Tuesday, June 06, 2017
Brett and Sacha only had four days. The first two days were forecast to be very good. The forecast for the final two days was anything but. So if we were going to make the most of the good weather we needed to hit the ground running. In addition we were still very early in the season and a lot of the necessary infrastructure such as cable cars , mountain huts etc were all closed. On our first day we drove up to the Emosson Dam . We parked the car and headed of up the Aiguille Van.2578m. Being early in the season meant that there was still a lot of snow around. More than I had ever encountered on this route. The path up to the start of the climbing was buried and it made finding the start far from simple. Nevertheless Brett and Sacha climbed quickly . So quickly ,that when we arrived at the col between the two summits of the Aiguille Van I suggested that we might push on to the higher and more spectacular Grands Perrons.2578m. The most remote and sought after summit in the area. On the Saturday the plan was to get the 1st cable car up from the Italian side and ride the Skyway lift in order that we might attempt La Tour Ronde.3793m. Yet as we approached the start of the route it became blindingly obvious that this wasn't going to happen. Even this early in the season the route had lost its snow cover and was now a death trap full of falling rocks. So we had to resort to Plan B. We climbed the north west face of the Aiguille de Toule. 3534m, arriving on the summit just in time to see absolutely nothing. On the Sunday it was lashing it down. I looked at the weather maps in an attempt to find us some good weather. Surprisingly I found some good weather in the last place I expected. The Grand St Bernard. Normally if you are looking for bad weather you can be sure to find it at the Grand St Bernard , but apparently not on the 4th of June. so that is where we headed and sure enough the weather was good. We climbed Mt Fourchon,2902m wishing we had skis with us as there was plenty of snow . We arrived on the summit just as the mist came in and once again we saw absolutely nothing. On the descent we made good use of the snow and practiced Ice axe arrests. An essential skill for any would be mountaineer. We practiced the entire set of scenarios , sliding feet first, head first , on your back head first. On the Monday it continued to rain in Chamonix. We decided on a technical day: Tricks of the trade -climbing up ropes using prussiks rope-man etc. In the afternoon it stopped raining so we went to the crag in Les Houches and completed some multiple Rappels and looked at what was necessary to do this safely in the Alps. Brett and Sacha finished up by leading some of the routes in their big alpine boots.
Thursday, June 01, 2017
The climbing was excellent on good solid grippy gneiss. We summitted at about 14.00hrs. We then traversed the other summit of Garbh Bhienn before descending the very long broad ridge back to the car, where I jumped in the river in order to cool off. It had been a long hard but ultimately satisfying day. The question now was what to do tomorrow? A look at the weather forecast suggested that Fort William was not the place to be if climbing in the dry was to be the goal- yet Lochinver might well be. So we drove through Fort William and across the Great Glen and along the shores of Loch Ness. The immediate challenge was to find some where to stay. Nick phoned a friend for some info. Conveniently Nicks friend was a Hotel Inspector for the Highland and Islands tourist board. His suggestion was the Coul House in Contin. A beautiful country house set in its own impressive gardens. We managed to get a room and we arrived at 19.00 hrs for beer on the terrace over looking the long sweeping lawns. Saturday 20th. A very competent full Scottish breakfast,set us up for the drive to Lochinver. We were now on North Coast 500 road route - Fantastic roads that have been hijacked and branded as the ultimate road trip. [ Admittedly with some justification] We passed old classic cars , people on bikes, posers in Super cars, serious looking Germans on motor bikes and even some very determined character who was walking the route. Our climb for the day was to be the iconic Old Man of Stoer. The weather was perfect. We parked the car at the Stoer lighthouse and were greeted by the very enthusiastic proprietress of the tea shack who was full of use full information about the sea stack. The key information was that we would not need to swim to the stack because some climbers had just set up a Tyrolean rope and left it in place. Other information she shared with us was that there were killer whales in the area. Why this was deemed pertinent to an ascent of the Old Man remains a mystery unless they jumped out of the sea and snatched us from the Tyrolean rope. We walked across the headland to the Old Man of Stoer in about an hour. Once I had reminded myself where the descent went , we scrambled down to the foot of the Stack and the Tyrolean. I suppose we should have been grateful that someone had been kind enough to fix up and leave the rope in place, but it was a very stretchy rope attached by not the greatest anchors. Still it was better than swimming. We climbed the Stoer in 4 pitches and the rappelled off in one long 50 meter length. Sunday 21st. We burst out of our tents and made a run for breakfast at the Scourie Hotel through lashing rain. We then returned to pack up the tents and head north. We passed the walker... plus various classic cars that were having issues with the rain getting in their electrics. We drove North through thick mist where we saw very little. We stopped for a coffee at a road side cafe. The proprietor wasn't particularly happy with the economic boom of the North 500 . He grumbled that his septic tank couldn't cope with the increase in tourism. Next we tried to stop for a bite of lunch. The cafe car park was full of top end Porche GT3's. No tables in the cafe. I had thought the whole point of having one of these cars was that they were exclusive. Generally you don't pay upwards of £150k to find 3 of them in the same car park in the far north of Scotland. Anyway we arrived in a very wet Thurso at about 14.00 hrs. The issue was the ferry to Stromness wasn't untill 19.00hrs. What to do ? We parked up and I went to sleep in the car , Nick went for an explore . 10 minutes later he was back. Nick did then save the afternoon by finding the Tempest Cafe which was an oasis of pleasantness in what other wise is a somewhat underwhelming town. Great fish and chips on the Ferry and then a magical arrival in Stromness as the weather started to clear. Half an hours drive and we arrived at our apartment which we had pre booked via booking .com. The Ayres Hotel. 22.30 and the sun was only just setting over the Kirkwall harbour. Monday 22nd. A beautiful day. After another full Scottish breakfast we drove to the Houton Ferry terminal. The final pitch is as good a pitch as you will find anywhere in the world. Straight up a right angle corner and as you get to the top there is a split in the rock which allows you to see right through the Sea Stack and out to sea. Nick lead this final pitch. We then took the 11.00am ferry back to mainland Scotland. The weather was still very wet on the West Coast but less wet on the East Coast. We identified another sea stack the Old Man of Wick. The guide book highly recommended it. The reality was different. The approach was through a housing estate which was like a scene from Trainspotting. Followed by a rappel over a crumbling zawn. The only anchor was 20 meters away and was a dubious fence post. Added to which it was on the far side of the path. Further it was starting to rain. In no way that I could see was this a good idea. We contented our selves with some photos and then drove south to Inverness through now driving rain.