Friday, June 26, 2015

Highest Hut in the Alps - Best Hut in the Alps

Just spent a week climbing the peaks around and behind Monte Rosa with Chris Dovell and Lia Heisters. Our plan was to climb up to the Margherita Hut - the highest building in Europe at 4554 meters. It is best practice not to go straight there because if you do you are more or less guaranteed severe altitude sickness.

So we followed what is a tried and tested plan. The first day [with the significant help of the Punta Indren cable car] we walked up to the Mantova Hut 3400m

On the Tuesday it was blowing quite hard

So we put our heads down and headed to the top of the Balenhorn 4107m

before heading down to the Gniffetti Hut at 3625m. Thus following the acclimatisation mantra of "climb high sleep low."

I have started carrying an oximeter on these type of trips because it is a very good quick way of seeing how well people are acclimatissing . A normal reading at sea level would be between 97 and 100. Any reading of below 90 would get you admitted to A&E. You can see the need to be careful with your acclimatisation- The top reading is the pulse the bottom reading is the blood oxygen level on our fisrt night above 3500m

On Wednesday we headed up to the Margerherita Hut but not before knocking of the 10th highest mountain in the alps the Parrotspitze4432m

The position of the Margherita hut is really quite audacious

It may be the highest hut in the alps , but it also the most welcoming, has the best food, and it also has the fastest internet connection of anywhere I have ever been. This is provided free of charge via Turin University who do lots of research into high altitude medicine.

We had hoped to continue from the Margherita hut and climb the 2nd highest mountain in the alps the Dufourspitze 4634m, but there was not going to be possible because the route was plastered with snow and had not been made climb in a least 6 months.

So on the Thursday we contented ourselves with climbing the Zumsteinspitze 4563m, then the Ludroigshohe 4283m then the Coro Nero 4321m and finally Vincent Piramid 4215m. We then headed back down to the Gnifetti hut for the 2nd time where we were treated to excellent food and a very good evening.

We awoke on the Friday and enjoyed a leisurely stroll back to the lift Station , but not before dropping into the Mantova hut for a cappuccino.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Summer Alpine climbing Season 2015 kicks off

I was joined by Dee Anand for six days. Dee came out last year at pretty much the same time and we climbed Mt Blanc together. The only problem was we arrived on the summit in thick cloud. Well pretty much the same thing happened on this trip every time we arrived on a major summit we saw nothing.

On the Monday the weather forecast was indifferent for Chamonix. But just over in Switzerland it was much better . So we headed up to the Emosson Dam. Parked the car and jumped on a free shuttle bus which whisked us to the other side. [The bus was provided by the construction company who are repairing a leak in the dam wall!

We climbed the Aguille de Van which proved to be an ideal shake down day.

On the Tuesday we did the classic traverse of the Crochue .We did stay dry , but we saw nothing!

Dee had to take my word when I announced we were on the top.

Then on the wednesday believe it or not the sun came out! So we were all psyched to head up the Aguille du Midi. Yet when we turned up the whole world had the same idea and the Que was round the building. Plan B - through the Mt Blanc Tunnel and up the brand new lift at Helbronner. This proved to be a much better bet. The new lift is sensational. As the cable car goes up, it also spins around on its axis. The lift station is like a cross between a 5 star hotel reception/a cathedral. It is jaw dropping. We were able to do the complete traverse of the Aguille du Marbree.

Thursday - we now had a stellar forecast and so we headed round to the Grand Paradiso. We walked up to the Vittorio Emanuelle hut in an easy couple of hours.

Friday breakfast at 4.00 am . We were away soon after. Gradually we overtook all the other parties , not by going quickly but just by not stopping. Yet when we summitted once again the mist had socked in and Dee was once again deprived of a view.

Although we couldn't see much the conditions underfoot were excellent and we charged back down the snow to the hut in 2 hours.

On the Saturday we were a bit tired so we opted to go up to Plan Praz on the Brevent lift where did an excellent but very chilly rock climb .We climbed the Éperon de doite, on the Aiguille Charlanon.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

The Ibex of Cingino Dam .

Last week I got a call from the BBC to ask if I could help rig a camera for a unique never been attempted film project.
The plan was to film the Ibex which climb the Cingino Dam in order to lick the salt deposit off the rock. The salt is forced out of the rock by the water pressure .
Rather sensibly it was felt that we should walk up to the dam and make a recce. The plan was to see if we could fix a tensioned cable way across the front of the dam with the intention of mounting a camera.

So I left home at about 5.30am and drove over the Simplon pass to Villa Dollassa in Italy where I met up with Roberto Bianchi who is a wild life photographer and expert on the Ibex.

A few minutes later we were joined by Alex Rankin , the producer of the episode. We all then drove to the head of the Antrona Valley , dumped the car and started the beautiful walk up to our un manned Refuge at 10.00am

It was a fair pull up to the hut taking 4 hours .

We unpacked our stuff and then crept over to the dam which is about 5 minutes walk from the hut we were staying in.

Luckily the ibex were on the dam. The site is simply incredible. I couldn't quite take in how steep the dam wall was and how big the ibex were. Some must have weighed over 300 kg.

We spent the afternoon and the next morning checking out potential anchors and making risk assessments. It was just before we headed down back to the valley that I got to be even more impressed by the ibex: As I stood at the bottom I decided to have a go at climbing the first couple of meters of the dam to see what it was like.

I struggled up about a meter and slipped off!