The Notorious, Scary And Absolutely Amazing Elbsandstein

If you're looking for an adventure, go to Elbsandstein. More than anything else, this area on the German-Czech border is a great place to test and practice your mental limits as a climber. Going up a 60-meter route with about 8 bolts or a shorter route using just knots as protection takes some balls, don't you think?

Elbsandstein or "Elbe sandstone mountains" is a place for experienced climbers and those with serious commitment or local guide. I happen to be a very lucky beginner accompanied by a courageous partner and at the time two local guides. Me and T met a couple from Pirna (a town near Elbsandstein) in Gandia and then again in Chulilla and stayed as their guest for almost a week. In this post I'll do my best to describe the three places we climbed at.

A suburban climbing garden

What, you haven't heard of a climbing garden? No worries, neither had I. It's a crag, where beginners are introduced to sport climbing. The Liebethaler Grund climbing garden near Pirna is actually pretty similar to an indoor gym, since all the holds are carved by humans.
Apparently climbing gardens are are somewhat common in Germany.

The Liebethaler Grund climbing garden is a great and fast way to get in touch with the local sand stone. Plus the access could not be any easier. It was our first destination when we arrived to Pirna and even though it lacks the excitement and even danger typical to the Elbsandstein area, I think it was just the right place to start. There are many short and well bolted routes around 6a within a very small area. If you're looking for a place to take your kids or friends climbing for the first time, then this is your go-to place.

Knot climbing at Nonne

Nonne is where our local guides introduced us to knot climbing. In case knot climbing doesn't say anything to you, it's kind of the same as traditional climbing.
In knot climbing you get to place your own protections, but instead of nuts and cams you're using self-made knots. 
Why? Metallic things are too rough for the soft sandstone and would without a doubt wear down the rock in no time. Also, you're not supposed to use any chalk here either. It's an effort to keep the place as intact as possible and to give everyone a fair chance to try to on-sight the routes as well.

A small knot can easily be used instead of a nut. If the placing seems too shallow, you can stuff the knot further in the crack with a wooden spoon.

The monkey fist is perfect for wider cracks. On the other hand it's quite cumbersome and can't be used in that many places.

Nonne is one of the many sandstone pillars around the Saxon area. It's about 15 meters high, bulgy rock with several easy routes on all sides. There are plenty of small and larger cracks for placing the knots as well as hourglass-shaped rock formations, which you can use to tie a sling around. All these features seem to make Nonne a popular place to practice knot climbing among the locals, too.

A full rack of knots is way lighter than a set of nuts and cams.

Some locals are also using these Czech made soft stakes developed especially for climbing on sandstone.

Big boys' Bastei

Oh, boy. Those are the two words I would choose to describe Bastei.
At Bastei you can get a taste of free soloing without actually doing it. 
Are there any bolts? Yes. Are they any good? Yes, but the first one is usually more than 5 meters from the ground and the rest are placed several meters from each other. A lot of times the route might not be harder than 6a, but it takes a whole lot of effort just to keep your head together.

See any bolts?

We climbed at two different sectors next to each other: Große Bastei and Kleine Bastei (big and small Bastei). Some of the routes there are almost 60 meters long and mostly vertical or even slabbish. In our case the easiest way to deal with the seemingly endless and loosely bolted routes was to let T go up first, me to climb as a second and then both rappell in two parts with our 60-meter rope. This worked fine, since T is the braver and more experienced one of us and I got to enjoy the billion pockets, unpolished rock and continuous climbing without being terrified all the time.

One of the longer routes at Große Bastei.

Want to know more about knot climbing?

Knot climbing is a little known, but not a secret form of art. You can actually find quite a few blog posts about it. For those of you who are intrigued by this very traditional and natural form of climbing, I can recommend taking a look on a blog called El lloc es aqui. The two posts "No nuts? Climb with knots!" and "Knot again!" provide you with a handfull of practical information on how to tie and use knots in climbing. You can also try making a monkey fist knot i.e. Kinderkopf with this tutorial!


  1. What is your trusted brand when it comes to harness, carabiners and other climbing hardware? We choose CMC all the time! Rescue Equipment Philippines

    1. Hi, Lsg Industrial! First of all, my apologies for the very, very delayed response. Somehow the e-mail notifying me about your comment had been moved to trashcan by the almighty automatic spam filter. :( Anyway... At the moment I'm wearing Singing Rock's harness and La Sportiva's shoes. No complaints so far. When it comes to ropes, me and T have one by Beal, one by Petzl and two by Simond, and Petzl's rope has definitely kept it's handleability and condition better than the other ropes. Simond's ropes get tangled easily, but I guess that's no surprise (cheap is cheap). So, when it comes to climbing gear (except for the shoes), I tend to buy what's available and feels best at the moment.


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