How to: Magic Wood

This is a repost of a blog I wrote for the Manox team in 2018. You can read the German version of this text here: getmanox.com/how-to-magic-wood/


Magic Wood is a small forest near the Swiss village Ausserferrera, in the picturesque Averstal. Located at the southern end of Graubünden, it’s a 3h drive from Munich (depending on how fast you like to drive on the Autobahn), or 2h from either Zurich or Milan. The area itself is fairly isolated; Ausserferrera is tiny and there is no large city in the immediate vicinity.

Henry trying the iconic Enterprise without feet. Photo by Hannes Kutza (twoseconds.de)

The forest can be entered via two bridges that connect the road on one side of the river to the trails of the forest on the other side. Once on the other side, the area follows the river for about 500m. From the river bed, climbers can walk up the steep terrain of the forest for about 300m until they reach the last boulders.

Like most people these days I started climbing in a gym (the Association of British Climbing Walls recently stated that 71% of climbers exclusively climb indoors). Having grown up in northern Germany, there is not a lot of choice when it come to high quality bouldering destinations outdoors. My first ever bouldering trip was to the somewhat unknown forest of Kjugekull, in southern Sweden. My second trip was to Magic Wood, about 6 years ago. I fell in love with the forest and quickly returned for a second and third time. Although Europe has many other great bouldering destinations, I decided to visit Magic Wood a fourth time - it’s that good.

But why go again if I could try something new? There are a few things that make Magic Wood unique and are responsible for its reputation as one of the best bouldering areas globally:

  1. It is incredibly concentrated. According to 27Crags, there are currently 1083 boulder problems, all in comfortable walking distance from either of the two bridges. Moreover, 10% of all climbs are 8a or harder. The area is so concentrated that in one of the sectors (the Darkness Cave) three 8c problems can be found literally right next to each other, as well as an additional three 8b+ and two 8b boulders. There is no other place in the world with this many hard boulder problems in the same spot.
  2. Access is easy. The 2h drive from the nearest airports (ZRH or MXP) is reasonably fast. But even better, especially for those on a budget, it is possible to take public transport. Taking trains and buses it takes about 3h from Zurich to get there. The PostBus stops literally right in front of the entrance to the forest and is relatively cheap. Once in the area, a car is not needed to access the boulders.
  3. It’s beautiful! The name Magic Wood has nothing to do with drugs (a lot of people assume it does). It quite simply is a “magical” place; hence the name.

In terms of accommodation, most people choose to stay at the campsite which is located right at the lower bridge, thus reducing the approach to the area to a 2min walk. The campsite is incredibly cozy and full of interesting (as well as crazy strong) people. As of this year the campsite also finally has proper facilities, including showers and toilets. Alternatively, there are a guesthouse and hostel a short drive up the road in Ausserferrera, next to the upper bridge. The guesthouse also has a lounge with free wifi, as well as a restaurant. Both the guesthouse and the campsite are operated by Thomas Saluz and his family, who are incredibly welcoming (and cook terrific Thai food).

Although almost everyone stays at one of the aforementioned places - mostly because access to the forest is incredibly convenient - I decided to search for a different place this time. After some digging, I found the amazing Chalet Nidus Montis. A 15min drive from the area, it was big enough to house 12 people. The house also had an amazing living room, garden and terrace, as well as a separate apartment on the ground floor.

The chalet and the crew

Our group consisted of almost a dozen people, ranging from students, to climbing gym owners and software engineers. It was quite diverse, with people joining us from London, Munich, Hamburg and Zurich. It’s always a bit of a gamble to stay in the same place with lots of people, but the atmosphere was incredibly harmonious, not just in terms of how we got along, but also climbing ability. The latter is important, as it can quickly become boring if there is one person who is significantly weaker or stronger than the rest of the pack. We had an even spread in terms of what everyone could climb, with Frederic clocking in around 7a, Chris Muench around 8a+/b and the others, including myself, somewhere in between.

It’s also important to note that Magic Wood, unlike, for example, Fontainebleau or Albarracin, is not very enjoyable for beginners and I would not recommend going if you cannot climb, or at least project, 7a boulders. Nonetheless, the style in Magic Wood is fairly powerful and not nearly as technical as the delicate climbing in Fontainebleau. Thus it is perfect for ambitious gym-rats who are looking for their first contact with “the great outdoors”.

While there certainly are a couple of endurance climbs (such as U-Boot), there is a surprising number of climbs that consist only of 1-3 moves. This includes Muttertag, an 8a with 1 move, as well as Mystic Stylez, the sit start to Muttertag which adds 2 additional moves, making it 8b+. In general the style is powerful, with relatively good holds, which tend to be rotated in the wrong direction, making them harder to hold than one might expect. Many problems also involve powerful dynos or campus moves (video of Enterprise in Space).

On the very first day Chris and I attempted Foxy Lady (8a), Voigas and High Spirits (both 8a+), as well as Jack’s Broken Heart (8a+). Chris particularly wanted to climb Foxy Lady; a line with tiny crimps that demanded incredible body tension and flexibility. He quickly managed to do all the moves in our first session, as I struggled to get past the first one. While we didn’t manage to send anything in the first session, we could definitely feel our shoulders the next day.

Due to the heat - it was about 25 to 30 degrees Celsius outside of the forest during the day - we decided to attempt the harder climbs in the mornings, and then watch the others climb on easier, less friction dependent climbs the rest of the day. Thus we went back to Foxy Lady in the morning of another day and Chris managed to send the climb in his second session. Meanwhile I managed to do all the moves after struggling with catching the sharp crimp on the penultimate move for a long time. While I worked the moves on Foxy Lady, Chris climbed Rythmo (7c+), an overhanging prow on crimps, on the bloc below.

Lilly and Chris watch, as Henry tries the shouldery first move of Foxy Lady. Photo by Hannes Kutza (twoseconds.de)

Meanwhile, Frederic and Salman attempted Wonderboy, which follows a rail of good holds to the left of Foxy Lady, and then leads into a scary mental. While the guidebook calls it a 5b, the mental aspect makes this one a challenge, even for more experienced climbers. After a bit of a fight, both of them sent it. Jeremy however chickened out, opting instead for his project from our previous trip to Magic Wood: Intermezzo. Intermezzo is a classic 7c crimpline on a 33° overhang (if you are ever in the need of measuring the angle of rocks in a forest, there’s an app for that!).  After multiple sessions on it, he finally managed to stitch all the moves together and sent it, together with Chris.

While the rock in Magic Wood isn’t extremely sharp compared to many other areas, some holds do leave their mark and shave skin off like a razor blade. Although, with the help of my Manox products I somehow managed to maintain my skin, my body needed to recover as well, and Chris and I decided to take a day off to rest. Some of the others wanted to climb though, so we went to the Beachbloc. The rock at the river is polished from the water and thus climbing around on it barefoot works quite well. Chris managed to get a barefoot flash of Grit de Luxe (7b), while I managed to split one of my toenails, accidentally slamming my foot into the wall during a dynamic move on Slip Slap Slop (7a). Behind the Beachbloc, Salman did the amazingly tricky Beach Mantle (6b), as Frederic and I went for a swim in the freezing cold river.

Well rested Lilly then managed to climb Exclusive (7b), her first of the grade. Chris went on to do Minisex Sit (8a) and Du côté de Seshuan (7c+). And I finally managed to haul myself up Foxy Lady, a climb that I tried on my very first trip to Magic Wood and could barely touch back then. It’s always incredibly relieving to send something that remained a project for such a long time. The boulder required me to improve some of my biggest weaknesses (finger strength and body tension), so this was especially rewarding.

Henry spotting Chris in the end of Nothing Changes (8a), on the infamous Bruno Block. Photo by Hannes Kutza (twoseconds.de)

After a successful week of climbing, we earned a proper reward, and what could be more rewarding than Italian pizza 🍕? About 25min drive from Magic Wood, just past the Italian border, is a tiny village called Montespluga, home to the amazing pizzeria La Capriata.

This marked the end of our short trip, and after some easy bouldering in the morning the next day, we all parted ways and drove home.

So, if you’ve never been to Magic Wood, what should you do?

  1. Bring plenty of crashpads and spotters. The landing is typically terrible. Either come with a group like we did, make friends quickly, or have balls of steel like Max Prinz and just don’t fall. While some boulders are fairly safe, most of the more well known boulders need quite a lot of pads.
  2. Get a guide book and a decent sense of orientation. I’ve spent a lot of time in the forest and know most of the problems by heart. However to someone who has never been there, the non-existence of real paths can make it quite hard to find the boulders you’re looking for.
  3. A spare tire, because shit happens. On the way up a mountain pass, I managed to cut my tire open on a metal pipe hidden under the grass I was driving on. If it wasn’t for my amazing friends and the help of Auto Gasparini, I would’ve been stranded.
  4. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself instead of desperately trying stuff you can’t climb! And if you do get frustrated, at least get pizza.
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