Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Dreaded Eurotest.

Andrea complete with race suit. Photo professionally taken as she travels in excess of 80kph.


In mid December I was in Alps d'Huez where a big dump of snow had made for some very good conditions both on and off the Piste.  I was there to support my eldest daughter  Andrea ,through the dreaded Euro-Test.  This is the the race that everyone must pass if they want to become a fully qualified ski instructor working in Europe.

The Eurotest is a timed Giant-Slalom race that compares competitors against the best skiers in the world. Men are required to come in within 18% of their time and women 24%.

The race organisers appoint representatives called “openers” to set the time at each race. Each of these openers must have scored sub 50 FIS points and are selected from various countries.

Each opener is calibrated and given a coefficient, this is then used to compare them to the world’s best.

For example Andrea made her first attempt to pass it exactly a year ago. She has been skiing and racing since the age of four.  Last year  she came straight from    Val Thorens where she had just won the oldest ski race in the world the Varsity, but still missed the required pass time for the Euro-Test.

This year she decided to not ski for Cambridge University, but instead sign up for a weeks dedicated race training and preparation on the same slope which she would have to do the timed race.  She worked very hard all week, through some horrible weather and viscous winds.

I was concerned that the weather was going to be against her and the race might be cancelled.  The other thing that is completely out side the skiers control is the start number you are given.  A high start number will give you the best chance on the first run, but if you don't get the time on the first run then on the second run the order is reversed and you will end up racing down a rutted course which will make it much much more difficult.  The worst scenario is a middle order start number.

The night before the race, Andrea prepared all her equipment.  She had brought two pairs of identical skis with her.  One pair to train on and one specially prepared by her coach Elly for the race and were untouched.  The edges were frighteningly sharp.  I thought you could cut your self badly just by looking at them.

The alarm went  off at 6.30am.  Andrea ate her breakfast slowly knowing that although she was very nervous it was key to fuel up.  Next there was the fight to get into her her race Cat Suit.  She then left for the morning meeting where she had to register and get her Bib with her start number. She said you could smell the fear and cut the atmosphere with a knife.  So much resting on this race for so many budding careers.  Many people from everywhere , some who had been trying for years.

I stayed in the flat to clear up and wrestle all her equipment out of flat and into the car.  It never ceases to amaze me exactly how much equipment ski racers need.

Andrea texted me with her Bib number:  It was 4.  A great number but it meant she had to go for it on her 1st run.

The weather was good.  far better than had been predicted .

By the time I arrived at the bottom of the race Andrea had run the course and her time had been written on a big white-board.



The time looked good , but until there had been a lot of people down the course it was impossible to tell and adding to the stress, the pass time had not yet been calculated.

We hung around and as more people finished it was becoming clear that Andrea's time was good.


Eventually the pass time was announced .  Not only had Andrea had got the time , she was the fastest women down the course.

If you pass the first race , under the rules you don't have to  run the second race.  It was just a question of waiting for Andrea's friend Emie to run the second race as she had not managed on the first.  Fortunately Emie got the time on her second run, which was a relief not least because it would have been difficult driving them back to Chamonix with one having passed and one having failed.

Emie & Andrea with their prized certificates.

So it is now on to the next stage of the Ski Instructor programme, where they will learn about off piste skiing , navigation and avalanche awareness.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Rock Climbing Masterclass



In the weekend that spans the start of December and with snow on the ground in Chamonix I joined  a group of my colleagues from the British Mountain Guides in Finale Liguria for a Steve McClure Master Class.
Steve McClure is considered one of the top rock climbers in the world having climbed  sport routes of 9b.  Plus traditional graded British climbs of E11.  Equally important he has gained a reputation as a renowned climbing coach.

Yet I was more than slightly sceptical that as a confirmed Alpinist straight from the school of anything goes as long as it's up I might be out of my depth.

The mover and shaker and general all round motivator for the trip , Mike Turner [Twid] said I would be just fine, and would learn a lot and it would improve my climbing technique and make me better able to coach climbing movement at all levels of ability.

Four of us drove down to Finale on the Friday evening and as we got closer we started  getting very excited about the beer and pizza's we would soon be enjoying.  This was not without factoring in the collapse of the autostrada this time  just out side Savona.  We arrived three hours later than planned.

Friday night in the piazza.  about 30c below summer temperatures.


The next morning all 14 of us convened for an introductory talk from Steve  where he was keen to state that unfortunately there would be no "Silver Bullet" in terms of a short cut to higher climbing grades.  I was disappointed to learn this so early on.  Anyway we then all headed out to one of the many local crags Finale has to offer.
Steve Mcclure
The aim of the day was to watch us all climb and then to give feed back individually.  While this , for me, was quite intimidating it was also illuminating.  The key things for me was I climbed too quickly and appeared rushed- The aim should be to slow all the movements down, try and be  a lot smoother and enjoy the movement of climbing.

Cathy Murphy climbs into the sunshine.
We climbed to about 5.00pm forgetting that in November it gets dark at around 4.30pm.

On the Sunday the weather was not Mediterranean.  It was lashing it down.  So we had to do what you would do in the UK - head for the climbing wall.

In fact as it turned out this was the ideal place for Steve to deliver his seminar and drill down on a lot of the coaching techniques.

In the morning Steve devised several different boulder problems.  This was probably the most eye opening part of the whole programme.  The group of Mountain Guides had some very talented climbers, climbers who operate at the cutting edge of the sport.  Even the best could not do all the problems.  Steve could do all the problems in his training shoes...

The afternoon was dedicated to profiling and isolating our strengths and weaknesses in an objective quantifiable set of tests.

These started from simple  things like press ups, then tests for finger strength with on arm weighted hangs


Tests for shoulder strength

Tests for maximum endurance
Leg strength and flexibility
Plus a load of other tests such as weighted pull ups.  ie what is the maximum amount of weight you can carry while  completing  a pull-up?

This information was then used in a feed back form that identified if you want to improve your grade to say 7a then you need to work on XYZ.

So for me the tests revealed that although I was quite strong, in the sense I could carry bags of coal, I was comparatively "climbing weak" and I would have to work on climbing specific strength training starting with my finger strength. Plus a list of other stuff which was rather too long.

It was a fascinating couple of days . More information about Steve McClure coaching can be found on his website. steve-mcclure.com


Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Chestnuts Anyone?




Aiguille Dru .
This year the British Mountain Guides held their Annual General Meeting in Chamonix.  My good friend Alan Kimber, Britains longest serving active Guide attended too.  It was an opportunity to catch up and potentially enjoy a couple of days climbing together.

Alan was keen to go high in to the mountains, or find some valley based Ice Fall climbing.  Non of these options were available .  In November all the lifts and infrastructure is closed.  Neither was there any ice to climb.  We were sort of caught in the situation where it wasn't cold enough for ice climbs to form but it was too cold to rock climb but we thought we would give it a go anyway.
Alan Kimber on Tommy 6a+ Val d"Aosta

So we headed down the Aosta valley to climb the famous 15 pitch route Tommy.  Unsurprisingly we had the place to ourselves.  Getting to the foot of the route was difficult because the path had been covered by waist deep chestnut tree leaves which we had obliterated any clues to where the path might be.

Where ever there are chestnut trees  there are chestnuts and these acted like marbles under our feet.  The irony of a  potential  stupid accident involving two Mountain Guides was not lost on us.  The climb its self was fantastic. Granite slab climbing, nicely sustained [apart from the overhanging bit in the middle.] .

All was good a part from the black clouds that came rolling in.   In the summer they could be the sign of an impending rain storm.  In November they brought snow.  Not huge amounts , but still ...

We decided to bail. Several rappels put us back in the waist deep leaves.  As we slid and stumbled down the slopes we decided to "harvest" the chestnuts by stuffing them into our pockets,  After all the Christmas Markets charge an absolute fortune for them.  Back home in Chamonix we emptied our pockets in to a big bucket.

Jane , my wife had a brilliant simple recipe for them :


  • Cut the top and cross the bottoms of the Chestnuts.  Then put them in boiling water for about two minutes.  Then take them out and peel them.


  • Boil sprouts 


  • Fry bacon bits .


  • Then add the chestnuts and sprouts to the bacon and toss in the pan to let the flavours mix.

All washed down with a few bottles of rouge.

Bon Appetit .


Sunday, October 20, 2019

October? Is it the new August?

The Aiguille Dru .
Fabulous October weather coincided with Reuben and Antony arriving in Chamonix.  Antony reminded me he actually hadn't been rock climbing for 12 years and so we warmed up by climbing the Voie Princess above Les Bois.
On our second day we drove through the Mt Blanc tunnel, zoomed up the always impressive Sky Way cable car, enjoyed the obligatory cappuccino and climbed the Aiguille Marbre.

East ridge .
Father & Son on the summit of Aiguille Marbre
 On our third day we rock climbed at Les Cheserys .  Possibly the best mid altitude crag in the Chamonix Valley. Certainly it ticks all the boxes as  a wonderful destination in October. 
We climbed the mellow Voie Jaune.  This was all the time Antony could afford and he flew home in the evening.

On our fourth day, Reuben and I decided to return again to Les Cheserys because it had been so good, fabulous views amazing position and warm autumn sunshine which allowed us to climb the immaculate route the L'EMHM.

The view towards the former Le Tour and Argentiere  glaciers from Les Cheserys.





Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Rocky The Avalanche Dog.



Back in 1983  I was one of  the first people to be employed on the  “Night-Watchman” scheme at The Scottish National  Outdoor Training Centre- Glemore Lodge. 

Essentially the job was an opportunity to gain qualifications to become an outdoor instructor.  Over the last 35 years the scheme has evolved and been the launch pad for several other  British Mountain Guides.  The scheme has developed since then and it's now called the Instructor Development Scheme.

Nevertheless back then the job was quite basic. I was paid £10.00 per week, plus my board and lodging. In return for locking the Center up at night and being on call in the event of a center emergency, I could join most of the courses.  I was also expected to work two days a week with the maintenance team.  In effect I was at the bottom of the pecking order and given the worst jobs and was generally treated like Black Adder’s Baldrick.

One day in January there was to be a demonstration of how quickly dogs find people buried in avalanches. I was volunteered to be the victim. I was to be buried in the snow in a coffin like cave.  The dog would be set off and would come and find me.  [It is worth noting that still the fastest way, bar non, of being found quickly in an avalanche is with a trained dog.]

In essence it was all quite simple, apart from one major issue which was Rocky the giant Search and Rescue Alsatian.  Seemingly everyone at Glemore Lodge knew about Rocky except me.  The thing was Rocky had two jobs .  His principle job was breaking up fights in the "pint and a fight" bars of Aviemore.  In the 1980’s there were more fights than avalanches. Rocky was exceptionally good at his job. Equally scary was Rocky’s  handler Sergeant Jimmy Simpson a formidable Highland Constable.

As the day for the search demonstration approached people who already knew Rocky and Sergeant Simpson took delight in winding me up. Yes Rocky would find you but he might equally rip you to shreds.
As far as my preparation was concerned I had borrowed a giant green industrial chemical rubber suit  to protect my self from being savaged.  I had last used it when it had been my  my job to swim around the Glenmore Lodge’s septic tank sporadically performing duck-dives in a reckless  attempt to unblock it.  

The day arrived . Just before I headed out of the door, Marilyn [who worked in the kitchens] pressed a bag into my hand. “Sausages” she said with a knowing wink. It distinctly  felt like I was being led off for an imaginative North Korean Style execution.  We drove  up to the Cairngorm Ski area car park.  Not far away, Scotland's foremost expert on avalanches, Blyth Wright, had prepared a roughly 100m2 area to look like the aftermath of an avalanche.  My coffin had been dug just to  the middle of the area.

Sergeant Simpson duly turned up in his blue Ford Escort police van.  On the sides of the van were stenciled "Highland  Police Dog Unit."  The van throbbed and  rocked  as something very boisterous  bounced off the walls.  When Sergeant Simpson let Rocky out my worst fears were confirmed .  He was without doubt the most frightening thing I had ever seen.  Rocky immediately jumped up and put his paws on Sergeant  Simpson shoulders and gave him a big kiss.  They clearly loved each other.

I took the sausages and shoved them up the sleeve of my green suit. I was then led off to be buried. My cave was closed in and I was wished good luck by my sniggering “Mates.”

Silence.  I just lay there clutching  the sausages in my hand. Suddenly there was this big monster panting and spraying spittle in my face.  It did not appear to want to kiss me.  I rammed the sausages into its mouth and during the momentary distraction I made my escape.

I was quite pleased with myself. I had gotten  away without being eaten by Rocky. Sergeant Simpson on the other hand was not pleased with me, not pleased one bit.   Although wrapped up with lots of expletives the general gist of what he had to say  was that if I ever fed his dog sausages again , he would turn me into dog food.  [Reasonably the dog should not expect to receive rewards like that when he rescued real victims.]

It was several weeks later that I learnt that there was to be another dog avalanche search demonstration for a bunch of dignitaries.  Rocky was again to be the star and he was to try and find the same victim.  My argument was that it was not realistic for the dog to find the same victim [because the chances of the same dog finding  the same avalanche victim in a completely different avalanche  were remote] fell on deaf ears.

This time sergeant Simpson got out of his police van, took one look at me and said “ Just remember wee laddie…You will be “Pedigree Chum” if you play the same trick again.”

Having suspected as much, not only did I have my big green  chemical suit but I was also wearing 1980”s  Koflach indestructible plastic climbing boots with Berghaus red and blue Yeti Gaiters.  To top the outfit off I wore a full face motor bike helmet  complete with visor.

Everything pretty much went as before , until the point that Rocky found me .  This time he uncovered my boot first .  Maybe he was disappointed to not find sausages but he sank his teeth into my foot and then proceeded to pull me out of my cave and drag me down the hill side like a rag doll.  To my mind it took rather longer than necessary for the command  “Leave” and for Rocky to return to his Handler.

Epilogue.


Rocky and "Jimmy the dog Simpson" were famous throughout the Highlands . Not long after my dealings with Rocky there was the incredible story of Jimmy and Rocky out on a rescue when Rocky was blown over the Cornice on Corrie An’t Sneachda in the Cairngorms. He was blown off the plateau on the search for  two missing climbers. Rocky was located next day by Jimmy after a terrible night on the hill, outwardly unharmed but covered in ice. However Rocky had been traumatized and he never worked as an attack dog again and by all accounts became quite docile and never again ate anyone he saved.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Autumnal ascent of Italy's highest mountain the Grand Paradiso.4061 meters.





Always a trick question but the highest mountain entirely in Italy is the Grand Pardiso.  Just like the Aiguille Verte is the highest mountain in France .  Both Mt Blanc and the Dufourspitz share their boarders with other countries.

Anyway the goal was to try and climb the Grande Paradiso in the Autum.  Meaning after the refugio had closed for the season...

The trip was organised by Rob Jarvis a fellow BMG Guide who runs a Company called High Mountain Guides.  We had six very enthusiastic clients with us. Malene from Norway,Isabella from Poland, Rodrigo from Spain, Nick from Yorkshire and Ryan and Alan from England.

In order to give them some acclimatisation and some training we spent the night in the Refugio Torino, [which was still open.]

On our first day we went on a glacier hike to the col d'Entreves.

La Vallee Blanche
On the second morning it was very cold and windy, but we found a protected scoop in where we could run a detailed session on crampon technique,  which would latter  prove to be of the upmost importance.

It was then down the Sky-Way cable car from where we drove around to the road-head for the Grand Paradiso , but not before stopping for a spot of lunch.

We all walked up to the Refugio Chabod or rather the winter refugio.  We were the only guests.
 The view from the door was exceptional straight on to the north face of the Grand Paradiso


Dinner was a simple affair of dehydrated something or other.  Not actually sure what mine was. Still the candles made it all very atmospheric.
Candlelight Dinner
Chamonix Crevasse rescue training
Big holes as dawn breaks
Breakfast was at around 4.30hrs and we were away by about 5.30hrs.  At this time of year there is a lot more walking in the dark.  When it did eventually become light we found ourselves in quite a situation as we had ascended up through some complicated glaciers.
Above these big holes the glacier mellows out a bit to where the route  joins the route coming up fron the Vittorio Emanelle Refugio.  Here we stopped to put on some more clothes before the route steepens up considerably.  In the conditions we found the slope it was hard water ice in the track.  Higher up the ladders across the bergschund had been somewhat un helpfully removed the day before by the local Guides.  Instead  the previous days new ice climbing skills had to be employed in order to get on to the final rocky summit ridge.



The Madonna awaits on the summit


Then the long return in the beautiful autumn afternoon.


Nick Chambers makes his way down to the Refugio Chabod



Thursday, September 26, 2019

"Une Sortie Scolaire."


 Rocio Mountain Guide & Teacher prepares the top rope for the" ice climbing" session.
There are several schools based around the Lac Leman Arc which follow the British Independent Senior School system. [Public School] They all have tremendous outdoor programs for their children.  So much so that they employ Mountain Guides to run incredible mountain adventures.

Along with  four other Mountain Guides;  two Swiss Guides Bertrand and Christian  and my friend and fellow British Mountain Guide Jonny Baird  I was employed by L'Ecole Beau Soleil  to climb the Wildstrubel Mountain in the Bernese Oberland.  We also had in overall charge of us all Rocio Siemens who  is a Mountain Guide and teacher permanently employed by the school . Between us we were responsible for 18 children all roughly 16 and 17 years old.

We drove around to Leukerbad and took the cable car.  From there we walked in to the Lammeren Hutte.  In the afternoon we checked all the equipment and the children got the chance to test their crampons on the specially erected "ice climbing"  poles.

The next morning breakfast was at 6.00am.  The issue was that the weather was not being co- operative and it was evident that plan A - The Wildstrubel was no longer a sensible option.  We changed plan and made the Steghorn our objective.  Everyone set off at about 7.30 am and progress was steady.  Even when we got to the exposed scrambling where we split into climbing teams every thing passed off smoothly.
rocky scramble on the Steghorn.
The weather was quite windy. We all stopped for a bite to eat huddled behind a rock.  Next we moved onto the glacier and put on our crampons.  I suppose inevitably not everyone continued to be happy.  One of the group was struggling and so it was decided that they should descend with me. So we returned down the mountain  while the rest of the team climbed the Steghorn. After which everyone was reunited at the Hutte and after some food we all returned to the cable car station and descended back to the valley.


Screen shot of the map of the area . Red lines are ski touring routes.




Friday, September 20, 2019

The finest Granite climb in Europe?




The spectacular Dos d'Elephant
There is never much point trying to crow-bar a particular wish to climb an alpine route into an unfavorable conditions and a mixed weather forecast.  That is to say ,work with what you have.
Not for the first time, this is what happened to Charles Sherwood and myself.  All the routes we had outlined as possible goals, were either falling down [Walker Spur] Unapproachable because the glaciers were all tortured [Traverse des Drus] Or were ridge climbs covered in too much unconsolidated snow. [East ridge of D'Herens]

The later route  being a possibility, if, there was a stretch of good weather and the snow  burnt off with the sun, but at least in the short term that looked unlikely.  So we decided to head south for a few days to find some better weather.

We left Chamonix,  in the rain and headed for Orpierre where the weather was good.  We had a mix of sport climbing and climbed the classic La Diedre Sud on the  Quiquillion crag.
Orpierre in the afternoon sunlight
La Diedre Sud   Quiquillion crag.

 We reviewed the weather forecast, decided that there was no great improvement in the alps and headed further south.  Cassis and the Calanques.

L'arete de Marseille


We climbed the sensational L'arete de Marseille, on the Grande Candelle . although it is supposedly only 5 pitches long, the shear aura of the route and the fact that every pitch is uniquely special without doubt makes it a world class rock climb in a beautiful position made even more special by the fact we were all alone.
Start of the 2nd pitch .
Les Calanques


We then reviewed the weather forecast and this led us to go even further south: Corsica.  The beauty of the trip is that you board the ferry at 7.00 pm enjoy a perfectly competent dinner, go to bed and disembark at 7.00am the next morning .

Leaving Marseille looking towards Le Grande Candelle
 We were on the crag climbing at 9.00am, this time complaining about being too hot!  There was some good single pitch rock climbing on rough grippy granite followed by a swim in one of Corsica's idyllic canyon streams.
Great spot for a post climb swim.


Our goal for our Corscian trip was to sample some of its classic rock climbs .  We identified two very different style of routes, both in the Bavella region.  This meant getting in to position which meant undertaking a magnificent and  hair raising three hour drive,  [as the crow fly's about 15 km.]  We stayed in the beautiful village of Zonza which was below our objective for the next day.

L' Arete de Zonza. This was a  classic route in every sense of the word.  Not just was it "classic" in the sense it was beautiful, it was also classically  traditional in the sense there was very little fixed protection and route finding was demanding if not ultimately rewarding.
Searching for the rappel anchor with the Mediterranean in the back ground. 


The second route trumped the lot.  It soaks up superlatives like none other.  The Dos d'Elephant is the most sought after rock climb in Corsica, often described as the finest granite rock climb in France , if not Europe. This is no small claim and we thought we should see if it was true .  It is a giant slab climb on featureless rock with minimal protection.  When it was first climbed about 20 years ago the bolts were placed on the lead and not many bolts were placed. it must have been mind boggling serious.  Since then it has been retro bolted, but it is still very scary. Where it isn't so scary it is instead just very hard.  Added to which the On-line posts has helpful information like "you must be very comfortable climbing at the grade 6b+ " and you need to have new rubber on your climbing shoes" neither of which we completely qualified for.

Nevertheless the next morning after a viscous steep ascent  we had located the bottom of the route.  Some achievement in its own right. [Subsequently learnt that many of my friends had failed to locate the route!] Charles was keen to stamp his name on the climb too and wanted to lead some of the pitches.  I lead off on the first pitch.  By the time Charles reached the stance his enthusiasm to lead through had waned a little.  But always a man to stand by his word he launched himself at the second pitch with what looked like  impressive commitment, although later he admitted he wasn't quite so committed.  The third pitch was the technical crux pitch after which the rest of the climbs cruxes were in the head- long featureless slabby pitches with a bolt about  every 20 meters- so potential 40 meter screamers...

Head games .


The incredible slab pitches



 We were both delighted to have been able to climb this route.  We rappelled back down the line of climb and eventually rewarded  our selves with a plunge in the canyon at the bottom.

After our final night in Zonza we explored one of the sea cliffs called  Barbicaghja outside Ajeccio while waiting for the night boat back to Marseille.

Sea side cragging.









Friday, September 06, 2019

Weisshorn 4506meters. A dream fullfilled.

It took a long time.  It was now four years since David Brooksbank emailed me asking me whether he could climb the Weisshorn after a 40 year hiatus.  David climbed the Matterhorn with Ulrich Inderbinen in 1975.  Ulrich was born in 1900.  He worked as a Guide until he was 96. Ulrich is quite an act to follow.  The Weisshorn is sometimes referred to as the "thinking mans" Matterhorn. In many ways it is just as spectacular and a lot harder- a rather more sophisticated climbing goal than its rather Chavy neigbour.  I have even heard the Matterhorn described as a sort of pimped up Ford Escort to a Ferrari but maybe that's a bit of extreme.

I agreed to try to climb the mountain with David and it was clear from the very first steps he would be more than capable.  The trouble was always the weather.  On our first year together it snowed and we went nowhere near the Weisshorn but instead climbed a lot of mixed of alpine routes all over the alps.  The next year it snowed again and we just left and headed for the Dolomites where we had some fantastic climbing.  Last year we did actually get as far as the Weisshorn Hut to find ourselves to be the sole occupants.  This was because it snowed again obliterating our attempt which ended in knee deep snow.

So to 2019.  We were to try again.  Our strategy was to climb a preparatory route that was not only "interesting" but would  provide valuable acclimatisation.  We would then have an easier day so that we did not get too tired before the ascent.  In essence 3 days warm up and 3 days for the ascent and descent of the Weisshorn.  After all, the vertical ascent of the Weisshorn is greater than from Everest base camp to its summit.

We climbed the Arete de Saille on the Grand Muveran.


The arete.
 We stayed in the Cabane de Rambert.  We both agreed that if you wanted the perfect quintessential hut experience then this was it.  A quiet hut with just a few people , a good food and then a spectacular climb with no one else on it.

Crux Pitch.
On our third day we ventured into the Vallee Blanche in order to maintain the acclimatisation and to make sure all the ice related kit was working.  We climbed Point Lachenal.


The plan was going fine, then the weather played its part again.  We were forced to re book our night in the Weisshorn Hut and delay a day.  We went rock climbing above Brevent- that was  hardly a sob story.

The next day we drove around to Randa and made the long walk up to the Weisshorn Hut.  Meanwhile the weather forecast had changed again.  Our proposed summit day, the next day, was now showing a poor forecast. The other teams bailed. We found ourselves [once again] the only occupants of the Hut.  After a "Council of War"  David and I decided to sit it out at the Hut because the next few days promised stellar weather.  This had pro's and cons.  The main pro was that we would gain valuable acclimatisation and rest .  The cons were that David would have to change his flights and I would be climbing the Weisshorn on my 25th wedding anniversary. Dinner needed to be cancelled.

Our enforced rest day involved sitting around in the fog and the drizzle.  Then the water supply dried up.  Then the beer supply dried up.  The beer supply was bravely sorted by the arrival of a helicopter slaloming through a break in the clouds.

Fixing the Hut water supply was arguably marginally more important than the beer supply as no water would mean no food.  The way to fix the water supply was to hike up to the glacier and re plum the pipe into the glacier.  This is how I spent my afternoon.  I walked up the path behind the hut armed with a long wooden ice axe, not really knowing what to expect.  I followed the pipe to its end where I found it sticking up in the air.  It was an easy fix to dig a hole in the glacier and reposition the pipe so that the glacier stream could flow in to the end of the pipe.

I was not sure how successful this had been until I arrived back at the hut, but I guessed by the hugs and kisses I received from Jacqueline the Hut Guardian I'd fixed it.

There were a couple more moral boosting teams who arrived in the afternoon.  A local Swiss Guide and his client , plus a Polish Guide and a Ukrainian Aspirant Guide, the later was apparently being assessed for his Guides badge by the former.  How this was going to work was beyond me, because neither of them could speak each others language and the only mutual language they had was English, of which neither of them [as far as I ascertained] could speak that very well either.
Anyway three parties in total.

The alarm went off at 2.00am.  We were away just before 3.00am.  All the stars were out.  Not a breath of wind.  Was this to be our day?  Progress was smooth, steady and incident free.  We made it to the "Breakfast stop"  a place on the climb where we join the the true east ridge.

 The rock on the ridge now becomes solid and the climbing straightforward but  airy.  Firstly over the Lochmatter Tower and then over and around several other towers, before the rock ridge turns to a snow ridge.  Or in our case an icy snowy  ridge.

 The other parties elected to pitch climb the icy sections.  We choose to climb moving together.  We were able to do this because in the four years we had been climbing together I knew David would be just fine.  Inevitably by not pitching the climb we arrived on the summit first followed very closely by the Polish/Ukrainian team.

Summit with the Matterhorn in the background

There was now the issue of getting back down.  Maximum concentration is needed at every step.  The icy ridge was a bit softer on the way back which helped the crampons bite well.  But every step potentially could be your last.  The rocky ridge went well and I lowered David down off the towers then rappelled my self.  The big pain was the ground below the Breakfast Stop.  In the dark we had not appreciated what a pile of rubble it was.  And a constantly moving pile.  It was difficult to find the best path because there were so many false trails, it was uncomfortably hot and we were tired.  Eventually after stopping for a swim in a glacier pool we arrived back at the Hut after about 15 hours.  Too tired to contemplate the walk back to the valley we elected to stay the night.  My status as the Huts favorite Guide was still intact and we were treated to beer and an extra special private bedroom.
After a leisurely breakfast, good bye hugs from Jacqueline we departed for the valley.  We had finally made it.

Jacqueline waives us goodbye.