Monday, September 04, 2023

Opposite Crazy Weather

Cabane Moiry 2826m

Four days before this photo was taken the temperature was recorded at 35c.  Mark Daniels and I arrived at the Moiry Hut to be greeted by a wintry seen which left us somewhat flummoxed.
We asked the Hut Guardian for recommendations as to what might be feasible the next day.  He just shugged his shoulders and said he didnt know- not exactly helpful.

Mind you the scene from the Hut was undeinably beautiful .
Looking down toward Lac du Moiry 

So Mark and I agreed we would have breakfast at 6.00am and see if we could climb the Pointes du Morti.

The next morning the weather was beautiful calm and still. We were the only people at breakfast.  We headed out and up the track behind the hut, commenting that it was good that someone else had made the path through the snow.  This was because overnight the snow had frozen and formed a crust.  It soon became apparent that going anywhere other than where the track went was going to be impossible.
Fortunately there was a track up to the summit of Les Bouqutins 3469.  So that is where we went.  Tottaly beautiful and the views from its summit were of the mighty 4000ers that surround Zermatt.

Mighty Weisshorn seen from summit of Les Bouquetins.

full set of photos can be found here

Monday, August 28, 2023

Crazy Temperatures

Gd St Bernard Monastery

The trip report.

There is a new rock climbing guide book to the Grand St Bernard Col area with a selection of marvellous new routes of all grades.  "Entremont Escalade." It is highly recommended.

 John Young and I drove around to the col, leaving high season Chamonix behind.  

The first climb we did was on Le Petit Cervin.  Two minutes from the car park.  A really good first climb.  

Le Petit Cervin

We then stayed the night at the Hotel Italia. A traditional establishment which has been run by the same family since it was opened in the 1930's. 

Hotel Italia shrouded in fog.

After dinner there was a fire work display just over the border at the Hospice.  Despite the mist swooping over the col, the firework-dischargers insisted in contiuning as arranged, despite no one being able to see any fireworks.  It was all rather underwhelming.

The next day we set about climbing the East Ridge of the Pain Sucre by the aptly named route Le Zucchero [ Italian for Sugar]. This is a 15 pitch route which reaches its finale by climbing a razor edge to the summit of the fore- mentioned mountain. 

John on final pitch of Zucchero

 After climbing the route we walked off the back of the mountain and back to the car  We spent a second night at the Col du St Bernard.  This time staying in Switzerland at the Auberge du Gd St Bernard.

On our third day we walked from the col for about an hour and climbed another modern classic: The Grande Chenalette.  A route on perfect rock which is in wild surroundings and again finishes with a sharp arête.

Final pitch of Grande Chenalette.

It was then back to Chamonix for a night, before heading through the Mt Blanc tunnel and around to the quiet Valpeline valley.  It was a bit puzzling why there were so many diggers/roadworks/ traffic lights on the route.  It was not until the hut guardian told us the valley had been cut off for several days after a flash flood and corresponding devastating land slide. Amazingly no one was injured.  

We arrived at the Refugio Crete Seche.  It had everything a good hut should have and was hosted by the utterly delightful Sophie.

Our plan was to go from the refugio upto the little known, but spectacular, bivouc Pasqualetti which is situated on a very difficult to reach ridge.

Unfourtunately for John and I, it not only proved difficult but ultimately impossible.  During the week the tempertaure and climbed and climbed, meaning that transfering from the glacier to the ridge resembled a suicide mission because rocks kept cascading down the face.  We retreated werily back to the Refugio Crete Seche.

Terrible conditions on the glacier

The next day we returned to Chamonix - but not before finding the road out of the Valpeline valley was closed again - but only for an hour while the clean up from the landslide continued.

road closed

After a couple of days rest, we reconvened for some futher adventures.  Although the weather forecast was  perfect, in many ways it was not perfect - it was just too hot.  It meant routes that are effected by potential melting permafrost need to be avoided, plus glacier approachs are unfeesable if there is no overnight freeze- which there wasn't.

In these conditions the rock climbs in the Aiguille Rouge are perfect.  We climbed the immaculate route Kabul on the Petit Floria.  One of the best climbs in the area which doesn't see much traffic.  This will have a lot to do with the heinious approach up endless steep rubble.  You really have to earn your right to climb it.

Petit Floria

Next day we started with a spot of cragging on our our local crag behind our house.  We then drove around to the Col des Annes high above Grand Bornand.  Our plan was to climb the famous route  Voie du Trou on Pointe Percée.  The car thermometer read 33c. We got out of the car and were met with a wall of heat.  This was at 1721 meters.  

Setting off in blistering heat

I was keen to see what the new hut was like - since the last time I had been here, the old one had been demolished and a new modern one had been built.  Frankly we struggled walking to the hut in the heat.  

What should have been a relief when we got there, was instead a nightmare wall of flies.   Maybe it was the unpresentended high temperatures that had caused the infestation, but it would rank as one of the worst if not worst hut experinces I have ever had.

Night mare fly infested hut.

So the next morning it was with extreme relief to get out and start walking up the mountain.  Yet even at 6.30am you didnt need anything more than a T-Shirt.

The route Le Voie du Trou is superb.  It is about 9 pitches until you reach the Trou.  The trou [or hole] gives the mountain its name Pointe Percée.  

John on the stunning Voie du Trou

Once you arrive on the ridge, you are not only treated to views of Sallanches and Mt Blanc in the distance, but you get to climb the spectacular Le Rasoir.  

The Hole

Through the Trou

Although we had had the route to ourselves just after Le Rasoir pitch various climbs congregate.  It was here we met the people we are shared our fly infetsed dinner the night before : Non other than officers of the Foreign Legion.

Le doigt in the background.

Not really wishing to be in a queue with them, we elected to find another route to the really fine summit.

John & I on the summit

It was then back down the normal route which is a waymarked scramble, but not without consequence for the unwary.  We dashed into the hut to collect our extra stuff which was superferlous for the climb, then repacked and left as fast as possible.  The walk down was hard work- the heat now over powering.

tricky walking on the "limestone pavements "

Very hot final stretch back to Col des Annes

For our final day together we wanted something that was less demanding.  We headed for the nearest route from the top of the Index chair lift - Mani Puliti.  All was going well until finally the weather changed an hour or two ahead of schedule and just at the last pitch we got drenched.  Climbing the last pitch was akin to climbing a waterfall.  At least it was warm rain... plus finally a change in the weather which was most welcome.

Thursday, June 01, 2023

How to climb Mt Blanc safely with Climate change.

Mark Alan Clarke Will 11.30hrs 29th May 2023


For the last few summers it has been far too dangerous to climb Mt Blanc in the height of the summer because all the snow and ice that bonds the mountain in place has melted resulting  in increasing rock fall - sometimes apocalyptic in size.  This has regularly lead to the route having an "arrêté-municipal" slapped on it.  [French for closed.]

2022 -Last season was a case in point: - the Perma-frost melted too, making the rock-fall  even less predictable. As with all high altitude  mountaineering if its not freezing its not safe.  That is why we start early and try to finsih early , but with the freezing level being reguarly above 5000meters this was impossible.

A few years back, in an attempt to adapt to climate change, it was decided to open the key Tete Rousse and Gouter Huts much earlier in the season, when hopefully it would still be cold and there would still be enough snow to glue everything together and that the Gouter Couloir would still have lots of snow in it.

The theory was good and a few years back in 2019 I fully embarced this idea.  I booked the Gouter for the day it opened.  This was a mistake because I hadn't fully thought it through. It was going to be me breaking trail. It took  9 hours merely to get to the Tete Rousse Hut. [2-3 hours normally] Although we still eventually climbed Mt Blanc.

The Plan

Alan Irvine and I decided we would attempt Mt Blanc back in September 2022.  He was keen to ask his friend Clark Cambell along too.  In order to be as safe as possible and to maximise our chances of success we asked Will Harris, another Guide to join us.

The next challange - possibly the biggest challange, was getting our reservations in the Huts.  The day, the hour , the minute the  bookings opened  we were there .  That was in October 2022 for a reservation at the end of May 2023.

With the booking and deposit paid , it was just a question of hoping the date we had booked would coincide with a favourable weather forecast -a big  gamble...  the trip was a long time in the planning.  

On our first day together, the four of us drove through the Mt Blanc tunnel, and made our way to the Toriono Hut where we dumped our overnight stuff before heading out and climbing the traverse of the Aiguille du Marbree.

Climbers on traverse of Marbree

We spent the night in the Torino Hut inorder to bank some acclimatisation.  The next morning we had breakfast at 6.00hrs and were away for 6.45hrs.

We climbed the Aiguille Entreves which was in perfect conditions and because we had had an early start, we had the entire climb to ourselves.

Will & Clarke on traverse L'Entreves.

It was good to have twenty four hours above 3500 meters  which greatly aids acclimatisation. Yet it is equally important to get some decent rest, so we returned to Chamonix for a night in the valley.


We were now ready to go .  What's more we the weather forecast was cooperative.  We left Chamonix at 8.00hrs and drove around to the beautiful village of Bionassay.  From there we followed the 4x4 track up to Bellevue where we dumped the Land Rover.  [There is no cable car or train working at this time of year. Without your own 4x4 the taxi ride is about 300euros.]

It wasn't long before we hit the snow.  Despite walking up  railway track it was nescessary to rope-up and use an ice axe because the route was banked out with steep snow and a slip would he been terminal.

At the Nid Aigle where the railway line finishes, we had a rest and figured out where the path through the snow went. Thankfully we were not first and there was a track in the snow.  It was however much steeper than without the snow and a lot of care was needed. The journey was spiced up by an aftrernoon hail storm too.  

A goat

afternoon hail storm.

Yet we arrived at the Tete Rousse Hut in great shape and in good time despite the extra challange of dealing with the transport logistics.

Sentry box .  No booking no way.

The next day was to be  our summit day.  We awoke at 3.00hrs and were away by 3.45hrs.  The conditions were perfect .  There was a track in, it was cold and the sky was clear.  We picked our way up to the Gouter Couloir by the light of our head torches.  Crossing the couloiur was without incident and we then navigated our way up the ridge which was entirely on snow with only a few rocks poking through.  It was far steeper than normal but it went fine.  

Crossing Gouter Couloir.

We briefly stopped at the Gouter Hut after about 2.30 hours of climbing.  We left all our superferlous kit and headed of up the Dome de Gouter.  This stretch is alway monotenous, but at this time of year we could at least climb it in daylight.

Bionassay with its knife edge ridge.

The route skirts around the top of the Dome du Gouter before heading gently down again before steepening up to arrive at the Vallot emrgency refuge 4300 meters.

From hear its about 2 hours to the summit.  No matter how many times you climb Mt Blanc this section is always hard work.  Plus conditions have changed. No longer is it just a tough but uniform ridge.  No . A large crevasse has formed creating a steep wall.  Last year as the summer heated up this wall became steeper and icier by the week. The result was it was difficult and serious- making it difficult and dangerous to guide with more than one client.  Hence all the more reason to elect to tackle it on a ratio of 1;1.

almost at the summit.

As it transpired this section went well, but you never really know until you are there.    After  which it was just a hard slog to the summit aided with pocket full of "Gummy Bears", notoriuos for making kids go bonkers but less well known as the "best" energy shot known to human kind.

Clarke and Will were  a head of us and they waited for us on the summit.  Hand shakes, hugs and probably some tears behind the sun glasses was the result of many years of trieing.  As a guide there is no better job in the world when you can help deliver momments like this.

The realisation its done.


The return was by excatly the same route albeit a lot faster.  We had a good long pause at the Vallot Refuge then continued down to the Gouter Hut where we orderd a splendid omelette washed down with Artisanal Mont Blanc beer [what else?]

Our time in the Gouter Hut was not with out incident;  Firstly there was the guy who turned up with very severe category 2 frostbite.  I was surprised because it had not been particarly cold, but having the wrong boots that are not dry, too tight and not built for high altitude were probably key factors.  He was flown out by the PGHM fourtunately to Sallanches Hopsital which is considered the world center for frostbite treatment.

Next was dinner followed immediatly by bed.  All was fine until someone a woke me with a particularly loud obnoxious alarm.  Or so I thought.  It turned out to be the fire alarm.  Never a good sound, but at 3816 meters in a building with no opening windows and being constructed with far too much wood was of concern.  However very soon afterwards there was a shout  from the hut guardian saying everything was under control.  I drifted back to sleep, but was interested to learn the incident had reached the national  news outlets.

Feeling somewhat groggy we fell out of our bunks at around 5.00hrs, skipped breakfast and started our descent to the Tete Rousse Hut where we stopped for breakfast.  In the snowy conditions we had, we should have been able to make a fast descent by "bum-sliding."  Yet the reality was entirely different.  The top of the snow was too icy which would have meant bum-sliding to a certain accident or worse.  But the snow had a crust on it which wouldn't support our weight and so every step meant sinking in up to our knees or often waist. So just when you thought it was all over , in fact it was not.

Anyway eventually we made it back to the railway line and then  the Land Rover, tired but happy.

Clearing the track which will now open on 17th June.

Monday, May 01, 2023

April ski touring .

April is considered a good time to embark on high mountain hut to hut tours.  The idea of disappearing into the mountains and staying in them for several days, is for many people the major delight of ski-mountaineering.

Indeed as Mountain Guides this is one of the trips we are in the most demand for.
Yet for everything to align and make this possible is also one of the biggest headaches Guide's can face.
For example planning a trip which takes in a Friday and or Saturday night is fraught because the Huts are inevitably fully booked.  What's more, many of the Huts now demand a deposit when making the booking.  There is little flexibility in case of bad weather especially if you are a big group.
But it is what it is , and here is an example of how Bill, Greg and I "extruded" five days skiing out of what was a rather mixed forecast.

Our plan was to head to the Bernese Oberland.  As Mike Tyson is credited with saying most of his opponents had a fight plan until they were hit in the face.  Our first punch was the avalanche forecast.  

Just where we wanted to go was about as dangerous as it could be: Catergory 4/5.Red   Instead we delayed a day and went skiing at Les Grands Montets and climbed over onto the Argentiere glacier and headed up to the Aiguille du Grand Montets-what was five years ago a functioning cable car station. It was a wonderful day.

Argentiere Glacier

At this time of year, fortunately the conditions stabilise quickly and so we headed to the Oberland.  We drove to Visp and left the car in the station car park.  We then took  a series of trains to Grindlewald.
Visp railway station

At Grindlewald we bought a sweet for 95chf and got a free ticket to the top of the Jungfraujoch.  

Exspensive Sweety

The journey used to be by the most expensive train ride in the world.  Now part of it is by the most expensive cable car in the world- which takes you in front of the North Face of the Eiger.   The Swiss work the senses so thoroughly that you barely notice the efficiency with which they are simultaneously working your wallet.
Despite spending nearly a 100 million CHF on this new cable car- its not actually possible to take a photo of the face without it being blocked out by the cables of the opposite cable car.

North Face of the Eiger.

Once at the top we followed the labaryth of tunnels which lead to the glacier.

It takes just less than an hour to get to the Monchjoch Hut.  This is now a much better place to stay since the previous Hut Keeper was moved on.  He was a world class git like no other.
Even better the new team have special " Mountain Guide Beer" for a late afternoon aperitif .

The next morning we were up at about 6.00hrs and were greeted by a beautiful sunrise.
Sun rise from the Monchjoch Hut window.

Our goal for the day was to traverse to the Hollandiahutte via the Louwitor col. We left the Monchjoch Hut at about 7.15 and skied back towards the Jungfraujoch before turning right, skiing down somemore , before skirting around the base of the Jungfrau and heading upwards.
The Jungfrau with the Spinx in the foreground.

Bill & Greg heading up with the south face of the Monch in the background.

We arrived at the col Louwitor 3658m and then decided to climb the peak slightly above it called the Louwihorn 3778m.  The only issue was there was a bit of mist swerling about which limited the views.
Nevertheless as we made the long descent of the Kranzberg glacier we soon dropped back below the clouds and enjoyed satisfactory views.  
The ski down was fine, not great because the cold wind had not allowed the snow to soften up.  
We stopped at the junction of the Grosser Aletschorn glacier for a sandwich  and to stick our skins on again for the climb up to the Hollandiahutte 3245m.
Its just possible to see the Hollandiahutte sticking out of the side of the ridge on the right.

The Hollandiahutte is siutated in a wonderful position and the welcome was warm from the new team who had only this season taken on the franchise.  Beer was good, food was good.

The only water has to be melted from snow.

The problem the next day that the weather was no longer good.  Inevitably we had to consider our options... Initially we had a forecast with one bad day, followed by a good day.  This was followed by a new forecast which suggested we had a couple of bad days.  Therefore the descision was made to bail.  

We skied down the long valley to Fafleralp.  The snow was difficult and the visibility was unhelpful.  Despite, this we made good time and avoided any drama.  From Fafleralp we found enough snow to wiggle our way down to the large village of Blatten.

Conviently the Post Bus was waiting for us.

It was just a short train ride back to Visp, from where we drove back to Chamonix.
The weather the next day in Chamonix was slightly better than forcast and so we headed up the Aiguille du Midi.  It was slow to open because of the fresh snow.  There were ominously few people in the cable car with skis.  Yet when we got to the top there was just enough visibility to give it a go.  We found knee deep fluffy powder and we had the place to ourselves.

Bill Millsbelow the Salle Mangér Vallée Blanche.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

La Terreur du Chien Fou

 "The Terror of the Mad Dog" is a wonderful name for a climb.  It is one of the original routes of Orpiere and is the classic climb of the area.  I first climbed it with Jane, my wife, when the area was still being developed- some 30 years ago...

Quiqillon West Face which dominates the village.

I have to say this time around it felt a lot harder.  I'm convinced some of the key holds had vanished- or maybe it had something to do with my doubling in age.

The reason Charles Sherwood and I found ouseleves down in Provience was one of "alpine pragmatism. " Charles and I had had a date in the diary for some ski mountaineering.  Yet as our week approached the weather in the alps was looking rubbish.  This was confirmed by a series of devastating headline grabbing avalanches which further underscored that skiing mountaineering was not a good option.

We had left the alps in a mixture of rain and sleet which followed us all the way past Grenoble and started to sew seeds of doubt about whether we would find any dry rock.

Yet: we arrived in an area which was in severe drought.  Orpiere had not had any rain since January.  Crisis measures had been employed and the only reason our hotel was open was because it had its own source. [Well]

After our triumph on the Mad Dog we headed for Buis Les Baronies following the impressive D65 over the Col de Perty.  A road sign calls it "route remarkable". It was and it was deserted it was only a pity we hadn't brought the Lamborghini.

We stayed in the picturesque  but somewhat quirky Hotel Les Arcades- Le Lion D'or.  We were given a suit with a living room and two bedrooms.  Its difficult to describe,but the toilet led straight into the living room as if it was a feature of the living room rather than part of the bathroom. 

Our plan was to climb on the Rocher Saint Julien.  

St Julian crags seen from the village.

Our goal was the route called "La Gastronome."  All was going well until I got to the first belay.  Then the wind hit.  Not only was it unconfortably cold, but we couldnt hear each other.  What's more because the descent was eventually  going to be via rappel , the prospect of dealing with ropes being blown vertically up in the air and wrapped around all number of bushes and trees suggested an immediate escape.

We re located to the magnificent crag called Baume Rousse. It is described as a place where "no climber could fail to have at least one day here."

We had two days here.  It was brilliant.

Mad Dog enjoying a beer after the Mad Dog .


The planning for these types of trips has been made easier with the use of the Rockfax App.  This allows you to have all the guide books on your phone.  It is highly recommended.