Switzerland has some of the most famous bouldering sites around. By some coincidence it also sits on roughly the most direct route to Northern Italy, where we had intentions to go to the bouldering festival Melloblocco. And so the idea for a mini road trip was born out of a weekend away, and we set forth from France with the vaguest outlines of a plan, a few bags of wholegrain pasta and a kilogram sack of madeleines (in case the rumours about prices in Switzerland turned out to be true).
The journey across France was long but relaxed, through green countryside that gradually grew up as we reached the Alps. We stopped in a foggy town by a river, with late night grumps and indecisions. The next morning the fog had cleared along with any teasiness, and we started out early to hit... Switzerland!
We crossed the border high up in the middle of nowhere, and rolled down a strangely dull brown hillside into Switzerland. The landscape quickly morphed into more bright green vegetation, and then we were on the beautiful steel blue lakesides, and past them heading into the mountains. The roads were a total novelty to us. Usually, we tend to drive on the free roads instead of paying tolls for a faster journey, which saves us a fair wack on travel in France. In Switzerland, a not unreasonable 40 CHF buys a highway pass for the year. We'd initially planned to skimp on this, but changed our minds when we found a bonus 50€ at the back of a cupboard.
It was lucky that we made this decision; many of the 'free roads' of Switzerland turn out to feature heavily on lists such as the 'highest', 'most spectacular', 'most dangerous' and 'most hair-pinned' roads in the world. The van and ourselves were much more suited to the motorways, which were still quite high and spectacular in places. Besides, even if we had wanted to test our driving and the van's brakes and fuel consumption on some of the passes, they were all covered in snow and shut anyway.
Despite its diminutive size, Switzerland has a lot of choice bouldering areas. Luckily we had met some lovely Swiss folk in Spain who gave us some great recommendations for the time of year. We settled on Chironico in the Italian-speaking Ticino region which, although potentially a little warm for May, has a good amount and diversity of climbing. For the first days we had an excellent guide in Mias, Tom and Tom. We started out at an area called Nivo Basso as it had some good wet weather bouldering and the looming, pregnant clouds were in agreement with the forecast that we would see rain before the day was out.
This premonition was correct and we were under a huge, slanting sheet of gneiss by early afternoon, straining on 30degree crimps on some great 7 grade problems. The weather inspired a rare trip out that evening to Albergo Pedrini's Ristorante in Faido, where we managed to eat a new and incredibly awesome experience: a sfilatino pizza. The pizza is rolled up, about two foot long, stuffed with gooey goodness and insanely tasty. 8CHF for a bottle of water, however, confirmed our suspicions about Swiss prices.
The following day saw us climbing at Centrale. This area is loaded with beautiful boulders, many with good landings, and a very different style of climbing here than at yesterday's Nivo. We sampled classics such as Selection Door, Serre-Moi Fort, Auto Pilot and Baked Potato; unwisely, our general approach here seemed to be pull on everything, rest very little, then on to the next...and repeat. This, unsurprisingly, evidenced itself in our fingertips and ragged bodies after just a day and a half. Our infantile enthusiasm and general (but not unpleasant) lack of direction put us on a hard course for a rest day. Mias gave us one last top tip: head to Schattental...
Schattental is gorgeous, and has another different feel. Many of the boulders are smoothed by water flow, and holds are softer, kind to worn out skin. There are some great overhanging, powerful problems on the main bloc as you enter the area; the aptly named Powerstrips, dynamic traverse Vasco de Gama and stand alone classic Conquistadors.
All too soon we were heading off to Italy for a quick break to the Melloblocco climbing festival, as the storm clouds were rolling in and the rain washed over our windscreen, and then back to Switzerland to find that summer had arrived. Most of our time was spent by the mountain-fresh river, reunited with Kili and his friends Andi and Franz, lying on the waterwashed boulders in the sun through the day and climbing in the mornings and evenings. We also made some truly epic meals; the everything salad that filled a mixing bowl with veggies, olives, seeds, cheese and smoky fried soy protein, and Kili's long-promised milk rice, with caramelised fruit and nuts, that was every bit as good as it had been built up to be (MASSIVE).
We were gutted when the time came, all too fast, to leave Switzerland and its wonderful climbing, beautiful countryside, and the great people we had spent time with there. And it seemed that Switzerland didn't want us to leave either. The Gotthard Tunnel was closed, and due to the proliferation of mountains with their still-snowy-and-shut mountain passes our diversion took us on a daytour around the entire country, through that other great tunnel, the San Bernardino.
If we hadn't had work to get back for, we'd have probably stayed, too.
Some nice climbs that we climbed...
Arabald, 7b (Sam)
Kiss Me, 7c (Sam)
Selection Door, 7a (Sam, flash)
Serre-moi Fort, 7b+ (Sam)
Doctor Med Dent, 7b/+ (Sam)
Vasco de Gama, 7a (Sam, flash; Amber)
Powerstrips, 7c (Sam)