Monday, November 10, 2014


This is the only word I can think to describe the start of the ski season. It is only 8 November. Yet after a recent dump everywhere looks very snowy. The nearest skiing to Chamonix at present is Zermatt. So this is where Scott Todd and I headed. Our plan was to climb the Breithorn 4164m from the highest lift. The trick to getting to Zermatt smoothly is not to get involved with the ridiculous parking and train, but instead to dump the car with Taxi Fredy and get a ride into the bottom of Zermatt. From there we took an electric taxi to the main Matterhorn cable car. This is where things got difficult because the top lift on the Klein Matterhorn cable car was not working. This meant that we would have to stop climbing much much lower down. we rode the gondola to Trockener Steg and put our skis on. We then took the T-bar drag lift all the way up the Theodulgletscher until it broke down! Rather annoyingly we had to abandon it and walk. We took one more drag lift before eventually starting the climb properly at Testa Grigia
It was quite a tough climb but well worth it.
We then stripped the skins off put the skis in down hill mode and skied some very good snow all the way back to the lift station.
The next day after a night in Saas Grund [where we loaded up on some large portions of Rosti] we headed up the lifts of Saas Fee at this time of the year the resort is in high season because all the ski teams are race-training here for the forthcoming winter season. Our plan was to attempt the Allalinhorn 4027m. In the end we made it to just below the Feejoch where a combination of too much unstable snow, big yawning crevasses and a deteriorating weather situation made us stop. This is the photo of our high point

The recompense was some very good powder on the descent.
Exceptional powder considering that we shouldn't really being skiing a tall yet.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Three climbs in three days in three countries

Scott Todd contacted me. He lives in the USA but his job had sent him to Germany for 3 months and he was keen to do some sort of climbing- any sort of climbing while he was in Europe.

So Scott arrived in Chamonix having left Stuttgart at 4.00am. We set off to climb at les Chesery above Argentiere. We had perfect weather and we thought we were climbing well until we were brought back down to earth when we were followed up the route by a hooved animal!A mountain Goat.

We finished by climbing the iconic Aguillette d' Argentiere.

On our next day the weather was indifferent - raining hard in the morning with an improving forecast so we took the gamble to head to Switzerland where the weather was good and we climbed The outstanding Pantagruel at Les Trappistes crag one of Olivier Roduits many outstanding routes .

On our 3rd day the weather forecast was good- I suggested to Scot that we head through to Italy to climb the stunning Bucce d arancia at Arnad. What I hoped it would be a fitting end to our 3 days together. Well we left a sunny Chamonix drove through the Mt Blanc Tunnel to be greeted by misty miserable weather [ not what the forecast predicted] By the time we arrived at Arnad it was raining. Anyway not to be deterred we set off up the climb - Needless to say we were alone. Fortune favours the brave and it stopped raining and we had amazing climbing

Until it started raining again. We had climbed all the difficult pitches and what should have been simple was not simple in the lashing rain and so we decided to retreat by rappel. This was surprisingly simple if not a little wet and muddy.
But all in all Scott got a pretty good taste of multipitch rock climbing in the Chamonix and surrounding areaa and he has promised to return ..

Monday, October 06, 2014

Aravis offers great climbing oppurtunities especially at the end of the season

There is no doubt that if you hit the right weather late September early October can be the most beautiful time to be in the alps.
Peter Folkman arrived for few days climbing. On our first day we climbed the new route Princess which is the final trilogy of the long routes on Les Rochers des Mottets. This is the hardest and probably the best of the three routes , but I made a note to my self not to try and climb it when its damp.. Slippy is not the word.
On Tuesday we set off for the Aravis mountain range but it started raining and we had to abort plan A . Luckly it did stop raining and we managed to have a very good afternoon climbing at Les Gaillands.
On the Wednesday the weather was good and so we headed to the Col de la Colombiere where we climbed the long and remote
Arête des Bouquetins on the Pic de Jallouvre
On the Thursday we returned to a different part of the Aravis - the col des Aravis , for the standout route of the area which must have one of the most photogenic ridges anywhere L'Arête à Marion on the Pointes de la Blonnière. Mind you the approach is relentless and hour and halfs slog up a stoney slope with only a vauge path to follow.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Perfect weather perfect Autumn conditions -

Francis Bridgeman ans I enjoyed some varied climbing in and above Chamonix and then for the second half of the week we headed to Kandersteg and the spectacular Stockhorn

We stayed in Kandersteg at the wonderful 300 year old Ruedihus Hotel which as got to be a must for anyone visiting the town

Monday, September 08, 2014

LA VERTE 4122meters. “ Avant la Verte on est alpiniste, à la Verte on devient montagnard... “

“Before The Verte one is an Alpine Climber, after the Verte one is a real mountaineer.”

So said Gaston Rébuffat one of Chamonix’s most famous Mountain Guides .

The weather in the Alps this summer has been terrible. Twenty two years I have worked in the Chamonix Valley as a Mountain Guide and this has been the worst- whole weeks have been washed out and many peoples mountaineering dreams have been put on hold until may be next year?

However the constant bad weather meant that it snowed a lot, the glaciers and their crevasses remained filled in and the snow plastered the north faces acting as a form of rendering gluing everything in place. Then finally at the end of the season the high pressure built and we were set up with near perfect climbing conditions for climbing on snow and Ice. These conditions were almost unheard of for a generation and numerous possibilities evolved.

At the same time my client of 22 years who has never missed a season Charles Sherwood arrived to a mouth watering combination of a fabulous weather forecast and perfect conditions.

I had identified a particular route for us to attempt. Namely the Nant Blanc Face of the Verte. The face is rarely climbed because it is rarely in safe condition and pretty much never at the end of the summer, but as I have said this was no normal summer.

Yet even with perfect conditions the challenges are considerable : The face is massive from the Bergschund to the summit it is over vertical kilometer. The ice climbing in two sections is vertical and the final key section at over 4000 meters involves scaling an overhanging serac. [I did not know this before we started otherwise I might have not been so keen]
In addition actually getting into position to start the climb was very hard work;

At mid day Charles and I took the Grands Montets cable car to the top and then headed across and down the glacier from where we had to make a series of difficult abseils down a horrible lose gulley towards the Nant Blanc glacier. Things did no go well because the brand new ropes I had bought for the attempt were immediately damaged by loose rocks [one irreparably] which must be some kind of record - an hour old.

We found a place to bivouac at about 6.00pm and enjoyed the setting sun while having our dinner.

Breakfast was at 2.00am the next morning and we were packed and away by 3.00pm.

We scrambled down onto the Nant Blanc glacier and threaded our way through a maze of giant crevasses by the beam of our head torches. This was difficult and I took a wrong turning and headed up a false line. Everyone can get lost in this game the trick is to realise quickly as and rectify the situation , which we did but still it was frustrating and time consuming. Eventually just before dawn we arrived at the start of the route which is marked by a giant crevasse - the bergschund the last crevasses between the mountain and the glacier. The guide book rather unhelpfully suggests it will be between 12 to 15 hours to the summit from this point.

Climbing over the bergschund was steep but thereafter the angle laid back a little for the next 400meters. We made steady but unspectacular progress because the snow was very hard and we were balanced on our crampon front points instead of being able to kick steps in the snow.

10.00am we reached a narrowing of the climb. We were confronted with a pitch of very steep ice- far steeper than anything we had expected. Fortunately the quality of the ice was perfect and the ice axes stuck in the snow like they were being driven in to cork. Perfect nevé.

Above this pitch the route moved onto another giant ice field before heading left to a rocky ridge . By now the the sun had come round onto the face and it got unpleasantly hot added to which bits of melting ice started spraying us from above some of which were football sized!

We were now tired and thirsty and we decided we should stop for the day and bivouac. The problem was we could not find anywhere remotely flat enough and so we just kept on climbing up and up in the vain hope of finding somewhere suitable. What happened was that as we climbed higher the ground became even steeper and so we reluctantly set up a belay and abseiled back down about 50 meters to an area which was the least worst option! We carved a ledge out of the snow - a sort of bucket seat and climbed into our sleeping bags at about 9.30pm. As Charles observed this is know as a “double head torch day” : you start by head torch and you finish by head torch.

We awoke at 4.00am and began to melt snow to brew pint mugs of tea. Packing everything up was difficult because it was all frozen like a board but eventually we were back climbing at about 6.00 am .

Above us was the crux of the climb- an overhanging lump of ice know as the “Calotte" which barres the route to the summit. I arrived at the foot of the feature which was made up of fluted ice and I was not a tall sure that I would get any purchase with my ice axes. Firstly I cleared all the flutings of ice away like a vandal attacking a giant chandler. Then I launched my self at the over hanging ice and climbed what was the most certainly exposed bit of ice climbing I think I have ever done because it felt as if I was hanging above the entire Chamonix valley. I was happy to pull over the lip and see ahead of me much more mellow ground. I belayed and it was Charles turn to follow.

Above us lay the summit of the Verte a short walk away. The scene was stunning and we arrived on the summit at about 8.30am,hardly any wind and not a person in site.

The next challenge was to get down which off the Verte is never simple. Some earlier pre planning- We had learned that the Whymper Couloir was still full of snow [again because of the bad summer] and because we had arrived on the summit early the snow was still frozen and safe, so we headed down the rather narrow ridge to the col and set up the ropes for the numerous abseils back to the glacier. It was a rather hot walk on a soggy glacier to the marvelously positioned Couvercle Hut , some beers, massive omelettes and bed.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Terrible Teens

I was joined by very demanding teenagers last week. The problem with them is that they have too much energy and this energy needs to be channeled constructively. In addition they want adventures but not too much boring stuff [like walking miles and miles.] To add to the mix the weather was being very un cooperative.

Hereward Mills, his father Bill and Bill's Godson Jamie joined me for four days of adventures. They were particularly keen to spend a night in a mountain hut . With the weather forecast the way it was it seemed to me the best chance of over- nighting was to set of immediately and so this is what we did by heading up to the Couvercle hut which is tucked away at the end of the Mer de Glace underneath the mighty Verte. Getting to the hut is quite an undertaking and involves climbing some intimidating ladders bolted to the rock face.

We arrived at the hut in thick mist just before for dinner. The scene was quite moody and there wasn't much colour to be had in the landscape .
The next morning was clear and we enjoyed some fantastic views of the north face of the Grand Jorrasse

The hut is also in a very beautiful position too

We were lucky to be able to see so much because the forecast was again poor so we decided to head down before we got a drenching
Fortunately the weather held and we managed to get some quality tuition in the use of ice axe and crampons on the Mer de Glace
We made it down to Chamonix just before it pissed it down.

The next day was miserable at first it wasnt actually raining so we decided to try and climb a Via Ferratta down in Passey. Just as we got to the foot of it the heavens opened and we had to retreat. Eventually in the afternoon we went to Les Gaillands and not for the first time this summer I was the only Guide there. However fortune favours the brave and the sun came out and we had some really good rock climbing in the afternoon.
On our final day we headed for the Via-Cordia - the rock climb to be done when everything in the high mountains cant be done

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Bad Bad Weather Week

Lloyd Donovan is probably the keenest of the keen when it comes to alpine climbing and he arrived to climb with me for six days. Prior to our meeting we had exchanged emails about what the possibilities might be. Plans had been laid. Then we got the weather forecast- utter crap.

The first day was to be okay , so not perhaps following best practice [because it is so high] we headed for the Cosmiques Arete on the Aguille du Midi. I need not have worried because Lloyd flew up the climb only being stopped by a lot of numpties ahead of us. We then had the chance to visit the glass box

It was semi okay the next day but the forecast was to deteriorate so we decided to climb the Voie Caline - a long simple climb above les Bois. Well it is simple in the dry, but when it started to rain it takes on a different complexion - terrifying.

True to form the next day it snowed down to 2000 meters, so we went for a big walk up the Emosson Dam and climbed the Bel Ouseaux
It was more like a Scottish winter scene than a summer Alpine scene.

The remainder of the week was spent dodging around the frequent showers and we did lots of rock climbing and worked on loads of training in "escaping from the system" - Things which ever climber need to know but never get round to actually practicing.

Monday, July 07, 2014

The Lost Wedding Ring and the Helicopter.

Climbing and Mountaineering trips are all very fine , but the really memorable excursions are when it doesn't go exactly according to plan and there are glitches which produce stories "You can dine out on" Once again teaming up with Alan, Mark [Robo] Miguel Clarke & Art produced a memorable trip.

I was also joined by two other Mountain Guides James Thacker and Jonny Baird. This is what happened:

We met in Gressoney , stayed in the excellent Ellex Hotel , eat in the local Pizzeria and significantly had a little too much to drink.

On the Sunday it was raining and pretty miserable. We took the lift to Puntra Indren from where we walked up to the Mantova Hut , all in thick mist and driving snow.

On the Monday we awoke to hurricane strength winds which stopped us from going anywhere. We sat around drinking cappuccinos and then suddenly for no apparent reason the wind died and we were off.
We "stretched" our legs and ticked the 4000meter mark and some of the team even carried on to the Col de Lys 4200m from where the views to Zermatt and the Matterhorn are unique. We then turned heel and headed for the Gneftii hut where we were greeted by the magnificent Stephany , Guiliana and the rest of the Hut team. The food, the welcome was spectacular. Then showers were provided. free WiFi - what more could you want? You can run your whole life from here.

Tuesday morning the weather was better . We headed off and climbed Ludroigshohe 4341meters.

Wednesday was like Christmas
After some debate we decided to sit it out because the forecast for Thursday was stellar and in addition an extra days acclimatisation would be in valuable if we were going to realize our goal of spending the night in the Margherita Hut.

Thursday - the gamble had worked - Blue Skies, no wind , plus a well rested and acclimatised team powered up to the summit of the Signalkuppe punta Gnifetti 4554meters where there is a conveniently placed mountain hut- The Margherita. Once we were through the door we again met Stephany & Guiliana who were now the guardians of the Margherita Hut . They immediately set about making a magnificent lunch of home made hand grated rosti a platter of dried ham and a selection of local cheese.
During all this Alan discovered he had left his wedding ring down at the Gnifetti Hut. His mind was immediately put at rest with a quick call to say they hand found it.
Ten minutes later Stephany made a flamboyant entry, stood at the end of the dinning table and with a ta- daaa- like a magician produced the wedding ring! We were all suitably amazed and then she told us that the helicopter had just flown it up.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Mid Summers Day Skiing Tradition

With a bit of imagination, luck and planning it is possible to get some amazing skiing on the longest day of the year.
For the last few years Reuben Berg and I have done just that . This mid summers day might have been the best so far. We drove round to Gressoney , rode the lift to Punta Indren put the skis on and skinned up to the Mantova Hut. some times when we have taken skis out in the summer we have had some strange looks, but not this time. The majority of parties were on skis and it was impossible to distinguish the scene from mid ski touring season. Conditions were perfect.
The next day we climbed Vincent Pyramid.
The weather was far from perfect and we had some cold strong winds to contend with. But from the summit in less than 20 minutes we were in the Gnefftti Hut drinking Cappuccinos.
The forecast for the next day was poor. We went to bed thinking that it would not be possible to do much the next day. Our goal had been to climb up to the Margherita Hut and spend the night. This is the highest building in Western Europe at a lung busting 4554meters.

However at day break the weather was not too bad so we thought we should go and have a "look" knowing that if the weather deteriorated we could retreat very quickly on skis. We were bolstered by the site of a helicopter delivering beer to the Margherita Hut reasoning that if the heli could fly then we should be able to make it . We did make it but the weather was decidedly sketchy as we finally made it and yes the beer was there:
The other delight was to meet the fantastic Giuliana, one of the Guardians of the Hut. A couple of years ago she climbed all the 4000 meter peaks in one summer.
The Hut was not busy that evening. 6 guests. Next morning getting out of the hut was a challenge- strong wind and zero visibility. We teamed up with a Swiss Guide and his client and navigated through a classic white out. Eventually we got below the cloud at the col Lys. From there we could really enjoy our selves with a fantastic powder descent followed by spring snow all the way to the Punta Indren cable car

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Breaking trail up Mt Blanc with 50cm of fresh snow

The weather has been far from settled and coupled with lots of other issues it made for a challenging week which was only half successful. Dee Anand and David Folkman joined me for 6 days and below is the brief story of what happened.

After three days of training and acclimatisation in indifferent weather we headed up to the Tete Rousse hut and spent a pleasant afternoon relaxing and gaining more acclimatisation. Well it was pleasant for me and Dee but David had a bad night with the Shits. Non of us were sure why he was ill when weren't but we assumed that it would be some 24 hour bug that would go. So we decided to continue on with our plan, which was to head up to the brand spanking new Gouter Hut, where we planned to arrive early and rest up ready for our summit attempt the next day.

David struggled , but was determined to get to the Hut. He immediately went to bed and assumed with a bit of rest he would be fine. It started to snow big time. Dinner time came around and David was feeling worse and could not countenance eating. Hugely frustratingly he was not going to stand any chance of attempting Mt Blanc.

While we were dealing with David's illness , another group were dealing with one of their group who had broken his ankle. They had called a helicopter . I reasoned that David would be far better off if he could hitch a lift too so I asked the Hut Guardian if this would work. In principle the answer was yes. In practice it was a lot more problematical. Bad weather meant the helicopter could not fly.

David was going to have to endure a pretty miserable night. With nothing else to do I went to bed . No sooner had my head hit the pillow and the Guardian came into my dormitory to tell me that there was weather window and the PGHM helicopter would be here in 20 minutes. The Guardian was not sure if the helicopter could take one or two causalities because of the weight limit at such high altitude. I was asked to speak to the Police Mountain Rescue doctor at his base in Chamonix.

I explained what I believed to be David's symptoms and the doctor immediately triaged and decided that David was the priority and not the guy with the broken leg. It is not difficult to see that the guy with the broken leg was deeply unhappy about having his helicopter stolen from underneath him.

Both David and the other casualty were taken outside the hut to wait for the helicopter. It arrived in very dramatic style kicking up huge amounts of snow screening everything from sight. When it departed there was no one left on the ground and so we concluded that both casualties had gone. Indeed they had a mere 5 minutes later and they were at Sallanches Hospital.
Meanwhile Dee slept through all the commotion and was somewhat surprised when he woke up and couldn't find David. It was 2.00am and time for breakfast. 45 minutes later Dee and I set off . We were enveloped in thick cloud and there was deep snow. Critically there was no wind. At the Vallot hut 95%of the parties turned back. There was still no wind and I could see no reason to give up. The only difference was that there was us and one other party to break trail. We stuck at it and arrived at the summit of Mt Blanc at around 8.00am. We saw nothing!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Not this time for the Nose

Our attempt to climb the iconic Nose of El Captan did not get off to a good start. We left the campsite at 6:30 AM and immediately got stuck in a traffic jam. In front of us a car had hit a tree and landed on the roof blocking the road. No one was injured apart from the drivers pride. (The idiot had been texting at the time.)
It was not a good omen. We lost a good hour and in that time the heat in the valley had soared.

As the saying goes everything in America is big. The style of climbing in Yosemite is Called “Big Wall”. El Capatan is the best example of Big - it is over 3000 feet of vertical rock.

The climbing is completely different to climbing in Europe. The method is to pack everything into a bag and haul or winch it up after you. These bags are called Haul Bags or “Pigs” [because they can be a pig to move.]

There were three in our team me and my two great American friends Jeff & Faerthen. Jeff had made one of the very early ascents of the Nose 40 years ago. Jeff was returning for his anniversary climb and he had invited me along. It was to be my first experience of “Big Wall” climbing.

So we eventually parked the car and wrestled the Pig out of the car boot.[Or trunk as the Americans call it] It contained  36 liters of water, our climbing gear our ropes our sleeping bags our food, plus underneath we had attached a Portaledge. As it sounds it is a portable ledge which can be erected in minutes. When it is set up you can sleep on it.

All this weighed over 100 kg and it was left for me carry it to the foot of the climb. As approaches go it was not very far-about half a mile but still 100 kg is the most I had ever carried.

During the previous days we had fixed ropes to  the first 8 pitches to  the start of a feature know as the Stove Legs. These are giant cracks which could originally only be climbed by jamming sawn off stove legs into the cracks.  Fixing means we had left a giant 200 meter long rope in place so that we could climb the rope using special Jumars which clamp to the rope rather like cleats on a sail boats rigging.

Our plan was to climb the fixed ropes to our highpoint and then haul the pig. Jeff set off up the fixed-rope first. It was as he arrived at a small overhang that he called down to say that he had torn a muscle in his back and that he was in considerable pain. I jumared up the ropes to meet him. Jeff's face was glum . When he tried to sit in his harness he was in agony. We were going to have to descend and abandon our attempt.

Before we could get to grips with the disappointment (something that is part and parcel of mountaineering) we had the practicalities of getting our selves and the pig safely down.  It made sense to jettison the water in order to reduce the weight. This task was far more difficult than it sounds because I was suspended several hundred meters above the ground with nothing to stand upon. Eventually after some spectacular acrobatics   I eventually lowered the pig down to the ground to join the others. We were all disappointed but at least we were safe and sound and still in a position to try again sometime in the future.  And in addition we had not been eaten by Bears.

Friday, May 09, 2014

20 Years from our 1st High Level Route

The plan was perfect. We were going to re do the Haute Route exactly 20 years to the day since the first time Chris Boulton and I had completed it together. We were joined by Mark Gilbey, James Mitchel and Adam Syme. As the saying goes the plan is often the first casualty of war.
To start with the weather forecast was utter crap.Nevertheless we had our warm up day on Grands Montets where we found out that we had certain binding issues. Still its better to get this sorted before everyone is committed. We skied around in misty snowy conditions and with all our checks done we were ready to start the next day.
Contrary to the weather forecast , the weather was beautiful and the initial descent of the glacier des Rognons was a powder skiers dream. But 10 minutes into our trip the dream turned into Adam's nightmare, he fell awkwardly and broke his ankle.
I immediately pulled out my radio and called the rescue in

We had no choice to retreat and we retired to the bar for a beer or eleventeen. Sadly Chris decided that he did not want to risk the same fate as Adam and abandoned. This left James and Mark. They were keen to try and continue, yet the weather forecast was all over the place. So on our third day we drove round to Verbier and made our way up to the Mt Fort Hut where as always we were treated to a warm welcome. The thing in our favour was that concurrently the Patrouille des glacier race was scheduled and the Swiss army had avalnche bombed the route as well as sticking flags along the way. I felt that no matter what the weather was like , if they were going to run the race then we would be safe. As it turned out while it was raining and miserable in the Valley high up it was a perfect day.

The traverse to the Prafleuri Hut was perfect and made even more interesting being able to watch the racers coming the other way. However the weather the next day was testing: Heavy snow and zero visibility. Nevertheless we pressed on with the aid of the map & compass. We arrived at the Dix Hut having seen very little all day. At the hut the Swiss army [who are responsible for the organization of Patrouille de Glacier race] decided to have an impromptu party which the Hut Staff got dragged into. This was all fine but they got so slaughtered that they failed to get up to make us breakfast the next day. The weather waa still poor and so we could not traverse the Pigne d'Arolla but instead had to climb the Pas de Chevre ladders and head up to the Vignette by going around the mountain.

So we had now endured two days of pretty shit weather. For the final day - the push to Zermatt it is essential for very good weather, especially for the final ski down into Zermatt because there are crevasses which would swallow whole Double Decker buses. We awoke at 5.00am to absolutely clear perfect weather which was nothing short of magical. Made even more special because we had really had to work hard to get into the position where we could take full advantage of it.

We were away first from the hut and headed up to the Col L'Evéque. Fifteen minutes skiing and we were next heading for the penultimate col -Col du Mt Brulé

This did not prove to be easy. Normally you put your skis on your rucksack stick crampons on and post- hole up to the ridge. Yet there was far too much snow to do that and so we had to skin up which created a few "moments" [In over 50 ascents of this col it is only the 2nd time I have ever had to skin the route.]
After this it was heads down for the final long ascent to the Col de Valpelline and the first view of Zermatt and of course the Matterhorn.

It was then it got really good , exceptionally good, the snow we found on the descent of the Matten glacier was one of the best descents of the season and for me that involved over a hundred days on skis.It was a very fitting end to the ski season