Part II. The Frankenjura
My work assignment 2001-2002 brought me to live in a town in Lower Franconia (north part of Bavaria state), which is where the story of the Frankenjura starts. From a previous 2-year stay some years ago, I knew the area well already from climbing extensively here with a great group of locals called the Frankenjoggers. I soon found out that most of my former buddies don’t climb anymore but soon hooked up with a new group at the local climbing gym, which provided an excellent winter training ground. Winter weather in Germany can be very dreary, cold and rainy (although it doesn’t snow a lot in this region, more in the bigger mountains in the south of Bavaria) so the addition of this nice gym to the little town where I lived was a godsend.
Plans were forged in the gym and in the sauna as to which crags would be the best, so that when good weather arrived we bolted straight for our chosen crags and routes. Formerly I had climbed a lot in the areas near Nuremberg (areas with famous routes like Action Directe, Magnet, Sautanz, and Chasin’ the Trane.) This time we really focused on the Northern Frankenjura, since this is where the new Schwertner guidebook had just been published and we wanted to see all the new areas. The northern areas tend to be less crowded, as well. (Internet reference: www.climb.frankenjura.com.
We soon settled on the Wiesenttal, Burglesau, Stuebig, Schesslitz, and Katzenbuckel areas as being the most accessible-they are located just east of Bamberg. Some of these areas are very heavily used and somewhat polished. The areas further east provide much more positive pocket holds. A very tough area ratings wise is the Schesslitz area- ratings of 6+ (5.10a) seemed much harder. The best route we did in this area is the Talseite-Bamberger Turm. At 5.10a this steep route up the longest side of the tower offered an almost unrelenting, long pitch of well bolted, very steep face and pocket climbing with many amazing moves. The first ascent was in the 1920’s. A very ancient L-shaped piton (called “Mauerhaken”) is still in place, about half way up the route. There is no eye on this old style of piton; the rope was simply draped over it and the leader must have hoped on a wing and a prayer that it would stay on there if the worst happened. At the bottom of the pitch is an old memorial plaque to a plucky young gentleman whose luck did not hold and who fell all the way to the bottom -with a great big yodel, I presume. This reminds you to check your knot an extra time when you tie in. Luckily, the pitch has been retro-bolted with the wonderful stainless steel glue-in bolts so ubiquitous to the area. These could serve to anchor an ocean liner and so help considerably to inspire confidence. The bolt opening is so big one can slip three fingers through it- therefore any individual bolt of this variety can safely be used as a retreat or lower off anchor, etc.
There are a few ‘gear’ routes even here though where one must carry some stoppers-they are marked in the guidebook and are often well worth doing. These are usually in the lower grades, below 5.10. At 5.10 and above, the area generally presents an astounding variety of choice in routes; naturally, most routes consist of vertical and near vertical pocket pulling, with bulges and overhangs thrown in. The spacing of the bolts is usually something in between the French or Spanish style and the fierce East German school. Sometimes the first bolt can be disturbingly high off the deck; a stick clip might be a nice accessory. Although I did not see any of the aforementioned aids in use, there was lots of hangdogging going on. In this spirit I enthusiastically joined the fray in quest of high numbers.
The Wiesenttal (Wiesent Valley) a little further east from Schesslitz is a lovely meandering valley with a small stream, the Wiesent, and lots of the finest climbing we sampled. The areas around Steinfeld (Steinfelder Wand, Steinfelder Klettergarten and Tsumistami) are wonderful. The rock here is more pocketed and friendly than most, and there are lots more moderate routes than in other areas. Some of the routes are even great for beginners. Just before the village coming from the autobahn you will see a klettergarten off the left side of the road back in the field, a very popular area which has a nice 60-70 foot tower of the best rock with an incredible steep white face. This was the best hard “project” route that I worked on. At first I tried it on a top rope, then on a second visit tried it on lead with some hangdogging, but managed to do the moves and clips cleanly. At about mid-5.11, the moves here are both fierce and technical - the climbing never lets up until you are at the lower-off. It would have been fun to work the route more and get a really clean redpoint on it, but now it’s a goal for the next visit. As with many Frankenjura routes, the nicest part is sometimes just relaxing on the summit, signing the summit register and admiring the metalwork, which sometimes includes a cross or flag or rooster or in the case of the Katzenbuckel, a humped cat. The view of the bucolic landscape from the top of most of these towers is also its own reward.
The brewery in the quaint little village of Steinfeld also has the best, both in terms of quality and price, beer that we found anywhere. To get a refill of your beer here, all you have to do is lay the ½ liter stoneware mug over on its side and the waitress hurries over with a full one in the wink of an eye. We figured this out after watching the locals do it. The beer here only cost about $1.50 per half liter for a robust, dark and delicious fermented hop nectar. These areas are all easily accessible from the Autobahn Bamberg-Bayreuth, a few kilometers east of Bamberg (the third and fourth exits east of town.) Bamberg has a large American army base and so you can find lots of good international food in town. The best beer is definitely to be had in the small breweries of the hinterlands, although Bamberg has the famous 400 year old Schlenkerla brewery in town which is well worth visiting. This beer is made with smoked hops and so is called ‘Rauchbier’ (smoke beer.) They taste pretty weird at first but after two or three, they start tasting better and better! Many of these pubs also have ‘Biergartens’ which are nice to visit in summer, though I find nothing beats the ‘Gemuetlichkeit’ of a good ‘Stube’ or little village pub with all of the local cronies chatting away in the corner next to the stove playing cards and nursing their steins.
The most common meal to order at these little pubs is a “Fraenkische Brotzeit” which means an assortment of breads, cheeses and cold meats on a wooden platter. The meal matches the rustic surroundings in its hearty flavor and simplicity. The cold meats include several different kinds of pork sausage which are always very fresh and delicious (most of the establishments in the country butcher their own meat, and the animals are free-range) if not the healthiest thing in the world.
There are many small “pensions” where one can reasonably obtain overnight lodgings, and camping is also possible, but one must camp in designated areas or campgrounds only. There is camping in the Baerental, near one of the climbing centers a little bit south of the Wiesenttal. The “pensions” are often combined or connected with a restaurant or “Stube” as well. At one of the little “pensions” we stayed near Hersbruck (further south) we got up particularly early in the morning for breakfast and walked right by as the owner was just dressing a pig, and he asked us whether the squealing had woken us up? We replied that he must have either had a very quiet pig or that we were sleeping very soundly! That particular weekend, before Easter, was rainy and cold so all we did then was hike, try an iron cable climbing route and explore the countryside.
Culturally, Franken is a wine growing region but this is really only in the Main river valley west of Bamberg. In the Frankenjura there is no viniculture and beer drinking predominates. The Franken wines are special grape varieties of Bacchus, Silvaner and other old Roman varieties of whites which are perfectly delightful to a dry wine lovers’ palate. They do ‘go’ very well hand in hand with the limestone rock also.
Next part... PFALTZ... stay tuned...