Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Gozo Climbing

It seems that the sun really is shining on the righteous these days because I've just spent a week under perfect blue sky on the Maltese island of Gozo, and have now returned to a Chamonix enjoying its first good weather for 3 weeks. 

The climbing in Gozo was great and whilst it seemed that it has more to offer the higher grade climbers than those pootling around in the 6's like me, the situations, virtually guaranteed weather and solitude more than make up for any small downsides. We didn't climb on Malta but looking through the excellent guidebook (buy it here) I think there is a huge amount to do, so you could do a lot worse than spending a week or 2 climbing there in the autumn.

Easy but superbly positioned climbing on Wied il-Mielah. Photo Nick Taylor.

Trying to decide between another route or a jump in the sea.

An undeveloped sector at Mgarr Ix-Xini.

Sharon climbing at Wied El-Mielah with a pretty wild sea below.

Of course, it wasn't all climbing....

Sunday, 6 July 2014

More dodgy weather

After 2 really good summers over the past couple of years, 2014 isn't really delivering so far and the unsettled and rainy weather looks set to continue this week.

Options in the mountains have been limited but the ever reliable Aiguilles Rouges is always a good option at times like this. Higher up there is still plenty of snow about and many of the classic rock climbs above the Plan de l'Aiguille remain snowy and damp. Given the weather forecast for the week, I'd be heading up the Brevent or Flegere and climbing some easy classics in the fog if I was in Cham. Luckily for me (given the forecast), I won't be in Cham and will instead be on the tiny island of Gozo, just off Malta. I've bought the guidebook and the climbing looks amazing so I'll be putting some photos on here once I've checked it out. 

In the meantime, here's some shots from yesterday, a few hours of which was spent powering (running would be exaggerating) up to the Nid d'Aigle from Les Houches. It might not be a tough day by Cham standards but it just goes to show that whatever the weather, you can still have some great days in the hills.

Atmospheric views looking up towards the Aiguille de Bionnassay.

Sophie and Sharon high above Les Bettieres.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Domes de Miage and NOT the Aiguille de Bionnassay!

With a good high pressure arriving over Cham, I was keen to get out and have some long days in the mountains. A shoulder injury means that lots of steep climbing is out but my legs are working fine so I teamed up with super keen author/actor/climbing bum Matt Groom and convinced him that he didn't actually want to climb something hard and that instead he'd like to look at some nice views and do some alpine shuffling. 

The weather was set to hold for at least 3 days (most forecasts saying that we could expect 4 good days) so we decided to do the uber classic "Royal Traverse" of Mont Blanc. The route starts in Les Contamines, and takes in the Conscrits hut, the Domes de Miage, the Durier hut, the Aiguille de Bionnassay and finally, Mont Blanc. Plenty of people rush this and skip one (or both!) of the huts but lacking both the acclimatisation and inclination to do this, we opted to take our time and stay in both huts, making the route 3 days but with only the final one being a tough one. 

The first day up to the Conscrits hut was fine but we somehow managed to miss the fact that there's now a path up to the hut and instead we walked up via the toe of the Tre la Tete glacier, the way I've been every other time I've been up there. Apparently the path isn't actually that good but it must have been better than scrabbling around on the moraine for a few hours!

Chatting to the locals at the Tre la Tete refuge, on the way to the Conscrits hut.

Amazing ice formations on the glacier.

Matt on the way up the glacier.

Me stretching at the hut - I put this shot in to keep my chiropractor happy :) Photo Matt Groom

Not a bad view to look at while having a pee

The next day we were away from the hut at the crack of 7.30 and slowly made our way up to the Aiguille de la Berangere. Once there we soaked up the views and then enjoyed the superb but easy traverse of the Domes de Miage. The views are Himalayan-esque all the way and although there are some exposed sections, you can basically spend 99% of the day just looking at the incredible scenery.

Matt on his way to the Aiguille de la Berangere.

Me just below the top of the Berangere. Photo Matt Groom.

French team arriving on the Berangere, having done the traverse of the Miage in the opposite direction to us.

Me at the Col de la Berangere. Photo Matt Groom.

Matt loving the scenery.

Matt on the highest point of the Domes de Miage traverse, about to head down to the Durier hut.

Amazing views across the Miage, Mont Blanc and the Tre la Tete peaks.

From the final summit we headed off down the E ridge, which was more exposed and technical than what proceeded it, but still not too taxing. From the foot of this we reached the Durier hut, perched spectacularly on the Col de Miage. The hut only sleeps 12 and is about the size of my living room so it's all fairly intimate!

Matt scrambling with Mont Blanc behind.

Me on the ridge leading to the hut. Photo Matt Groom.

The Durier hut from the outside...

...and the inside. 

Stunning sunset views over the Aravis.

The alarm went off the next morning and we got up for breakfast feeling about as well as you do at 3am but looking forward to a big mountain day. However, a spanner was thrown into the works early on when Matt visited the incredibly exposed toilet building (the only toilet I've ever been to where you could fall to your death getting in!) and reported that it was a blizzard outside. Given that all the latest forecasts said that the weather was going to be good for at least one more day, we assumed it would blow over and sat in the hut making small talk with the French climbers and waiting for it to clear.

By 6 it was clear that things weren't going to change and we started to think about how to get down. The Durier is not an easy hut to get to by any route so we were left with the choice of climbing back up the Domes de Miage and descending the Tre la Tete glacier or dropping blind onto the W face of the Col de Miage. Neither option looked very tempting but the howling wind and thick fog made us opt for the W face as we figured that losing height made more sense than going up, regardless of whether we knew the way or not.

It turned out not to be too bad but it certainly wasn't much fun, with miles of downclimbing soft snow and loose rock before a long slog out to the tiny village of Miage and then a stroll round to the car at Les Contamines.

The face we descended, taking the obvious couloir down the middle.

Amusingly enough, when I called home for an updated forecast at about 9am, Sharon told me that the latest report said it was going to be quite sunny but when she looked out of the window it was raining. Perhaps a window might be a wise investment for the Chamonix forecasters...?

Anyway, despite the disappointment of the last day we had a great little trip and the psyche is well and truly here for a summer in the hills.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Brevent - still snowy!

With an uncertain weather forecast and some time pressures on us, Sharon and I decided to head up the Brevent to get some early season mileage in. Things up at Brevent are still pretty snowy and although all the main routes are dry, either wear boots or be prepared to get wet feet on the approaches. We wore trainers and therefore got wet feet and we also opted for shorts, meaning that when the cloud blew in for an hour in the middle of the day, things got fairly chilly!

Still, a great first day in the Rouges for the summer, here's to plenty more in the next few months.

Sharon on one of the last pitches of the day.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Voie Blanche, Les Chesereys

After yet more bad weather at the start of the week, the sun has come out and looks set to stay. Luckily for me, the arrival of the good weather coincided with a free day and a super keen Tristan getting back to the Valley after a work spell in Dubai. Best of all, he hadn't been climbing much lately and was happy just to cruise something easy, which is all I'm good for right now!

When looking for stress-free multi pitch climbing, Les Chesereys is hard to beat so we headed up with no set objective. We first checked out the area around the Aiguillette d'Argentiere but it was rammed with mountain guides and their clients. Next we headed over to the "Un Pere Noel pour Lucy" area and although the 2 routes we fancied were busy, Voie Blanche was free and looked fun so off we went.

Tristan on one of the lower pitches. Apologies for the photo quality, camera issues meant that an iphone was all we had.

Tristan on the final move of the route, which was the crux. "A route with the crux where it should be".

The route is frankly pretty easy but the rock is superb and the view is unbeatable. We were done in not much more than an hour so retired to a large ledge at the top of pitch 4 and had a long lunch putting the World to rights and looking at the scenery.

Abbing home. Photo Tristan Wise.

Some company while we packed our bags.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Conditions Up High

It's a funny time of year in Cham right now as many of the lifts aren't open but conditions can be really good and best of all, the Valley is quiet. Having not been up into the high mountains for weeks, I was itching to get going so Sharon and I spent the weekend doing some classic alpine routes up the Midi and checking out conditions.

The good news is that there is currently plenty to go at, from skiing to rock climbing. There's a solid track up Mont Blanc from both the Midi and the Grand Mulets and the north face has been skied so much there are almost moguls forming below the Grand Plateau.

On the climbing front there's plenty of dry rock up the Midi provided you stick to south faces and don't mind getting your feet wet on the occasional snowy ledge. There's also plenty of mixed climbing in and there were climbers on the Midi NW face (it looked from the bridge like they were on the Profit-Perroux) as well as the Eugster Diagonal and also the Chere Couloir and Contamine-Grisolle on the Tacul Triangle. Snow based routes are also really good right now and there's excellent coverage on all the major ridges and faces.

Unfortunately the weather is once again getting a bit changeable over the next few days but it looks bomber from Friday onwards. Bring it on!

Here are some shots from the weekend - 

Midi conditions.

A snowy looking Dent du Geant and Aiguilles Marbrees.

Looking down on a snowy Aiguille d'Entreves. The key bits looked dry but I'd give it a bit longer.

The Talefre basin with the Tour Ronde summit madonna in the foreground.

French climbers arriving on the summit of the Tour Ronde. 

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Sylvie Phobie, Barberine

The last few days have seen the foehn wind blow into Chamonix and as ever it's brought humid, warm and unsettled weather with it. It also seems to affect peoples' mindset and the locals in the Valley will tell you that everyone goes a bit loopy when the foehn arrives. 

Keen to get out in the hills without doing anything loopy, Phil and I decided on a day climbing at Barberine. I'd almost written off rock climbing to a decent level this summer due to a shoulder injury, but Barberine is slabby and I figured it would be a good place to see just what I can and can't do right now. The good news is that slabs seem fine and steep pulls are not entirely impossible if at the right angle, so maybe I could be out on the rock after all this summer and not just pottering around on alpine scrambles.

We decided to do "Sylphie Phobie", on the far left of the crag and shot up the lower pitches without incident to reach the midway ledge. By this stage we were both suffering with our feet (it was SO hot!) and general lethargy, possibly due to the humidity but more likely explained by the thought of a beer on the balcony at home, so after a very enjoyable lunch on the comfortable ledge we'd reached, we decided that we'd had enough for the day and headed down. 

Phil enjoying the shade after some sweaty slab climbing.

Wrestling with the Coke/Orangina dilemma.

Conditions right now are really tough to read so Phil and I are super keen on a mission for the weekend but struggling to figure out the best option. We've got ideas in Cham, the Ecrins, Italy and Zermatt so we could end up anywhere! Psyche is high though so whether we're wearing ski or rock boots, I'll hopefully have a good tale to tell by Monday!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Lyngen report and Chamonix conditions

I'm now back in Cham after an epic trip to Lyngen and with kit sorted and laundry done, I've finally got round to sorting through photos so here are some of my favourites.

The bare essentials!

Heading for the Tomas Couloir on an atmospheric day.

Ellensdalstinden W Couloir.

Skin up, ski down.

On top of Sultinden.

Phil adding his signature next to mine.

From a strong field, this was probably the best panoramic I got on the trip. If you click on the photo you can just about make out some reindeer on the shore in the bottom left.

Drying cod heads. The smell was even worse than I imagined it would be when I walked up to them.

Matt and Phil putting the World to rights over lunch.

My first moose spotting!

Phil on our last day.

Say no more.

 Overall I felt that Lyngen was mind blowing. It lived up to and surpassed any expectations I had and the highest praise I can give it is that I'd go back in a flash. I should admit here however that we got exceptional conditions in terms of snow and weather and just about everyone said that we had hit the best fortnight of the season. I guess the sun shines on the righteous!

I'm now back in Cham and things look pretty typical for May - not much sun, plenty of rain but some really nice quiet days when you do get out in the hills. People are still skiing up high and I might get out on the planks over the next month but I think climbing season is getting underway. I'll report on here once conditions allow me to get into the hills.