Most people associate Swiss climbing with bouldering: Magic Wood, Cresciano and Chironico are just some of the destinations on offer. However, there are a few world-class destinations in Switzerland outside the realm of bouldering. One such destination is Gimmelwald; hidden amongst the towering, snowy peaks of the Jungfrau region, it offers an incredible range of sport climbing. Jonathan Siegriest and Adam Ondra's recent visits to the area go some way to proving its quality.
What's on offer?
There are two main areas for sport climbing in Gimmelwald; Sector A and Sector B. Sector A is hard, with a grade range from 7b up to 9a, it offers an incredible amount of steep and overhanging routes for the climber with a lot of power endurance. All of the routes are on perfect orange limestone and for those who are after a project on an 'aesthetic' line, look no further - the crag is situated in a stunning location with panoramas of some of Switzerland's impressive snowy peaks. The locals recommend most of the routes depending on your climbing ability and they have also made it easy to navigate the crag by painting route names at the base of each climb.
Although Sector A does not offer masses of choice for those operating in the high 7s, the routes that do exist are quality; starting from the short and steep 7b 'Furio', which makes up for its lack of length (it finishes half-way up an 8c) through movement quality. 'Men at Work' is a highly recommended 7c+, a long and sustained challenge with anchors higher than most other routes. Right next to it is the 8a 'Hercules' which offers the same kind of challenge in terms of power endurance, but is not quite as long. Sector A, however, is most renowned for its very difficult climbs and it's easy to see why Jonathon Siegrist and Adam Ondra have visited. 'Jungfraumarathon' is the 9a test piece Ondra almost onsighted and next door is the classic 8c, 'Gimmelexpress' which are both incredibly steep!
Sector A is a south-facing crag that gets a bit of morning sunshine but due to its overhanging nature, is shaded for the rest of the day and stays cool even in the summer. This is also advantageous when it comes to staying dry; on the first day of our arrival there was a deluge of torrential rain but we climbed in perfect conditions the very next morning and despite a couple of routes being slightly wet the rest of the crag was bone dry. After talking to some local climbers we discovered that it is much the same going into the colder months.
Sector B is far more varied in its climbing style and grade range and is more suitable for the less established climber or someone not quite operating in the 7s and above. It is mainly vertical climbing with the odd overhang on grey and orange limestone. The grades range from low 5s up to the high 7s and the crag possesses the same stunning views of the Jungfrau mountain range as Sector A. Although it is also south-facing and therefore dries quickly, it does get wet in the rain and you might have to wait a morning/day for it to dry.
Unfortunately it does not get as much traffic as Sector A and because of its exposure to the elements you may have to spend a bit of time cleaning some parts of the route before sending; a small price to pay considering the place you are in and the quality of the rock! The names of the routes on the right hand side of Sector B have a football theme, starting with a row of great 6as: 'Ronaldo', 'Penn Alti' and 'Brasilia' through to the locally renowned 'Foul' which clocks in at 6c+. There are also a few multi-pitch routes in the sector such as 'Food Ball' (7b) and 'Off sight' (7a+). Also recommended on the left hand side of Sector B is 'Fussball', a 7a+ with some tricky moves.
The village of Gimmelwald itself is very unique and its location is both a blessing and a curse for the travelling climber. It is a car-free village perched on the side of the Bernese mountains and is therefore only accessible via cable car or an hour and a half walk. This means total solitude in one of Switzerland's most beautiful areas and you won't need to worry about queuing for any routes. However, the walk-in from Gimmelwald to the crag itself is forty-five minutes, so you do spend a lot of time getting to the crag.
There are two options for the walk in; either get the cable car up and then walk to the crag for forty-five minutes or walk all the way from Stechelberg, a village at the base of the valley; this takes roughly one and a half to two hours. We usually chose the latter option returning from the crag as the walk down is less strenuous and very scenic. The cable car from Stechelberg is 6.20 Swiss Francs for a single and 12 for a return. It takes roughly ten minutes and leaves every fifteen minutes during the summer months and every half an hour on the shoulder seasons. An old but useful link here.
Another option is to stay in Gimmelwald and avoid cable car logistics altogether. B&Bs cost anything from fifty Swiss francs a night per person to one hundred (depending on how luxurious you fancy going). The firm favourite with climbers should be the Mountain Hostel. At 40 Swiss Francs a night it is the cheapest of the accommodation in Gimmelwald and it has a great bar/restaurant area with a panoramic garden to have a beer or coffee after a good day of climbing. Check this link out for more details.
The Surrounding Area
There is so much to do on days when you are resting from climbing that you will probably find yourself having to prioritise! For those seeking adrenalin there is bungee jumping, sky-diving, white water rafting and paragliding, to name a few, and a visit to one of the many travel agents/restaurants in Lauterbrunnen, which is on the way into Stechelberg, will provide all the information you need to do any of these activities.
For those on a tighter budget, mountain biking and walking to see some of Jungfrau's waterfalls, mountains and villages is a great thing to do. The local cheese, cured meats and honey are very tasty and a delicious local delicacy is cheese fondue with potato rostis. Lauterbrunnen is a one-hour (very gentle) walk from Stechelberg along a picturesque river and is a great place to eat and drink with numerous cafes and restaurants.
Summer is a great time to go as the crags stay cool due to the altitude. The shoulder seasons are also good but winter can get very cold and snowy.
How to get there...
Although there are obvious advantages to hiring a car, it is possible to reach Gimmelwald without one, the public transport network in Switzerland is very good. We had a friend meet us by flying to Zurich and getting the train to Lauterbrunnen, from there it is a five-minute bus journey to Stechelberg.
Where to stay...
What gear to take...
You'll need all the usual sport climbing gear. 12-18 quickdraws will be enough for the majority of the pitches but bring a few extra if you fancy tackling the odd longer pitch.
Guidebooks and information...
Topos for Gimmelwald do exist in extensive guidebooks which cover regions of Switzerland but they are hard to come by in the UK and with the area being an 'up and coming' destination many of the new lines that have been established recently may not be in there. We picked up a printed topo from Camping Rutti, it's free and has the majority of the routes on it. Friendly locals are always willing to help and chat at the crag as well...their English is very good!