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Lea Bärfuss

Bouldering in the Engadin

Lea Bärfuss

Up and up

Summer in the Engadin. The setting of this story is the Morteratsch region near Pontresina, an enchanted forest alongside the Bernina Railway line. And right in the middle of it is Lea Bärfuss.

Lea Bärfuss is 21 years old and she boulders. It is the beginning of September and the first rays of the sun shine through the treetops. They create a warm light.

You can find treasures all over this place, at least from Lea’s point of view. Countless boulders that were left behind by the Morteratsch glacier during its retreat. They are Lea’s playground. In 2010, when the climbing and boulder hall in S-chanf was built, Lea started bouldering. She still spends a lot of time there in winter to stay in shape.

An interaction of technique, high speed strength, agility and balance

«It’s the interaction of technique, high speed strength, agility and balance that I like about bouldering.” Each line is a new challenge and you consider and discuss the best way to tackle it. Just like today. Lea is accompanied by a friend. Bouldering is a team sport with at least two partners because you climb unsecured. Together, they clean the boulder and discuss the line. Lea goes first. She reaches into the small bag of magnesium, sits down on the mat, gathers momentum and pulls herself up in one haul. And again. Higher and higher. Her friend whoops: «Allez Lea!» Cheering for your bouldering partner is part of the sport; it encourages and makes the boulderer feel safe. The person up on the boulder knows that someone is down there moving the mat along, which is important should s/he fall. However, watching Lea that day, this precaution does not seem necessary – she boulders the lines without major difficulties and searches for other solutions while she hangs safely onto the rock. She refers to herself as rather lazy, but she nevertheless does not lack the ambition to reach her goal. Happily, and apparently a bit amazed at her own success, she looks down from the boulder. Seconds later she once again tackles the line. «When bouldering, you need to reflect and plan more than you do in sport climbing.» Lea states this with an obvious wink as she is well aware that sport climbers would not agree with her. Just taking a little dig at her family.

When every family member is a climber

Lea grew up in a family of climbers. And yet, she has never been passionate about climbing. «I went along because everyone did.» Everyone includes her mother, brother and sister. Lea is the youngest of the three siblings and she says it has always taken her a while until she gets going. She is a relaxed person who takes everything rather easy. This is why, instead of sports climbing, bouldering is more her cup of tea. «I am a chill person,» she says with a smile. And this makes bouldering the perfect match – you meet colleagues, you boulder a couple of routes and spend a nice time together. The combination of nature, companionship and motivating each other – this is what bouldering is about. It’s not primarily about achievements, not about being the best or the fastest. It’s about finding your line, being creative and trying out something new. When Lea boulders, it looks elegant and effortless. Lea tells us while we head for the next rock that since they were children, the members of the Bärfuss family have roamed the various climbing crags. She wears flip-flops and carries the boulder mat on her back rucksack-style. The mat is folded once with everything else stuck in the middle - mat, magnesium, climbing shoes. This is all you need for bouldering.

The Engadin bouldering scene was small bordering on nonexistent

Those who would like to try bouldering should – if possible – acquire some basic climbing skills first as this will provide them with an easy start to bouldering.
Lea Bärfuss - Bouldering in the Engadin

The first move itself is a whole issue on its own as you start from a sitting position. Sit start it is called. It looks easy – like everything else Lea does on the rock – but one can easily try once and and quickly give up.

Lea Bärfuss - Bouldering in the Engadin

In the Engadin, bouldering isn't quite in vogue yet. There is no real “scene,” says Lea. Boulderers are the same people who also go climbing. Top spots for Lea are the Morteratsch and Julier regions – here you will find her regularly. A good spot needs several boulders made of compact, not brittle, rock and flat “falling sites.” If you pay close attention, you may notice signs on some boulders. They indicate a bouldering line or show names like marks. «Years ago, my sister wrote a boulder guide as her matriculation project and we marked many of those rocks.» In terms of choosing the right boulder for herself, Lea knows if it’s the right one or not straightaway. «The lines must appeal to me. It needs a nice edge and preferably some overhanging passages which I particularly love.» Her long, dark brown hair, dressed in a ponytail, swings in the rhythm of her movements. A day of bouldering leaves its marks. Lea sits in the grass and tends to a fresh injury on her big toe. She has stepped on something sharp. A bit of tape is wrapped around the bleeding wound and this has to suffice. Her fingers also hurt after a day at the rocks – but it’s part of it, says Lea as she gathers her things onto her mat, takes it on her back and leaves the Morteratsch forest calling it a day.

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