Thursday, December 27, 2012

Yo Yo Temperatures

One day its -15c and I'm using "T- Bag" footwarmers the next day its +5c and its raining.
Well it was raining in Chamonix but a quick trip through the Mt Blanc Tunnel and its snowing again. In fact I have been through the tunnel 4 times in the last week. 3 times to Courmayeur and once to La Thuile.

I kicked off the season with a visit from Mark Locke with an excellent day in Courmayeur followed by a very cold day on Grands Montets which was going just fine until I hit a dip, my ski came off and clipped my ear which then sprayed blood everywhere and resulted in 10 stitches.

The next day I was joined by Geoff Gosling and his daughter Aimee. It was raining and snowing on arrival at Les Grands Montets. In addition because the place is understaffed they hadn't got round to the avalanche controls , so it was closed.

We drove through the tunnel to Courmayeur and it was snowing. The skiing was good.
The next day it was snowing hard in Chamonix and everything was shut. Our attempts to return to Courmayeur were thwarted because the Mt Blanc tunnel was shut because it was threatened by avalanche from above. So we skied in Les Houches where we had some good snow. Geoff then had a meeting he had to fly home for.
On Tuesday Aimee and I

headed straight to Courmayeur and with lots of falling snow where had a days powder skiing , which would go down as one of those days that are called spectacularly good.

Geoff returned from his meeting and brought some good clear skies with him and we headed for Les Grands Montets. The only issue was so did the rest of the world and like normal it got tracked out quickly. Geoff unfortuantely twisted his knee just as we were finishing the day and frustratingly had to miss our final day together.

So today it was just me and Aimee and with the weather looking very grey we again zipped through the tunnel to La Thuile. We once again came across some exceptionally good turns and some outstanding tree skiing.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Anyone worried that the snow might not arrive should relax

The snow was predicted , but when isn't it predicted in a ski resort? Nevertheless this time the amount forecast was wrong.Yet

happily this time to the skiers advantage. We have had a meter of snow in our garden. At first it fell like polystyrene pellets - light and near perfect. Then the temperature rose and it almost rained turning the snow to a heavy mush which threatened to swamp the Chamonix snow plough's.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

A Grand Family Day Skiing

Well sort of. To be frank it did not get off to the best start. We arrived in a snowy Cervinia and everything was looking very wintry. Then we discovered we had left Sophie's boots in Chamonix. After a mad rush we rented a pair for her.

Then I went to buy tickets - but the lift was closed for a "technical fault." We retired for Cappuccinos. Eventually they opened but, but only the Swiss side. So we rode the lifts and finally at mid day put our skis on at Testa Grigia 3479 meters.
Everything was good the sun was out the snow was fabulous the Kliene Matterhorn was open and fresh tracks were being made everywhere. These conditions lasted for one run. The wind picked up and closed the lifts leaving us trapped above Zermatt. We had no option but to use the Drags to get back over to Italy. This was Sophie's 1st experience of a T-Bar and she almost froze to death.

Andrea and I chose to ski back down to Italy while the rest of the family choose to go down by cable car. Interestingly the Police were waiting at the bottom of the piste fining anyone skiing who was not with a Guide because the piste was not yet open. Luckily for Andrea she was skiing with a Guide.

When we arrived home I asked Sophie to help unload the car. She said "No."

I said "Unless you help We are not taking you again."

Sophie said "Do you promise?"

A Grand Day Out.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Summer Season draws to an end

The leaves started to change colour and importantly the weather became un settled which thwarted Francis and my plans to finish the season with an ascent of Mt Blanc. In fact we only managed to get up high on one day when we climbed the Aiguille du Marbree along with a large and vocal group from the Italian alpine club [Milan Section]

After which we were continually forced to change our plans. Nevertheless we kept our selves well entertained with ascents of the Aiguille du Van high above the Emosson Dam and spent the rest of our time rock climbing. In fact for for details of our week and a look from a different perspective. Go to this link

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Working around variable weather

Nick Graham returned to climb with me after a two year break. We started our week together by climbing the Voie Caline. The slightly harder but shorter version of the now very well known route the Via Corda.

This was an ideal warm up and the day after we climbed the Cosmique Arete one of Chamonix's most famous and well travelled climbs. Late September was an ideal time to tackle this route because it wasn't mobbed by loads of other climbers.

On our third day we traveled through the Mt Blanc Tunnnel and then took the Helbronner cable car and climbed the Aiguilles Marbree. The approach was tricky because the summers hot weather had opened up some huge crevasses with some very thin snow bridges. I was very cautious but the 50 school children who passed us [on an outing from Paris] did not seem phased a tall.

The next day it rained and drizzled all day so we spent the day revising techniques for big multiple rappels and systems for crevasse self rescue. All stuff which is important but often does not get covered properly.

Our plan was to finish the week by climbing Mt Blanc du Tacul which would have been Nick's first 4000 meter peak. However when we arrived at the summit of the Aiguille du Midi two things made it obvious that this was not going to happen. Firstly there was no track in up the mountain and two there were very strong winds indicating that there was a significant avalanche risk. We therefore contented ourselves by climbing Point Lachanel where we were entertained by ENSA who were camped on the summit while testing belay strengths by chucking barrels of concrete down the slope and seeing if the rope snapped or the ice screws ripped out.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Week started with summer and ended with Autumn

Peter little travelled out from Keswick for a second week of climbing with me. We decided to go on one of our traditional explorations and came up with a gem of a route in the Aravis mountain range. We climbed the arete d'Marion. This route is situated high above the col du Aravis. It is considered to be one of the finest ridges in this particular mountain range. We were not disappointed a wonderful route for a first day.

We liked the Aravis so much that we decided to go back again the next day. This time towards the Plateau des Glieres. However we hit a problem- It took us so long to get there and we had big difficulties actually finding the crag that we ran out of time.

Wednesday it rained stair rods. Above 2000 meters it snowed 35 cm. We did nothing.

Thursday The weather was much improved but everything was either soaking wet or covered in snow. We had a brain wave and went on the very vertiginous via Ferratta at Thones.
This is the most challanging via ferratta I have done with the grade of Extremely Difficult. It follows an overhang that eventually leaves you swinging from your arms hundreds of meters above the village.

Friday was beautiful. Well everything looked beautiful because it was covered in snow. We choose to go rock climbing above the area formerly known [before global warming] as the Mer de Glace. This involves taking the Montenvers train and then walking down to Les Mottets. From there you rappel down the cliffs to the foot of the routes. Once you are in position it is hard to imagine a more spectacular back drop to go climbing in.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Alpine Classics

Charles Sherwood and I headed over to Andermatt and the Salbit Hut with some ambitious plans. Like a lot of mountaineering plans it was thwarted by the weather at about 5.30am the next morning. So it was back to the Hut to sit out the rain. In the afternoon it did stop raining enough to try and get out for a couple of pitches on the crag behind the hut.
The route we chose was greasy and I slipped on a thin lay back and fell off badly grazing my shin. I Hobbled back to the hut and patched my leg up.
The next morning was perfect and we headed off for a second attempt on the south ridge of the Salbitschijien. [Possibly the best route of its grade in the alps.] Word has certainly got out in the UK climbing press because all the teams on the route were exclusively British.
It was then down the valley in search of a doctor to patch up my leg. The weather forecast was in the long term poor but the next two days were okay. We therefore decided to go straight up to the Gleckstein Hut for an attempt on the Wetterhorn.
The Wetterhorn is famous because it marks the start of the Golden age of Mountaineering when Sir Alfred Wills climbed it in 1854 and ended in 1865 when Whymper climbed the Matterhorn.Wills was the High Court Judge - hence the 'Sir' - who presided over the trial of Oscar Wilde for "gross indecency". Became third President of the AC in 1863-5. When he climbed the Wetterhorn in 1854, he was actually on his honeymoon. Must have been seriously popular with his wife!
Another of the party was the local guide, Christian Almer. He climbed the peak a last time aged 70 on his golden wedding anniversary. But he did at least have the decency to take his wife with him.
We left the hut at 4.30 am in the pitch dark and alone. We headed up the path to the foot of the glacier where it was still dark and it wasn't easy to know where to go next. We eventually figured out the route across the glacier and towards the Wills Ridge[Named after Alf] The Willsgrat is more matterhorn like then the Matterhorn and the whole ascent is much longer and tougher. It took us nine hours up and down the route and we were shattered when we eventually got back to the car at 6.00pm. Then the heavens opened and it has not stopped raining and snowing since.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Alpine Training

After a long time and children grown up Helen and Martin Whitehouse had decided to restart their mountaineering careers. They hired me to brush up on their skills and look at how equipment and techniques have evolved.
The weather was blisteringly hot and conditions in the mountains were poor because everything was melting and falling apart.
We started our 3 days together by kicking off on the Mer de Glace making sure Helen and Martin knew all there was to know about modern crampons axes and ice screw belays.
Day two: We headed up the Grands Montets where we spent the morning working on crevasse rescue. In the afternoon we climbed the spectacular Aiguille du Grands Montets Ridge.
Day three : We traversed the Aiguille du Crochue. We moved very quickly and so I decided to hand the rope over to Martin and Helen so that they could perfect "moving together" under their own steam. Finally in what has become a bit of a tradition Helen and I swam in Lac Blanc. Unfortunately Martin was too much of a whimp to join us.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Cryotherapy Alpine Style

Ariel and Antony enjoyed a cloudless windless traverse of the Aiguille de Crochue - Antony had climbed it before but this was Ariel's first introduction to alpine ridges. It is difficult to say which he enjoyed most the climbing or the swimming in Lac Blanc on the way down.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Father & Son Climb Mt Blanc 4810 m

Jason Donavan and his son Lloyd joined me for a week of perfect weather and perfect conditions. We started our week with a visit to the Mer de Glace so that we could have some detailed preparation using ice axe and crampons . We talked a lot about what would happen in the week ahead as well as working on short roping techniques.
The next day we headed off up Les Grands Montets and climbed the Aiguille de Grands Montets before scrambling over the railings on to the viewing platform. In the afternoon we made our way over to the deliightful Argentiere Hut. We sat on the terrace drinking beer and soaking up the impressive situation. It was a very relaxed evening the hut was only half full despite it being Saturday night and the busiest week of the summer season.

We were away by 5.15am the next morning and climbed up to the Col du Tour Noir where we enjoyed stunning views east into Switzerland. From the col we returned back to the Hut and then headed down the Argentiere glacier and were down for 2.00 pm. Our acclimatisation completed plus , plenty of time for a good rest before the challenge of the next day which was going to be the climb to the Gouter Hut.

The climb was even longer than expected because unbeknown to me the 8.40 am train had been cancelled. So an extra 2 hours on what is already a long day. We arrived at the Gouter Hut at 3.00pm. Even so the conditions in the Gouter Couiloir were very good. There were no falling rocks and virtually a foot path across.

Breakfast was at 1.30am and we were away by 2.15am. We had perfect conditions and we summited at 7.15 am. After some photos it was straight back down. We were extremely quick back at the Gouter Hut in under 2 hours. Then the long descent - over 2700 meters.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Staff Training

The best out door shops have the best staff. Staff who know what kit does what how it works. This way they can recommend the correct equipment. With this in mind Adrian & Jad from Stamos Sports in Argentiere joined me for a day on the Mer de Glace
a dry glacier where they could learn everything there is to know about Ice axes, crampons, ice screws, rope management, steep ice climbing, rescue and route finding.

It was their chance to evaluate the latest gear and gave them a much better idea of what works easily and well and what does not!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

An Alpine Road Trip

Reuben Berg and I planned a trip where we would climb in a different mountain area through out the week while taking in some of the finest roads Switzerland and Italy have to offer.
We drove from Chamonix to Andermatt then walked up to the magnificent Salbits Hut. The next day we climbed the stunning route "Paralleler Ostgrat" above the hut before moving onto via the impressive Oberalp pass the via Laax to Pontresina.
The weather on the Wednesday was a bit mixed so we headed on and over to the Stelvio Pass which at 2785m is the highest road in Europe. From there we drove to Bolzano where we stopped at the Mesner Mountain Museum where we got to see the great man himself.
Thursday we drove through into the heart of the Dolomites and climbed on the iconic Cinq Terre.
An early start on Friday was needed to make the most of seeing the mighty walls of the Cima Grande before traversing a fascinating war time via Ferratta which passed through a series of tunnels before gaining a ridge line.
It was then time for a dash back to Chamonix, this time via a very hot and sticky Milan with temperatures hitting 38c.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

South Ridge Of Salbitschiijen

Peter Little decided to go and climb the South Ridge Of Salbitschiijen. We were not disappointed. It is possibly one of the best climbs of its grade I have ever done. Each pitch was magnificent. We were lucky with the weather too. The previous day had been very windy but for us it could not have been better. The down side was that we were not alone. Another 10 teams on our route. Peter and I managed an out flanking move and got to the front and therefore had an uncluttered run all the way up the route.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The 1st Casualty of war is the plan

This phrases could just as well be attributed to mountaineering trips. Our plan was to complete the mountains above Zermatt which form the border between Italy and Switzerland often referrred to as the Italaian High Level route or the "Spaghetti Tour." Our team was Alan, Mark, Clarke and Miguel plus James Thacker our other Guide

Day 1 We walked to the Gandegg Hut to acclimatise. The weather was windy and rainy which meant that the other people staying in the Hut did not turn up. This was a pity because it was Kate Moss plus a group of super models shooting for H&M's winter brochure and using the Matterhorn as a backdrop.

Day 2 The weather was even worse and so the Kliene Matterhorn lift was again shut so we bailed back to Zermatt where we talked through the options . Our new plan was to get up early and push 2 days into one.

Day 3 The new plan fell apart before it started when the cable car broke down leaving us stranded for 2 hours. We missed our opportunity to get a safe early start and had to re plan , but we could not get a booking in the hut we needed. So we re -booked into a lower hut the Mexxalma hut. We did however enjoy beautiful weather and enjoyed a magnificent traverse of the Breithorn 4164 m.

Day 4 More high winds so we descended the beautiful valley to St Jaques where our new plan was to take a taxi around to the next valley: Gressoney. Our luck changed and we managed to find a Land Rover Taxi straight over the mountain. We arrived at the Gnifetti Hut back on track. This hut would have to be one of the best in the Alps - super friendly staff, excellent food, free wifi and hot showers.

Day 5 Bad forecast we could not get back over the col des Lys to Zermatt. We did however manage to climb Pyramid Vincent 4215 and the Balenhorn4167m. We then had to figure out another way back to Zermatt. We descended back to Gressoney where we struggled to find a taxi. [My usual taxi had cleared off to Tuscany for the summer]
The plan was to drive round to Cervina, unfortunately we arrived too late to catch the lift back over to Zermatt. Fortunatly we did find a very comfortable Hotel and a good Pizzaria which made everything except Pizza.

Day 6. It was raining hard. I jumped out of bed and ran up to the lift station to check it was open. It was not. Too windy. We spent breakfast working out how to get back to Zermatt. Then we learnt the bottom lift was open. We could use it then walk [a very long way] Luckly the wind monetarily dropped and the very kind Italian lift operator ran a cabin for us and we managed to get to the top of the ridge where we made a dash for Switzerland.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Le Mt Blanc 4810

Andrew Parker had harbored a dream to climb Mt Blanc since a failed attempt nearly 20 years ago. Recently the opportunity to have another go materialised

because he was able to take some holiday between jobs.

We met and had a couple of warm up days before heading up to the Cosmiques Hut in order to gain some acclimatisation. It was the following morning that the plan started to unravel because the wind had shut Aiguille du Midi and we could not get back to Chamonix and therefore we could not keep our booking for the evening in the Tete Rousse Hut.

More pressingly we were stuck. So I decided that we should try and escape across the Valley Blanche to Italy. This is what we did , but the conditions were difficult , poor visibility , soft snow and big crevasses a bad mix. Eventually we arrived in Courmayeur where we took the bus back through the Mt Blanc Tunnel.

We were now a day behind schedule which we had to make up. Of course we were not helped by the fact that the train on Mt Blanc is shut and so we had to start walking a couple of hours sooner than we would have chosen.

Six hours and 1790 meters of ascent interspersed with some rain showers we arrived at the Gouter Hut. Not the new shinny one but the old knackered one. [The new one isn't ready yet .]

2.00am Breakfast , 2.45 am get away and we were off. Conditions were good although above the Vallot Refuge it did get very windy. 7.45 am we arrived on the top.

2700 meters descent later the train was still broken.

Alpine Training

Pam Mazoyer and Chris Moss joined me for three days in

order to improve their mountaineering skills.

A day on the Mer de Glace was followed by a fantastic traverse of the Aiguille du Crochue. Then on our 3rd day it rained so we hid in a cave until it stopped. We then drove to Switzerland for some alpine rock climbing training. Only problem was the setting wasn't very alpine - a quarry, a quarry I believed to be disused but clearly wasn't. It was noisy but it didn't rain.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Pt Percee

The weather hasn't been very co operative and anyone with out a flexible state of mind is likely to have been frustrated. Fortunately my team were very flexible and open to all suggestions and so Agust, Turi & I headed around to the Aravis where they made what was in all probability was the first Icelandic ascent of Pt Percee from the Col du Verte via the south ridge in very wintery conditions. Yet as we sat on the summit the clouds parted like a curtain to reveal one of the best views of Mt Blanc in the alps.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Fine Day out on the Cosmiques arete

Scott Todd flew in from the US for a few days in Chamonix and was keen to get up high and do something spectacular. So I suggested we climb the Cosmiques arete high up on the Aiguille du Midi.

We had perfect weather conditions and the snow was like cork. In addition because it was low season [although a Sunday] it was relatively quiet which always add to the aesthetics.