Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Dent du Midi. A very long "Walk"

The Dent du Midi is a magnificently striking mountain viewed from a far. The Swiss guide book describes it as an "Extraordinary edifice of stone" especially when viewed from Rhone valley. However nose up it is a tottering pile of crap. It has several summits which make up its ridge of "dents." At each end there is a Cime. The east Cime is pretty much untenable unless it is glued together by snow and ice. If not then a strong belief in ones immortality is a necessary bit of kit to have with you. In the middle is the Dent Jaune . This is an anomaly in that it is a very good climb. I did a few years back in 2006 with my very good friend and client Peter Little whom I did so much exploratory climbing with. At the west end is the Haute Cime - the true summit and can be reached without stepping on a glacier and without specialized mountaineering kit [in the summer]

This was to be our objective. Vin,Tony,Dave and I drove around to Champery, and set off from the Paradis Car park on a beautiful Saturday morning. We walked up through a very uninteresting forest following a very boring path for over an hour. Eventually we broke out of the forest to be treated to beautiful views of Champery and in the distance the Rhone valley. The path then snakes around some cliffs before going through a gorge where you turn left and head up a valley to the Susanfe Hut.

A very cosy and considering it was late in the season ,a very busy hut. We enjoyed a sociable evening and the food was washed down with a couple of bottles of the local rouge. Inevitably we were presented with insipid dessert which seems to be part and parcel of staying in Swiss Huts - This time: apple-puree. Baby food.

Breakfast was at 6.00am and we were away by 6.30am.At this time of the year it is still dark so we set off with head torches and plodded up to the col du Susanfe in just over an hour.

A pause and a drink and we were off up the Haute Cime proper.There was a surprising amount of snow around which did a lot to enhance the scene because without it you could have thought you were on some lifeless planet - acres of shale.

It might be "just a walk" but its over 1100 vertical meters from the hut to the top. It took us a lung busting 4 hours to get there. But it was worth it as the views were very, very good. Mt Blanc to the south.

Lake Geneva and the Oberland to the north.

Now all was left was the matter of going home. This was to be a brutal 2000 meter descent, back the way we came, stopping briefly at the hut just long enough to buy some drinks and for the legs to seize up. By the time we arrived back at the car we were knackered. Dents du Midi may be only a walk but you underestimate it at your peril.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A trip to the Dolomites.

Peter Folkman and I drove from Chamonix to Cortina d'Ampezzo. It is along way. Past Aosta,past Turin,past Milan and then turn left at Venice and head up into the Dolomites. We arrived mid afternoon just in time for a couple of Aperols [Italy's most popular cocktail] sitting in the sunny main square watching the world go by.

On the Sunday we decided to warm up by heading up to the Tre Cima Laverado where we traversed the Paternkofel via ferratta.

This particular one starts in a tunnel.
In the past when I have climbed this via ferratta it has proved to be a very good introduction. However unbeknown to me the descent gulley on the far side had collapsed and the route followed a very long detour. The detour was indeed a very fine one and significantly enhanced the quality of the route. However it did spit us out in the wrong valley and consequently left us with a long unwanted walk back to the car.

On the Monday we decided that our legs needed less of a pounding and so we opted to climb on the Cinque Torri where we climbed the uber classic "Via delle Guide" in absolutely perfect autumn weather. In the afternoon we wandered around the outdoor museum where they have rebuilt the WWI front line trenches very close to the climbing.

On the Tuesday we elected to head to what is considered to be Cortina's most impressive via Ferratta -Punta Anna. The weather was indifferent but as so often in the alps we climbed through the cloud.

On the Wednesday it lashed it down. We did attempt to visit one of the Messner Mountain Museums but this ended in farce. We arrived at what we were lead to believe was the museum entrance only to discover that it was more complicated than that and involved a shuttle bus [driver? No where to be seen] followed by a walk. Walking anywhere in the lashing rain seemed unappealing. We bailed and headed for Chamonix.

Back in Chamonix on the Thursday we awoke to beautiful weather and a sprinkling of new snow down to the trees below 2000meters.Our plan was to climb on the slabs above the Mer de Glacé.
Our plan was almost thwarted by non other than the French Prime Minister who was on a visit to Chamonix. Monsieur Valls was to be treated to a helicopter ride which was to culminate in him watching a PGHM winching exercise from inside the helicopter.
The winching was on the route Peter and I had chosen to climb. Luckily I am on good terms with Captain Ribbes the PGHM top man in Chamonix and we quickly agreed that it would be fine to climb the route next door. The net result is we got "ring side seats" for the demonstration.

And Manuel Valls got to see some real climbers.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Traverse of the Matterhorn 4478m

This is an account of an ascent of the Matterhorn via the lion Ridge in Italy followed by the descent of the Hornli Ridge into Switzerland. Our climb was made even more special because it coincided with the 150 year anniversary of the 1st ascent of the Matterhorn via the Hornli Ridge. The first ascent was seemingly cobbled together at the last minute by a bunch of toffs, Swiss and French mountain guides and admittedly the very accomplished mountaineer yet possibly over achiever Edward Whymper. It is extremely well documented that half the team did not make it back.

Attempting a traverse like this out of the normal season has its advantages and disadvantages. The clear advantage is that the mountain isn't mobbed by loads of other climbers. Nor is it so warm and often the weather is more stable. The disadvantages are that the route had a lot of late season snow on it. We didn't know if this would make the route more difficult or impossible. In addition the mountaineering infrastructure [cable cars , mountain huts etc] begins to close down.

I say begins, but in actual fact it had already closed down in Italy.Thus leaving us no where to stay and a massive long approach walk to get in position. We started by taking the lift formerly known as the Klein Matterhorn, but now bizarrely renamed the Alpine Glacier Mountain Paradise to its summit and then walked [and fell down] the summer ski piste until we arrived at the very comfortable Theodul Refugio where we spent the night. Next morning we left at about 7.00am and walked down the pistes towards Cervina. A more inauspicious start to our trip is hard to imagine. We were now below the summer skiing and Cervina without snow is not a pretty site. We arrived at the lowest cable car in Cervina- Plan Maison , turned right and started the 1345 meter ascent to the Carrel bivy, stopping en route by the frustratingly closed Abruzzi Refugio to fill our water bottles. [The Carrel bivy doesn't have a reliable water supply.]

I cannot get my head around the fact that this is only a bivy hut by the fact there is no guardian. It is easily busy enough to warrant one. Despite it being low season it was packed and because there was no guardian to police the place a sort of chaos ensued. It doesn't bare thinking about what it would be like in high season. [Oh yes I remember it was closed because the summer heatwave had precipitated huge rock fall.]

Inside the hut was quite miserable: It was freezing even though Charles Sherwood is looking so happy , in fact his teeth are chattering:

Soon after dinner our moral was "boosted" by the return of party of 3 who had spent 15 hours failing to get any where near the top. Still at least they returned...

Breakfast didn't come around fast enough . We were off at 5.00am. Immediately we were in a queue behind two parties. The first were so scarred of the overhanging combination of rope and chain that they freaked out and were passed by Charles and I and another Guide and his client. Fortunately I decided to tuck in behind this Guide and it was therefore he who took the rock on the helmet and not me. Despite being sick and very dizzy he promised he would be okay and so we forged ahead and immediately found ourselves alone.

The route is consistently steep and intimidating and strenuous. It is far more difficult than the Hornli. Dawn broke and we found ourselves on the distinctive flat section of the ridge before the final very steep tower. Progress along the flat bit was slower than anticipated because it is in fact full of notches that had to be negotiated by firstly climbing down into them and then back up again, while not actually making much useful progress. It was at one of these notches that we were caught up by a soloing American climber. Although he caught us up he was reluctant to pass us and wanted to become my 2nd client of the day. I rather view gaining another client half way up a route is rather like a ship taking on salvage. My solution was to avoid the discussion by dithering around ,fiddling in my rucksack and generally not moving till he got bored and decided he would be better off on his own.

More fixed ropes then an overhanging rope ladder then finally the summit slopes.

We arrived on the Italian summit at 10.30am and then traversed to the Swiss summit.

The descent of the Hornli ridge was snowy. However the snow was neve and it actually made it easier than when it is just rock. It also made route finding easier too. We arrived back at the Hornli Hut around 3.00pm stopped just enough time to say hello to fellow BMG Guides Rob Jarvis and Owen Jones who were planning to climb the Hornli ridge the following day.We wished them luck before heading down to the Hotel Schwarzsee where with beer in hand we collapsed.

The next morning we continued on down to Zermatt where we checked into the only appropriate hotel for such an adventure namely the Monte Rosa. The very same hotel Whymper had used when he was planning the first ascent of the Matterhorn exactly 150 years beforehand.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Finest mountain view in the Alps

Getting your boots and waterproofs on in the lashing rain in a car park is something John Young is far more use to than me. He lives in Fort William and climbs on the Ben. I don't any longer.

Nevertheless this is what we found ourselves doing getting ready to go up the "hill" in Gressoney. Our plan was to head to the wonderful Gneffetti hut. [ I only came down from it a couple of days before hand]
The forecast was good for the next few days and we would attempt to climb the south ridge of Pyramid Vincent.

Sure enough the next day was fabulous and we climbed the ridge staying judiciously behind a couple of French climbers who we let break trail for us through a not in significant amount of fresh snow.We weren't quite so clever as a fellow BMG Guide Phil Dowthwaite who then followed us up. But this allowed me to take this photo:

Once on the summit the soft snow was kind to our knees and we were back in Gressoney for lunch. After the obligatory cappuccino and pannini , we headed of on our second part of our plan: To climb the east ridge of Mt Viso.

We drove down and around Turin and while climbing up to the road head passed a brilliant little hotel called La Coletta. We swung in got two rooms and mellowed out. The next day we were treated to a magnificent view of Mt Viso with a ring of cloud around its foot[more of this later.]

We passed through the village of Crissolo and then headed up the seemingly endless and often vertiginous road to finally arrive at a car park [patrolled by a Gnome] at the road head at about 2000m.

The walk to the hut is about 2.40mins. It was soon that we entered the ring of cloud I mentioned earlier. We didn't think too much of it at first, in fact a bit of cloud was welcome to keep the sun off us. However as we got higher it got thicker and by the time we arrived at the very crowded and frankly not very pleasant Quintino Sella hut, you couldn't even see your hand in front of your face.

This was a real problem for us because it had been our intention to scope out the start of the east ridge the afternoon before the climb. The mist never cleared and so we decided to activate plan B and climb the voie normal both up and down.

We awoke at 4.00 am and were on our way at about 5.00am. It was still dark but he mist had completely disappeared , which was good. The climb is very very long. At first you go down hill and pass a lake before following a rising path which eventually hits a series of chains which are there to help you climb steep ground. After an hour and a half we arrived at a col. On the far side there is a steep unpleasant descent down some ruble where you surrender 140 m of height. You then follow [what the last time I was here about 15 years ago was a glacier] but now is rubble up to a very brightly coloured bivouac hut.

From the hut we tied the rope to us and moved together over some good but simple scrambling terrain arriving on the summit in a very respectable 4.20 hours.

There is no better view from the summit of Mt Viso. From its summit you can see the entire alpine arc. From the summit of every 4000m peak in the alps you can see Mt Viso. This is what makes it so famous.

In addition it you look south you can see the Mediterranean sea.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Finally Lloyd gets to see a view

In July 2014 Lloyd Donavan came out to join me work six days climbing. It was without doubt the worst week of weather I had ever known since I have been guiding. So this year Lloyd came out in August with the "promise" that it couldn't be as bad as the previous year.

Well the first 2 days he was here it never seemed to get light and it rained stair rods continuously. The only conclusion was that LLoyd was cursed.

Then there was an improvement in the weather and we decided to climb above La Flegere. Cursed again - while everywhere else it was a pleasant late summers day we some how managed to find ourselves in a sandwich of torrential rain. We made a pathetic attempt to climb the L'Index but after 2 pitches prudence took over and we retreated.
Once back in the valley we enjoyed an afternoon climbing above Averyon.
Then we decided to leave Chamonix and go some where else. Italy. Our plan was to head to Gressoney.

We headed up to the Gniffetti Hut in zero vis.

The next day was different. Lloyd got agoraphobia because this is the first time he had see anything in a long while.

We climbed the Vincent Pyramid , the Balenhorn Coro Nero before dropping back down to the hut for a second night.

Next day we set of up to the Margherrita Hut ticking of the Parrotspitze and the Zumsteinspitze .

The food and welcome in the hut was as good as ever and we got a stellar sun set looking down on the Matterhorn.

In the morning we also got an equally stellar sunrise from the toilet window this time looking down on the Italian Lakes and Milan.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Return of the Collins

tSome times there is s long interval before clients return. In the case of Peter Collins and his two daughters Alice and Lucy it was about 10'years.
But return they did. Well at least Alice and her Dad returned.

Lucy had some how contrived to fall over playing net ball and was sporting a strap on leg splint. Not the ideal way to restart your alpine climbing career.

So it is as left for Alice and her father to climb with me.

On our first day together we climbed the Petite Aiguille Verte. Even this early in the season conditions had deteriorated because of the extreme heat wave the Alps is currently enduring.

It was felt that with the snow next ice conditions being so sketchy the most appropriate thing was to go and climb on some solid rock high above La Flegere.

This coincided with a change in the weather and we found ourselves climbing enveloped in a big cold foggy cloud . I felt distinctly under-dressed. Later in the afternoon having climbed the Eperon Sublime we headed for some rock climbing at Les Gaillands. The sun came out and we ended up too hot! Never happy.

On our final day we climbed the famous Clocher Clochtons high above Plan Praz at Brevent. This is a fantastic route with all sorts of manoeuvres, rappelling, lowers , and of course the iconic tyroleant raverse which it is so famous for.. The weather was beautiful. Just as good as when Peter and I had climbed it last time 20 years ago

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Shooting Ibex

I was a mildly dissapointed that there wasn't room in the helicopter for me for the final flyover shoot. The doors had been taken off the Lama III, the camera man , Simon, had been clipped into a hard point on the helicopter and Alex the Producer had had his seat belt buckle duct taped closed.

I was anything but dissapointed when the Italian Pilot then produced two opinel knives and explained that "when we crash, sorry I meant to say IF we crash, it will be easier to cut the webbing than fumble with the buckle/carabiner."

My personal experience of Opinel knives is that they are difficult to open at the best of times. It would be hard to imagine what it would be like doing this in a helicopter rotor failure crash situation.

In addition ,I did ponder that it made a mockery of all the risk assessments , carefully prepared "Method Statements" which I had been involved in prior to leaving for the job.

They did take off and fly around for about 10 minutes before returning , re fitting the doors , collecting me and then we flew back to the Antrona football field where the adventure had started 6 days ago. It concluded a fascinating week in which I had been part of a 3 man team filming the Ibex which climb on the Cingino Dam.

The first issue was how to get all our kit into place using a helicopter , but without scaring the Ibex off the dam. [Apparently Japanese film crew had done just this: landed the helicopter at the dam and ended up scaring all the Ibex away with the net result of nothing to film all week but a dam.]

The solution was to fly up another valley and then enter our valley via a 2700 meter long miserable wet tunnel where wearing a helmet was [in my case especially,] a very good idea.

Meanwhile the helicopter would make another flight with our kit suspended underneath in a "Big Bag". The helicopter would not land but just drop the bag on the ground about a mile around the corner from the Dam

"All" we needed to was lug the stuff back to what would be our home for the week the Cingino Dam Engineers House.

This was fairly knackering . Mind you the plan worked because the Ibex didn't seem too bothered and they were on the dam for an afternoon of salt licking. [Salt licking is apparently why they go to such extremes of climbing the dam]

Next on the agenda was to rig the cable camera across the Dam. This was the reason I was here. The due diligence we had carried out a couple of weeks before meant that I had all the stuff to quickly rig the line.

The state of the art specialist Dactylcam camera was fixed on the line and everything was working.

We retired to our accommodation provided by the ENEL Energy company which owned the dam. We were to lodge with the two D engineers Matia and Jean-Luca. They were pretty laid back characters whose main job [as far as I could ascertain] was to check for leaks in the dam which took about an hour each day, watch sky sports , and lift heavy weights. They did however offer to cook for us- outstanding pasta dishes for breakfast lunch and dinner...

We quickly got into a routine. Simon the cameraman would rise before dawn and get himself established in his Hide which was pitched next to the dam wall in such away as it looked across the Dam.

I would check the anchors on the cable way were okay and then Alex the producer would go about running the cable cam. All was fine until there was a big puff of smoke out of the back of the camera sledge trolley. The thing seemingly gained a mind of its own and zoomed back and forth across the dam on its own volition. Several trans atlantic phone calls to the Geeks that built the thing only confirmed it was dead.

This was not good. We discussed all options and then came up with a solution. We stripped out all the batteries from the trolley,duct taped a couple of Go Pro camera's to the trolley and stuck it on the cable way and then rigged a sort of cable car mechanism where by we could winch the trolley by hand into the middle of the dam.

The shots were brilliant and the potential results breath-taking.

We returned to the foot ball field by helicopter and then five minutes later our kit was delivered back to the car in spectacular fashion.

The Power of Nature will be shown on BBC TV.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Highest Hut in the Alps - Best Hut in the Alps

Just spent a week climbing the peaks around and behind Monte Rosa with Chris Dovell and Lia Heisters. Our plan was to climb up to the Margherita Hut - the highest building in Europe at 4554 meters. It is best practice not to go straight there because if you do you are more or less guaranteed severe altitude sickness.

So we followed what is a tried and tested plan. The first day [with the significant help of the Punta Indren cable car] we walked up to the Mantova Hut 3400m

On the Tuesday it was blowing quite hard

So we put our heads down and headed to the top of the Balenhorn 4107m

before heading down to the Gniffetti Hut at 3625m. Thus following the acclimatisation mantra of "climb high sleep low."

I have started carrying an oximeter on these type of trips because it is a very good quick way of seeing how well people are acclimatissing . A normal reading at sea level would be between 97 and 100. Any reading of below 90 would get you admitted to A&E. You can see the need to be careful with your acclimatisation- The top reading is the pulse the bottom reading is the blood oxygen level on our fisrt night above 3500m

On Wednesday we headed up to the Margerherita Hut but not before knocking of the 10th highest mountain in the alps the Parrotspitze4432m

The position of the Margherita hut is really quite audacious

It may be the highest hut in the alps , but it also the most welcoming, has the best food, and it also has the fastest internet connection of anywhere I have ever been. This is provided free of charge via Turin University who do lots of research into high altitude medicine.

We had hoped to continue from the Margherita hut and climb the 2nd highest mountain in the alps the Dufourspitze 4634m, but there was not going to be possible because the route was plastered with snow and had not been made climb in a least 6 months.

So on the Thursday we contented ourselves with climbing the Zumsteinspitze 4563m, then the Ludroigshohe 4283m then the Coro Nero 4321m and finally Vincent Piramid 4215m. We then headed back down to the Gnifetti hut for the 2nd time where we were treated to excellent food and a very good evening.

We awoke on the Friday and enjoyed a leisurely stroll back to the lift Station , but not before dropping into the Mantova hut for a cappuccino.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Summer Alpine climbing Season 2015 kicks off

I was joined by Dee Anand for six days. Dee came out last year at pretty much the same time and we climbed Mt Blanc together. The only problem was we arrived on the summit in thick cloud. Well pretty much the same thing happened on this trip every time we arrived on a major summit we saw nothing.

On the Monday the weather forecast was indifferent for Chamonix. But just over in Switzerland it was much better . So we headed up to the Emosson Dam. Parked the car and jumped on a free shuttle bus which whisked us to the other side. [The bus was provided by the construction company who are repairing a leak in the dam wall!

We climbed the Aguille de Van which proved to be an ideal shake down day.

On the Tuesday we did the classic traverse of the Crochue .We did stay dry , but we saw nothing!

Dee had to take my word when I announced we were on the top.

Then on the wednesday believe it or not the sun came out! So we were all psyched to head up the Aguille du Midi. Yet when we turned up the whole world had the same idea and the Que was round the building. Plan B - through the Mt Blanc Tunnel and up the brand new lift at Helbronner. This proved to be a much better bet. The new lift is sensational. As the cable car goes up, it also spins around on its axis. The lift station is like a cross between a 5 star hotel reception/a cathedral. It is jaw dropping. We were able to do the complete traverse of the Aguille du Marbree.

Thursday - we now had a stellar forecast and so we headed round to the Grand Paradiso. We walked up to the Vittorio Emanuelle hut in an easy couple of hours.

Friday breakfast at 4.00 am . We were away soon after. Gradually we overtook all the other parties , not by going quickly but just by not stopping. Yet when we summitted once again the mist had socked in and Dee was once again deprived of a view.

Although we couldn't see much the conditions underfoot were excellent and we charged back down the snow to the hut in 2 hours.

On the Saturday we were a bit tired so we opted to go up to Plan Praz on the Brevent lift where did an excellent but very chilly rock climb .We climbed the Éperon de doite, on the Aiguille Charlanon.