Tuesday, August 30, 2022

A well timed trip to the Dolomites

Punta Frida seen from Refugio Lavarado.

 John Young and I had our trip to the Dolomites in our diaries for well over a year .  It was just as well because any climbing high around Chamonix had been obliterrated by the heat wave, which has made mountaineering unjustifiably dangerous.

We drove to Cortina via Milan.  The roads were markedly quiet.  This was because evryone was in the Dolomites, as the 15th August is a bank holiday in Italy, so most people seemed to just tack on a further four days!

Fourtuantly John had booked us into the the very comfortable Villa Blu Hotel just on the outskirts of the town.  We made this our" base camp" for the first five nights.

The Hotel Villa Blu

This was John's first trip to the Dolomites and so we started on the relitively simple Via Del Guide on the Cinque Torri.  The approach is fast : You sit on a chair lift for about 10 minutes, then you walk to the foot of the route in about 15minutes.  Of course there is a price to pay in that there was the inevitable queue.  Luckly the two teams in front of us set of the wrong way and we were able to get in front and enjoy a good climb in beautiful weather and sublime scenary.  Once we were on the top of the tower we made three rappels and then went to look around the old 1st world war fortifications.

Climber on 1st pitch of Via del Guide

Having enjoyed a good introduction to Dolomitic climbing , the next day we headed for another of the Dolomites classics: The Comici Route on the South ridge of the Falzargo Towers.

The Falzargo Tower

Un ravelling the ropes at the start.

looking up the penultimate pitch.
Although it could have been very busy we only shared the climb with two other climbers, Erica and Unberto.  They proved to be  good company and we all met up for a celebratory beer afterwards.

During the next two days we had a bit of a weather hiatus.  We decided to sit it out, because the weather forecast going forward, promised to be marvellous.  We had a "council of war" and carved out a plan for our remaining time.  The plan worked perfectly. This is what we did:

On our next day of climbing we drove to lake Misurina, from where we walked up the beautiful valley to the foot of the Tour Wundt. The climb its self was another Dolomites classic with chimneys and cracks.
South Face of Tour Wundt

Beautiful approach walk to Tour Wundt

one of the chimney pitches.
The summit with the Tri Cima in the distance.

The Tour Wundt is one of those climbs where there is plenty to go wrong if you don't keep on top of it.  For example the rock is far from perfect and the protection is well spaced, plus the descent from the summit is complicated.  Yet all went perfectly for us.

The climb the next day a little less so.  Our friend of the other day, Unberto, had recommended a suposedly simple climb called  Del Tetto.

The crux. A hard move left into the sunshine

This is situated at the top of the Falzargo pass.  Somthing obviously got lost in translation because it was easy apart from a three meter section which was desperate.  This coupled with an inacurate route description made for a longer day than we wanted, especially because of instead of returning to our delightful hotel, we were booked into the Refugio Lavarado.

Anyway we made it. 
Refugio Lavarado
We were now in probably the most well known part of the Dolomites the Tri Cima Lavarado.  Our goal was to climb the Cima Grande via the Dibona North East Ridge.

Breakfast was a 6.00am and we were away soon after.  Twenty minutes later we turned a corner and were confronted by our objective:
Tri Cima

Our route followed the arête on the middle tower.

A further half hour and we were at the start of the route.  There was another pair Ditta and Lucas.  Ditta was an Austrian Aspriant Guide and Lucas was his friend and
 "dummy" client.
To begin with the rock was steep and cold.  It took a long time before we were in the sun.

John emerging out of the shadow.

Me on one of the many belays.

This was a truely magnificient climb, we lost count of how many pitches we did, but by the time we reached the finish we felt "well climbed."  
There was just the significant  matter of getting down.  This involves reversing the normal route by making a series of rappells interspersed with lots of down climbing. 
starting the long descent .

 Eventually the route splits and it is now possible to follow a new descent line that takes four 30 meter rapells which rather conviently dumps you about a 20 minute walk from the car park.  All in all we were on the go for about 10 hours.  Defiantly the crowning momment of our Dolomite trip.
The new descent drops you above the car park

We spent the night at the top of the Pordoi Pass in the Hotel Savoia. Tired but content , especially after a good meal and plenty of drinks.
The following morning we drove around to the Sella Pass and by some good fortune managed to find a parking slot.  Even though it was only 8.30am the place was heaving.  Our goal was to be the First Sella Tower via the Steiger route.  
The Sella Towers

Finishing up the final pitch

John topping out on our final Dolomite tower.

The three Sella Towers seen from the road.

This was a fine way to finish off climbing in the Dolomites. We departed via the Val Gardena and spent the night in the beautiful town of Brixen where we stayed in the Hotel Goldenes Roessi which is bang slap in the middle of the marvellous old town.

For our final climb we drove towards the world famous climbing area of Arco and climbed the 10 pitch route Amazzonia.  This was a significant change of scene.  Not least because it was hot.  Frankly too hot and I was relieved when we finally topped out and found some shade.
view from the climb Amazzonia

John above the Vineyards

John contemplating his next move.
Still the actual climbing was superb, with a bolt every two or three meters which was very pleasnat after some of the heart stopping run outs of the Dolomites.

Our final night before driving back to Chamonix was in the Pace Hotel in the center of Arco.  Again a beautiful location in the heart of   lively  old town.

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 Vallée 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. https://www.jcmt.org.uk.

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.