I pull down hard on a good edge, locking in, and try to spring for the next hold, also positive, not so far, but it feels impossible... I drop back into the pit, tired and a bit demoralised. I breathe, and as I do the tall trees make their way into my awareness, the churn of running water, the moss that creeps onto my boulder problem and the fresh, damp, dirty smell of the wood that surrounds us. The bouldering, we were finding, sometimes felt pretty hard. But the Wood really was Magic.
Some vague plans to head away bouldering at the end of a busy spring and summer were solidified by friends Tom and Pippa asking if we wanted to join them for a climbing trip in Magic Wood. Somehow, during five years of meandering round European bouldering and sport crags, we have never visited this hard climber's sweet spot in Switzerland. The weather forecast, as seems standard for our trips, showed a block-out of rain and kept us uncertain to the end, but we decided to risk it and were rewarded by brilliant sunshine on our first couple of days.
Despite watching a few videos and such, it was exciting to walk the wooden bridge across the river, clear and slightly turquoise, and take those first steps into the cool shade of the wood. The path is wet and almost muddy from the last few day's rain, and there are bursts of cool air and warm sunny spots as we walk. Odd fungi dot the edges, some crushed by eager feet, and the path is fringed by creeping bilberry shrubs. Five minutes gets us to the first boulders, green-grey gneiss, chalk daubed and frequently topped with shaggy vegetation toupees. People are everywhere, grouped around boulder problems, high-liners bouncing above the river and walkers watching the spectacles that surround them, but the human noise is softened by the sound of flowing water and the environment is surprisingly peaceful.
The first day took a bit of adapting to the climbing style. A combination of things meant we weren't quite on the ball and found the climbing quite hard. Tired from travel and faced with a very straightforward, strength based climbing style (compared to the more technical, subtle style of Fontainebleau that we are used to), but probably most key, expectations that the boulder problems would feel, well, a little easy for the grade. Regardless of this the environment was awe-inspiring, a chaos of rock thrown down the mountains, and an impressive amount of bouldering in such a small area. Although the 'Wood is synonymous with big-game boulder hunting, it was refreshing to also find a huge variety of good quality mid to low grade boulders. This seemed to dilute the daunting impression of a serious climbing arena, suitable only for the elite.
On day two, with a bit more energy, we made our way round the 'strawberry classics': routes highlighted in the guidebook for being particularly enjoyable. This was a fun way to better explore the bouldering. Some standouts included; Grit de Luxe (7b/7a+), an essential boulder problem right off the riverside pebbles; Intermezzo (7c), board-style crimping on a small overhang; Jenny (6c), a varied traverse and Gulliver Kante (7a), a pretty arête with a tricky start.
Sam having a blast in Magic Wood - photographs by Tom Lloyd
We had planned two three-day visits, with a few days in nearby bouldering spot Chironico in between to break it up and get in some rest days. This also had the upside that we only had to pay for four nights camping for six days climbing in Magic Wood. So we returned, rested, for MW trip part 2, when we were also meeting two more friends, Dan and Jack. This time we got a bit more stuck in, with greater familiarity with the style and a bit more of a 'try hard' mentality. We still ended up touristing about again with little aim and again marvelling at the sheer quantity of striking boulders scattered across the hillside. And then, Sam got ill. He spent our last day in the van, snoozing and looking pale and I went out and climbed a couple of easier routes, including the dreamy Banana Split (6a+).
It's less usual for us to have time pressures on climbing as when in Fontainebleau we are more used to having shorter sessions spread over a longer time period. The constraints did effect what we tried, focussing on lots of different boulders rather than returning to the same problems. This was a good way to visit a new area and climbing with different people meant that we tried boulders that we might not have otherwise. It's nice to have a concept of the climbing area and style, so that next time we can (if we so choose...) project some harder boulder problems as well as continuing to explore that rich landscape.
Magic Wood is somewhere that you want to travel light, because of the continuous up and down, over trees, boulders and people, but that you can't really. Landings are predominantly less than perfect to downright terrible, so the more crash pads the better. Temperatures on a sunny day can be hot enough to climb in shorts and t shirt until the afternoon when the sun drops behind the hillside and you remember that you're at a fairly high altitude in an alpine climate. We carried lots of clothes and food each day along with pads and found that our bodies were feeling pretty worked by the whole experience.
It is semi-obligatory to stay at Bodhi camping as wild-camping is illegal and van-camping unpopular locally; happily the camping is pleasant despite a roadside location, sat under tall pines above the river. It costs 11.50CHF per person per night, which works out better if you're on your own than sharing a tent or van, but is still reasonable by Swiss prices. Showers are extra but they do the job properly. The other option is to stay in local accommodation.
Food shopping is easiest in a larger nearby town such as Thusis, and can be done more cheaply at Aldi or Lidl if you are on a budget (we were). A highway pass is really useful for getting around Switzerland, becoming essential outside summer months.
If you are climbing in Magic Wood, please pay it the same respect that every outdoor climbing area deserves, and take the time to find out local ethics. Access is delicate here, so tread softly. Keep to main paths, don't destroy vegetation, don't overuse chalk and remove any excess or tick marks after you climb. Pay attention to where you park, shit responsibly, don't leave any litter and be nice to locals – they are working together with climbers to allow access to the boulders.