever what to do if and when I did.  Carl eventually brought the rope up, and we both managed to do the route in toprope afterwards.  However, Carl's ascent was my first time belaying someone using a grigri, an automatic belaying device I found difficult to handle.  Poor Carl must have suffered quite a bit by being belayed by me, as I couldn't get a good feeling for this bloody device.  He actually told Rikita afterwards that he was quite scared when he did the lead on a more difficult route afterwards, again with me belaying him.  That one we both didn't manage, since the last move eluded us somehow, but after all that had been a 5+ (UIAA, YDS 5.8) already, as I later learned.

I enjoyed that session, but had felt that all this information I had to take in had been a bit much, like tying the knot, belaying and so forth... So I started to see the fascination of actual sports climbing, but still preferred the more unencumbered feeling of bouldering, where you have to focus just on climbing and nothing else.

Movies, movies and a book...

I managed to acquire lots of climbing and bouldering movies, like "Dosage", "Masters of Rock", "Inertia" and "First Ascent".  As gratifying as my bouldering sessions at the Escaladrome were, I really wanted to get my hands on real rock after watching them.  So the next time we went to the climbing shop, to get a harness and some shoes for Rikita (Karl had convinced her that my shoes were brilliant and they were still on special offer) I got myself a book called "HarzBlock", about bouldering in the Harz, the nearest mountain range about 100 km from my hometown.  There are hundreds of problems in many different areas, and quite a few "easy blocs" and low graded problems, which lead us to believe that we could attempt them without a crashpad, as we didn't have enough money for that.

May 2007

We went too far...

We had the book, the motivation and a train-ticket to the Harz.  We took our bikes along, as we had planned to cycle to the boulder area from Goslar, boulder and then head back to my hometown by bike.  Unfortunately, neither of us seem to be particularly great at map reading, or we both just didn't look at the scale of the maps enough.  In any case, we went straight past the area where we wanted to climb and ended up at the Okertalsperre (dam of the river Oker) which was some ten kilometers further than we actually had to go, which hurt a tad as it was going uphill all the time.  However, we just chose another area (Feigenbaum) which was closer to the dam and cycled as far as we could, then pushed a while, until we eventually had to leave our bikes behind as the path got steep and difficult.

I got really excited when we finally saw the first boulders and wanted to start climbing right away, but Rikita, who is always a bit more cautious than me in that respect, wanted to wait until we could identify a boulder from the book beyond doubt.  That unfortunately wasn't as easy as we had thought.  I think we found one or two boulders that were actually in the book, and did a few easy ascents there, but were too frustrated altogether to spend more time searching and ended up climbing at the "Mousefalle", which wasn't a boulder as such, but nice to climb on anyway.




Rikita and me bouldering at the Feigenbaum area, Harz.

It was getting late and we had quite a stretch of cycling ahead of us, so we left hoping that the next time we would have more luck...

June/July 2007

New stomping grounds

After I had taken Rikita a couple of times to the Escaladrome it became obvious that she didn't enjoy bouldering as much as climbing.  When in Berlin, we went to the Kegel and another outdoor facility called Kirchbachspitze, where we met up with Carl again, who lives near by.  The Kirchbachspitze is great, because it has a variety of routes, with grooves, corners and edges (not to mention that it is actually free of charge).  It is 12,5 m high and has artificial holds, but is fairly structured, so that you get a feeling quite similar to rock.  Carl was kind enough to lend us a rope there and soon Rikita and me bought our own quickdraws, so that we could fully avail ourselves of this facility.


Rikita, Sigrid and me climbing at the Kirchbachspitze, Berlin-Schöneberg

Hildesheim is close to three mountain ranges which allow for sports and trad climbing: The Harz, where we went bouldering (granite), the Bodensteiner Klippen (sandstone) and the Ith (limestone).  From what we had heard up until then, in all those areas you'd have to place your own protection and since neither of us had ever done that before, we decided to wait until we learned that properly in a course or something and rather check out an indoor climbing place in Hannover, which is part of an adventure and recreational facility called Campo.  The routes and their variety there is ok, but the place is loud and quite expensive.  Nevertheless, we had a place to go climbing when in Hildesheim, rather than bouldering.

Since my main focus was on climbing now, I started progressing somewhat faster than expected.  By the end of July, I had toproped my first 7- (5.10b), although rather hanging in the rope a lot and muscling my way through difficult sections.

Some of Rikita's friends from her university course joined us when climbing in Berlin, which was good, since she started to get a little frustrated with me progressing much faster than she did.  Of course I have the unfair advantage of having done one kind of sport or another throughout my life and I suppose doing yoga for more than 20 years wasn't exactly harmful either.  On top, she always has to improvise to get to holds I can just about reach, as I've been told I have rather long arms for my size (1,70 m).  Sigrid, one of our regular climbing partners, has about her height, so they can exchange themselves much better when doing the same routes.

August 2007

The Return of the Lost

After the first mishaps with not finding the boulders we were looking for in the Harz, we went back in August, this time for a proper weekend camping trip.  We had scheduled a two-week holiday at the beginning of September in Portugal, so we wanted to use one of the few nicer weekends of that summer to do a bit of hiking and, of course, bouldering.  On the evening we arrived, we found some boulders along our first hiking route, and this time I just didn't care whether those were proper boulders or not, I had to try at least one that looked promising.  The lack of a crashpad and the fact that the whole thing was kinda slippery as overgrown on crucial points prevented me from a full ascent though.


An unknown boulder by the wayside, Okertal, Harz

On the next day we did a long hike - and got lost again, since we took a wrong turn somewhere that proved to be costly time- and energy-wise.  When we finally made it back to our bikes, we were almost too shafted to go bouldering, but it just didn't feel right not to try.  Again we missed the area several times when cycling along the same road that had fooled us before, and an American boulderer who had just finished his session and put his crashpads back into his car was our rescue in the end, as he managed to point us to the area we were looking for: The Studentenklippen.

After having trouble identifying some boulders, we eventually managed to find some and did a few comparatively easy problems (I think the hardest was like Fon 5b) - again, I didn't want to risk my health without a proper crashpad.  The photos are of easier problems, as Rikita spotted me when doing slightly harder ones.


Then we met three guys from Hannover, whom I had seen at the Escaladrome before.  They were trying a problem called "Piratennest" (pirate's nest) Fon 6a+, and since they had pads, I gave it a go... by that time I was too tired to accomplish anything though, and gave up after two attempts.  At least we got some nice photos out of that one...;-)



Rikita did climb a few of the easier problems, but they were still quite scary for her, so I couldn't take any pictures as I was busy spotting her. So this is her on our first hike, after climbing something not quite so demanding:


In any case, it was a nice trip and this time at least we did actual boulders.  But we will certainly return, then hopefully with the proper equipment and the necessary sense of direction...

September 2007

Portugal - Sintra

A two-week holiday in Portugal - of course we tried to find and enquire about places to boulder.  Some nice climbers from Portugal tried to give us as much information as possible, but since this holiday wasn't really about climbing or bouldering, but about sight-seeing and hiking, we didn't actually do an awful lot.  The first place they recommended was Sintra.  We had planned a one-day trip from Lisbon, but didn't get to the bouldering area.  So all I tried was a boulder at the wayside and a rather foolhardy attempt to get to a statue on a pile of rocks (almost managed...)


Well, got a bit higher than that, but not much... no holds...

Portugal - Pedra do Urso

Serra da Estrela, a beautiful area for hiking, of which we did a lot (the longest hike being over 50 km in a day).  We had enquired about bouldering opportunities and re-located to be able to go to Pedra do Urso.  The day didn't start particularly auspicious, as it was raining and then thick fog covered the higher peaks.  Fortunately for us, it cleared during the day and off we went.  Pedra do Urso is a vast field, and we only managed to cover a very small portion of it - most of the problems (which are marked, thanks to Portuguese boulderers, I wish they would do that here too...) were actually quite difficult.  Again we attempted only the safe and easy ones, going up to Fon 6c  (which I didn't quite manage - last move eluded me).  Definitely a place I would like to return to one day, with lots of time on my hands and preferably a crashpad.



October/November 2007


With the weather slowly but surely deteriorating, we had to find a place in Berlin to do some indoor climbing.  Rikita did her university courses at the Magic Mountain, but it was quite far from her place and one of our climbing partners had suggested to check out a place in Neuköln, which was just like a 30 minute walk from her place: T-Hall.

The place is great, again there is a wide variety of routes, with structured artificial rock on some walls.  It is quite busy there most of the weekends, but it is definitely worth it.  An additional bonus is a small sauna, which is great after an afternoon of fierce climbing to relax your tortured muscles.

DAV Climbing Gym at the Hildesheim University

A lot of the German climbers are organized in the DAV, which stands for Deutscher Alpenverein (German Alp's Club).  They have local sections in almost every major town in Germany, organizing tours and hikes, courses and owning climbing places indoors and outdoors (the Kirchbachspitze in Berlin for instance is theirs too).  As we could not afford to travel to Hannover by train and then pay € 14 on top for the entrance fee at Campo every other weekend, we went to the climbing gym of the Hildesheim section of the DAV located at the Hildesheim University.  Although just 6,80 m high, there is a variety of interesting routes to work on, including a roof (which we haven't tried as yet of course).

December 2007

Dear Santa

We were starting to look ahead, preparing ourselves for the next season.  One thing was clear, in 2008 we would want to climb outdoors in real rock.  We joined the Berlin section of the DAV, as they might offer courses to learn a proper lead in real rock with placing your own gear (and you do get a discount in many indoor climbing gyms) and got Santa involved in our preparations:  Rikita got a 60 m rope for Christmas, and I got a set of nuts.

Unfortunately we didn't climb as much as we wanted... cold and flu season affected me more than I would have liked, so instead of progressing further I had difficulties maintaining my standards from late summer and autumn.

January/February 2008

Getting ready to rock

After a few weeks of stagnating, I started feeling better again.  I did a few 7+s (5.11a) at T-Hall and the DAV gym and eventually toproped an 8- (5.11b) at the Campo at the beginning of February, so I felt pretty chuffed about my development again.  I decided to take training a bit more serious and ordered some campus boards, a few small holds and a pull-up bar for both of us, so that we can develop finger and body strength to be ready for the outdoor climbing season.  In addition I am researching the climbing areas closest to my hometown (Ith and Bodensteiner Klippen) and started gearing up for those (getting a set of Tri-Cams, which are apparently very useful for the Ith).


This is an amazing climbing movie, from which I drew a lot of inspiration, as well as from Dave MacLeod's website, where he gives excellent training tips and inspired me to try and document my progress here as well.  I hope to be able to see him for some coaching sessions in the long run, but that lies more in the distant future.  I think quite a lot of the new momentum to my training efforts is due to this highly inspirational movie and his site.