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May 2004

Cliff Hangers

If you're looking for a sporting challenge, read on...

You see the world through different eyes when you’re gripping a cliff face and slowly working your way skywards. Your focus is exclusively on yourself and the situation you are in. Movement is measured in small handgrips, success in tight footholds and victory in overcoming your fears and limitations—at least this is what the literature says. I, however, am mostly seeing the world through pupils dilated with fear. My legs are trembling, my arms are aching and I’m praying to myself, while at the same time cursing my editor for giving me this assignment. “Come on mum, you can do it. Put your left foot higher,” the kids cry. They’ve scaled these heights with alacrity only moments before and are waiting impatiently for another turn. To preserve my self-respect, I slowly inch up the last ten meters before dropping back down to earth, to receive the approbation of our trainer, the children and my husband.

The sport is mountain climbing. From being a passion only indulged in by eccentrics, explorers and geologists in the 19th century, climbing has now become a hip sport for those in search of an adrenaline kick. And, surprisingly, it’s an ideal family activity.

“Mountains are not fair or unfair—they are just dangerous.” Reinhold Messner

At first glance, children and mountain climbing would not seem to be ideally suited. On closer inspection, the opposite proves true: kids love to climb from an early age. It is an important part of their physical development, it improves their coordination and strength, teaches them to tackle and overcome challenges and they have fun doing it. Given the rigorous safety measures that climbing schools insist upon today and the advances made in equipment, it is probably better to watch your kids climbing cliffs under controlled conditions than see them swinging from the apple tree in the backyard. But let’s get our terminology correct first. While mountain climbing is an umbrella term covering everything from bouldering to free and ice climbing, we’re not talking about scaling Mount Everest. Instead, the ideal type of climbing for children is known as “top rope.” Here the rope is anchored to the top of a climbing route, such as to a tree, rock or bolt. Using this system and a harness and helmet, kids can enjoy the thrill and challenges of climbing largely risk-free.

The first point of reference in Munich for climbers is Heaven’s Gate (Grafingerstr. 6, Tel. [089] 40 90 88 03). Run by the IG-Klettern München & Südbayern e.V., the venue enables you to try the sport before actually tackling a mountain. The 35-meter-high silos in the former Pfanni Knödel building at the Kultur Fabrik have some 50,000 climbing holds and provide enough challenges to keep you busy until you feel ready to visit the Alps. Courses offered by Heaven’s Gate are for beginners, advanced climbers, young climbers and families, as well as mothers and their youngsters, where children as young as three can participate. The cost of a one-hour introductory course is € 36 for two people. For a family of four the price is € 249 for a six-hour course, including all equipment, such as ropes, belts and shoes. “I’m a safety fanatic,” says Evi Mayer, the head trainer at Heaven’s Gate, who combines an easy-going manner with an unflinching eye for detail. It is reassuring to remember her philosophy when you find your child—or yourself—suspended some 20 meters above the floor. Martin Fleck, a board member of IG-Klettern, says the Verein recommends completing both a beginners’ and advanced climbing course before tackling the Alps. “Although injuries have fallen dramatically over the last 30 years, thanks to improvements in equipment and techniques, they can still happen,” he explains, “as with any other sport.”

For those who want to learn climbing in the Alps, the Hydroalpin Bergschule & Outdoorveranstalter GmbH ( in Lenggries is one of the many companies offering programs to introduce beginners to the sport. Once a month, from May onwards, the company provides introductory courses at the climbing wall of the Multistation at Brauneck. The € 35 charge includes all necessary equipment, as well as qualified instructors. The company also offers the course on request for groups of four or more. Those who are bitten by the climbing bug can then choose from a variety of one to three-day courses that take place around Brauneck, in the Oberreintal and Karwendel regions. A one-day beginner climbing course, for example, directly on rocks and cliffs costs € 60. Hydroalpin was set up four years ago and Peter Fresia, the general manager, says that for the first time this year the company is also offering courses designed specifically for children (from ten years upwards) in July and August. “We have been receiving more and more requests for such courses every year,” he says, “and so far the response to the course has been good.”

“A few hours’ mountain climbing turns a rogue and a saint into two roughly equal creatures. Weariness is the shortest path to equality and fraternity—and liberty is finally added by sleep.” Friedrich Nietzsche

Once you have the basics down, Munich’s proximity to the Alps means there are ample opportunities to undertake the sport. The Klettergärten at Bad Heilbrunn near Bad Tölz and Frauenwasserl at Oberammergau are considered prime destinations. Both have a short hiking path to the climbing area (approximately 20 minutes), offer breathtaking Alpine views and provide easy climbs suitable for families with young children. The drawback is that both areas are well known, so they can become overcrowded on fine days. This can be hard on children who may become bored by long periods of inactivity. “It is one of the side effects of the popularity of climbing. It is not just lone individuals anymore, as it was over 100 years ago or even still some 30 years ago. On some days it can become quite congested,” said Franz Mösbauer, a trained guide with the Deutscher Alpenverein (DAV). Mösbauer, 24, started climbing when he was ten years old. He first learned how to climb with the DAV ( and has been an active member ever since. Mösbauer, who loves this sport for the challenges it presents, the physical stamina it requires, has now qualified to teach children. He suggests the Grashalmwand or Erdbeerwand in Kochel as child-friendly destinations, with climbs that go from a rating of 4 to 6 (climbs are graded from 1 to 11+, with equipment needed from a rating of 4 upwards), though this area is also sometimes crowded. Other tips are the Schwanseeplatten near Füssen and Altmühltal. When he himself wants to be sure of an uninterrupted and challenging climb, Mösbauer tends to head for the Betonwand or the Afrikawand at Kochel, which offer a greater variety of challenging climbs, though he will even travel further into the mountains if need be. When climbing with children, Mösbauer strongly recommends using a full harness (one that straps across the shoulders as well as around the waist and legs) for children under ten years, as well as a helmet. It is not compulsory in Germany to use a helmet, though common sense should be the order of the day. More information on DAV courses for children aged 8 to 16 can be found at Courses for adults are offered under

Munich has a number of shops offering climbing gear. For specific climbing needs, whether it is bouldering, rock or ice climbing, Rumrich Stone Projects, Innere Wiener Str. 30 (Tel. [089] 44 44 96 04), is a good destination. Alpinsport at Gollierstr. 13 and Landsbergerstr. 199 (Tel. [089] 50 42 50 and [089] 570 50 55, respectively) and Karstadt Sport Outdoor- center at Schwanthalerstr. 114 (Tel. [089] 29 92 50 05) also offer a wide range of equipment. Apart from a harness, helmet and rope (60 meters), climbers should have climbing shoes, chalk, a belay device and about ten quickdraws. This equipment will cost about € 200, though much of it can be shared between climbers. In addition, one of the most important items to take is a good guide with topographical maps. While there are no books available in English (at least known to us here at MUNICH FOUND), the Softrock series is cited by local climbers as an outstanding resource and the maps are self-explanatory. The first two books, Softrock – Softroxx and Softrock Oberbayer I & II, focus on Klettergärten to the south of Munich around Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Kochel, Bad Heilbrunn, Morsbach, etc. No climb is more than an hour and a half’s car drive from Munich; all are easily accessible, safe and offer degrees of difficulty ranging from 3 to 7 (see

Claudia Oberbeil, one of the authors, says climbing is a sport that is rapidly growing in popularity. “It is definitely a growing trend and there has been an enormous interest in it since it was introduced into Bavarian schools as an elective subject,” she avers. Oberbeil and her co-author, Thomas Bucher, released the first Softrock book in 1999 and were astonished by the demand. “It certainly took us by surprise, but what distinguishes the series is the fact that it focuses on family-friendly climbs. There are other good guides around, but they are generally for more advanced climbers. Another useful guide is the Kletterführer Brauneck by Silvio Schotte and Haydar Koyupinar (available from Heaven’s Gate), which features 14 major climbing areas at Lenggries near Bad Tölz. These include climbs with wonderful, evocative names such as the Fairytale, Ant Wall, Watch Tower, French Connection and Seventh Heaven.

“The mountains will always be there, the trick is to make sure you are too.” Hervey Voge

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