‘Frigo-combo’: A Long, Cold, Loose First Ascent in Switzerland

If you want to climb Silvan Schupbach and Peter Von Kanel’s “Frigo-combo”, you’d better get ready to party. Because from the sound of things, the climbing itself is not going to deliver a whole lot of Type 1 fun.

The two climbers’ semi-new route takes a rambling path up the 450m northwest face of Douves Blanches, a little-known, scabby-looking tower in Switzerland’s Val d’Arolla. The climbing difficulty maxes out at a relatively stout M6/M7.

Scabby may be an understatement for the quality of the rock surface: frigo means “fridge” in Italian. Even though the climbers defied their better judgment by climbing the route in cold weather, frigid temps aren’t what the route name refers to.

Actually, Schupbach and Kanel discovered that a steep, precarious stack of frigo-sized loose blocks guards the Douves Blanches summit, just a couple of rope lengths below the top.

Ridiculously enough, that Jenga death-funk was also the segment of the wall that had evidently seen prior ascents.

Schupbach and Kanel started their push up the wall on Nov. 11.

“I had the wall in mind for some time, but because it looks so steep and difficult, I thought rather of an ascent in the summer. Since I had a strong partner in Peter and the conditions in the Arolla region seemed to be the best, we still wanted to make an attempt in winter conditions,” Schupbach explained via Instagram.


Stoicism required

The route turned out to be hard the whole way up, he said, so progress was slow. Watching his GoPro captures from some segments of climbing, the requisite dry-tooling looks anywhere between sparse and hideous.

But like any enterprising, stoic alpinist, Schupbach didn’t see it that way.

“In the upper part of the wall it became really steep and we climbed some brilliant drytool passages,” he recalled. However, “the higher we got, the more fragile the wall became.”

Most climbers know that’s typical. Together, erosion and gravity try to pull the tops of mountains off and down by nature. Still, the finale of “Frigo-combo” sounds grave.

“The last two pitches consisted of blocks of different sizes nested together. The risks in the uppermost part of the wall should not be underestimated,” Schupbach wrote.

Still, that was where he and Kanel discovered they weren’t necessarily in uncharted territory.

Noting that they found pitons in the precarious jumble, he mused archly that “other climbers have ventured into this unflattering part of the wall”.

Whatever that says about climbers, you make the call — I know where I stand, and it ain’t on top of 50-100 vertical metres of broken refrigerators above nothing but thin air.

Schupbach and Kanel reported they safely returned to the valley after 17 hours of work.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson spent his 20s as an adventure rock climber, scampering throughout the western U.S., Mexico, and Thailand to scope out prime stone and great stories. Life on the road gradually transformed into a seat behind the keyboard, where he acted as a founding writer of the AllGear Digital Newsroom and earned 1,500+ bylines in four years on topics from pro rock climbing to slingshots and scientific breakthroughs.