Tirolean grades

Have you ever heard of Tirolean climbing grades? Neither had I until very recently, when my brother told me a story about him and his climbing partner struggling on routes that were supposed to be far, far below their abilities. Having spent around three weeks climbing in various parts of Tirol, I can now testify that this is indeed a thing.

There’s nothing like a different type of rock to make you feel like a bit of a novice again. Austria has been a country of many firsts for me, and one of these was my first experience of climbing on granite. And it well and truly kicked my ass!

For UK-based climbers who haven’t had the pleasure, granite reminds me most closely of gritstone. Just as grippy and somehow similarly scary, even though it’s bolted, because often the footholds are small or non-existent or the movement feels alien to someone who has been climbing on limestone for months on end.

But it was our mission to try something new, so when it got too hot in Croatia we headed straight to a crag in Zillertal called Ewige Jagdgründe, just over an hour’s drive from Innsbruck. It was recommended to us by friends, in part due to the super-short walk-in, and in part because it is simply a classic. Which we found out for ourselves having arrived on a Friday and woken up to a car park chock-a-block with cars from all over the surrounding countries, the sunny weather drawing out the weekend-warriors.

The climbing felt hard from the onset. No ifs, buts or maybes. Even French grade 5’s were a challenge. And then there was a 5b slab that we both didn’t manage to finish. It just seemed to run out of holds…

But then in the end I managed to send a really nice 7a called Santana, largely thanks to my brother (who came for a visit) getting on it and letting me try it on top rope. Overall, I found top-roping on granite so much more fun than leading, though of course not nearly as rewarding. I did the route clean on the second go on top rope, but it took me four more goes to send it on lead. The bolting at the crux was quite scary, with a committing sequence above a ledge leading to a balancy clip. In the end, we extended the quickdraw with a long sling, making it feel far more secure and allowing us to feel safe before making  the committing moves.

Photo credit: @clayclaydon
Photo credit: @clayclaydon

This was the only remotely hard thing I did on granite, though. Perhaps if we climbed on this rock for a few more weeks, I would have worked up to trying something harder, and maybe I would have enjoyed it too. But that will have to wait for another time.

And then things got even harder…

After Zillertal, we visited a crag called Starkenbach – a large collection of sectors with some 260 sport routes on limestone. At first, I was ecstatic to be climbing on limestone again. Suddenly, there were holds for my feet and I no longer had to rely on friction alone. Pretty quickly though, we realised that some of these grades were truly Tirolean!

There was a 6a we had to bail off, a 6a+ that I fell off after a long struggle, and a 6b+ neither me nor Clay could get up clean. I even tried a 7a, on vertical rock which should have been my climbing style, but simply couldn’t do one of the crux moves!

On our last day, we met some local girls who were taking a few whippers on a 7a+ next to us and got chatting about our travels, so we told them we were heading to Frankenjura next. You know, that place in Germany well known for pretty hard climbing. “Ah, Frankenjura is really nice, and the grades are softer than here!” – they told us. Enough said!

All photos by @clayclaydon – follow him on Instagram for more!

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