Bert and I start early. Our target: the south ridge (S-Grat) on Chöpfenberg (1894m). It’s just the two of us, so he fires up his Porsche to take us to Schwändital where we park. Between all the 4-wheel-drives and converted camper vans parked here, in this rugged camping area, the Porsche looks somewhat… erm… incongruous… Bert puts the hardtop back on, we sort gear, pay the parking fee, and then we set off.
The path starts off in the same direction as the Brüggler climbing area. Follow the road past the point where the Brüggler climbing track starts steeply uphill to the rock faces above. At point 1587 (on your map or GPS device), leave the path and continue straight along the contour.
Stay above the trees on your left and below the rock face on your right. At the far end of the rock face, veer diagonally upwards onto the grass slope above. Stay above the scree field on your left and continue to the clump of trees below the main ridge. When you get close to the south ridge, descend slightly to the base of the rock. Look out for the blue sling which marks the start of the climb. (Bert and I followed a more direct route across the scree. We ended up having to climb steeply and precariously on some very loose stuff to gain height to clear a deep scree gully.)
The first pitch is a delightful introduction to the ridge. A short traverse, on relatively easy terrain, brings you to the base of a chimney. No problems so far, despite the backpack not being ideal for climbing a chimney. Or for the fact that it feels more like a grade 4 than a grade 3 climb… But, given that this is a typical old alpine route and not a modern climbing route, one expects the grading to be slightly higher than the original route description. The climbing remains easy (grade 3 – 4) until we get to pitch 4.
Bert takes the lead on this overhanging pitch. After battling to free a sling which gets stuck in an awkward spot, Bert moves in to overcome the overhang. He’s run out of steam, though, from trying to free the sling, and after a few attempts decides to call it quits. He asks if I want to try it. I vaguely hear a voice saying, ‘yes, why not…’. And I’m certain it wasn’t mine…
We change positions. I’m now at the hot end of the rope. Bert belaying me. Onto the big, awkward block below the overhang. Fingers caressing the sharp right edge and feet finding grip on tiny protrusions on the near vertical block, I work my way up to the top of the block. Above me is the overhang. I can see what looks like a good hold higher up, but it is out of reach. I get my right hand onto something that feels almost solid. My left hand is clutching at little bits of nothing. As I move up gingerly, I find what feels like a handle for my left hand, and then a huge thank-god hold is in reach, my feet move up onto the overhang, and I know that I’ve climbed this crux pitch without any yo-yoing moves…
With a huge yeehaaa, I blow all the tension away, and then continue upwards to the top of this tower. I haul the packs up and then Bert follows without any problems. It’s definitely not a grade 4 pitch, though. 5b minimum in my estimation (and possibly 5c as suggested by authors elsewhere). And ps! It can be avoided by climbing further to the right on easy terrain.
Bert takes the lead on the next pitch. A left-slanting off-width crack with a steep chimney move at the top. Communication got a bit hairy round point, with Bert’s voice blown away by the wind. Not being able to hear your climbing partner makes for uneasy movement. You are not sure if they’re safe, or whether it’s your turn to climb. However, judging by the movement of the rope, first continuous movement, then some slack time while Bert is readying the belay point, followed by some rapid taking in off the rope, followed by no movement, made me decide it was time to climb. The next few grades 3/4 pitches are straightforward, albeit airy in places, with some grass slopes in between.
And then we get to the final 11th pitch. A thin diagonal crack leads upwards to the right below a steep wall. Bert sets off leading this one and I follow shortly after. It turns out to be easier than it looks from the bottom. A short scramble on a grass slope brings us to the top of Chöpfenberg.
Time for a quick, late snack before we start the descent. My sandwich got a bit battered during the pack haul. Cheese and tomato covering various items in my pack. Nothing that can’t be cleaned off later. The squashed sandwich nevertheless tastes delightful! And just what I needed after the hot and hard work, climbing nine solid pitches of mostly grade 4+. After writing our names in the summit logbook, we start on the descent.
The descent is somewhat perilous. Steep ground, interspersed with rock and patches of unstable snow. In one or two places there are cables installed to hold on to. They may be enough for the summer months. But we were climbing this route while the snows were still lying thick on north-facing slopes. Perhaps abseiling would have been a better option in some of these areas. We eventually make our way down to the contour path and continue our descent back to the car park at Schwändital. Along the way, we watch as a ‘Gemse’ (chamois) feeds on a patch of grass above a snowfield. When we get below it, with the wind blowing from our direction across to where it is feeding, it picks up our smell and darts off across a snowfield, disappearing over a ridge.
We stop off at the ‘refreshment station’ – a zinc bathtub filled with water from the stream gurgling past. You can pay with ‘Twint’ (electronically), or put money in the honesty box. The beer tastes great after a hot day on the rock. Even to me, who prefers beer shandies or Radlers to plain beer.
Another half an hour’s walk brings us back to the car. The sun disappearing and darkness beginning to set in. Perfect time to get back to the car after a brilliant mountain day.
More information about climbing the S-grat (south ridge) on Chöpfenberg
The prominent Chöpfenberg south ridge (S-grat) can be seen from a long way off. The climbing over multiple small towers, resembling a dragon’s back from afar, is scenic and pleasant. The walk-in/walk-out takes about an hour-and-a-half from the car park at Schwändital. The climbing itself should take about 3-4 hours. We took our time, and probably took closer to 5 hours to climb the route.
Topos, maps, etc.
The best source of information with maps showing the approach and a route description (in German) can be found on the SAC (Swiss Alpine Club) website: “S-Grat Chöpfenberg 1894 m“. Other articles (all in German) include “Chöpfenberg Südgrat“, and a route description on ‘Gipfelbuch‘.