Climbing Diga del Luzzone

While traveling in Switzerland last month I had the opportunity to climb the tallest artificial climbing wall in the world: the Diga del Luzzone. This dam forms the west end of the Lago di Luzzone and is nestled in an absolutely gorgeous area of southern Switzerland.



Most descriptions of the climb recommend you start at the Ristorante Luzzone near the top of the dam, which charges a CHF20 access fee per climber. Unfortunately, a landslide in Spring 2016 destroyed the road leading up to the restaurant, and as of October 2016 neither the road nor the restaurant had reopened. Instead, we parked at a bus stop near the bottom of the debris-covered road and hiked about 2km in along one of Switzerland's ubiquitous trails:

Who needs switchbacks when you can walk straight up the hill?

The first holds of the climb are about 4m off the ground to prevent random people from climbing on it; there's a ladder at the bottom to provide access, but is locked to the wall with a key you get from the restaurant (with a CHF100 deposit). Since the restaurant was closed, that wasn't an option, so we put together the world's ugliest stick clip and were able to hoist one of our group onto the climb.

The Climb

This is only the first half.

It may not be that impressive to a seasoned multipitch climber, but to our gym-honed sensibilities the idea of climbing over 500 feet - on plastic! - was crazy. The climbing itself is pretty straightforward: the holds are great, with barely a single crimp until a section on the fifth pitch, and the smooth concrete wall makes it impossible to get off-route. Generally it seems to be pegged at 6a+ (5.10b), which feels about right to me; as usual, the difficulty isn't in any particular set of moves, but in the length of the climb. The incredible exposure of climbing hundreds of feet up a sheer, smooth wall can also definitely get in your head.

The dam is an arch dam, so the first two pitches aren't quite vertical, the third is pretty much straight up, and the final two pitches are overhung. It's not very overhung, but it's definitely noticeable while you're on the wall. Also, near the end we ran into dozens of swallows sitting on the big, juggy holds; they didn't seem to like it when we used their perches to climb, and started dive-bombing us instead!

The belay stations are... minimal. Each station gives you two rings about eight inches apart and a length of metal pipe for your feet; with no real ledges to stand on, make sure you have a comfortable harness! This probably wouldn't have been so bad, but our group was three people so we spent a lot of time sharing belay stations and trying not to get in each others' way.

My choice of shoes probably didn't help either. I <3 my Geniuses, but they are not most comfortable shoe ever made.

Eventually we did make it to the top of the climb, triumphantly clambering over the guard rail at the top, and enjoyed the stunning afternoon view.

To get back down, you can either rappel - excuse me, abseil - or just hike. Hiking is easy and probably faster as well.

Should you climb it?

If you're in the area, absolutely! The climbing is pretty unmemorable, but the experience is pretty unique, and it's fun to say that you've climbed the tallest artificial wall in the world. I don't know that it's worth a big trip all by itself, but if you can make a day trip there or work it into another trip, it's well worth the time.