Trip 3....days 16-24....crags 26-34... After one trip in a sweltering summer and one trip in a claggy autumn, surely a fresh spring trip would be the time to really push myself on the ever-intriguing Pfalz sandstone?? 3rd time lucky or maybe not...
There were tantrums, swearing, gear-throwing, sulking (and subsequent apologies to the team), and then plenty of realisations, learnings, and semi-calm acceptance that the ever-intriguing Pfalz sandstone is bloody difficult and I might have to adjust my aims. I focused on trying hard instead of climbing hard, ticking crags instead of ticking routes, and had a great trip overall (which was probably inevitable given the area). I also learnt a fair bit so I'm writing this partly to share the knowledge and partly to remind myself for the similarly inevitable "next trip".
1. Friction and conditions are absolutely crucial, breeze especially (rare *).
2. Routes require a mixture of gritstone technicality / friction AND limestone power.
3. Routes are often incredibly cruxy with easily droppable cruxes.
4. Some "sport" routes can be pretty bold / committing.
5. Specific common hard moves are: precise deadpoints to small pockets, massive reaches / full dynos (sometimes to non-jugs), hard pulls / rockovers on razor rugosities, slopey mantles / lip turns, figuring out best sequences from a sea of pockets **.
1. They are VERY variable and random. Expect a full grade variance on up to 50% of routes.
2. They have no correspondence to the standard grade tables, being at least a grade harder.
3. A few grade comparisons from similar sandstone:
Flake Wall E4 6a - Pf 7/7+
Calcutta Wall E4 6a - Pf 7+
Brandenburg Wall E3 5c - Pf 7-
Viennese Oyster E3 5c - Pf 7-
Diamond Lil E3 5c - Pf 7-
Berdorf:Arete Paulette 7a+ - Pf 8-
Voleur De Spits 7a+ - Pf 7+/8-
Yellow Submarine 7a - Pf 7+
Mike 7a - Pf 7+/8-
Marlene E4 6a - Pf 7/7+
Straight Talk E3 6a - Pf 7+
Red Square E1 5b - Pf 6/6+
4. Since the routes are so cruxy, a comparison with grit routes might be more accurate, e.g. E3 6a rather than 6c/+ for 7/+, E4 6b rather than 7a for 8-. Remember to factor in the variable grades AND how variable very bouldery cruxes will feel***.
1. Heed conditions as key - adapt challenges to suit.
2. Toughen skin constantly with anti-hydral
3. Take a spare rope bag for the sand, clipstick for miles high first bolts, pointy shoes for pockets (dragons for me), brush for clipstick for bouldery starts.
4. Accept Pfalz is hard, get focused right away, e.g. deadpoint precision as early as possible in trip.
5. Always plan for various move options, always look around for holds and possibilities (despite chalked white-herrings).
6. Heed the likely challenges** and train those as much as general climbing prior to trip.
* - The crucial breeze is still a difficult factor to predict from the weather, as due to the endless valleys, hillocks, forests and sandstone ridges, the wind can wander around and appear/disappear of it's own fickle will.
** - The likely challenges were what I learnt specifically from the harder routes I failed on and the harder routes I succeeded on - there were distinctly common types of crux moves.
*** - The variety / morphology of crux difficulties is very similar to grit and cannot be underestimate.
If all else fails, just do some awesome sandstone bimbling on funky towers and ridges :)
If you've read this far, feel free to be rewarded with some entirely useless non-climbing photos: