Thursday, 30 October 2014

Aiguilles Rouges Binge

This is a fantastic time of year to be climbing up in the Aiguilles Rouges so I've been making the most of Chamonix's Indian summer and getting some climbing in. First up was a couple of days messing around on the Aiguillette d'Argentiere, which is always fun. As well as firing up the normal routes, I also went and checked out the harder lines on the pinnacle and they were superb.

Stunning autumn views from the Aiguillette.

At the weekend Sharon and I fancied a multi pitch route and decided on "Cocher - Cochons", above Planpraz. I'd done the route a couple of years back and the climbing was just as brilliant as I remember. That final pitch up the arete is something else...

Sharon on the final pitch of Cocher Cochon. 

Looking across at a climber who had just finished a neighbouring route, with the Berard Valley visible behind. 

Today I had a half day free and having come down with a cold earlier in the week I wasn't too bothered what I did, provided I got out in the fresh air. In the end I decided to go and have a solo mission on Mic et Maousse, a short 5a rock route near the top the Brevent which I did last autumn.  I coughed my guts up on the walk in but I was glad I made the effort because soloing easy rock with no-one in sight was blissful. 

Easy, fun and occasionally exposed climbing on Mic et Maousse. 

I'm now off back to UK for a combination of work and play and by the time I get back, the Montenvers train will be only the lift open in the Valley and town will be empty. Winter beckons!

Monday, 20 October 2014

Les Chercheurs d'Or, Berard Valley

The Chamonix Valley looks as stunning as I've ever seen it right now so I was really keen to get out and have a big day in the hills this weekend. There was talk of going somewhere up high but given the amount of snow that has fallen above 2500m, I think routes at altitude might have to wait. Eventually I found a route that looked to provide the ideal combination of a big day, a good summit and some fun climbing - "Les Chercheurs d'Or" in the Berard Valley, which finishes on the summit of Mont Oreb. Peter, Tristan and Tom were all keen so at the very least it was going to be sociable because we'd be climbing in 2 pairs.

With such short hours of daylight at this time of year we had to get up early and we were walking in by headtorch at 6.30 in order to start climbing by 8. Given that Peter had his ankle completely reconstructed less than 4 months ago, Tom has arthritic toes, Tristan's back is best described as "fragile" and that my hip is buggered and my back and shoulder aren't too flash either, we weren't expecting to set any speed records and needed all the daylight we could get!

At the foot of the route, with me being laughed at for bringing such a small water bottle. 
Photo Peter Riley.

 The lower buttress is fun enough but fairly sparsely bolted and we quickly realised that although it is referred to as "partially equipped" in the guidebook written by Michel Piola, the first ascensionist of the route, this is very much a trad climb with bolted belays. There is the odd bolt here and there but be ready to protect virtually the whole thing with nuts and cams.

Peter on the first pitch of the second buttress. To the right of Peter here is the "Chercheurs d'Or" bivouac where Michel Piola stayed whilst doing the first ascent of the route. Peter got a giggle from everyone when he suggested that, having seen how sparingly bolted the lower section of the route was, we should leave Michel "a new f**king battery for that drill of his". In all seriousness, Peter and I have had some of our best days climbing on Michel Piola routes ("Le Soleil Rendez-Vous avec la Lune"being the obvious highlight) and he has probably done more high quality new routes than anyone else I know of so he can do what he wants as far as we're concerned! 

Tom leading the same pitch.

The second buttress is by far the best of the 3, with some classic pitches in amazing positions, then after that there is a bit of a walk up to the third and final buttress.

Looking up to the third buttress which follows the solid rock just to the left of the deep, shaded gully.

Tom, me and Peter sorting the kit out above the second buttress. Photo Tristan Wise.

Peter belaying below the last tricky pitch.

Peter and me just below the summit. Photo Tristan Wise.

Tristan, Peter and Magnum on top of Mont Oreb.

The third buttress is basically not that great, with the odd pitch thrown in amongst lots of grassy scrambling. Luckily it all leads to a fantastic summit which looked even better than I had hoped because of the fantastic autumn colours. 

With hindsight we should really have done slightly more research into how to get off the peak...

We vaguely knew that if we nipped over a col near Mont Buet then walked a bit we'd hit the Buet path but it turned out not to be quite so simple and it took some fairly tricky route finding to eventually get us onto the path and the refuge, which we reached just as darkness fell. Still, the views were nice.

Photo Peter Riley.

All in all, I got my long day and what a fantastic one it was. The climbing on the route isn't really that great on the whole but the overall experience and the ambience are unbeatable. Thanks Tristan, Tom and Peter for an amazing trip.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Vent du Dragon & German Gully

The sun is still shining here and it almost feels as if summer is starting rather than coming to an end. The best part is that town and the mountains are quiet and the trees are turning orange, making the Valley look stunning. 

I decided to make the most of the good weather and continue the resurrection of my mixed climbing career, which has stalled (died?) over the past couple of years. First up was the German gully on the Tacul Triangle with Charley Radcliffe.  The first 2 pitches were great fun and a little thin in places, making for some good climbing but nothing too stressful. The ice ran out after 2 pitches so we abbed down, had lunch and then did a random pitch just to the right of our route just to get a bit more climbing in. Conditions are great on the Triangle right now and "Inadvertance" looked particularly good so I think I'll be back soon. Overall, a great day and the slog back to the Midi didn't feel quite as bad as it did a few weeks back, which was a pleasant surprise. 

Me leading the first pitch of the German Gully. Photo Charley Radcliffe.

Charley arriving at the first belay. I managed not to get any other shots so you'll have to take my word for it that Charley's pitch was good too.

Sunday saw Tom Moores and I up at the Midi again, this time heading for "Vent du Dragon" on the NW face. The abseil off the Midi bridge never seems to get any less intimidating even though I've done it half a dozen times...

Tom heading down to join me under the bridge.

Once under the bridge, 4 more abs took us to the foot of the route. 

The Cunningham couloir is so atmospheric that it's hard to believe we were drinking coffee in the Valley little more than an hour before I took this!

The route itself is just brilliant but the quality of the line was unfortunately not matched by my performance on the crux, which I managed after a pretty undignified thrutch and much grunting! I was pretty rubbish at mixed climbing to start with and a couple of years not doing much hasn't helped...

Luckily I was armed with "Mixed Master Moores" who pretended to find it tricky but basically cruised everything. Of the 3 best known routes on the face (The Burnier-Vogler, which I did in the pre-blog days, and the Profit-Perroux), this is by far the toughest and the best. Conditions are excellent and the Profit looked super fat so I think these routes are going to be pretty popular for the next month and rightly so.

 Tom about to join me on a belay.

Brilliant climbing on the final "proper" pitch.

I heard a BASE jumper fly past me when I was on the final section of the route and we spotted his mate about to jump when we were standing on the last belay. I got this shot and it made me realise 2 things - I wish I had a camera that could take more than 10 shots in a single burst, and that I NEVER want to do a BASE jump!

The weather is looking a bit more unsettled and autumnal over the coming week but there's still potential for a bit of sun here and there. I'll be trying to get out so stay tuned.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Perroux Gully, Triangle du Tacul

It's been a long time coming but maybe, just maybe, summer is here...

I had a wonderful couple of days last weekend in Annecy, doing some jumping in the lake, cragging and via ferrata and then headed back to Cham and snuck in a quick hit of mixed climbing on the Triangle du Tacul - not a bad few days all told!

Conditions on the Triangle are superb right now and the Chere couloir looks as fat as I've ever seen it. The Contamine-Mazeud and Contaminte-Grisolle were both tracked and looked good and the German gully looks pretty much formed. Elsewhere, the rock routes on the Midi south face and Eperon des Cosmiques are bone dry and, unusually, had nobody on them.

Our route (the Perroux gully, right next to the Chere couloir) was fantastic and we did 3 contrasting and really enjoyable pitches. The final bit just before you traverse into the Chere was formed but only just and with neither of us having climbed much recently we didn't really fancy a thin and probably quite scary lead so we abbed down and hoofed back to the Midi. Conditions should only improve so I think Tom and I will be back to the Triangle soon to finish off the Perroux when it fattens up and also to have a look at the German gully. 

Here are a few shots from the last few days - 

Sharon on the Col de la Colombiere via ferrata.

Tom Moores showing off at Lake Annecy, with me and Sophie looking on (in awe?). He landed it by the way.

Tom, 24 hours later on some high quality mixed ground. You've got to love Chamonix life.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Rebuffat Gully, Tour Ronde & Aiguille de Toule

Charley Radcliffe and I had heard good reports about conditions in the Rebuffat gully on the Tour Ronde and so headed up for some mixed climbing. The walk in was fast and the route looked good at first but as we got right underneath it, we saw that the first ice pitch had completely fallen off, leaving a wet, black streak instead. 

I figured that it might be possible to get around it but a pitch of horrible, chossy rock and rotten snow convinced me that we were a week late for the route. Ironically, there is good ice on many routes across the Massif but we managed not to find it! 

On the way back to the Helbronner we decided to nip up the Aiguille de Toule so we soloed up the north face and then down the west face, which made for a fun couple of hours.

Charley on the Toule north face.

After such a wet summer, conditions are getting really good up high and this could be a brilliant mixed climbing season. I haven't done much mixed over the past few years but I'm feeling super keen right now so hopefully we'll get a sunny, cold autumn.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Aiguille du Peigne Ordinary Route

The weather has taken a turn for the better here in Cham but Sunday still looked pretty unsettled so Tom Moores and I were unsure what to go for. There were added complications from the fact that my recently repaired shoulder is still pretty delicate and Tom can barely get his damaged toe into a rockboot. All in all, it didn't add up to us looking for something hard.

The Aiguille du Peigne fit the bill because it would mean we'd be able to move fast over lots of terrain and get a great summit without too much commitment or stress. That's not to say it was easy though because neither of us had had much sleep the night before (me due to work commitments, Tom due to dinner-at-Munchies reasons) or had done any exercise for a week. Suffice to say that the walk in felt tough...

"Magnum" Moores showing off his rack in the approach gully.

PGHM doing their thing on the Frendo Spur.

Amazing views of the Midi N Face.

The route went smoothly enough and we soloed/moved together up rock of varying quality to reach the Col du Peigne. The outlook from here is so good that we decided on a leisurely lunch just above the Col, with stunning views of the Blaitiere and Fou.

Tom approaching our lunch spot.

Above the Col there are 2 pitches which we did in rock boots and which took us onto the spectacular Peigne summit ridge. With hindsight, the pitches wouldn't have felt that different in mountain boots but rockboots definitely sped things up. The final summit ridge is mind blowingly exposed but the climbing is easy enough that you can take it all in without too much stress.

Tom about to join me on the summit ridge.

The final summit ridge, which is surely one of the best and most exposed ridges in the Alps.

A Brocken Spectre from near the summit. I'd never seen one of these before so I was chuffed to bits.

Tom on the final section to the summit.

Tom on the crux move of the route - the squirm onto the summit block!

One more photo for good measure.

From the summit we shot down the abseil line, did some traversing, downclimbing and walking and were soon back at the lift, toasting an excellent day. The Peigne is a brilliant summit and although we both felt afterwards that we'd have preferred slightly more technical climbing and a bit less easy scrambling, the peak fit our requirements pretty well. 

Tom on the spectacular abseil off the Aiguille du Peigne summit.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Arete du Doigt, Pointe Percee

The Pointe Percee, perched high above Sallanches, has long been on my to-do list, mainly because it dominates the view on the first 20km of motorway to Geneva - a section of road I know pretty well after a couple of seasons driving transfers.

"The" line on the peak is undoubtedly the Arete du Doigt, which has 12 pitches and difficulties up to 5c. Sharon and I thought about camping somewhere near the route the night before we went up but there was precipitation due during the small hours so we decided on an early start from Chamonix instead.

Reaching the parking area at the Col des Annes, we were slightly dismayed to see our rock climb looking very white - 

The Arete du Doigt is the left-hand skyline. The Doigt itself is the tooth about half way up the ridge.

Still, we figured that it's always worth having a look so we ploughed on up.

Sharon on the enormous slabs at the foot of the Pointe Percee N face.

The snow was getting thicker near the foot of our line and as we got closer I became convinced that our day was going to be little more than a recce. However, when we reached the first pitch there were 2 French teams already on the route (who we passed immediately and never saw again, although we could sometimes hear them in the mist so they must have continued) and the rock was surprisingly dry so we decided to give it a go. The first 4 pitches fell in one block of moving together and we could have gained a lot of time had it not been for having to warm our hands up every 10 metres or so. The climbing is straightforward though and we only had every third or fourth bolt clipped and still felt fine. 

Once on top of the "Doigt" itself, a 15m abseil and a short walk saw us onto the second section of climbing, which was stunningly exposed but technically easy. 

Sharon on the "Razoir" section of the route, between the Doigt and the crux pitches.

After this we found ourselves at the little notch where you can either carry on straight up (5c, 5b and then a short aid section), traverse right and join another route (3 pitches of 5b) or traverse right even further right and join the normal route (easy scrambling). By this stage it was absolutely freezing but I wanted to do the direct route so up I went. The climbing is actually pretty steady (definitely a soft touch for 5c) but the incredibly low temperatures caused all sorts of trouble and shortly after reaching the belay I got hot aches in my hands - not something you expect when rock climbing in August. The pitch was brilliant though and I was glad of the thick cloud which obscured what I imagine would be a pretty big drop below the crux moves!

Sharon on the crux.

Above this was a 5b slab which was quickly dispatched and then a short tower which is aided on bolts. 

After only the briefest of explanations from me about how to go about aiding efficiently, Sharon coped pretty well with her first aid pitch!

From the top of the aid wall it's an easy scramble to the summit. Just to prove that sometimes you earn a bit of luck, the clouds parted and revealed Mont Blanc to us as we sorted our gear out on the top.

Me coiling the ropes on the summit, with 2 choucas flying past and Mont Blanc reigning supreme behind. 

The scramble down the normal route was fun and fairly fast and we were soon below the clouds and heading for the car.

Me on the walk out, contemplating a final hour of effort before pizza and beer.

It's nice (and quite rare) when a route truly lives up to expectations but the Arete du Doigt is an amazing adventure. We spent virtually the whole day in cloud but the climbing is so good that it was still well worth doing and the highest praise I can give is that when there's better weather, I'd love to repeat the route and see the view. By the way, here is the best description of the route, which we found spot on and easy to follow -

One final thing; it can be hard to figure out how long a route like this will take and what you need so here are our timings for the day, plus a kit list, just as a guide for if you go and do it. Bear in mind that we aren't particularly fit, we weren't rushing and spent a good chunk of the climbing time warming our hands up! All in all, very doable in a day if you're halfway efficient and willing to walk a longish way.

Car to route - 2 hours 10 minutes. (Not including a 20 minute stop at the Pointe Percee hut)

Climbing - 4 hours, including a quick lunch stop.

Descent - 2 hours 15 minutes summit to car.


10 quickdraws.
2 slings & 2 snapgate karabiners.
2 screwgate karabiners, 2 prussiks and a Reverso belay device each.
1 x 50m single rope.
Harness, rockboots & helmet each.

Clothing (per person)- 

Trekking trousers & base layer
Stretch Fleece
Belay Jacket
Thin Gloves


Sandwich & 1 litre of water, plus drinks bought at the hut on the way up and down.
Photocopy of map & route description

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Crochues Traverse and Aiguille du Belvedere

There might be high winds at altitude, some low lying snow and plenty of cloud but just having some dry weather is very welcome right now. Today was a "45% sunshine" day according to the forecasts which, in my experience, could mean just about anything. 

Looking for something fun but not too serious, Sharon and I decided to link the Crochues traverse with the normal route on the Aiguille du Belvedere. The cloud was thick most of the day but the scrambling was superb and it was nice for me to finally get on top of the Belvedere after having turned around on various routes on it in the past few years. We belayed the first pitch of the Crochues and then didn't get the rope out again other than for a couple of abseils and it felt great to cover so much ground. 

We got the odd glimpse of a view here and there but overall it was a murky day, saved by the fact that we didn't see a soul after the Crochues, giving the Belvedere a really adventurous feel. 

In a wonderful change from the recent trend, the forecast is now excellent for the coming few days. I'll be out enjoying it over the weekend so check back next week for an update.

Moody views down to Lac Blanc.

Me just below the summit of the Belvedere, scrambling down some horribly loose rock. 

A little fatty keeping watch near the Index chairlift.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

August skiing on the Le Tour Glacier

Nobody could quite believe their eyes this weekend when the forecast said that there would be 2 perfect days coming up but, for once, the weatherman was right. There was plenty of wind but after the summer we've had, it's been great just to see the sun.

I wasn't really sure what to go for seeing as there was low lying snow and a cold wind at altitude but then I had the excellent idea (if I may say so myself) of going for a ski on the Le Tour Glacier. Caroline was over from London and as keen as ever so we caught the first lift up to Col de Balme and got stuck in.

With a cold wind keeping us cool, the walk to the newly refurbished Albert Premier hut was actually quite nice, even carrying skis and boots. Photo Caroline Mulligan. 

Once above the hut we skinned up the glacier and then swung round to a small col facing the Table Couloir on the Aiguille du Tour. 

Caroline with the Aiguille du Chardonnet behind.

The final section of the skin. Photo Caroline Mulligan. 

From the Col, I couldn't resist shooting up a final little bootpack to ski this really aesthetic hanging snowfield. The snow was bullet hard and there was a big crevasse below so it was a pretty interesting reintroduction to skiing! Photo Caroline Mulligan.

From our little Col we skied down and found some of the best spring snow I've had this year.

Caroline skiing.

Signatures in the snow next to some poor unfortunates who'd chosen to walk!

Once off the snow we ran into British Guides Rob Jarvis and Jonny Baird and provided them and their group with some amusement when we couldn't find our carefully stashed trainers. Having eventually found them (the rock we'd put them under didn't look quite as obvious as we initially thought) we made quick work of the walk down and were soon toasting our day over a cup of tea and a piece of cake (thanks for the brew Peter!).

It might not have provided us with the best walking:skiing ratio but today was one of the best I've had for ages. The funny weather is now firmly back and there is already a heavy layer of fresh snow above about 2800m so after spring snow at the weekend, you'll probably be able to find powder right now!