Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Verbier & Punta Croce

The snow line is creeping ever lower here in Cham and I decided it was about time to get winter started. With Verbier opening at weekends I was keen to go and check out conditions over there last Sunday and had a really fun day ripping around the pistes. The snow is surprisingly thin so off piste options were limited but the groomers were excellent and it felt amazing to be skiing again, even if it did prove beyond all doubt that I have retained zero ski fitness from last season!

Atmospheric views from Verbier.

Charli making some friends at lunch.

Tom and me loving having winter back!

Sharon and Charli on one of the few off piste pitches we found.

Today Sharon and I were keen for some touring and some solitude and headed over to Arpy, above Morgex in the Aosta Valley, to ski the Punta Croce. It is surprisingly tough to find good snow right now because the snow line is only down to about 1600m but there have been strong winds at mid altitudes which have got to much of the fresh snow. Furthermore, the Italian avalanche forecast doesn't seem to be working right now and the French one is pretty sporadic, so working out what is going to be safe is just as difficult as figuring out what will be good. It all added up to us looking for something conservative and the Punta Croce fit the bill. There's a brief section on the way up where you pass under some big, avalanche prone couloirs but we figured that if we got up there early, before the sun hit, we'd be fine.

Sharon getting ready in the Arpy school playground.

Me heading along what will become the Arpy cross country ski track once it gets pisted.

Sharon breaking trail in the woods.

 After gaining about 400 vertical metres of height, we emerged at the Arpy Lake, which was even more stunning than I'd imagined. 

Amazing views at the Lake.

Above the lake we continued breaking trail and, having not quite researched the route as well as we should have, we just followed our noses and it seemed to work out fine. It was tough going to break trail all day but to have the whole mountain to ourselves made it well worth the effort.

Sharon following me near the summit. 

Sharon on the final summit ridge. There is an old fortification on the summit and the last bit of skinning goes along the top of this wall, which makes for a pretty unique finish to a ski tour.

The summit itself is fantastic and Mont Blanc looks incredible, which you'll have to take my word for as we both had really cold hands on top and didn't bother taking any photos.

On the way down we chose the north-east face and found some fantastic powder in the trees, which put a big smile on our faces.

Amazing skiing on the north east face.

With the powder skied, we zipped down the final section of forest tracks and were soon back in Arpy, working out where the nearest pizza place was. 

The weather looks set to stay sunny for at least a few days now so I'll be aiming to get out for more at the weekend. If you're doing the same then go and check out Punta Croce, it makes for a fantastic day in a quiet and wild part of the World. We worked hard to put that skin track in too and we'd like to think that someone else might get some use from it!

In summary, winter is back and I love it.

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.