Magic Wood Guide For Newbies

With Font being all slopey and Albarracin all reachy, crimpy and overhanging Magic Wood sounded like the promised land. 

(Scroll halfway down the post to get to the meaty ‘how to get there’ and ‘when to go’ part.)

All my essentials (including camping gear and some food to avoid paying through the nose in Switzerland) got stuffed into my bouldering mat, which then got wrapped in cling film and gaffer, with only shoulder straps sticking out. With this well formed luggage (most airlines accept it as a regular, non-oversized piece) I flew to Zurich to meet up with Alice. Since it’s tricky to cram all the travelling into one day, we stayed overnight near the airport and set off the following morning. The views soothed our souls upset about the tickets prices. Mercifully, the bus took us all the way to our destination. In the mid-thirties heat, with bouldering mats and groceries bought on the way, we could barely take more than a few steps.

The Bodhi Campsite near the village of Ausserferrera is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It takes 20 minutes on foot to get to the nearest houses and seemingly there’s no reason for tens of colourful tents to be perched on both sides of a narrow alpine road. For climbers, the reasons become apparent as soon as you follow a narrow path into the forest and over a wooden bridge high above a stream.

Countless granite blocs adorn a pine forest on a steep hillside. Some are small but most are big, with treacherous landings and tricky approaches. The first impression is intimidating. The second one is exhilarating. Unsurprisingly, every single person at the campsite is a climber. And a bloody good one for that matter.

We arrived in Magic not long before the last round of the 2015 Bouldering World Cup in Munich and it seemed like every wad on the planet was chilling before the event right there. It was unusually warm for June and for a couple of hours each day it was way too hot to climb. We were wandering around the forest, our mats nearly pinging us to the ground, sweating like pigs, breathless and dehydrated despite drinking litres of water. Constantly lost on the goat paths and weak like kittens. Meanwhile, 8B ascents were happening left, right and centre. We had to up our game!

One of my favourite lines in Magic Wood, ‘Big Cheese’ 6C. The name is awesome, and the climbing is awesome, and the landing is awesome. Guess it would be even more awesome if it was a notch harder, but feeling that you climb with ease is also, well, awesome. Remember kids, ‘a weighed foot never slips’! 😀 Captured by @alicehafer, who was under strict orders to take pictures, and was really worried when I was topping out without a spotted. And I thought I looked solid! Wearing my uber fav @3rdROCKing tights from the #EpicTVshop. #climbing #eurostyle #magicwood #Switzerland #BigCheese #cheese #bouldering #climbinglife #chalkmatters #frictionlabs #outdoorwomen #girlstrip #asdt #adventurestartshere #adventure

A post shared by Zofia A. Reych (@upthatrock) on

Inspired by the levels of psyche around the forest, in the end we both managed to climb harder than ever before. Maybe Magic Wood grades are a bit soft, or maybe it’s the best outdoor venue for gym rats, but all in all it allowed us not to disappoint ourselves. I was glad for the extra training effort put in in the months leading up to the trip.

The campsite was completely full during all our stay. It seemed impossible to pitch even one more tent there, yet miraculously the numbers doubled at the weekend. Walking back from the crag on a Saturday evening we found the campsite transformed. Gone was the usual serious and focused atmosphere created by hard as nails athletes getting ready to climb hard as nails problems. There was a barbecue, there was beer, the smell of pot was enough to get stoned, and all the madness was orchestrated by Philippe Ribiere from behind a DJ’s console.

Magic Wood had casted a spell on us. After returning to Chamonix I quickly started plotting how to get back to Ausserferrera (much to the disgust of some of my chamoniard friends insisting there’s nothing in Magic that can’t be found in Cham). It was less than three months and I was on the road again, this time by car.

Mid September was cool, with leaves just starting to turn, tripled friction and an empty campsite. For the first week there were three of us, for the second I was alone, the only occupant of my side of the campsite with just a few tents pitched on the other side of the road.

On my second lone night I woke up to realise my crib collapsed under the weight of something. I wiggled outside and there it was. Snow. The rest of the night was spent in the car.

The snow and collapsed tents quickly made friends of all of us, the remaining dwellers of the campsite in the middle of nowhere. We had coffees together, we made fires together and we climbed together. On the coldest day we drove to Cresciano and climbed in the glorious sunshine.

Most of the Magic Wood boulders were wet but we never ran out of stuff to climb on. Even on the wettest day, when everything was seeping and a light drizzle wasn’t making the situation any better, we found ‘Stressman’ (7A, for me) and ‘Foxy Lady’ (8A, for the guys) in perfect conditions.

After an over two weeks’ trip it felt really sad to go and a little voice inside of my head kept saying ‘just stay!’ (It might have also been the voice of 8 years old Cedar, the smallest badass in our group.) Again, I can’t wait to be back. For now, Magic Wood is my favourite place on the planet and come May I will be there.

Here are some beautiful words written by my friend Ian Lau upon his return to England:

Goodbye Magic Wood, it has been magical. […] For the first time I’ve understood the appeal of the climbing dirtbag. Wake up, have coffee, climb hard, eat, sleep, repeat. Have an occasional rest day, unless you’re Alice, the machine. Meet climbers, discuss beta, swap treatments, do exercises. Life as a triangle from campsite to boulders to gasthaus to campsite until suddenly you realise the life back home has faded.

Granite but not as we know it. Rough like grit but with positive sharp holds. Some amazing lines, each problem feels so different. Do I have a favourite? No. Do I have list? Longer than my arm. Barely scratched the surface yet the place still feels quite new and undeveloped.

Memories are made of these. Disembodied grunts and shouts; of frustration, of triumph; echoing in the forest. The constant rush of the river. Lowing of unknown animals in the night. Bright stars against a pitch black sky. Skipping stones, balanced stones. Rosemary on chips and yummy local pork schnitzels. Aching muscles and painful fingertips.

My final tally: a skin puncture, a small palm flapper, 2 loosened fingernails and a swollen ball of the thumb

So au revoir Averstal see you in April or May for round 2.

 

Getting there without a car:

Fly to Zurich.

If you have to break the journey over two days due to flight and train times, Swiss Star Kloten apartments are located only 5 minutes on the bus or half an hour walking from the airport, and the prices are quite agreeable if prebooked online.

The Zurich train station is in the same place as the airport and Magic Wood tickets can be bought in many vending machines. A ticket to Ferrera, Schmelzi, grants you a ride all the way to your destination, which includes two trains and a bus. Everything runs perfectly on time and the views are breathtaking.

To get from Zurich to Thusis it’s necessary to change in Chur. Once in Thusis you can catch a bus that stops right at the campsite.

 

Where to stay:

Bodhi Campsite it’s the obvious climbers’ choice. It’s cheap, there’s running water (cold) and chemical toilets. In the village there’s a lounge available to the campers with a fast internet wifi, big telly and some books.

The partying side of the campsite is the one with a little shed-shop. The other side is quiet even on party nights.

There are fancier options (a bunk-bed guesthouse and a B&B) to be found in the proximity.

 

Shopping:

In summer a tiny shop at the Bodhi Campsite sells essentials such as eggs, chocolate and gas canisters. The Bodhi Lounge shop has got climbing gear and guide books. The restaurant adjacent to the Lounge is run by climbers and serves amazing home-made burgers. Be warned, they’re 26CHF and they’re addictive.

The nearest place to buy groceries is Thusis. There’s a Coop near the station and slightly further afield Aldi and Lidl, which are both much cheaper. A number of high street stores has got everything else you might need.

 

Mats:

You can fly with your mats with most airlines but they should be wrapped up not to reveal they’re in fact sport equipment. Sticking two mats together as one package is also an option but be sure to check luggage dimensions with your flight operator.

Bodhi Campsite rents mats at 35 a week (10 a day). In high season it’s good to check with Thomas the proprietor to make sure he reserves one for you.

 

Who should go:

Everybody! However, to make the most of the forest bouldering around 6C level is useful as in general there are not many sixes in sight.  

 

When to go:

From May to November. In summer Magic Wood is known to be one of the coldest venues in Europe, with temperature rarely rising above mid twenties. As this past summer proves however, nothing is for sure.

 

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