Sunday, June 30, 2024

An Introduction to Alpine Mountaineering.

This is an account of how you can be productive and make huge progressions in mountaineering skills while naviagting some pretty miserable weather.

First time on crampons.

It was Kate and Zak's aim to gain as many alpine mountaineering skills as possible in a five day period.

On our first day we headed up to the Mer de Glace for a traditional "Ecole de Glace."  We went through all the essential skills of how to use crampons properly [ Its not intuitive] The use of the axe in its basic form all the way through to using an axe and a hammer for steep ice climbing. This day is incredibly useful because it is possible to learn so many fundamnetal skills- skills that are mission critical for all future mountaineering adventures.  All was good apart from the rain  which got heavier and heavier as the day progressed.  

The next day I was awoken by the clap of thunder and then heavy rain.  We decided to postpone the day.  As it turned out this was a good descision as else where in the alps, like Zermatt, there was major flooding and the town was cut off.

The day after was marginally better, so we decided to give it a go.  We headed up to La Flegere. Where as the first day, was all about ice, the aim of this day was all about how to deal with alpine rock climbing, while moving as efficiently and safely as possible [Speed is safety is often the said alpine mantra] 

Katie & Zak near the summit of Aiguille du Crochue.

 It seemed that we were the only people with this idea... Yet we made a traverse of the Aiguille Crochue [albeit in the mist] Nevertheless as we reached the summit the clouds parted and we were treated to stunning atmospheric views which made for some dramatic photographs. 

The mist clears !

Our timing proved to be impeccable, because just as we finished the difficulties, there was a giant clap of thunder and the heavens opened.  We trudged down the snow to Lac Blanc, before picking up the path back to La Flegere cable car station, which couldn't arrive soon enough.  We were soaked .

On our third day we awoke to more mist and a grey blanket of fog.  However the forecast was good above 3000meters, so we headed through the Mont Blanc tunnel and too the Sky way lift up into beautiful clear weather - at last.

The 'eggs' suspended above the mist in the Vallee Blanche.

The upside of all the bad weather meant that it had snowed which made everything look pristine.  Plus there were many routes which were in condition because they were still covered in snow, where as in previous years all the snow had gone, just leaving piles of unconsolidated rubble. 

summit ridge of aiguille du Toule

The summit

We traversed the Aiguille du Toule by climbing the west facing slope and descending the "voie normal."  The climb was in really good condition and gave us more of a chance to consolidate the skills of the previous two days.

On our fourth day, the weather was actually good.  We decided to go rock climbing.  More specifically multi pitch climbing followed by several linked abseils [rappells] to get back to the foot of the climb.  We did this by following the Tour du Mont Blanc path up towards Les Cheserys high above Argentiere. 

A big but well camouflaged Ibex

 It is hard to imagine a finer backdrop for a rock climb.

On our final day, we were once again comfronted by an indifferent forecast.  Heavy rain, wind and thunderstorms forecast for the afternoon.  We needed a good climb with fast access, lots of interesting challenges , beautiful views and solitude. 

Tricky snow traverse

 There is no climb better than the south ridge of Les Glieres above La Flegere.  It has everthing all neatly packaged into a good climb.

Katie - with Chamonix and Mt Blanc in the background.

So all in all with the contiuning mixed weather we had a productive and enjoyable time together.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

"Mayvember" The mountaineering season starts.


The north face of Aiguille de la Floria

Stuart Carder joined me for five days climbing with a list of goals.   The Forbes Arete on the Chardonet being the number one plan.  Yet even before he arrived the preceeding weather had already written this off.

The weather in the alps has been cold and wet for weeks, with never more that two consecutive days of good weather.  So we had to come up with a few new ideas. Below is what happened:

On our first day climbing together we took advantage of the large volume of snow and were able to climb the rarely in condition north face of La Floria high above La Flegere.  The route was in good condition because it was cold.  The climb to the top was interseting and enjoyable.  Yet we arrived on the summit to be engulfed in thick cloud.  Our goal was to traverse the mountain and descend down the south ridge.  This requires some tricky route finding.  It is even more difficult when you can't see your hand in front of your face.

Stuart arriving at Col Crochue

Looking back down the face to Col Crochue

Needless to say we made it back down and had a great day climbing completely on our own.

The forecast for the next day suggested that it was going to be the best weather day of the five days .
I picked Stuart up from his hotel at 7.00am and we drove through the Mt Blanc tunnel and took the first lift of the morning on the skyway cable car.  We were not alone...
The cable car punched through the clouds and we arrived in the Vallee Blanche to a beautiful cold clear scene. 
La Vallee Blanche

 Again our plan was to use the unusual conditions to our advantage and head for the Tour Ronde.  This is a mountain which requires it to be cold and have plenty of snow inorder to glue all the rocks in place.

All was looking good, but on closer inspection the conditions looked suspect.  We decided to play it safe and not proceed.  Our default plan was to traverse the Aiguille Entreves, but to our horror when we looked at the ridge, it was mobbed.  Neither of us wanted to suffer that experience.

Crowds on Entreves

Fourtuantly there was a third option; again a route that is rarely in condition, but again with the strange weather we found  the climb  in excellnet condition:  The traverse of Aguille du Toule via its north face.  Admittedly it is not the longest route, but what it lacks in stature it makes up for in aesthetic's-Good safe climbing, beautiful views and the summit to ourselves while we munched our sandwiches.  

Aiguille du Toules,Dent du GĂ©ant to its left.

So that was the end of the good weather.  The next day it was grey, windy and raining.  We drove up to the Emosson Dam and headed out in the rain and battled our way to the summit of Le Bel Oiseau.
The final hour involved postholing through deep snow.  It had a Welsh or Scottish wibe, but nothing alpine.
Mind you it gave us a sense of satisfaction to have actually gone out and climbed a summit.
A wet car park Emosson Dam

Looking towards Lac Emossom

Yet the forecast for the next day was even worse.  Heavy snow above 3000 meters- driving rain lower down and in the valley.  We decided to bin the next day and reconvene the day after when there was due to be a considerable improvement in the weather.  
It was at this time that I had a eurica moment; If we have all this cold snowy weather, then lets not fight against it, but rather go with it.  Lets go ski mountaineering?  Stuart was a little sceptical at first, but it wasn't long before he bought into the idea.

Sunday was the polar opposite to Saturday weather wise.  Stuart and I drove around to the Col du Grand St Bernard where we were greeted by wonderful spring snow skiing conditions.  So much so that were not the only ones to have this brilliant idea of going skiing.  Most of the ski touring population of Italy had the same plan.  Due to the fact that the road had been only recently opened [by cutting huge swathes through the snow,] there was no where to park the car.  Eventually we had no option to park somewhere we didn't want to and walk down the road to the start of the skinning.
The road approach 

We climbed Mt Fourchon, where the surrounding views did not disappoint.  Plus the ski descent was excellent.
Stuart on summit of mt Fourchon

Les Grands Jorrasse& Mt Blanc to its left.

We finished the day with a Shandy on the terrace out side the wonderful Hotel Italia where only five weeks ago the hotel had been burried under 4 meters of snow.

On our final day together we decided to continue the skiing theme and head round to Glacier 3000 high above Les Diablerts.  Stuart and I were the only mountaineers in the cable car.  The rest were Indians dressed in ill fitting Gucci clobber.  Each and everyone of them looked ridiculous- no doubt these thoughts were reciprocal...
Anyway we headed of into the wilderness and they headed for the gift shop.  From the momment we left the top station  we didn't see anyone.  It was a wonderful experince to reach the summit of Les Diablerts where we could seemingly, almost, touch lake Geneva, then turn our backs and see the whole moutain range of Les Valais including the Matterhorn , Dent Blanche and the Grande Combin.
Stuart leaving the top cable car station

I forgot to mention there is a rockclimbing section!

The summit of Les Diablertets with Lac Leman in the background.

After our sandwiches we had a mellow ski down, followed by the reversing of the rocky ridge
Stuart battling steep soggy snow.

Followed by another ski down into the summer ski area [ closed] finishing with a climb back up to the lift station.