Tuesday, January 12, 2021

A birthday ski tour.


I was quite astonished to turn up a Plaine Joux ski station to find the police directing the traffic and making sure every car was parked carefully, in order to maximise the places. The weather was beautiful, the scene was completely perfect. There were people everywhere.  The one thing that was not right was that the lift system wasn't actually open..

This was clearly not an issue for everyone there.  In fact `I suspect that the fact that the lift was closed was part of the attraction.  There were people skinning up the pistes with their dogs [ something you aren't normally allowed to do]. 

There were people on snow shoes , there were people without snow shoes, there were  people dragging toboggans.

In addition  a constant stream of parapenters passing over head

There were even people there celebrating big birthdays .  This was us. Reuben decided that there could be no better way to spend a birthday than on a ski tour in jaw dropping surroundings.

Reuben enjoying his birthday ski tour.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

No Lifts No Problem

Setting off for the Mole
The lifts are still closed in France and Italy. In Switzeraland they are open. But for how long is a good question because "You reap what you sow." Covid is now running riot in Switzerland. From a skiing point of view the conditions are marvellous. It is cold and the snow is low and everything looks idyllic. The extra benefit of having snow in the valleys is that it makes ski touring wonderfully accessible from the car park. You can put the skins on and leave from the road without first starting a long approach hike with your skis strapped to your rucksack. Starting the tours by wondering up through beautiful woodland is a delight.
Sophie Seaton ski tours around St Gervais.
So far the standout ski tour this year was the ascent of Le Mole. Its a mountain that is perfectly formed and is in a wonderful position looking down on the town of Bonnville. Its a mountain I must have driven passed hundreds of times while driving along the Auto-Route Blanche. However although it is beautiful and spectacular it isn't very high :1863m. Consequently it doesn't come into skiing condition all that frequently. When it does, it becomes a highly prized objective. Catherine and her husband Richard met me at the designated RDV point, where we dumped a car because this would be the point we skied back to. We set off up a track that was well travelled, not just by skiers but by many people on snow shoes too.
After an hour or so we emerged into an Alpage. Where we stopped for some hot Ribena.
The route went up behind the chalet.
From here on up it was a question of finding our own line up the relatively steep slope to the summit ridge. Firstly you come across a cross which you would imagine would mark the summit , yet in actual fact a bench marks the top.
From the top it was skis on. At first it was a bit scratchy [and narrow]
Yet soon afterwards the skiing was fantastic.
A short skin up a bump lead to some even better skiing on the opposite side of the mountain which then thread its self through a narrow break in the forest before emerging onto a track which we followed back to the car we had pre dumped.  A brilliant day.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

An Update on uncertain times

Defender complete with chains - turns it into an unstoppable tractor.

If you can't be bothered to read this blog you can listen to it by clicking on this link https://audioboom.com/posts/7757271-64-5-your-christmas-update-from-the-alps

 As soon as it was announced the ski stations would not open in Chamonix before the 7th January , it snowed.  Of course it did.  We had about a meter.  It was cold and fluffy.  

It was THE dream start which any alpine resort would want.  Apart from the Covid wrecking ball.

Despite the lifts not opening the the cross country pistes have opened and the conditions have been very good.  This has lead to an explosion in interest in cross country skiing

There were queues to buy tickets like I had never seen before.  

In addition the shops have sold out of all their x- country ski equipment.

In the last few days the temperature has shot up and the snow has started to melt.  

With the refreezing at night it has made the x-country pistes icy, especially first thing in the morning.

Skiing in icy conditions is never good , no matter what sort of skis you are on , but with no metal edges and skiing with a free heel this has lead to Charlie Chaplin esque moments which would be ideal material for You’ve been framed.

Still its good for the balance and once you get back on traditional alpine skis the whole game seems remarkably straight forward.

If you take the long view , The freeze thaw cycle has been very good for the snow pack giving a good firm base for the season.

Aiguille du Dru from our house

Yet I have had an Epiphany.  I borrowed a Fat Bike. 

Fat bikes have big tyres.

  Its like a Mountain Bike on steroids. They have big fat squishy tyres and they allow you to ride on top the snow without sinking in.   It is proving to be just the thing for Exploring the Chamonix valley.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Always Amazed that virtually no one seems to want to make the most of the Autumn.

Aiguille Verte in all its autumnal splendour.

 If you hit a good weather window, then  climbing in the Autumn in the alps is wonderful.  Certainly Reuben thinks so, as he has been climbing with me at this time of the year  for well over 20 years.  We seem to always have a good time together climbing lots of interesting and different climbs.  We also always seem to have the added bonus of solitude - something we both rate very highly.

Last week we had yet another good couple of days together. The first climbing at Vallorcine and the second with his  daughter Emma on the demanding via ferratta at the thermal park in Le Fayet.

Reuben enjoying the autumn sun on the belay.


Spectacular situations.


Saturday, September 26, 2020

A Mountaineering summer like no other draws to a close.

Strange Times...

The dates have been in the diary well before the word Covid had been heard of. Now that Catherine Lewis and `I  were due to meet  the weather forecast was terrible. What were we going to do? Should we postpone?  This is not an unusual dilemma to have to deal with.  

As the date approached the weather forecast changed a bit- it improved and so we were able to start.  

Although Cathereine had climbed Mt Blanc with me a couple of years ago and we had skied toured a lot together she had never done any technical climbing and was keen to see what it was all about.

At this time of year most of the lifts are closed , but there are many options for some good climbing.  We headed to the Via Corda - a long yet simple climb which is ideal for getting to grips with the basic concepts of rock climbing.

Catherine climbing the Via Corda

Any plan these days tends to be the wrong plan - Any idea of climbing on the Italian side of Mt Blanc was kiboshed by the Italian quarantine regulations , which overnight brought in rules saying anyone travelling from France to Italy had to be in possession of certificate stating they didn't have Covid.

Instead we headed for Switzerland and climbed the Aiguille du Van , high above the Barrage d'Emosson.  

Aiguille du Van is on the left.

This is a dramatic looking peak, yet is relatively simple to climb.  Once on the summit the views are wonderful.

Mt Blanc 

The summit of the Aiguille du Van

On our third day together we were joined by Catherine's great friend Lucy Kate. 
Lucy-Kate & Catherine.

 The weather forecast was chalenging.  We needed something we could climb in any weather and therefore choose to return to the Barrage and this time climb the Bel-Oiseaux a mountain on the opposite side of the lake which is accessed by walking through a series of long dark damp  tunnels  - In the end we were lucky, we stayed dry and were treated to summit views.
Looking towards the Argentiere glacier.

Walking back down from theBel-Oiseaux.

We managed to get back down with only a few spots of rain, which was good considering the forecast had been a write-off just before we met.  Yet finally the weather did break and it snowed and rained hard that evening plastering the mountains white.
Aiguille Dru plastered in fresh snow.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Dolomites climbing trip report.

A Happy Local Tyrollean.

Hopefully in years to come it will be  difficult to imagine the complications involved in organising a climbing trip in Covid times.  With borders closed , then open then closed it is difficult to plan accordingly.

After much discussion Charles Sherwood and I eventually settled on Italy, a country that for the moment has a grip on the Virus and with no travel restrictions.

I met Charles at Venice airport and we headed for the Tyrol. A part of Italy where everyone speaks German and behaves as if they were Austrian.  It is a beautiful and sometimes confusing place to be.  We stayed in Val Gardena and used it as a base to climb on the Sella Towers and the surrounding area.

The Sella Towers.

We decided to kick off by attempting the traverse of the Sella Towers, ominously described as one of the most popular climbs in the Dolomites.  Further it was a Sunday.  We reasoned that Covid might make it less popular.  In fact what made it unpopular was the weather.  We set off in thick mist, yet as we climbed upward we broke through the mist and naturally felt a little smug.

Right place right time.

The actual route was challenging to follow.  I consulted the guide book for some advice.  It gave the most useless description I have ever seen.  It said " Just follow the crowds of climbers in front of you."

At the top of the second tower the route off was very difficult to find, no clues no bits of old tat, no pegs, pitons, nothing.  There was quite a lot of head scratching until eventually we found the line of rappel points and we scuttled off back to the valley, feeling well exercised.  Still it had been good and we had sussed out the line of descent for our attempt on the "Jewel in the Crown " of the Seller Towers the Vinatzer Route on the north face of the third tower.

The next day the forecast was a little "Iffy" so we contented ourselves with some sports climbing just below the sella Pass in the beautiful "City of the Rocks". This is a cluster of crags dotted about in the Larch Trees.

City of the Rocks.

The next day we climbed the Vinazter route.  We left the car at the col and arrived at the foot of the route at about 9.30am.  We were not the first, a German couple were just ahead of us.  The face is vast with few distinguishing features low down which gives the whole face an intimidating atmosphere.

Third Sella Tower with the Vinazter route going up the middle of it.

After about 5 pitches of steady , but poorly protected climbing we arrived at the Spiral Ledge.  Above this is the crux pitch, a finger crack followed by a stout overhang.

Me fighting my way up the crux pitch.[Photo Sherwood]

After the crux pitch there is still a considerable amount of climbing and often it is difficult to follow the best line.  On one occasion I had a look around a corner to see an unusual sight:  Suspended between the top of our tower and the second tower was a slack-line with someone walking across it.  Unfortunately I wasn't in a position to take a photo.
Me wondering which way to go.

I climbed up a strenuous chimney and all of a sudden found myself at the end of the difficulties.  Charles zoomed up to join me .
Charles Sherwood climbing the last pitch.

From the summit we could see the slack-line below us, but there was no one walking along it.
The Slack-line stretched between the 2nd&3rd Sella Towers.

Like the majority of Dolomitic mountains  the  descents are often quite complicated.  The Third Sella Tower was no exception. It involved lots of short rappels to land us on the Spiral- Ledge.  From there we walked down the ledge which is sort of like a giant Helter-Skelter, to then continue a series of rappels which eventually brought us back to the ground.
Me starting the last of the rappels.

Charles making the final rappel.

The next day we headed to the eastern part of the Dolomites.  We weaved our way around the Sella Ronda and stopped at the Cinque Torri for an afternoon of sports climbing.  This is an incredible area which is accessible via a chair lift. In fact if you were creating a perfect place to go rock climbing then this would be a good template.

Cinq Torri

After the climbing we passed through Cortina and found our selves a simple hotel to stay in on the shores of Lake Misurina. 

Tri Cima from Lake Misurina.

 Our objective for the next day was the uber classic Dulfour route on the west face of the Cima Grande.

We drove up the toll road to the huge car park underneath the south face of the Tri Cima and headed off up the scree towards the start of the climb.  Scrambling up scree slopes is never easy yet in under an hour we were near the start of the route.
The line of the route is spectacular, intimidating and on this day soaking wet.
The line of the Dulfour route.

We attempted the first two pitches and were caught up by a couple of German climbers.  Their enthusiasm was commendable, but this did't change the fact that the route was too wet to climb.  We all rappelled off together and retraced our steps back to the car.  It was still only mid day and so we used the rest of the day to relocate to a completely different climbing area. We drove to Arco and found a brilliant hotel [Hotel Pace] close to the centre of town.  

Arco is  wonderful with bars and restaurants, with lots of delicious food.  It also seemed to have the highest concentration of climbing shops of anywhere in the world.  Chamonix use to have a lot of climbing shops, but has few in comparison to Arco. 

We choose to climb a route called Amazzonia 5c as our introduction to the area.  The guide book gave it 5 stars. We both felt it was okay , but nothing exceptional and very unusually, it seemed to be under graded.
It was a little too easy.
Anyway it was good to get a sense of what the routes were like and from this we could choose a route a little more testing.
The rock climbing areas around Arco

Lago di Toblino seen from the descent path

The next day we set ourselves a bit more of a challenge and climbed the very long and sustained  "Amici del Sottobosco." 6a. This was a bolted route some 11 pitches long and gave some of the best climbing of the trip.

On our final day we climbed a much shorter, but very good "Follia d'Estate" 6a  on Monte Colt just out side the village of Arco and then some single pitch routes in the afternoon where Charles was determined to exhaust himself before returning to the UK.

Finally on our last day We  drove along the side of Lake Garda and eventually to Milan airport where I dropped Charles. 

I then drove back to Chamonix, where the next day the Italians shut the border between Italy and France.

Monday, September 07, 2020

Climbing Around Grimentz

 Parts of the the Zinal valley look like the Zermatt valley 200/300 years ago.  It is quaint and exactly how you might imagine a Swiss Valley to be like.

I met Mark Daniels in the 'chocolate box' setting fo Grimentz which was utterly beautiful. I had not climbed Mark for over ten years.  The last time we had been together we had climbed Mt Blanc. We were now here  to climb what ever the conditions allowed us to.  We had no fixed agenda.

On our 1st day together we choose to climb the short but very  spectacular  via Ferratta at the head of the Moiry Dam.  This was also a good opportunity to gain some acclimatisation and stretch the limbs.

The  exit from the Via feratta

On our second day we explored the  rock climbing on the local crags before walking up to the Moiry Refuge. This being 2020 and Covid Time, we were only eight in the Refuge. Wonderful for us but perhaps not great for the Guardians income stream. 

In the  morning we awoke to thick mist.  The sort of mist that is in fact almost rain.  We ate breakfast at 5.00am and the ventured out in the mirk.  Progress was slow because it was difficult to find the way -yet we did find the way although it was far from straight forward.  due too the thick mist I was reluctant to start trying to navigate across the crevasse ridden glacier.  We had a "council of war"  chose to change our objective and  to be relatively conservative and headed up to the north ridge of the Pigne de la Lé 3395m.  

This proved to be a good choice because we burst out of the cloud to be treated to spectacular views in all directions.  All in the same panorama you can see the big 4000meter peaks of the Valais, including the Weisshorn and the Matterhorn.

In fact the view from the summit must be one of the contenders for the best view in the Swiss Alps.  Added to which we had the whole place to ourselves. We saw no one all until we arrived back at the Refuge.