Berdorf - Beautiful bolted sandstone near Luxemborg
It's suprising just how fast a year goes by! This time last year (2011) I was on a ferry heading to Germany to climb at an amazing venue called Ettringen, crack climbing heaven or as one local wag nick-named it "The Indian Creek" of Europe.
I was there with Marmot Pro Athlete Lucy Creamer to shoot an article for the British Climbing magazine Climb and to experience the fantastic climbing. I love crack climbing so this was going to be my Nirvana..........but that is an altogether different story (you can read about Ettringen here) this story is about another nearby venue just across the border in Luxembourg, a wonderful little known crag called Berdorf.
I'd first heard of Berdorf a few years earlier from some German climbers while I was living in Provence, they raved about this small idyllic sandstone crag, set in a picturesque forest and only a 20 minute walk from your car.
I'd intended to go a couple of years ago, but like a lot of plans "Life" seemed toget in the way and it got put on the back-burner until now.
So, without further ado let professional climber Lucy Creamer tell you all about the place and WHY you should make the effort to go and climb there.......take it away Lucy.
"Shut your eyes and think of a rock type - Sandstone for example; now what comes to mind? Sandy ledges? Friable holds? Iffy gear placements? Slightly unfair but when you hear horror stories from German or Czech sandstone involving 30ft run-outs and knotted slings for protection, it’s not surprising that sandstone has ended up with a slightly misunderstood reputation. For the uninitiated, we have two shining examples curiously at opposite ends of England.
There are the crags up in Northumberland (rock ‘ard in many ways) and the not so rock ‘ard Southern sandstone of Kent; each with it’s own character. Northumberland lends it self to classic well protected routes (and some not so well protected) on generally very solid rock, hard-core bouldering and highballs on windswept moorlands with giant skies and an untouched feel. While Southern sandstone gives the complete opposite; featured rock with plenty of holds to choose from on much softer sandstone where top-roping or soloing is the name of the game. The crags are set in classic English wooded spots that lend themselves to fun, sociable sunny evenings with your mates, ending in a visit to the nearest quintessential village pub.
But if trad isn’t really your thing, we also have bolted sandstone in lesser-known spots around the UK. But in all honesty nobody is shouting ‘world class’ about these local crags. So if I said to you I have been to a beautiful sandstone crag where the sun shines, the bolts are bomber, the rock is solid and the climbing IS World Class, would that be of interest? I thought so. This sandstone nirvana is the idyllic Berdorf in Luxembourg. Yes Luxembourg! A fresh change from the limestone holiday destinations in France or Spain and as much as I love those crags, they are a long way away.
A little history:
Berdorf (locally known as Wanterbaach crag) lies within Luxembourg’s ‘little Switzerland’ region of Mullerthal. An extremely picturesque area containing plenty of amenities for visiting climbers with the obvious jewel in the crown, the stunning crag. Reached by a short walk through the verdant almost jungle like woodland, one descends on ancient steps into what feels like a lost valley. Then a small bridge leads you through a gash in the green moss-covered rock to reveal a climber’s paradise. The sight is truly breathtaking as the clean sandstone creates features and holds that scream ‘climb me’ and when you do venture onto the rock, there is no mistaking the high quality and addictive nature.
Evidently, climbing started as early as 1954 leading to a surge of climbing competitions in the Seventies oraganised by ‘GAL’, Luxembourg's first climbing club. Climbers traveled from surrounding countries such as France and Belgium for an annual competition to compete in pairs on five routes; as well as their climbing technique they were judged on their rope management, communication, style and safe belaying skills to name a few. Using knees and points of aid were frowned upon and penalized.
The Eighties saw the war of the pegs, which was mirrored here in the UK. As aid points were eliminated, pegs were removed…then replaced…then removed, until free climbing became the accepted style. This era also saw the first environmental restrictions to the crag and forest, such as no fires and controlled access. This takes us to the present day where Berdorf is a world-class venue for many but with a notable key imposition; ALL climbers are required to obtain a (free) permit before they visit the crag (see Fact File). This helps to lower impact on this special crag, where it is also requested that chalk is kept to a minimum and brushed off routes whenever possible.
And you’ll be pleased to hear, Berdorf went through a bolt renewal ‘programme’ in the new millennium; as well as shiny new bolts, all the belays were replaced with clip able anchors
So what kind of climbing can you expect to find? Well, there are seemingly blank walls containing sinker slots, horizontal striations consisting of hidden positive edges, plenty of protruding features for varied footholds, roofs with satisfying jugs to haul through on, long gently overhanging stamina fests, honeycombed intriguing enclaves, open handed scallops, appealing arêtes and one of the defining moves on Berdorf’s harder routes- the dyno! So those are some of the styles you’ll come across but what about angles and grades? Again, you can find just about everything to suit everyone. The grades start amazingly as low as f2’s f3’s and f4’s, with f6’s being by far the most abundant grade containing over seventy climbs and the routes carry through to the f8’s. Up until May 2012 f8b was the hardest grade here but German climber Simon Plum redpointed Berdorf’s long-term open project ‘Nikita’, giving it a grade of hard f8c.
On walking into the crag (from the school end) the first climbable piece of rock you see is the alarmingly overhanging arête of ‘Voleur de spits’. An absolute classic of the crag and a must do if f7a+ is your grade. Full of jugs to swing around on, well bolted and a test of your endurance; not to be missed. This bounds one of the steepest walls at Berdorf, the ‘Nikita’ sector which contains a handful of the harder routes. Cima Ovest f7c+, climbs a steep open groove with powerful climbing up a finger edge layback, leading to slightly less steep ground where the obvious ‘jump’ lies waiting- a prize onsight for the dynoists amongst you.
But if the Nikita sector sounds a little bit hard to start on, then you need to head right, around the corner to the popular Sector ‘Gentiane’ and hunt out one of the most lovely lines at the crag- ‘Kaweechelchen’ a soaring f5+ up a lovely layback on an open wall. A very popular route, so don’t leave this for the weekend, as you will have to battle with the hoards to get on it. Another word of warning; Berdorf has developed a strange breed of climber called the ‘self-belayer’. You may have seen them at Stanage or your local crag shunting up and down a fixed line doing ‘laps’. We saw for ourselves these solitary types cheerfully flinging their ropes off the top of this sector and abbing down at great speed just to shunt up again; oblivious to the fact they had almost knocked us out with their gung ho behaviour. The funny thing to observe, was that there were two or three people doing it, happily chatting away with each other- why didn’t they just climb together?!
Once you find yourself at this end of the crag you will no doubt spend a lot of time here and have to drag yourself away in search of other areas. But while here, don’t miss: Sector Isatis, one of the longer routes Bibi f6b+, a good Berdorf opener. And if you’re feeling good get on the three star Arête, Paulette f7a+!, great climbing with a stiff pull. Passing Sector Gentiane which holds some of the best and longest f5’s and f6’s, Sector Bleausard has f6a+ ‘Felyane, a lovely three star climb up a corner crack. Exploring further back round passing numerous little areas, you will come to sector Lionel Terray. This has a steeper, juggier character and with three star routes at amenable grades. For the aspirant roof climber Lionel Terray is an adventurous three star f6a, which is next to La Plage f6b+, another three star route and tricky for some.
At this point you will find yourself heading back towards Sector Nikita and opposite here are some shorter walls which contain some compact classics, such as: Takla Makan f7a. At only 15 metres it’s certainly shorter but packs in the climbing on a leaning pocketed wall, very satisfying if you find the right ones. And next to it is Les Deux Secretaires f6b+, an easier version of its neigbour and a good finger warm up.
Moving over and past Sector Nikita you are confronted with a stamina climber’s dream, the wall of Sector Was Not Was (left). It contains five routes from f6b to f7b+ and they are all three stars! Luftikus the f6b isn’t actually up the wall but climbs very steeply up the left arête, a high quality route for the grade. Carrying on further down, Sector Herman Buhl contains what was Berdorf’s hardest route, Hasta La Gringo f8b and a handful of three star hard routes. Bobby Brown f7c is a rare classic at this grade here. You will pass a variety of good routes from f6a to f8’s ending at Sector Infernale, which is uncharacteristically shorter and more bouldery. There's nothing easier than f7a and a work out for the biceps.
To talk about the whole of Berdorf would take more than this article, because although Berdorf isn’t the size of Ceuse, what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality.
Fact file :
Very Important. As mentioned in the article, you CANNOT climb in Berdorf without one of these, as it is a European Natural Protection Zone. Apply for one before you get to Luxembourg, it’s simple and normally arrives within a few days of application but it is advisable to give yourself a minimum of 15 days. The authorities are regularly checking for these permits amongst climbers at the crag.
For a permit, go to this web address:
Numbers are limited; so if you are planning a trip don’t delay your application.
Driving from the UK to Berdorf is a very appealing and practical option, as the venue is a mere four to five hour drive depending which port you sail to. It’s a very similar distance to Fontainebleau and has the added bonuses of toll free motorways, tax-free fuel in Luxembourg and fantastic routes to climb.
This option also means you can bring your dog but they must be kept on a lead at the crag.
DFDS sails Dover to Dunkerque and is a two hour crossing.
This will cost about £50 return.
An option for people living further North sails from Newcastle to Amsterdam via an overnight ferry. The car journey is again just over four hours.
This option costs upwards of £200.
P&O sails Dover to Calais and is one and a half hour crossing.
This will cost about £70 return.
Flying is another option, possibly slightly more pricey but shorter traveling times. If you are a BMC member, there are discounts with various car-hire companies, check your membership booklet.
Gatwick-Cologne. Berdorf is two hours from the airport.
Liverpool-Brussels (no Saturday flights).
Berdorf is a 2 hr 45 minutes drive from the airport.
Flights can cost well under £100 with a 20kg bag.
Berdorf is a two and a half hour drive from the airport
Flights can cost well under £100 with a 22kg bag.
Flights £150 upwards with a 23kg bag.
This company also flies to Cologne and Düsseldorf from many major UK airports at reasonable prices.
Finally, the fastest route by car to France is via the Euro tunnel from Folkstone to Calais, it takes 35 minutes.
This will cost around £115.
All these prices are based on travel in September 2012.
The village of Berdorf has several ‘family’ campsites and plenty of hotels. For more info in English go to: www.berdorf-tourist.lu
There is a youth hostel in the nearby town of Echternach, which has free wifi and a sports centre with a 14m climbing wall. Email: email@example.com
Camping Martbrusch: A 10 minute walk to the crag; you can bring your tent, your van or they have ‘Pods’ for rent. www.camping-martbusch.lu
Camping Bon Repos: free internet access but no dogs allowed. www.bonrepos.lu
The Müllerthal region or Luxembourg’s ‘Little Switzerland’ has mapped walking routes of varying difficulty and length and the same goes for mountain biking trails. With circuits of up to 35kms that take you on single track through ancient woods, not much of a rest but an awesome day out. Bikes for hire at the Camping Martbusch.
The nearby medieval town of Echternach is the oldest town in Luxembourg and well worth a visit from a cultural point of view and the bakeries!
‘Climbing in Berdorf’ (2nd Edition by On-sight climbing guides). Don’t look any further; this is all you’ll need to get you climbing at Berdorf. It is around 18€ and can be bought from www.climbing.lu. This site has all the info on Berdorf in English and there is also a list of all the routes if you’re too stingy to buy the guide.
Special thanks must go out to Marcus (above) the guidebook writer for the area, for taking the time to show us round and explain the history of the climbing.
The article was first published in the British climbing magazine Climber in August 2012 (september edition)