With the weather at high of 22C today, we headed for our favorite family crag: Klettergarten Stetten. This time, I invited a friend and his family who’d recently bought a car and were now able to join. They jumped on the offer and off we went.
For anyone with kids, I highly recommend picking up Petzl’s Macchu kids climbing harness along with the separate chest harness. More cautious kids can always optionally use the chest version but since they’re not connected, they can grow right into a standard waist harness without you having to get a new one.
The Perils of Finding Saengerheim and the Klettergarten!
Unfortunately, getting there isn’t always easy since you end up driving uphill through the vineyards on roads where it looks like you shouldn’t. The signage is also poor and I made sure to stop and send him pics at several turns. Unfortunately, he fell for the “GPS told me so” trap and decided to park elsewhere. So over an hour later, they finally showed up after some wrong turns in the woods with toddlers in tow and picnic gear.
No visit to Allgau would be complete without some mountain related activites. The day before we’d visited Breitenberg and decided for a day trip to Kempten when the weather wasn’t looking so hot. Being at the foot of the Alps, Allgau is a dream come true for climbers and skiiers and of course home to a museum dedicate to exactly that. It features the cultural and geological history of the Alps on the first two floors with the topmost being reserved for climbing and skiing.
Since opening less than a year ago just north of Stuttgart, I had yet to make it to Griffwerk, a brand new climbing gym. With temps well below zero degrees today and the kids looking for something new, we finally decided to head over.
For anyone in the Stuttgart area, Griffwerk is well worth visiting, regardless of whether it’s the one nearest to you or not. It was finished less than a year ago and still has plenty of new gym shine and smell. There are two large bouldering areas with plenty of space and wall types as well as a nice central climbing area for roped climbs. Upstairs, there are two further roped climbing areas slightly shorter, perhaps 12 or 15 meters and mostly aimed at beginners and courses.
All routes are well labeled and even available in the Vertical Life app though I can’t comment on how useful that actually is. I have a few digital guidebooks in the app but have yet to use them.
Griffwerk Kids Area
The kids area is downright great. It’s not huge, but features both a little playhouse type thing with slide, climbing walls but also drawing, books and toys. For those with kids, climbing onyl kids areas can get old quick, especially if you’re off climbing yourself and the kids are there alone or with one parent. This offers more options so it’s a better rounded play area with plenty of activities to switch too when they get board.
Like all German gyms, they have a little cafe and serve food, caffeinated drinks and of course alcoholic ones too. Prices are reasonable and there are nice new couches and several tables to chill at with a good view of the action.
The lockers are spacious and operated by a little electronic key fob you get when checking in. You can also charge food and drinks to it to avoid carrying cash, and then pay when you leave. It’s much nicer than always having to remember to have a 1 or 2 EUR coin as with many other places. The bathrooms are separate from the locker rooms which is also practical.
I can’tc comment much on the outside area as it was -3C and I just ran out to see it and take some quick photos. It’s fairly sizable and made of the gym’s outer wall. Will definitely want to try it in summer. I had the impression construction wasn’t complete and am not sure whether more is coming nearby.
Here is a list of upcoming climbing competitions in southwestern Germany for those interested. They are usually low key affairs and fun to watch as a climber, or even with the family. The events are listed below and all take place at the respective DAV gym in each city. You may want to think twice before watching kids climbing comps though, they tend to put us adults to shame =)
04 March 2018 – Bouldering competition in Tuebingen.[
05 May 2018 – Bouldering competition in Stuttgart (at Waldau)
09 June 2018 – Lead climbing, Offenburg
15-16 Sept. 2018 – Lead & Speed competitions in Heilbronn
With two years of lugging around my Mammut 10.5mm rope, it was finally time to splurge on something thinner. After feeling up many a rope in climbing stores and pouring over online reviews, I opted for the Petzl Arial.
Not being enough of a crusher to choose 9.2 mm or below, nor wanting to climb on a python sized rope, 9.5 mm seemed to be the ideal diameter for a mere mortal.
It’s supple and easy to work with. I can’t write a pulitzer prize winning description, but as a climber you immediately feel the difference between a rough, stiff rope and a smooth, silky one.
Dry coat! – No worries about snow and ice, also more resistant to wear and dirt.
9.5 mm is super light without losing durability. The weight difference (58g/meter) is amazing on multipitch, both when leading and just managing rope.
Comes coiled and ready to climb with – a small bonus admittedly, but still nice.
Feeds super smooth, catches just fine in a Grigri (i.e. not too thin)
To be fair, there are some small negatives, but nothing that would make me hesitate to fully recommend the Arial.
Petzl Arial: Minor Disadvantages
Good feeding and smooth handling means it can slip a bit on tube devices
Stretches a bit more than thicker ropes which may or may not matter to you
Will wear a little more than thicker ropes, especially if you do lots of wandery multipitch
Granted, these downsides are minor and mostly a result of higher performance elsewhere (e.g. handling vs slipping more in some devices). I’m a big fan of Petzl, having a helmet, Macchu kids harness, Grigri and lots of Spirit Express draws. The Arial continues their record of awesome gear in my opinion and I’ll definitely be getting another Petzl rope whenever it comes time to replace this, or I have magically have enough free time to make getting half ropes worthwhile.
Belaying has a few universal principles that transcend culture. However, as fellow expats and travelers can attest to, there are still some noticeable belay differences in Germany compared to the US. In short, “semi automatic” tube devices are preferred and the munter hitch is very often used outdoors.
Belay Differences between Germany and the US: Death to Tubers! Long Live the Smart!
An observant foreigner may notice that German gyms have a conspicuous lack of tube style ATCs (aka “tubers” in German). This is not to say you won’t see them, but at least half of all belay devices will be assisted braking devices like the Edelrid Megajul or Mammut Smart or Austrialpin Fish. A German Alpine Club (DAV) study which is widely read and cited here in Germany strongly warns against using standard tube devices and indeed, you’ll never find them for rent at a gym and rarely even being used by
HMS forever, or Halbmastwurf
English speaking climbers all know the term HMS, usually from HMS carabiner. What they don’t know is that it stands for Halbmastwurf in German, or munter it’s known to us. The reason the carabiner is called such is because it was the style used (and most suited) for belaying with a munter or HMS. While many Americans cringe at the idea of belaying without a device, it’s something you still often see outdoors in Germany. Moreover, it is still taught and encouraged as well, and not just as a backup. Be prepared to see it used, especially outdoors for both leader and follower.
The Banshee Belay / Reihenschaltung
Reihenschaltung sicherung, which means approximately series connection/switching belay, is the German name for banshee belay. This is something that many American climbers may never have seen before. It seemingly violates the basic teachings drilled into us when starting out. Nevertheless, it’s safe, fast and very practical when used in the right context. As soon as you head outdoors in Germany, do not be alarmed =) Expect to see the locals using it liberally. So what is it? From multipitchclimbing.com:
Connecting high quality bolts in series is fast. This can be done with the rope or with a sling. Many will see this as a controversial approach as it doesn’t try to equalise, or minimise extension under partial failure. It is however common in much of Europe were new big fat bolts have been placed by trained individuals into solid rock.
Reihenschaultung sicherung is meant for use on high quality bolts only and looks like this:
With solid modern bolts, building a redundant anchor with force distribution is overkill. It may take a little getting used to, but the many crags with beautiful titanium glue-ins will soon win you over. You can find some German language resources on it here and here.
Summary: American and German Belay Differences
Germans and Americans both prefer different styles of belay devices, however, the Grigri is widely loved and used in both places. With less trad climbing and far better maintained crags nationally, Germany also has the luxury of using the Banschee belay (Reihenschaltung) on bolts in good condition. This is just not possible in many places in the US, UK or Australia due to geography, culture and climbing style. Americans should refresh their knowledge of the munter hitch before coming over and not be shocked when they see people using it as a primary method outside, not a backup after having dropped your belay device on multipitch!
Several years ago while taking a lead climbing class at Franklin Gorge, West Virginia, my instructor pulled out a thick pair of pink glasses. He didn’t seem to mind the color, size and spoke very highly of them. Being intrigued by the concept of belay glasses, we all took turns trying them on. I was sold instantly. Not long thereafter I picked up a pair of my own Belaggles, albeit in blue not pink. So here is my Belaggles review.
Belay Glasses: Belaggles Review
Nowadays, belay glasses have proliferated. Here in Germany, at least every second climber has them at my gym. Yet, Belaggles are not very common. Instead, most people seem to have CU’s which lack a hand carrying case.
After owning a pair for several years now, they are permanently attached to my harness for the gym and single pitch crags
The only time I do have the typical belayer’s neck is on multipitch where I leave them behind because they aren’t absolutely necessary and I dont need the extra weight. If you have never tried belay glasses, nothing I write will match the instant “lightbulb” moment of trying them once and feeling the difference. While there are different styles, shapes and weights, the benefits are clear as soon as you try them.
With several other styles on the market, you may ask what makes them different.
Size & Weight – Yes, they are a bit bulkier and heavier than others, but more durable and don’t easily slide around while belaying
Color – More options if that stuff matters to you
Carrying Case – Unlike some Euro brands, they come with a softcase that you can clip to your harness. This is hugely practical!
Most posts this time of year focus on the same goals or resolutions. My goal from the beginning has been “have fun and see pretty places” and that’s what I’ll continue to do. It’d be nice to advance a few grades, mostly to open more opportunities outdoors if anything, but only as a means to an end. With a full time job and family, I’m happy to get to the gym 3 times a month and hit the outside now and again when the weather is good.
Climb Germany will continue to be here and serve as a resource. New content probably won’t arrive until spring when I can get out to a few crags on my list. If anyone needs help or has questions until then, feel free to contact me here or on Mountain Project!