Saturday, December 18, 2010

Balloon Igloos

So its the first day of the Christmas Holidays and we decided to build a quick Igloo. This is what we did.

Bought giant Balloon which when fully inflated was 180cm in diameter. We used a compressor to blow the thing up.

We then took it out into the garden where we covered it in snow [ using a snow blower]

Then left the snow to set for about an hour

Then deflated the balloon leaving a cave that resembled the inside of a giant ping pong ball.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

La Chamoniarde, Société de Prévention et de Secours en Montagne

To day I joined the Mountain Rescue for a big avalanche practice search at the top of Brevent.

Each year just before the season there is always a huge avalanche practice organised by La Chamoniarde a voluntary operation made up Ski Instructors, Mountain Guides, Pisteurs, Doctors,Firemen and the Police.
The purpose is to have enough trained people to deal with a catastrophic avalanche that might take out houses or major communication links.

In the morning there was a demostration of the equipment such as the use of avalanche transceivers, how to deal with helicopters, how to help the dogs.

In the afternoon a simulated avalanche was created at the top of Le Brevent. We were divided into teams of 15 people . There were 20 teams. We all lined up shoulder to shoulder and practiced a Probe search until we eventually found the 4 "victims" which were buried.

As a treat [as the ski station hasn't opened for the season] we all got to ski untracked snow from the top of Brevent to Plan Praz.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Big Kids Mountain Ski Mountain Safety

I was approached by concerned parents who have children who are very good skiers, often much better than their parents. It is not long before these children want to charge off piste. They do not understand the dangers of doing this.

I was asked by parents if I would prepare a talk pointing out the risks.
So yesterday I spent the day at La Cote International School which is about 30 km out side Geneva.
My starting point was to accept that the children would want to ski off- piste and it is not my aim to stop them- but at least they should understand what they were getting into.

At the very least they will not have the excuse “Oh I didn’t know.”

Mountaineering and skiing accidents are on the increase and there is evidence that early exposure to safe practice will play a critical role in addressing this issue

I delivered a presentation to all the children in the school. I did this several times adjusting the talk for the different age groups

Piste signs and what they mean.

Avalanche warning signs . The flags and what they mean.

Difference between a Pisteur and a “lifty.” [A Pisteur is a highly trained professional. A lifty is what you become if you don’t work very hard at school.]

Reading the snow. How to tell what is safe and what is not. By the end of the talks most children understood how to identify avalanche prone slopes and where avalanches are most likely to start.

Essential equipment for skiing off piste. I brought a lot of my equipment to show the children.

What to do if it all goes wrong. How to conduct an avalanche search. In the afternoon we went out side and practiced hiding avalanche transceivers in the snow.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Pre Season Skiing is looking very good

Like in the UK it has been snowing like mad here in Chamonix and all the lifts are going to be open from this weekend. The only problem is that I am due to deliver a series of lectures to kids about off piste skiing safety down in Geneva. The kids can't get to school because of the snow!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mark the Mountain Guide school talks

I was back in the UK last week touring some schools in Hertfordshire talking to the children about how I wrote the books, about mountains and avalanches.

On Monday I was in Islington and then in the evening I was a guest of the Mayor of Chelsea & Kensington. I was there to discuss how I could potentially help support the Mayors chosen Charity Help for Heroes. I offered to present a lecture about how Don Planner and I climbed Mt Blanc. Don was a soldier and the first ever blind person to stand on the summit of Mt Blanc.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Majorca Rock climbing

Half term was spent on Majorca. Naturally we took our rock climbing gear with us. Even Jane who hasn't climbed for a while.
Our friends Jeff and Faerthen flew in from the US to join us.

The last time I was there was 20 years ago. I was told that there had been a lot of "development" since then. Well I didn't see any. I was not impressed. The Majorcan climbing was not climber friendly. Access was made tedious - for example at La Gubia climbers were directed up a dried up river bed full of huge rocks when just to the right there was a perfectly good "private path"

The main belays were shabby too with single bolts. This is just unacceptable.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Ballad of Idwal Slabs

So I have been back to the Idwal Slabs for the first time in 20 years. Reuben drove over from Manchester to join me. It did not rain which it did the last time I was here. In fact every time I have ever been here.

We climbed Hope grade V Diff The climb featured in the

I'll tell you the tale of a climber; a drama of love on the crags;
A story to pluck at your heartstrings. And tear your emotions to rags.
He was tall, he was fair, he was handsome;
John Christopher Brown was his name;
The Very Severes nearly him bored him to tears ------
and he felt about girls much the same.

Till one day, while climbing at Ogwen, he fell (just a figure of speech)
For the president's beautiful daughter, named Mary Jane Smith---What a peach!
Her figure was slim as Napes Needle;
Her lips were as red as Red Wall;
A regular tiger, she'd been up the Eiger...
North Wall, with no pitons at all!

Now Mary had several suitors, but never a one would she take,
Though it seemed that she favoured one fellow, a villain named Reginald Hake;
This Hake was a cad who used pitons,
And wore a long silken moustarsh,
Which he used, so they say, as an extra belay----
But perhaps we're being too harsh.

John took Mary climbing on Lliwedd, and proposed while on Mallory's Slab;
It took him three pitches to do it, for he hadn't much gift of the gab.
He said: "Just belay for a moment---
There's a little spike by your knee-
And tell me, fair maid, when you're properly belayed,
Would you care to hitch up with me?"

Said Mary, "It's only a toss-up between you and Reginald Hake,
And the man I am going to marry must perform some great deed for my sake.
I will marry whichever bold climber shall excel at the following feat
Climb headfirst down Hope, with no rubbers or rope,
At our very next climbing club meet!"

Now when Mary told the committee, she had little occasion to plead,
For she was fair as a jug-handle hold at the top of a hundred foot lead.
The club ratified her proposal,
And the President had to agree;
He was fond of his daughter, but felt that she oughter
Get married, between you and me.

There was quite a big crowd for the contest, lined up at the foot of the slabs;
The Mobs came from Bangor in Buses, and the Nobs came from Capel in Cabs.
There were Fell and rock, climbers', and rucksack,
And the pinnacle club (in new hats)
And a sight to remember!... an Alpine club member,
in very large crampons and spats.

The weather was fine for a wonder; the rocks were as dry as a bone.
Hake arrived with a crowd of his backers, but John brown strode up quite alone;
A rousing cheer greeted the rivals;
A coin was produced, and they tossed.
"Have I won?" cried John Brown as the penny came down.
"No you fool!" hissed is rival, "You've lost!"

So Hake had first go at the contest; he went up by the Ordinary Route.
And only the closest observer would have noticed a bulge in each boot.
Head first he came down the top pitches,
Applying his moustache as a brake;
He didn't relax till he'd passed the twin cracks,
And the crowd shouted "Attaboy Hake!"

At the foot of the Slabs Hake stood sneering, and draining a bottle of Scotch;
" Your time was ten seconds," the President said, consulting the Treasurer's watch.
Now Brown. if you'd win, you have to beat that."
Our Hero's Sang Froid was sublime;
He took one look at Mary, and light as a fairy,
Ran up to the top of the climb.

Now though Hake had made such good going, John wasn't discouraged a bit,
For he was the speedier climber Even Hake would have had to admit.
So smiling as if for a snapshot,
Not a hair of his head out of place,
Our Hero John Brown started wriggling down...
But Look! What a change on his face!

Prepare for a shock, gentle ladies; gentlemen, check the blasphemous word;
For the villainy I am to speak of is such as you never have heard!
Reg. Hake had cut holes in the toes of his boots,
And filled up each boot with soft soap!
As he slid down the climb, he had covered
With slime every handhold and foothold on Hope!

Conceive (if you can) the terror that gripped the vast concourse below,
When they saw Mary's lover slip downwards, like an arrow that's shot from a bow! "
He's done for!" gasped twenty score voices.
"Stand from under!" Roared John from above.
As he shot down the slope, he was steering down Hope...
Still fighting for life and for love!

Like lightning he flew past the traverse... in a flash he had reached the Twin Cracks
The friction was something terrific---there was smoke coming out of his slacks
He bounced off the shelf at the top of pitch two,
And bounded clean over it's edge!
A shout of "He's gone!" came from all... except one;
And that one of course, was our Reg.

But it's not the expected that happens, in this sort of story at least;
And just as John thought he was finished, he found that his motion had ceased!
His braces (Pre.War and elastic)
Had caught on a small rocky knob,
And so... safe and sound, he came gently to ground,
'Mid the deafening cheers of the Mob!

"Your time was five seconds!" the President cried. "She's yours, my boy...
take her, You win!"
" My hero!" breathed Mary, and kissed him; while Hake gulped a bottle of Gin,
And tugged at his moustache and whispered,
"Aha! My advances you spurn!
"Curse a chap that wins races by using his braces!"
And he slunk away ne'er to return.

They were wed at the Church of St. Gabbro; And the Vicar, quite carried away,
Did a hand-traverse into his pulpit, and shouted out "let us belay"
John put the ring on Mary's finger
A snap-link it was, made of steel,
And they walked to the taxis
'Neath an arch of ice axes,
While all the bells started to peal.

The morals we draw from this story, are several, I'm happy to say:
It's virtue that wins in the long run; long silken moustaches don't pay;
Keep the head uppermost when you're climbing;
If you must slither, be on a rope;
Steer clear of the places that sell you cheap braces---
And the fellow that uses soft soap!
Showell Styles

Friday, October 01, 2010

Two days on rock One one Ice

Roger Brookes joined me for three days climbing. It was a steep learning curve: On our first day we climbed the Yellow Route at Les Chesery. This was Roger's multi pitch climb.
The next day we climbed the very famous Chere Couloir on Mt Blanc du Tacul. This was Rogers first Ice climb.
On our last day the weather was unsettled so we decided to play it safe and climb the Voie Caline

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Beautiful Autumn weather and then it all fell apart

Peter little joined me for the second time this summer. Like last time the weather was very good except this time we decided to spend our week based in Chamonix.
We spent 3 days climbing above La Flegere. It was quiet and beautifully warm so we could climb in T shirts.
On our 4th day we decided to re visit the Cosmiques Arete which Peter & I had climbed in winter some 14 years ago.
It was impossible to imagine finding the route in better condition with it all to our selves and clear windless skies.
On Friday the weather changed. It was due to rain in the afternoon so we decided to see if we could climb the Voie Caline to les Mottets. An easy but 400m ascent. We managed this in an hour just as the first spots of rain hit.
It has been raining ever since

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Autumn is fast approaching

Autumn is coming which is great. Kids are back at school everyone has gone home,Chamonix is just wonderful its not so hot [and therefore much safer] We have big anticyclones siting over the alps and everything is just perfect.
This was the situation Dee David and Peter found when they arrived. We spent our first day on the Mer de Glace learning stuff about ice axes and crampons. The next day we traversed the aiguille de Crochue and hardly saw a soul .
On the Sunday we climbed the petit aguille Verte. Here we met lots of people most of them "with all the gear and no idea" they had clearly spent a fortune in the mountaineering shops. It is a pity they could not spend some of their budget on finding someone who could teach them how to use it safely? Anyway just thought?
On Monday we decided to go rock climbing as it had rained and snowed high up. We climbed the very long voie Caline up to Les Mottets Buvet [which was sadly closed for the season]
Dee and David then had to go home. Peter and I then decided to climb one of Chamonix's most famous rock climbs - the Chapelle des Glieres.

Monday, September 06, 2010

L'Arête Kuffner on Mt Maudit 4465m

So after our skiing we trundled back to Chamonix stopping at Arnad to climb the classic Bucce d'Arancia .
The next day we made a leisurly start and took the Aiguille du Midi cable car over to Italy where we strolled over to the Fourche Bivy. I was a bit worried because I had no idea how busy the bivy might be. As we approached there were signs of climbers already there.

I was somewhat surprised when I stuck my head through the door to find the occupants were not unshaven grotty alpinists but two good looking women.

Next morning we left the hut at about 5.00am there were other climbers coming directly from the Torino hut who held us up a bit , but eventually Charles and I managed to overtake them and get into a good rhythm helped by perfect conditions we were able to reach the summit in just under 4 hours.
I would have no issue with the guide book which described the route as one of the finest climbs in the alps. It was magnificent.

Let's go Ski Touring in August

What do you do when there is too much snow to attempt the route you had planned ? Simple you go skiing. This is exactly what Charles Sherwood and I did. Charles had failed to climb the Parrotspitze 8 years ago due to artic weather conditions. So I suggested that we try again. We drove around to Gressoney and took the cable car upto Puntra Indren and carried our skis to the new Mantova Hut.
Next day we carried our skis for about 20 minutes before finding enough snow to start skinning up toward the Parrotspitze. Now if the weather had been bad 8 years ago it was just as bad this time. The wind was like a bad winters day in the Cairngorms and it was bitterly cold. At one point I was knocked off my feet by gust of wind and blown along the ground helpless to stop. We struggled on to the Balenhorn bivy hut where we dived under the blankets in an attempt to warm up. After a couple of hours the wind dropped and we dared to venture out. After an hour we dumped the skis and climbed the impressive ridge to the summit of the Parrotspitze.
It was then on with the skis and back to the lift station in about an hour.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Mini Mountaineers

I suddenly found myself climbing with a bunch of budding climbers. On Saturday I headed up to the top of Brevent with Turi and her daughter Maria. This was Maria's first multi pitch climb.
The next day I was back up the Brevent with all the Dangerous Sisters. They are a handful so Jonathan Preston [fellow Mountain Guide and Floz's Godfather]came along to help keep them in order.
We climbed the aptly named Micky Mouse. This was Sophie's first multi pitch climb and Andrea's first lead on multi pitch climbing.
On Monday it was the turn of Chris and Arthur Boulton. We climbed the very long voie Caline.
On Tuesday we dodged the rain to complete the Via Ferratta above the Plateau d'Assey.

Monday, August 23, 2010

It's not normally like this.

This is what I kept saying to Michael & Kathy Howard as we stood on the Mer de Glace being lashed by freezing rain.
This was their first visit to the alps to climb. Luckly for me they just assumed the weather was always like this.
Fortunately the next day was spectacular and we headed up and climbed the aiguille du Toule a great peak for your first in the Alps
Next day we headed into the Aiguille Rouge to be confronted by more unwanted snow. In the end we used this to our advantage to learn how to climb steep snow and how to do Ice axe arrests.
On Thursday we climbed the Aiguille des Grands Montets battling through very strong winds.
Our last day we headed up the Aiguille du Midi and climbed Pt Lachanael

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Alpine Climbing is never simple.

I enjoyed a very sociable week working with two of my best friends and fellow Mountain Guides Jonathan Preston and Alan Kimber. Alan is the longest serving British Mountain Guide with over 40 years experience. We were joined by James Thacker who was working along side us as an Aspirant Guide.
Our clients were all from Northen Irealand and were super keen and great company.
This is what happened.
We all met in Grindlewald and took the train up to the Jungfraujoch. We then headed down the glacier to the Konkordia Hut in the blazing sun.
It is the only Hut I have been to where there is a bar on the terrace and it was already doing a brisk trade and then we arrived and it went into over drive.
The next day we headed over the col to the Finsteraarhorn Hut and climbed a rocky ridge as by way of some training to prepare everyone for the big challange of the next day.
We arrived at the Hut which despite not having a bar on the terrace was sensational.
3.30 wake up is never easy but the prize for the day was the Finsteraarhorn- One of the finest mountains in the Alps.
We reached the top in just over 5 hours which was quite good considering the final ridge was icy and we wore crampons all the way.
That was the last day of good weather and like so often in this game we had to change our plan. Now the plan was to get out and back to the valley. The Finsteraarhorn hut is one of the remotest in Europe.
This proved to be a very big day with lots of twists and turns.
We headed out of the Hut in a brief rest bite in the storm and headed for the Oberaarjoch. It was not long before we were getting wet. We stopped at the Hut of the same name and refuelled on Rosti. We then headed down the glacier on the far side where rain became torrential and the glacier just went on and on and on.
We passed along the side of the Oberaarsee Lake finally arriving at the Cafe where we had booked a taxi back to Grindlewald.
But only if it were that simple! The road was closed because a bridge had been washed away!
The solution was to take a taxi as far as the landslide- then walk across the landslide before meeting another taxi. Again this part of the trip was not without incident as one of our group was attacked by a cow and we had visions of him being pushed into the swollen river and never being scene again.

Monday, August 09, 2010

A Writers Inspiration

I enjoyed a fascinating week with Nick Graham who came out to Chamonix for two reasons.
The first was to learn the basics of Alpine Climbing and the second was to research the back ground to a novel he is writing.
We spent the first day on the Mer de Glace looking at Ice climbing techniques. On our second day we headed round to Switzerland and headed up to the Saliena Hut. This was important because part of the plot of the Novel was to be set in this area. The hut was fantastic with about 8 people staying the night. The Guardian cooked a wonderful meal and then we all sat around drinking some rocket fuel which the Guardian had personally brewed.
Breakfast was at 5 o'clock we were away by 6.00am. Our plan was to climb the Grand Lui.
We ascended for a couple of hours but frustratingly it started to snow and the mist came in. There was no choice but to turn around.
On our final day we went into the Aguille Rouge and traversed the Crochue. All week we talked a great deal about all aspects of mountaineering both modern and past so that the details would be exact even making sure there was a place for the world famous Bhend Ice axe from Grindlewald.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Crevasse Rescue

We had very good conditions at the top of Grands Montets for a good crevasse rescue teaching day
Big open crevasse
Good snow for anchors
No wind

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Alpine Rock Climbing

Alpine Rock climbing is about climbing long routes high in the mountains. It is even better when you can do these routes and have them all to yourselves. To do this in the Chamonix area at the height of the season is even better.

Roger Cunliffe and I spent 6 days together attempting to do just this. We even went on a road trip to the Aravis in Roger's magnificient Morgan Motor Car. Frustratingly the weather let us down and after the first on the pitch of arete de doigt on Pt Percee we had to back off. It was just too cold.
Weirdly the week had started with us complaining about it being too hot.

The highlights of the week were the Eperon Bayure which is situated in the Pas de Chevere. We also climbed in the Aiguille Rouge which has many fine climbs but none better than Kaboul above the Index at La Flegere. Truely stunning climbing.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Dom

What a great trip this was for Peter Little and I . The Dom is the highest mountain in Switzerland and has the biggest ascent from the road head of any mountain in the alps. 3000 vertical meters.
The hut walk is about 4.30 hours. Breakfast was at a grim 2.30am and the ascent was 6.30hours to reach the summit.

The descent had various issues because the weather was so warm and the snow bridges were like butter plus the crevasses were massive. It was critical that we had lots of rope out between us even so there were a few heart in the mouth moments as we sank through the snow sometimes up to our waists.

Mind you any rope is better than no rope. We came across a rescue. Some guy had set off to climb the Dom on his own. He fell in a crevasse. The Hut Guardian reported him missing. Air Zermatt searched the glacier , found his foot prints leading into a big hole. Two Guides went down the crevasses and found him alive but only just. He was air lifted to Berne to "thaw" out.

After the Dom Peter and I were quite tired, we stopped at the Dom hut for a huge pile of Rosti before making our descent.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

An Introduction to Alpine Mountaineering

I have just finished a great week with 6 very keen aspiring Mountaineers Andy Alistair Kirsty Julia Mike and Olivier.

On our first day we headed up to La Flegere where we spent the morning throwing our selves down the mountain side and learning how to stop using he Ice Axe. In the afternoon we climbed the Aiguille de la Gliere.
On Tuesday we headed up to the Mer de Glace where we learnt how to use crampons and had a go at some steep ice climbing.
On Wednesday we trekked across the Valley Blanche to Italy and the returned via the bubbles to the Aiguille du Midi.
On Thursday we had a very comprehensive day extracting each other form a large crevasse just below the Les Grands Montets. We finished the day by climbing the aiguille de Grands Montets and clambering over the railings and onto the viewing platform.
Our final day we headed to the Emosson Dam and climbed the imposing Aiguille du Van.
We all then met up for Dinner chez Seaton and finished with a football match in the garden.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Frison Roche Climb

I had a day off today so Andrea and I went to climb one of the most dramatic climbs which over look Chamonix. We took the lift up to the top of Le Brevent Cable car then ran down the snow to the foot of the route.
This was to be Andrea's first big multi pitch route. 5 steep pitches of grades 6a, 5b, 5c ,6a, 5c. complete with Rucksack. Not bad for 11 years old. We were back home for lunch