Luxembourg is an interesting small country that sits landlocked between France, Germany and Belgium. In the east of the country is a village called Berdorf, which is home to some superb sandstone sport climbing. Berdorf could reasonably claim to be one of the best known crags of its type, owing its reputation to its quality. The crag is set in a beautiful forest, which is itself in the European National Protection Zone, due to the quality and abundance of rare plants in the area. The environment at Berdorf is very special and it should go without saying that climbers must treat it with the utmost respect.
Guidebooks for Climbing in Berdorf
There are two guidebooks for Berdorf, which you can buy online or at the Berdorf Tourist Information, which is conveniently located by the main parking for the crag.
‘Climbing in Berdorf’ by On-sight Climbing (only in English) has great route descriptions and a nice appraisal of each mini sector as well as details of established link ups and route variations. The book is really nice to use and has a gallery in the back with some great action shots. The guide feels complete and tells you everything you need to know about a trip to Berdorf.
Berdorf Wanderbaach; A Climber’s Guide is by FLERA (Climbing Federation in Luxembourg.) At the tourist information it was slightly cheaper than the On-sight Climbing guidebook. It is a condensed, pocket size book which also includes a small area called Audun-le-Tiche, in France, around 60 km away from Berdorf. It does lack route descriptions and other useful bits of information like number of bolts etc, so we chose the Onsight guide instead.
Season and Conditions
Climbing is possible at most times of the year in Berdorf, with the forest playing a big part in the conditions. The trees mean the crag will be almost always shaded, making it a reasonable choice for the summer. When we were there it was often quite windy which would also help keep it cool. Spring and autumn have an abundance of good conditions, as is typical for most parts of Europe. Climbing in winter will be possible, but you’ll need a good spell of weather or it could be freezing and damp.
Sandstone Climbing Etiquette
Sandstone is one of the most beautiful types of rock to climb on, but it also one of the most fragile. Although the Berdorf sandstone is compact and high quality, it must still be treated with care. Some of these rules will be common knowledge to a lot of climbers, however we saw several people committing ‘sandstone sins’ on a busy weekend, so they are worth repeating.
Always clean your shoes before you climb, dirty and gritty shoes will damage the foot holds as well as ruining the friction on your well designed shoes!
Never climb on wet rock. Berdorf dries out reasonably quickly after light rain, but after persistent downpours it may need a couple of days. Wet sandstone is known to snap very easily and nobody wants to see the beautiful holds get broken.
Chalk use is perhaps the most nuanced of all. The rock has great friction, even on the very well climbed classics. However, as anyone with sweaty tips will know, chalk is still very useful. On steep routes the chalk can build up, and it is important to brush the holds. But on sandstone, persistently brushing the holds won’t help them either. So use a very soft brush and ideally use the bare minimum of chalk to avoid caking it all over.
Thankfully, it is no longer necessary to obtain a permit to climb at Berdorf. However, there are some requirements still in place. It is necessary for anyone climbing to be a member of a climbing organisation which is affiliated to the UIAA or IFSC (such as the BMC or AAC). The guidebook says there can be checks at the crag, where climbers are expected to show a membership card and ID, or they will have to leave.
Even though the climbing is referred to as Berdorf, this is the name of the nearby village. The whole of the area has some beautiful sandstone formations and cliffs, however, only the Wanterbaach crag is permitted to climb on. All others are forbidden for any type of climbing (sport, trad or bouldering).
The Wanterbaach crag is in a really beautiful area, as you walk through the forest you see so many stunning features begging to be climbed. The rock has many appealing colours and textures, it couldn’t be any better for climbing if it had been designed by an architect! There are around 150 routes at Wanterbaach, if you don’t count the link ups. The grade range is from F2a-F8c, but the lion’s share of routes are between 6a – 7c (with only 9 8th grade routes). One of Berdorf’s only shortfalls is the number of routes, and most people could climb all of the ‘must do’ routes within their grade range on a week long trip.
The length of the routes is also great, with pitches over 30 meters and the vast majority being at least 25 meters. The bolting is generally good, particularly on the harder routes. Some of the lower grade routes are sportingly bolted, especially in the upper half. The grades are quite accurate, but the routes often have bouldery cruxes with juggy sections in between, so they won’t play to everyones strengths. The beautiful pockets vary from sections of honeycomb to singular crimpy holds surrounded by smooth rock. On the majority of routes the sandstones composition is simply perfect, never sandy or friable and not so compact as to get polished.
On weekdays the crag is peaceful, with usually only one or two pairs of climbers around. However, the weekends are really something else, the busiest we’ve ever seen a crag! Climbers drive for hours to get there and they come from several countries across Northern Europe. Places with lots of locals usually have a good atmosphere, but it wasn’t really the case here. There was lots of irksome behaviour, like people clipping the first few draws to ‘reserve’ a route and disappearing for hours or 10+ people top roping the same thing endlessly. If you can, avoid the weekend all together and knacker yourself out on the week days. Enjoying a quiet and tranquil day at Berdorf is absolute bliss!
It is worth mentioning that Berdorf would be an excellent place to visit without a car. The village is accessible with public transport and there’s a campsite perfectly located, with the crag a short walk away. Berdorf itself has a few places to eat and there are big supermarkets around 7km away in Echternach.
Rest Day Activities
One of Luxembourgs greatest assets is its compact size. Almost everything can be reached from Berdorf within 1 hour or so of driving. There are loads of beautiful trails to hike, which take you through lovely forests and past some funky passages and caves. Luxembourg is oozing with interesting historical towns and you don’t need to look far if you need a rest from climbing.
Berdorf itself is a nice village with a few campsites, restaurants, a local produce store, with many different hikes and interesting things to do close by. There is the 112 km Mullerthal trail which traverses the region surrounding Berdorf. The Mullerthal trail passes lots of unique features in the forest, which has rightly or wrongly become known as ‘Little Switzerland’. It would be very easy to spend a day or two relaxing in the immediate vicinity, without needing to go far.
Echternach is 7 km from Berdorf, and it is the oldest town in Luxembourg. Echternach is famous for an ancient abbey, founded by a monk from Ripon called Willibrord, in 698! There is a museum explaining the history of the abbey, famous for the dancing procession of Echternach which finishes there. The town has plenty of nice cafes and places to eat, it is definitely worth the short journey from Berdorf.
Luxembourg City is 33 km away from Berdorf and is renowned for its high-end, upmarket lifestyle. This is as you would expect it to be, given Luxembourg has one of the highest GDP per capita in the world. There are some interesting historical sights to see such as the Palais Grand-Ducal, where you can see the changing of the guards and the Cathedral of Notre Dame. The city is a nice place to visit and can be tied in with the journey between Berdorf and Freyr in Belgium.
We thoroughly enjoyed visiting Luxembourg and climbing in Berdorf. Although the climbing area itself isn’t huge, it has superb quality rock and its location in the forest is really special. As sport climbing in Europe goes, fully bolted 30 meter routes on sandstone are not very common and that is what has put Berdorf on the radar of so many climbers. The location is also very convenient and it is easy to stop off at Berdorf as part of a longer trip.
For anyone with the gift of time, a week at Berdorf is a superb addition to a longer trip, whether you’re going to Scandinavia for granite or the Mediterranean for limestone, the Wanterbaach crag will definitely hold its own in terms of quality. As a trip in its own right, Berdorf is worthwhile, with the number of routes being the only potential limiting factor.
Relevant links and resources
Climbing in Berdorf access information
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