Friday, July 08, 2022

Different climbing around Chamonix.


Aguille Verte& Dru. [see final photo]

Finally after failing to leave Canada for two years and having cancelled two trips, Stephen Kellock made it to Chamonix albeit jet lagged and tired.

Day1 The best shake-down route in this situation [or any first day ] is the Via Cordia above La Flegere.  It is in a stunning position and gives a nod to acclimatisation.  For someone who has not climbed in a while it provides some thought provoking momments without being too daunting. Once it has been completed the descent is made by chair lift and so the knees are not given a thrashing.

Day 2, Started with a poor forecast which claimed it was going to rain all day.  We were keen to keep some momentum up and gain as much acclimatisation as possible .  We choose to drive up to the Barrage Emosson and walk up the Bel Oseau.  This proved to big a good choice, not only did were we treated to great views, we stayed dry.

Lac Emosson

Day 3 . The weather was good .  We headed up to make the traverse of the Aiguille Chrochue, one of my favourite routes of its grade.  It was quite busy but we managed to avoid the queues with some secret diversions. We even got to swim in lac Blanc afterwards [Well I did Stephen produced some unsatisfactory excuses.]

Stephen enjoying the wonderful climbing

Day 4.  We headed up the Sky-Way lift into the Italian side of the VallĂ©e Blanche and climbed the Aiguille Marbree.  The conditions were far from ideal, as there had been no overnight freeze and the glacier bordering on being treacherous .

Me on the summit of something.

Day 5 Clear skies over night meant there was a freeze, which was perfect for our crossing of the Vallee Blanche from the Aiguille du Midi to pointe Helbronner.

  We returned via the spectacular "Eggs."

Day 6 We changed the emphasis of our climbing from general alpine climbing to alpine rock climbing. Yet It rained hard over night and was slow to clear the next morning so we started a little later and climbed above La Flegere on a  multi-pitch rock climb called Athena.  It was hard because parts of it were still wet and there was a strong wind blowing.  

Day 7  We headed upto  the summit of Le  Brevent and climbed Mic est Mousse.

Stephen on the final pitch of Mic est Moussia

Day 8.  Stephen had never climbed a via ferratta and so we visited the one above Passey. 

Stephen being great

view from Via Ferratta looking towards Mt Blanc

Day 9.  Stephen enjoyed the via ferratta so much that he was keen to do another one and so we headed up La Flegere one last time and climbed the Evettes Via Ferrata.

Oil painting of Aiguille Verte by Chris Boulton taken from picture at the top of this blog post.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Mini Italian trip.

Reuben on final pitch of Athena.

 I had four very interesting days climbing  with Reuben Berg.  Three of them in Italy and our first day in Chamonix.

On our first day we took the cable car from La Flegere and walked over to climb a route called Athena.  Despite it being a Sunday and not a cloud in the sky, we were the only people on the crag. Why ? It was impossible to say, but we weren't complaining. The only thing we did complain about was the heat.  The alps is experiencing another unwelcome "canicule."

On the Monday we headed off on our mini Italian trip, driving through Switzerland and over col de Gd St Bernard and climbing on a crag called the "Petit Cervin" [Little Matterhorn]. We climbed the route" La Charlie". The first ascent was made by the brilliant Chamonix climber Terry Renault and Raymond Gay - a monk at the Monastery.  It is a wonderful 8 pitch climb in an equally wonderful setting.  The only downside was the noise from the wankers who ride their obnoxiously noisy motor bikes up and down the road.

Le Petit Cervin.

After climbing stayed in the Hotel Albergo Italia which is situated at the Col du Gd St Bernard just over the border.  It is an incredible hotel.  It also has the advantage of being at 2470 meters which makes it a good place to acclimatise.

Hotel Albergo Italia

After an excellent breakfast 

beautifully presented breakfast.

We had a leisurely drive down in the direction of  Aosta  before turning off the road and heading up Vallpelline valley towards the village of Dzovennoz. From here the plan was to head up to the Refugio  Crete Seche.  

We were given dispensation to drive up the track which cut a good hour and half off the walk which was a relief in the oppresive heat.

Refugio Crete Seche

The Refugio Crete Seche is wonderfully positioned, with a delightfully welcoming guardian.  We were the only guests. 

Breakfast was at 5.00hrs and we were away at 6.00hrs. There was no need for head torches because we were setting out on mid summers day.  Our goal was the traverse of the Crete Seche ridge which runs directly along the Swiss /Italian border.

These Ibex were only signs of life we saw all day 

We walked up the long wild valley until we arrived at the col de Crete Seche.  This took an hour and a half.  We stopped to eat and put the rope on before setting off up the ridge.  There were a few spots of rain and some ominous black clouds, but we judged we would be okay.  We arrived on the summit of the Dent d'Oyace an hour and a half later, still dry.

Reuben on the arete.

A further picnic stop and a drink  it was then  back down to the Refugio, a quick Cappuccino,  down to the car and a return to Chamonix via the Mt Blanc tunnel.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Training the next generation


Dent du Geant seen from the Aiguille Marbree

I kicked off the summer season by working on the famous Jonathan Conville Memorial Trust mountaineering courses.

Their very good website sets out their aims :

The Jonathan Conville Memorial Trust ensures young people from all walks of life, regardless of opportunity, experience the challenges and rewards of mountaineering. Through building knowledge, confidence, and ability, we train young people to safely reach their most ambitious mountaineering goals, certain that personal growth in the mountains solidifies into every other aspect of life.

The courses are aimed at young mountaineers who are coming to climb in the alps for the first time. With the intention of them  climbing on their  own afterwards. [Ie without Guides] The aim of the course  is to make sure they are able to go home alive at the end of their adventure.  The courses aim to give some key skills, but also impart as much advise as possible, on everything from which are the best weather forecast apps, to what to carry in an alpine rucksack and perhaps more impotantly what not to carry.

My three students were Janine Alexander, Alex Everest  and Ben Taylor.  After meeting on the Chossalet campsite in Argentiere [where all the alpine courses have been based since their inception in 1979] We headed up Le Brevent.  We started by looking at how to move safely on steep snow slopes and then moved onto looking at how to alpine climb using the rope safely and quickly.  We also looked at how to escape from situations which we might have " overcooked."

Ben Taylor using a direct belay.

On the second day we drove through the Mt Blanc tunnel and took the Sky Way cable car.  From here we climbed the Aiguille Marbree.  We finished the afternoon looking at crevasse rescue scenarios and setting up pulley systems.  The key take home point is that firstly it is better not to fall into a crevasse by employing best practise techniques and secondly it is virtually impossible to safely hoist some one out of a crevasse if you are the sole person left on the surface.  

A washing machine which would make an ideal crevasse rescue anchor

Jane Alexander on summit of Aiguille Marbree.

Teaching crevasses rescue generally means you know enough to be dangerous...

On our third day we negotiated the enormous queues at the Aiguille du Midi [by having pre booked our cabin slots ] and went and climbed Point Lachenal.  This gave us plenty of opportunity to learn the fundamentals of cramponing.  After all if you dont know how to climb on crampons the rest of your alpine climbing career is going to be somewhat compromised.

This was also a good place to introduce the notion of the alpine walking pace.  Ie very slow and steady.  The team being in their very early twenties were sceptical about the need to go so slowly, but by the time they had walked back up the Midi ridge in sweltering heat and had overtaken every other team, they were a littel more convinced.


Friday, April 29, 2022

This was not what was planned.

Sunrise looking up the Aletsch glacier.

 The plan had been made months ago.  James ,Adam and I were going to ski the Western Bernese Haute Route.  Yet the weather did not know the plan and convened to wreck it even before we started.

I picked James and Adam up at their hotel in Aigle and then we drove to Col Pillions, Glacier 3000 cable car.  The resort was shut due to high wind and poor visibility.  We needed an alternative plan.  We then drove back to Aigle, then onto Martigny and finally to the car park at the old Super Gd St Bernard ski lift.

Neither Adam nor James had ever visited the Hospice and so this turned out to be an excellent option.  We skinned up road in a relaxed two hours.  The weather was no where as bad as it had been in the morning.

It snowed overnight and the avalanche risk went up.  The next morning the weather was indifferent.  The combination of a high avalanche risk  and not being able to see makes route choice particuarly difficult.

We decided to venture out on a short tour and headed up to the col Barrasson which marks the border between Italy and Switzerland.

The border stone.

We were rewarded for our efforts with fine snow on our descent, yet not much of a view.

The next day proved to be a memorable day. Even before we set off I was outside the Hospice where I found a credit card in the snow.  It was Jame's card.  We set off in good weather and lots of cold fresh snow.  Our goal for the day was Mt Fourchon.  The conditions were so good that we virtually skinned to the summit, as opposed to the previous ascents this winter that had involved some basic rock climbing.

Adam arriving at the summit of Mt Fourchon.

It was while sitting on the summit eating our Hospice prepared picnics that an extrordinary thing happened: The only other group were Anglo- Scottish and led by a very personable Italian Guide called Paulo.  We all congregated on the summit where we tucked into our lunches.  A conversation struck up and it transpired that one of their group had shared a house with Adam while they were medical students.  This was the first time they had met in 40 years .

We then skied down untracked snow, which was good at the top and not quite so good  at the bottom. [yet still good] 

We then made our way back up the "Italian Job opening scene road"

and back to the Hospice.

From there we skied down the road on some very sticky snow which I was glad to be finished with by the time we arrived back at the car.

Next we drove to Martigny where we did some repacking/ redressing in preperation for the next part of our trip.

Back in the car, we drove to Brig in about an hour..  In Brig we parked  and got a train to Grindlewald.  But not before James lost his credit card for the second time that day.  It was while waiting for the train that the women who sold the tickets came to reunite it with him on the platform of Brig station. Adam and I looked on incredulous.

We arrived in a very wet Grindlewald at about 6.30pm, checked into our hotel and enjoyed an excellent meal and a good bottle of swiss red.

Our plan was to go to the top of the Jungfraujoch and stay at the Monchjoch Hutte.  The next day we were going to ski down the Aletsch glacier. In the morning the weather was uninspiring it was raining hard.  

The one thing we did have in our favour was that the forecast for the next day had been consistently positive for nearly a week.  

We took the new cable car which apparently passes right in front of the North Face of the Eiger and disgorges you in an ultra modern lift station at the Eigergletscher station.  From here you take the train up through the Eiger as before.

What had been heavy rain in Grindlewald was fresh snow up at the "Top of Europe."  [Thats what the Swiss knowingly misleadingly call the station.]

Gradually it began to clear as we made the 45 miunte approach to the Monchjoch Hutte.

At the Monchjoch.


So far so good.  Adam was about to enjoy his first night in a mountain hut.   Sadly he did not get to experience the Swiss incarnation of Gollum the legendary most miserable obnoxious hut keeper you could wish to meet because he had been replaced by some entirely normal pleasant people who were now running the Hutte.

Sure enough the next day dawned perfect.  This was to be an extrordinary day in terms of the journey and the scenery.

We left the hut at about 6.00hrs.  We started by skiing back the way we had come the previous afternoon, before turning left and heading down the Aletsch glacier.  There is nothing particularly difficult about the descent other than keeping to a crevasse free line.  What is incredible is the scenary and the sense of wilderness, combined with the sun rise.  We were to see no one the entire descent.

What was also good was that lower down at the Konkordia Platz, where the glacier is almost flat the snow had consolidated which allowed us to pole and skate, instead of wading through fresh snow.  We passed under the Konkordia Hutte and continued on down the glacier.  The last time I had come down was on foot with lots of crevasses to maze my way through. That was last  September where it had taken  six hours.  Today on skis it took about 30miutes.

We exited from the glacier by skiing some of silky spring snow, after which we put our skins on and climbed towards the unique tunnel which puts you into the Fiesch lift system.

tunnel entrance 

I mistakenly told the boys not to bother with head torches.

On exiting the tunnel it took us about an  hour  to reach the cable car in Fiescheralp. Although it was open[I did check beforehand!] we had to wait an hour or so becuase it was working on a late season limited capacity. From there it was a bus from Fiesch back to the car in Brig.  

The trip had been as good away as any to sign off the season.

Friday, April 15, 2022

A return after a ten year gap.

 I had not seen Tom and Becky for ten years, it was 22 years since we completed the Haute Route together.  

I was delighted when they got back in touch and we were able to arrange five days ski touring together.

We started at Les Grands Montets where the last time they had skied here it had had a fully functioning cable-car. That was until  until it burnt down nearly six years ago.  Like so many people they could not get their heads around why it was taking so long to rebuild it.

We skied up and over the col de Rachasses and were treated to the magnificent view of the Argentiere glacier.  

Argentiere glacier with Mt Dolent in the background.

On our second day we headed up to Flegere to attempt the Breche du Berard.  The plan had to be adjusted because the weather was getting too hot and the avalanche risk was increasing.  We therefore did the shorter, but classic  Col Crochue/Col Berard ski tour.

Tom&Becky climbing up the col Crochue.

This descison proved to be absolutley the correct one judging by the avalanche debris we had to negociate at the end of the tour. 

On our third day we drove around to Les Diablerts and took the lift to Glacier 3000.  From here we climbed the summit of Les Diablerts.

Becky& Tom on the summit of Les Diablerts.

The ski back down was very good, and we left 3 sets of neat  tracks which were not disturbed because we were the only people around.


Tom climbing back into the lift system.

We then skied down to Le Cabane Diablerets, where we were the only guests for the night.

On our next day the plan had been to make the long traverse to the Cabane Audannes.  This is not what happened:  We left the Cabane at about 6.00hrs.  There was a good freeze, which made it safe, the flip side of this was that it made the ascent out of the hut difficult to skin.  Yet it was after our ski down to the Col Sanetsch where our problems really started.  

In an attempt to double check the skis were really locked on to the boots I kicked the lever on Becky's right binding.  Then kicked the lever on the left one. It just exploded into bits all over the snow.
I managed to find all the bits and fixed them back in place, but it was clear it was not safe to continue and therefore we must retrace our steps.  Becky was incredibly dissapointed we could not carry on as planned.
We had no alterrnative but to retrace our steps back to the safety of the lift system.  Yet in the total scheme of things we had got off extremely lightly, no one hurt, and no need to call for a helicopter evacuation, which at one point seemed like the only option.

So back in Chamonix [Becky with a new pair of skis] we finished with an utterly stunning final day.  We started at the summit of Le Brevent. We skied down the north side of the ridge on wonderful spring snow towards the Col du Brevent.  If you turn right you head back into the lift system.  We turned left and skied down a steep gulley, mostly on good snow.  The scenary and the situation, not to mention the conditions were perfect.  
We then skinned back up the slope towards Lac Cornu.

Becky and the Aravis range in the background.

Next there was the crossing of the frozen Lac Cornu.
Crossing Lac Cornu.

We then skinned up to the Col de la Gliere where we stopped for a bite to eat before skiing down the comb de la Gliere and rejoining the piste.  Amazingly despite the perfect conditions we saw no one on our tour giving us a feeling of solitude that is  sought after but is often  hard to find. 

Saturday, April 09, 2022

Four seasons in one week.

 There is no way to dress it up -March was a shocking month in terms of ski conditions.  It snowed once, but not with actual snow, but sand, Sahara sand.  Everything was left with a brown tinge.  Needless to say this was less than ideal.

Hugo Goisnard skiing in the Sahara.

Yet as it is so often the case, April brings a change in the weather patterns [April Showers] and the day after John Young arrived to ski with me, it snowed a lot.

On our first day together we were treated to  some of the best skiing conditions of the winter, off the back of Le Tour.
Not bad for a 1st morning.

On our second day we went ski touring behind Le Brevent setting of over Le Col Cornu.  It had been our intention to climb the Aiguille de Glieres, but were thwated by too much unconsolidated snow.
Descending off Aiguille de Glieres after failing to get up it.

 Nevetheless we contented ourselves with some good skiing down to Lac Noir before skiing over the Col Glieres and descending back into the Flgere lift system via the Combe Lachenal.

On our third day, still in good weather we went to Grands Montets. After a few runs, we put our skins on and headed over onto the Argentiere glacier.

Seracs on glacier Rognan

Afterwhich we skied down and enjoyed an excellent late lunch at the Chalet Lognan.

Then the weather changed for the worse.  Everything in Chamonix was closed because of the avalanche risk, so we went through the Mt Blanc Tunnel to Courmayeur.  Here the conditions were marginally better in the sense that the resort was open, although at times it appeared to be for our exclusive use.

Eventually we ended up in the "Rifugio Maison Vieille"  for a couple of giant pizza's and some beer.

During our final two days together the conditions did improve in the sense we got some more snow, but the weather was challanging and so it was too dangerous to try any further ski touring . We skied off-piste from the Grands Montets lift system staying mainly in the trees and skiing mostly untracked , but heavy powder, hardly a sob story.

Lots of untracked snow at Les Grands Montets.

Sunday, April 03, 2022

Introduction to ski touring


Aiguille Verte seen from the Col Glieres.

Vincenzo and Richard joined me for three days ski touring.  The challange was that the conditions were poor.  It had not snowed for a month and seemingly summer was approaching having completely skipped spring.

I had long ago booked the Albert 1er Refuge, but it was becoming clear that it was not going to be possible to get to it  because of the state of the glacier. [This month there had already been many people falling in many crevasses.]

Therefore started with a day tour,  behind Le Brevent and ending in La Flegere.  The scenary was to its usual standard.

Vincenzio and Richard were dissapointed that we could not safely go to a refuge, but were more than happy with the Plan B :  An overnight at the Gd St Bernard Hospice, where I knew there was very good snow cover and no nasty crevasses to fall into.

We drove around, or Vincenzo and I did, Richard turned up later because he couldn't find any where to charge his electric car...

We then headed up the road to the Hospice.  Before arriving at it , we took a detour and climbed up to the col de Barasson and were treated to wonderful views.  After which we skied down on some good snow back to the road and continued up to the Hospice arriving late afternoon.

The next morning we were treated to beautiful cold weather. Our plan was to climb Mt Fourchon the classic and popular tour from the Hospice. 

The ski around the lake was beautiful.

The Hospice with Mt Velan in the background.

We made good time to the summit of Mt Fourchon.  The ski back down was, considering the overall conditions, was fine.  We retraced our steps back to the Hospice and then skied back to the car and ending a very successful three days.