Monday, December 23, 2013

And we are off: Start of the winter season

The skiing season started on the 9th December when Catherine , Bella and Lucy-Kate rendezvous in Saas Fee for an early season attempt on the 4000m Allinhorn. This ended up being a little too ambitious for the prevailing conditions. These conditions turned out to be little snow . What snow there was was like concrete. There were gaping holes in the glacier and we had what was a "jour- blanc" ie no depth perception. So instead of potentially ending the season before it started we spent the day learning how to build snow anchors, and the basics of safe crampon work. All money in the bank for our next trip in February.

Next Geoff and his daughter Aimme Gosling arrived for four days off piste skiing. The issue was there was not much new snow just beautiful clear weather. So it seemed like a good time to introduce Aimee to the delights of ski touring. We spent a day in Megeve and then Walter the Mountain Dog joined us for a trip to the summit of the peaklet L'Arpile.
Despite only blue skies for 3 weeks the skiing on the descent was very very good.

Infact it was so good that when Katie Locke joined me for some ski touring Walter and I took her back up there. The only difference was that finally the weather had changed and it had finally began to snow.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Back at the Seaside

Peter Folkman flew in from Manchester on Sunday evening picked me up from a cold and snowy Chamonix at 6.00pm . By 10.00pm we were sitting by the sea having a beer in Finale Liguria.
On Tuesday and Wednesday we climbed on the sea cliffs at Capo Noli. The backdrop was magnificient with the snow on the hills behind Genoa while we climbed in the sun.
Yesterday was significantly cooler and it was necessary to make sure we were always in the direct sunshine. The complete opposite of what normally happens down there where you are desperate for the shade.
We finished climbing at about 3.00pm and then immediately headed back to Chamonix. The nearer we got to home the colder it got. We went from 14c to -9c.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Nairobi Cannes London Winchester Chamonix

October was an unusual month. I came back from Nairobi and then headed to the Mipcom TV market in Cannes where I spent a week working on a TV project and happened to bump into the newly crowned Miss World.

Next it was onto London then immediately Winchester Colleague where I was a guest speaker at their Studium Lectures. Then the next day it was back to Chamonix for some mountaineering with the father and son team of Chuck and Casey Brown. We had a couple of brilliant Autumn days in the Vallee Blanche climbing some of the simple peaks around Helbronner.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Wrong Place at the Wrong Time- Mount Kenya

This was a trip which had been planned for over a year; Charles Sherwood and I were naturally very excited . It started well. Even the arrival at what we had been told was a burnt out Kenyatta airport, was far better than arrivals at John Lennon airport on a good day. Then the next day I was delighted to discover that we were going to be with the same guide I had used the last time I was in Kenya 21 years ago. Edwin Mwalimu Doroniko. Eddy to his friends.

We left the absolutely fantastic Fair View Hotel and drove to the the town of Chogoria , where after lunch we picked up LLoyd our cook and changed to a couple of Land Rovers - exactly the same two of 21 years ago. After about 5 minutes it broke down. Some judicious use of a hammer it started again. we were off, until the other broke down. [raidiator this time]
26km of jungle track later we arrived at Bandas the entrance to Mt Kenya national park
This is at about 3000m above sea level. A stunningly beautiful place where we stayed in these "chalet" huts which were very like a village cricket pavillion.
The next morning we set off for Mugi Hill 3500m [an acclimatisation peaklet] before heading down to Lake Ellis where we were due to camp. It was here we discovered that the cloth the toilet seat had been wrapped in was in fact our table cloth
The next day we headed over to Lake Michaelson a truly exceptional place to camp.
We should have made the most of it because unbeknown to us this was to be our last really good day of weather. The next day we had a very short day to Simba Tarn at 4600m. Anyone who thinks its mostly sunny in Africa should think again.
It was then onto Pt Lennana 4985m this is the peak which every Trekker to Mt Kenya would like you to believe is actually Mt Kenya. It is not. It is a walk which you could be forgiven for thinking was on the Isle of Skye [apart from the Leopard droppings.] Since we were both last here [Charles on his Honeymoon in 1984 and me not on my Honeymoon in 1992] The Kenyans have proudly built the worlds highest via Ferratta.
It is also possibly the shortest too.
We arrived at the top to see - well nothing. Eddy then seemingly forgot that his charges were seasoned Alpinists and deemed the descent ridge was not safe for us and therefore took us on a tortuous detour through a boulder field from hell where we finally staggered out of the mist at a square tarn. Obviously the cartographer had run out of inspirational names at this stage because it was marked as Square Tarn on the Map.
It was still early so we decided to go on a circumnavigation of the whole of Mt Kenya. We walked over to the Austrian camp and then descended on the south side where we got to see what was once [before global warning] the most famous climb in Africa The Diamond Couloir. We paused to have a look. It looked like it might possibly be complete so to satisfy our curiosity we made a detour to its foot. We never got a definitive answer because the mist came in. It looked possible to climb but possibly not by us. We decided that if we had enough energy afterwards we would come back round and have "a look." [Talk about miss- placed optimism]
We continued around the mountain up to Two-Tarn and then down to another inspired name for an oblonged shaped lake: "Oblong Tarn" before tackling the tough Hausberg col which was because of its height ,rather like climbing Mt Blanc for the 2nd time in the same day. It was then a 15 minute scree run to our base camp. Home for the next 5 days Kami Camp. A beautiful location right under the North Face of Batian

Our plan was to traverse Batian and Nelion via the west ridge. So the next day we thought it wise to go and scope the approach. This we estimated would take a couple of hours. So after 6 hours of running the gauntlet of loose rock we staggered back into camp feeling pretty shot. The problem was what had been a fairly simple approach before the glaciers melted had turned into something like walking through a block of flats while they were being demolished by the wrecking ball.
We were going to need a day to recover. During this day it snowed and then snowed stopped and then snowed some more. The upshot is that we would have to wait a day for it to clear. It didn't. The mornings were okay until about mid day, then it just snowed and hailed and rained. 18 hours a day stuck in a tent starts to pale. The only alternative was to crack open our bottle of Talisker.

We gave up on the West Ridge and decided to have a go at the voie normal on the north face of Batian. Breakfast at 4.00am - porridge followed by baked beans sausages and eggs. Eddy and the porters carried our kit to the foot of the route and we were climbing the 1st pitch by 6.00am . Our spirits were buoyed by have the company of two Swiss and their local Guide David. We made very rapid progress up the route getting up to the Amphitheatre just before 8.00am. Then above here conditions changed and we were stopped not just by loads of snow but rock hard ice covering all the holds.
In addition we could see more bad weather speeding toward us. The reluctant but obvious decision was made to get the hell out of there asap.
Back at camp and it was snowing hard - no choice but to get out and head back to Nairobi. This involved walking out via Sinimom route until you get to Old Mosses camp which is a dump. Its only redeeming feature is it sells beer


Next morning the truck came to collect us. Clearly there was disappointment at not reaching the objective, however this was put in perspective by the disgusting terrorist attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall where upwards of 70 people had been murdered. We did hear about this but we had no real idea of the enormity of the event until we got hold of UK and world press reports and learnt that the Foreign Office had "advised against all but essential travel to Kenya." We did get temporarily stuck in Nairobi because of the chaos from the fall out of the Terrorism but it could have been a lot worse. Essentially all we had to deal with was the vagaries of nature , not the action of a bunch of religious nutters.

We will be back! We have penciled in January 2015.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Wonderfully quiet time to be in the Mountains

Francis Bridgeman joined me for a week of Mountaineering and rock climbing. The weather wasn't perfect and so we had to be creative and flexible as to where we went. There was one day it was raining in Chamonix , but when we looked on the web cam it was bright and clear at the top of ge Aguille du Midi. So we headed up there and climbed Pt Lachanael.
We spent some time climbing in the Aiguille Rouge above Brevent. On another day we drove round to the famous col du Colombiere. Unfortunately it was raining hard. We continued on the road around to the Col du Aravis where it was sunny and dry and we had some great climbing

Monday, September 09, 2013

If Rock hadn't been climbed this woukld still have been an exceptional way to sample the Mediterranean Coast

Charles Sherwood joined me for his annual summer climbing trip. The weather had "been" perfect but true to form all that changed. The alpine forecast was for snow and mixed weather for the week . We decided that the best thing was to clear off until there was a better forecast. We jumped in the car and headed through the Mt Blanc Tunnel for Finale Liguria. We climbed in the afternoon in very humid conditions and were finally forced from the crag by a thunderstorm.
The next day we launched ourselves at on of the classic climbs of the area which were very steep and intimidating However we also learn't that for classic climb read polished limestone and the grade of the climb bore no resemblance to what we had to deal with. In the end we couldn't actually finish the climb due to a combination of heat and having no strength left.
We were now staying in the beautiful town of Final Borgio where the selection of restaurants is reason enough for a visit.
Next day we ventured onto the sea cliffs of Capo Noli an area I had climbed on many time before but this was Charles first visit.
We had a very satisfactory day , but did feel a bit like steak cooked on a hot stone by the end of it.
On our final day we climbed at passing through the breath taking village of. Charles was keen to lead as many climbs as he could . The well bolted climbing of the area make this ideal.
Still there was no real improvement in the alpine weather [ or at least for the projects we had in mind] So we decided to head down the Mediterranean cost to the world famous climbing area of Les Calanques, just east of Marseilles. We found a wonderful place to stay and the food and wine were exceptional. On the wednesday we arrived in Cassis parked the car all excited to climb in the Calanques for the 1st time. But no! There was a big red sign saying the whole coast was closed due to the high risk of forest fire. There was nothing we could do but move on. But where? After consulting the map and the weather forecast we hit upon Buoux . The last time I had climbed there was 31 years ago. Then it was just before the Peter Mayle "Year in Provence" revolution which changed Provence from a back water to the chic place it is now: Our Auberge had a swimming pool at its foot.
We spent two days here climbing in a wonderful solitude .
We wanted a big finish to the week and our research had identified the Verdon Gorge as the must visit destination . The climb for us was the Hissage Nocturne. A modern classic [ie not polished] . We arrived for a pre inspection the day before and had a good look from above.
We returned at 7.00am the next morning [after having a spectacular dinner in the town of Moustiers]. I was psyched for for the entry to the climb : A spectacular 45 meter free rappel into the gorge.
The guide book explained that if you couldn't do the climb the only escape option was either to hitch a lift on a passing pedalo or swim. Needless to say we managed to climb out on what was a very good climb.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Father & Daughter Big Day Out

We had a perfect forecast , a good freeze and little wind. Andrea and I left the scrum of the Aiguille du Midi and trotted down the ridge and to a great welcome at the Cosmiques hut where some of Andrea's friends had summer jobs working there.
Breakfast at 1.00am [Andrea claimed to have had zero sleep] We were away by 1.45am
We plodded a long in a line of hopefuls and then started up the steepening slopes of Mt Blanc du Tacul - Everything was going fine until we came to a huge wall of ice with a moat like crevasse at its foot. There were about 20 "climbers" in front of us all making very poor attempts to climb the wall.
I became really concerned that we were loosing too much time. After about 20 minutes I decided to make my self unpopular,gambling that no one would start shouting at a 14 year kid so I circumvented the queue and sprinted up the wall then pulled Andrea up hand over hand.
Next we had to negotiate the ice blocks of last weeks serac collapse and then we were over the shoulder of Mt Blanc du Tacul and heading for the crux of the climb , the shoulder of Mt Maudit. We caught up several parties who were struggling with some of the crevasses. We slalomed around them and then we were at the crux of the climb a steep 100 meter ,65 degree head wall. Again we decided to move together , not pitching the climb and once again we passed several parties.
Astonishingly we had over taken everyone. We stopped for a rest.
As we traversed around Mt Maudit dawn broke
Next it was onto the final summit slopes of Mt Blanc, it was here that Andrea started to struggle with the altitude [which was not surprising because her acclimatisation had consisted of sitting at the top of Grands Montets for a couple of hours.]
Finally we hit the summit at just before 8.00am
It was then down the way we came. Andrea ran down the slope , keen to get to some thicker air as soon as possible.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Cabane Velan is the best Hut ever

Here is a photo of the Gd St Bernard Monastery taken form the summit of Mt Velan at 9.20 am

From the other direction we could see the mighty Grand Combin

This was the perfect start to the week. The whole Donovan family, Nicola, Jason, Lewis and Lloyd all walked up to the hut together where we had an exceptional BBQ cooked by the Guardian. Despite it being the busiest week of the summer in Chamonix, over in the Valais it was quiet and there was only one other family and a Verbier Guide.

The plan was for Lloyd and I to climb while the rest of the family were going to descend and visit the Gd St Bernard Monastery.
Delicious and Breakfast are not normally phases that go together in Mountain Huts but this was the exception. We were away by 4.45am with just the other Guide and his client. We choose to climb Mt Velan via the Arete Gouille, we had perfect conditions and a wonderful solitude. The aesthetics of the trip were as good as they can possibly get.

The rest of the Donovan family left Lloyd with me and they headed off to Zermatt. Having climbed Mt Blanc together last year I decided that Lloyd needed to get to grips with some "real" mountaineering and so I devised a four day plan to show him what Chamonix had to offer , while avoiding the crowds. The best place to achieve this is the Aiguille Rouge and so we headed up to climb Asia on the Grande Floria high above La Flegere.

The next day we decided to attack the snow and ice with an ascent of the North Face of the petit Aiguille Verte which was in perfect condition steep snow that was like climbing polystyrene it was so grippy. This gave Lloyd a taste of what is involved in climbing the big famous route North face of the Alps.

Then it was back to the Aiguille Rouge for a traverse of one of its most famous rock climbs the Clocher Clochotons with its world famous tyrolean traverse.

It was then followed by some complicated rappels

Finally on the Saturday we chose the delightful climb Aiguille de la Charlanon: Éperon SSE de droite which was a wonderful place for Lloyd to recap on all he had learnt during the week where he was able to set up the rappels and deal with the rope work.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Rain Stopped Play

Take a good look at the big rock and you will see me standing under it. Then look at the same rock a month later. The glacier has melted at such a huge rate that the rock the size of a house has toppled over. This was a sobering thought for Casey and Chuck Brown who had come to join me for a weeks mountaineering. We started with a very hot day on the Mer de glace and then the next day we headed up to the top of Les Grands Montets for some further climbing

But then on the Wednesday it just stormed and stormed. The forecast was awful too so we mad the descision to reconvene some time in October.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Training up the next generation

I spent the last couple of weeks climbing with all ages of people , but all who wanted to understand a little more about what the Alps has to offer in the summer. I spent a few days with Katie and Mark Locke and their 2 boys Max and Charlie.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Perfect Conditions for an ascent of Mt Blanc via the Cosmiques

Its never great when you go to bed and then have to get up the same day. We were in our beds at 8.30 pm then up at 12.50pm, breakfast at 1.00am and away from the Cosmiques at 1.40am.
The reason for the super early start was that it was the freezing level was due to rise to 4500m and traveling at night is the safest option. Plus there was virtually a full moon.

The clients were super psyched and had gambled that traveling all the way from Austin, Texas just to climb Mt Blanc would be worth it. Brian Roark was on my rope and his very good friend David O Chambers was on the rope of Hannah Burrows Smith, the other Guide I had asked to join us.

Brian and reached the top in a fast time of 5 and half hours, the other two were about 40 mins behind us. The track and conditions were perfect. The only issue was the summit of Mt Blanc was in cloud, and so the summit shots were a little under whelming . Yet a couple of hundred meters below I got this fantastic sunrise.

We choose to go the same way back and again due to perfect conditions we were back at he Aiguille du Midi at 11.30am.

Which just goes to show the saying " You never regret getting up early" is true.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Stand Out climb of the season so far..

Peter Little turned up for a weeks climbing. Peter, having climbed everything in the Alps that its practically possible to climb is always looking for the thinking climbers climb . With this in mind we headed of to climb the classic ridge the Arrete de Saille on the Grand Muveran , high above the Rhone just before Sion.

We walked up to the Cabanne Rambert from the top chair lift of Ovronnaz. The hut isn't great primarily because it is run for the sole convenience of the Hut Guardian and not the customers. For example he insisted in cramming everyone in the same dormitory where it was hot and stuffy and I was very pleased when it was time to get going in the morning.

The climb its self is truly fantastic . It consist of 7 pitches of spectacular climbing in a stunning setting , with the added bonus of seeing no one all day. However when the climb was over , there was a very very long ridge to reach the summit, which quite frankly could have done with being shorter.

The reason we had headed off for such a big route without warming up on some easier routes was because the forecast for the week had been indifferent for later in the week. Although the actual weather was never that poor , the forecast had always been bad and so we couldn't plan for another big route. We therefore did a lot of different rock climbing the second standout route of the week being "Missing a Meter" at the Col de la Colombiere.